26 January 2012

Review: Some Agatha Christie short stories

I recently discovered that Amazon had 14 Agatha Christie short stories available free here, so I "bought" them, but when I checked yesterday they had gone up to $6.14 each which is pretty pricey for 40 pages!

Then of course, when I checked them against the 131 stories I have listed at Agatha Christie Short Stories I discovered there were only 4 that I hadn't read, and even 1 of them was a re-written version of an earlier published story.
The four all feature Hercule Poirot, and in a sense each focusses on a murder committed in the name of love. In two at least there is a siren, a femme fatale.

Here they are:

The Dream
First published in October 1937.

Hercule Poirot is summoned to Northway House, residence of eccentric Benedict Farley who tells HP that he is worried by a recurrent dream in which he kills himself at a particular time in the afternoon. Poirot is disappointed - he thinks he is going to meet a great man but his impression is of a mountebank. A few weeks later Poirot is contacted by the police. It appears that Farley has indeed killed himself, at the the time his dream predicted, but on closer investigation, Poirot finds out he is the only one who knows about the dream.

The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
Originally published as the Mystery of the Baghdad Chest in 1932, and then expanded and republished as The Mystery of the Spanish Chest also in 1932.

What I really liked about this one was not the plot (in which the body of a superfluous husband is discovered in a wooden chest the morning after a supper party) but the description of Miss Lemon, Poirot's assistant.
    But Miss Lemon he had never considered as a woman. She was a human machine - an instrument of precision. Her efficiency was terrific. She was forty-eighty years of age, and was fortunate enough to have no imagination whatever.
Poirot points out that it is Miss Lemon's job to deal with files, telephone calls, and letters while he deals not only with documents but human beings.

Triangle at Rhodes
Published in USA 1936, and then in UK later in 1936 as Poirot and the Triangle at Rhodes.

Hercule Poirot is holidaying on the island of Rhodes and is watching a woman, recently married for the fifth time to a rather taciturn naval type, work her charms on another's husband. When murder happens Poirot reveals he has had his eye on another eternal triangle all together.

Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds
First published in the USA in 1940 as Four and Twenty Blackbirds and then in the UK in 1941 as Poirot and the Regular Customer.

Although this was the shortest of all the stories, it also felt to me the most muddled, as if it really needed more text.
Hercule Poirot is dining with an old friend Henry Bonnington who trumpets that he prefers plain English food, "not a lot of made up messes". The conversation gets around to cases of accidental death in men over the age of sixty. Bonnington says he thinks Poirot is beginning to see crime where there is none, he is looking for it rather than waiting for crime to come to him.

The waitress is of the opinion that men nearly always choose the same item from a menu, whereas the ladies like variety. But then she points out the case of a customer nicknamed Old Father Time who always comes in on Tuesdays and Thursday nights and has the same food. But last week he came in on Monday and chose entirely different items from the menu.

Three weeks later Poirot and Bonnington meet by accident on the Underground (I found that rather strange, the idea of HP travelling by Tube) and Bonnington reports that Old Father Time has not been putting in an appearance at all. Of course it turns out that the old man has died and that's when the plot of this story very nearly unravels itself. I think Christie must have been struggling for a title, wanted to make the nursery rhyme connection work, but in my opinion Poirot and the Regular Customer was probably much better.

These four stories are all quite entertaining, and certainly quick, reads.
I haven't discovered yet whether they were published in collections or not.
I am maintaining a list of the stories I've read on Agatha Christie Short Stories
These four bring my count to 135.


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks for this :-). I've got Triangle at Rhodes in a collection called Dead Man's Mirror (AKA Murder in the Mews. I have The Mystery of the Spanish Chest in a The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories, but I don't think that's the only collection in which it appears.

Kerrie said...

Thanks Margot. I have read The Baghdad Chest before (can't really identify the expansions in The Spanish Chest) and have it listed in While the Light Lasts too. I haven't read The Harlequin Tea Set collection yet, but have read some stories from it in other collections


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