Murder in the mews - Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie

Murder in the mews - Agatha Christie

Murder in the Mews
Japp asks Poirot to join him at a house in Bardsley Garden Mews where a Mrs Barbara Allen shot herself the previous evening – Guy Fawkes Night – the moment of death being disguised by the noise of fireworks. Once there they find that the doctor thinks there is something strange about the death of the fine lady, a young widow. Mrs Allen was found by a housemate, Miss Jane Plenderleith, who had been away in the country the previous night. The victim was locked in her room and was shot through the head with an automatic, the weapon being found in her hand. The doctor however points out that the gun is in her right hand while the wound is above the left ear – an impossible position to shoot with the right hand. It looks as if this is a murder made to look like suicide – and by an unusually incompetent murderer with a very low estimation of the intelligence of police investigators. They interview Miss Plenderleith and find out that Mrs Allen was engaged to be married to Charles Laverton-West, an up-and-coming young MP but, although the pistol was the dead lady's, she cannot think of a reason why she should use it to commit suicide.

Japp and Poirot find further clues: the gun has been wiped clean of fingerprints and large sums of money have been withdrawn from Mrs Allen's bank account on several occasions but there is no trace of money in the house. They also learn from a neighbour that Mrs Allen had a gentleman caller the previous evening whose description doesn't tally with that of her fiancé. Feeling that Miss Plenderleith is keeping something back, they ask her about this male visitor and she suggest that it was Major Eustace – a man that Mrs Allen had known in India and whom she has seen on several occasions in the past year. She got the feeling that Mrs Allen was afraid of the man and Japp and Poirot suggest that Major Eustace was blackmailing her – an idea which meets with approval from Miss Plenderleith. Poirot points out though that it is unusual for blackmailers to kill their victims, normally it is the opposite way round. Japp, as part of his look round the house, searches a cupboard under the stairs which contains items such as umbrellas, walking sticks, tennis racquets, a set of golf clubs and a small attaché-case which Miss Plenderleith hurriedly claims is hers. The two men sense Miss Plenderleith's heightened tension.

Miss Plenderleith proves to have an impeccable alibi for the time of the death and Poirot and Japp interview Charles Laverton-West. He is stunned to find out that a murder investigation is taking place and admits that he himself has no sound alibi. They also try to see Major Eustace and hear that he has gone off to play golf. Mention of this suddenly makes Poirot see everything clearly. Managing to get hold of Eustace later on, they notice that he smokes a brand of Turkish cigarette whose stubs were found in the mews house, even though Mrs Allen smoked a different kind. They also prove that he wore a set of cufflinks, a damaged part of which was found in the room where Mrs Allen died and Japp arrests him for murder.

On a pretext, Poirot makes Japp call at the mews house and while they are there Poirot sneaks another look at the cupboard under the stairs and sees that the attaché-case has gone. As Miss Plenderleith has just come back from playing golf at Wentworth, they go there and find out that she was seen on the links with the case. Later investigations show that she was seen to throw the item into the lake there. The police retrieve it but find nothing in it. Poirot asks Japp and Miss Plenderleith to call at his flat and they tell her of Eustace's arrest. Poirot then tells her of his real conclusions. From clues concerning missing blotting paper, Poirot deduces that Mrs Allen had written a letter just before she died, which if she killed herself, would indicate a suicide note. He postulates that Miss Plenderleith came home, found her friend dead, driven to kill herself by the actions of her blackmailer and was determined to avenge her – this wasn't a murder made to look like suicide but a suicide made to look like murder and thereby entrapping the blackmailer. Miss Plenderleith placed the gun in Mrs Allen's right hand, despite the fact that she was left-handed, and the purpose of her trip to Wentworth was to hide there the dead lady's golf clubs – left-handed clubs, the attaché-case being a red herring to put the police off the trail. Convinced by Poirot that Major Eustace will be imprisoned for his other crimes, she agrees to tell the truth and save the man from the gallows.

