I love it how with Agatha Christie you can never guess who the murderer is. She might suggest one suspect, then the other, and while it might seem the mystery is over, she throws in a crazy twist and introduces another criminal you could never suspect! She is a magnificent crime-writing maestro. In the second book of her Hercule Poirot Mysteries series the famous Belgian detective is summoned by a rich businessman hailing from South America. There seems to be a matter of grave importance, and so intrigued, Poirot and his friend Captain Hastings travel to northern France to meet with the potential client. Their trip, however, comes to an unusual halt, as the two discover that the businessman is discovered dead the very morning of their arrival. A love affair and a woman scorned are suspected to be the reasons for foul play, but Poirot has his own opinion about the events.
This was a fun crime to solve, and those who have read the book might agree with me on the opinion about the unusual way the mystery unravelled itself. Besides enjoying the central plot, I had a good time chuckling at the portrayal of gender roles shifting at the time the story was written. As some of you might know, roaring twenties became famous for birth of jazz age and popularization of an image of a free woman that was not suppressed by no man. These young girls shed corsets, embraced cigarettes and learned to speak their minds. They, of course, were called flappers. In the beginning of the book Hastings runs into such a girl and unbeknownst to himself is immediately smitten by her. At first, he is shocked by the girl’s unconventional behaviour, yet somehow manages to be charmed. He writes:
Now I’m old-fashioned. A woman, I consider, should be womanly. I have no patience with the modern neurotic girl who jazzes from morning till night, smokes like a chimney, and uses language which would make a Billingsgate fishwoman blush. Later on the girl responds in her own manner: Your idea of a woman is someone who gets on a chair and shrieks if she sees a mouse. That’s all prehistoric.
Isn’t it a wonderful exchange of opinion? On the other hand, somewhat of a contrast to the free-minded girl, Christie introduces two other characters of a different generation – the dead businessman’s wife and the suspected lover, – both proper ladies by all accounts. These two are the cause of multiple admirations expressed by every man they encounter: the way they hold themselves, the way they speak, and the way they certainly would not allow anyone to question their honour. Sometimes I was shocked how often the police refrained from interrogating these two women out of fear to insult them. Today they would be charged with obstruction of investigation. Instead Poirot remarks:
But she will not speak. Threats and enmities would not mover her. A remarkable woman that, Hastings.
How totally opposite the women that come out from under Christie’s pen are: a modern girl who speaks whatever comes to mind and two reserved ladies unwilling to share their secrets! Poor Hastings, of course, manages to fall in love yet again, and almost becomes an obstruction to Poirot’s clever plot to capture the murderer. But nothing can stand on the way of our beloved detective, and he manages to solve the riddle in his ever-elegant fashion to the ultimate amazement of his French rival – Monsieur Giraud.