Sunday, 8 December 2019

Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie

Lord Edgware Dies, published in America under the inferior title 13 At Dinner, is the ninth Hercule Poirot adventure, published in 1933.

And it is great Agatha Christie. The setting and characters are extremely vivid but – above all – the solution to the mystery is simply brilliant.

... Although perhaps the ultimate surprise in an Agatha Christie would be if the killer really turned out to be a passing tramp, a theory propounded and discarded in just about every one of her books.
 
But not this one. Lord Edgware Dies is set in the milieu of the London aristocracy and the theatre crowd, including a couple of alluring actresses who are among Christie's more memorable creations.

The gorgeous but shallow Jane Wilkinson, aka Lady Edgware, says things like, "I'll find a rag to put on" and "All those hats are too frightful. Ring up the other hat place, Ellis. I've got to be fit to be seen."

So, an intriguing and well evoked setting, inhabited by memorable characters moving through a really top notch mystery... 

This is a ripping good Poirot, really engrossing and with an immediately interesting set up.


I should perhaps also mention that the book has hardly started when it sets a new record for the number of racial slurs on one page, all emanating from a "strangely likable" young man.

This is Ronald Marsh, who will become the new Lord Edgware after the one in the book's title gets bumped off.

Marsh has his own idea about who killed his uncle. And he proposes a solution that would be another genuine surprise reveal in an Agatha Christie — that Poirot did it.

"The perfect crime," says Ronnie, "by Hercule Poirot, ex-sleuth hound."

Lord Edgware Dies is swift, economical and prime Poirot. His sidekick Hastings is back and rather amusingly fed up with his friend's cliches: "I'm afraid that I have got into the habit of averting my attention whenever Poirot mentions his little grey cells."
 
Hastings has reason to be fed up, considering that his friend is saying things like, "Where the master goes, there the dog follows." 

A remark which Hastings says "I could not think was the best of taste."

On the other hand, the great detective acknowledges the importance of Hastings as a sort of experimental control. 

"I see reflected in your mind exactly what the criminal wishes me to believe,"  Poirot tells him.

Hastings for his part talks about Poirot with ideas "lingering in his fantastic brain." 

And as that fantastic brain works out the solution to this remarkable whodunnit, once again,"His eyes were green like a cat's." 

They needed to be very green and very like a cat's. 

Because this novel is right up there with Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders,The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (a lot of murders there...) and Taken at the Flood for the sheer genius of its final revelation.

(Image credits: The main image of the classic Tom Adams cover painting is from my own battered copy. Otherwise, thank you, GoodReads, for your fine selection of cover art including the early Finnish version which is really stretching a point by featuring the Eiffel Tower — all the Paris action in this book takes place strictly offstage and in the past.)

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