The Incredible Theft
A house party is underway at the home of Lord Charles Mayfield, a rising politician and a millionaire whose riches came from his engineering prowess. With him are Air Marshal Sir George Carrington, his wife Lady Julia and son Reggie, Mrs. Vanderlyn, who is a beautiful brunette American woman, and Mrs. Macatta, a forthright MP. Mr. Carlile, Lord Charles' secretary, joins them for dinner. The reason for the house party becomes obvious when all but Lord Mayfield and Sir George leave the dinner table, as they will discuss the plans for a new fighter aircraft that would give Britain supremacy in the air. They discuss Mrs. Vanderlyn, who is involved in espionage. Lord Charles invited her to tempt her with something big – the plans for the new fighter – to trap her once and for all.

All guests retire for bed except Lord Charles and Sir George. Mr. Carlile is sent to get the plans for the fighter from the safe, so he set off for the study, colliding with Mrs. Vanderlyn who wants to retrieve her handbag. The two men walk along the terrace, when Lord Charles is startled by a figure leaving the study by the French window, although Sir George sees nothing. When they enter the study, Mr. Carlile has the papers out but Lord Charles quickly sees that the plans of the fighter itself are gone. Carlile is adamant that they were in the safe and he put them on the table. He was distracted when he heard a woman's scream in the hallway and ran out to find Leonie, Mrs. Vanderlyn's maid, who claimed that she had seen a ghost. Carlile had not otherwise left the study. Sir George suggests calling in Hercule Poirot immediately.

Poirot arrives in the middle of the night. They tell him the sequence of events and their suspicions regarding Mrs. Vanderlyn. Investigating the grass leading off the terrace, Poirot confirms that there are no footprints, which means that someone in the house committed the theft and the papers are still there. He questions each person in turn. He understands that Leonie saw no ghost; she screamed because Reggie sneaked up on her to snatch a kiss. Poirot suggests to Lord Charles that he end the party so that his guests will leave the house. The next morning the guests begin to leave. Lady Julia believes that her son Reggie stole the plans since he is very short of money and was not in his room for a period the previous evening. She promises Poirot that they will be returned within twelve hours if no further action is taken. Poirot agrees to this and they all depart.

Poirot tells Lord Charles of Lady Julia's offer but that she is mistaken, as she does not know that her son was busy with Leonie at the time in question. Poirot explains that Mrs. Macatta was heard snoring in her room, Mrs. Vanderlyn was heard to call for Leonie from upstairs, and Sir George was with Lord Charles on the terrace. Everyone is accounted except for Carlile and Lord Charles. As Carlile has access to the safe at all times and could have taken tracings at his leisure, only Lord Charles is left. Poirot has no doubts that Lord Charles put the plans in his own pocket. His motive is linked back to a denial given some years earlier that he was involved in negotiations with a belligerent foreign power. As he was indeed involved in such activities he must now have been blackmailed to hand over the plans via Mrs. Vanderlyn. Poirot has no doubt that the plans she holds are subtly altered so as to make the design unworkable. Lord Charles confesses to the deception but insists that his motive, refusing to be derailed from leading Britain through the coming world crisis, is pure.

Dead Man's Mirror
When Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore writes to Hercule Poirot to unceremoniously summon him down to the Chevenix-Gore ancestral pile, Poirot is initially reluctant to go. However, there is something that intrigues him and so he catches the train that Sir Gervase wanted him to. On arrival, it is clear that no-one was expecting him, and, for the first time in memory, Sir Gervase himself, who is always punctual, is missing. Poirot and guests go to his study and find him there dead, having apparently shot himself. Poirot is not convinced, however, and soon starts to prove that Sir Gervase was murdered because of various improbable factors surrounding the death, including the position at which the bullet is believed to have struck a mirror and the many different moods that Chevenix-Gore exhibited during the day.

When Poirot first arrives at the Chevenix-Gore's house, he meets Chevenix's wife Vanda, an eccentric who believes she is a reincarnation of an Egyptian woman, his adopted daughter Ruth and her cousin Hugo, and Miss Lingard, a secretary helping Chevenix research a family history. It is revealed that before Poirot arrives, all the guests and family were dressing for dinner, and after they heard the dinner gong, a shot rang out. No one suspected that anything is wrong, believing that either a car had backfired or champagne was being served. And Chevenix-Gore not being the most popular of men, there are any number of suspects, including his own daughter and nephew. It is revealed that Hugo is engaged to Susan (another guest at the house) and Ruth has already married Lake (Chevenix-Gore's agent) in secret.

