Saturday, 11 June 2011

Agathon #3: Murder on the Links (1923)

Tansy and I have taken the challenge to read every book written by Agatha Christie, in order of publication and we’re blogging as we go along. We’re calling it the Agathon! . As a warning, there may be spoilers, though they will be signposted. Tansy's post is here:

3 - The Murder on the Links (1923)
Featuring: Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings

KATHRYN SAYS: Well I’m happy to report that in ‘The Murder on the Links’, Poirot is not longer housesharing in the countryside with seven other Belgians, but is instead flatsharing in London with Hastings! We find him at breakfast, bemoaning the lack of interesting cases for him to solve - rather he is receiving requests to speak to the local Scout group. But, of course, an interesting letter then turns up almost immediately, urging Poirot to travel to France to aid a millionaire apparently in fear of his life.

Murder on the LinksBut I’m getting ahead of myself. The book actually open with Hastings meeting a mysterious and somewhat irreverent young lady on a train, AND HE FALLS IN LOVE. Perhaps not right there on the train, but during the course of the book, Hastings finds his Cinderella. And we’re not just talking about the normal misguided Hastings-love, but a full-blown, sacrifice-his-friendship-with-Poirot-if-he-must type of love. Indeed having read this book before, the thing I remembered most from my first reading was Hastings defiant actions to save his beau (Small spoiler: she didn’t do it, phew.). What’s more, Hastings’ Cinderella appears to be delightful. She is impertinent, devious, acrobatic, and not afraid to call him prehistoric when he expects her to be more horrified about a murder than she is.

Barring the fact that I have read this book before, ‘The Murder on the Links’ does make me question what I consider the ‘typical’ Poirot mystery. Rather than occurring in one location, there’s a lot of travelling in this book and scenes change quire rapidly. Furthermore, after wondering in my review of ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ whether there would ever be a Poirot book without the traditional Poirot-gathers-everyone-in-a-room-and-tells-em-who-dunnit scene, here we are in only his second book and THERE ISN’T ONE! Instead the murderer is revealed after Poirot sets a trap to catch them in the act.

As noted in previous reviews by Tansy, Christie still seems to be making a commentary on murder mysteries in her text, with the appearance of a rival Detective to solve the mystery - Monsieur Giraud. He is the polar opposite of Poirot and from Christie’s description we know we should not like him from the start. Poirot’s commentary on Giraud’s detective style is entertaining and I particularly liked his commentary on the ‘romantic’ idea that all important clues must be infinitesimal. As Poirot says, ‘A clue of two feet long is every bit as valuable as one measuring two millimetres!”

Finally, as a postscript, ‘The Murder on the Links’ was available from my library as a graphic novel, so I got that out too. Alas, I didn’t think much of the translation. I found a lot of characterisation and plot details missing, while the smooth rendering of Poirot’s figure seemed to border on parody. It simply didn’t have the emotion or drama of the original novel.

TANSY SAYS: Yep, we’re back in meta commentary territory again - or in fact, this being only Christie’s third novel, we’ve never left it. The story opens with reference to a compelling opening to a story (“Hell!” said the Duchess) and then goes on to rework it for Hastings’ own purposes. I also felt that the whole plot (which is utterly preposterous, relying on several coincidences colliding at once) hinged largely on a couple of people designing an imperfect murder mystery scenario based on the conventions of the genre. Christie’s universe is one in which her characters are immersed in the appropriate (for the story they’re in) body of pop culture, which goes to show that all those film & TV makers in the 90’s weren’t as smart as they thought they were!

I love Cinderella - though I’m not sure she’s ever as awesome as she is in that opening scene, bowling Hastings over with her unladylike declarations and wicked sense of humour. I haven’t yet decided if she’s played by Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall, but she’s just that type, and I can’t for the life of me see what she sees in him!

Poirot is intriguing me as a character, probably because I was so uninterested in him in my younger days (I preferred Miss Marple) and because I never read these early books. He’s so enabling of Hastings’ bad behaviour, and a complete matchmaker, though he also delights in being several steps ahead of everyone. If he reminded me of Sherlock Holmes in his first book, his twinkly eyes in this one are making me think more of the Doctor. He seems to live on a different plane of reality to everyone else!

I think the solution is over-complicated for a Christie, as I said before. Such a mish mash of events colliding on the one night! I also think it’s odd that no one ever suggested that the young pair at the centre of the story might actually be brother and sister, which seemed to me to be a definite possibility considering the timing of the whole thing. On the whole, the pleasure of this one is from the interactions between Hastings, Poirot and Cinderella rather than the story itself, though I did appreciate that Hastings did so much working-out-of-stuff in his own brain, even if he was often wrong. And I liked the little detail with the daggers, and how the ‘one of a kind’ murder weapon was actually not, which can be seen as symbolic considering the storyline of the sisters, Bella and Dulcie.

As a side note, did you notice that the sisters in this story are called Bella and Dulcie? Their parents weren’t giving them a lot to live up to at ALL!

Can’t help thinking Poirot is so keen to marry Hastings off so he can be rid of him! Though I see there’s at least one more book coming which features the duo, so look forward to seeing how things turn out with the romance. Will we be seeing Mrs Cinderella Hastings? I loved the bit where her acrobatic skills and sturdy wrists came in super handy, and can totally see Poirot thinking she might actually make a better partner in crime.

4. The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
Anne Beddingfeld, Colonel Race
Poirot Investigates (1924)
Short Stories.
5. The Secret of Chimneys (1925)
Anthony Cade, Superintendent Battle