In the end, Poirot assembles everyone in the study. He tells them that Chevenix intended to disinherit Ruth if she did not marry Hugo Trent. However, it was too late, as she was already married to Lake. Poirot says that Ruth killed Chevenix, but Ms Lingard confesses in the murder. She is the real mother of Ruth and she killed Chevenix to prevent him from disinheriting her.

The bullet which killed Chevenix hit the gong (as the door to the study was open), which made Susan think that she heard the first gong (dinner was usually served after the valet would strike the gong 2 times), and it was Ms Lingard who smashed the mirror and made the whole affair look like suicide. She blew a paper bag to fake a shot. Poirot claims to suspect Ruth because he suspected Ms Lingard would rescue her daughter and confess, and he had no evidence against Ms Lingard. After everyone leaves and Ms Lingard stays alone in the room, she asks Poirot not to tell Ruth that she is her real mother. Poirot agrees as Ms Lingard is terminally ill, and does not reveal anything to Ruth who wonders why Ms Lingard committed the murder.

Triangle at Rhodes
Wishing for a quiet holiday free from crime, Poirot goes to Rhodes during the low season in October where there are but a few guests. Aside from the young Pamela Lyall and Sarah Blake there is Valentine Chantry, a consciously beautiful woman who seems to swoon under the attentions of Douglas Gold. This is done at the expense of his own wife, Marjorie, a mildly attractive woman, and Valentine's husband Tony Chantry. This is the "triangle" that everyone observes, and it gets rather absurd with the two men vying for Valentine's favour. She seems to delight in the attention. Marjorie Gold soon wins the sympathy of many of the guests of the hotel as her husband is frequently in the company of Valentine, she confesses her own doubts about Valentine to Poirot. Poirot, however, warns her to flee the island if she values her life. The event comes to a head one evening, beginning when Gold and Chantry have a loud argument. Valentine and Marjorie return from a drive, and the former is poisoned by the cocktail her husband gives her. Gold is immediately suspected, as the strophanthin that kills Valentine is found in the pocket of his dinner jacket. Poirot notices otherwise, seeing that Chantry puts it in Gold's pocket just as everyone's attention is on his dying wife. Poirot gives this information to the police, and points out to Pamela Lyall that she was focusing on the wrong triangle. The real triangle was between Douglas, Marjorie and Chantry. Chantry and Marjorie were in love, but they could not get married as Douglas, a Catholic, would not consent to divorce. For this reason, Chantry and Marjorie decided to kill Valentine and ensure that Douglas was blamed for the murder. Also, Poirot's warning to Marjorie Gold was not because he feared she was a victim at risk of being murdered, but the opposite. He was warning her she would be caught, tried, and convicted as one of the culprits, and be hanged for murder.

Literary significance and reception
Simon Nowell-Smith of The Times Literary Supplement's issue of 27 March 1937 wrote: "It would seem nowadays – it was not true of Sherlock Holmes, when the rules were less rigid – the shorter the detective story the less good it will be. The least effective of the stories in this book occupies 32 pages; the most 96; and there are two of intermediate length and merit. All are of quite a high standard as long-short stories, but none is as good as any of Mrs Christie's full-length detective novels. The fact is that the reader of today demands to participate in a detective story, and no living writer, unless occasionally Miss Sayers, can find room in a short story for this extra detective." The reviewer felt that the title story was the strongest and that Triangle at Rhodes the weakest because, "the psychology of the characters is insufficiently developed to make the solution either predictable or plausible".

Isaac Anderson of The New York Times Book Review of 27 June 1937 said, "The four stories in this book are all fully up to the Agatha Christie-Hercule Poirot standard, and are about as varied in plot and in the characters involved as it is possible for detective stories to be."

The Scotsman of 1 April 1937 said "To the ingenuity of Mrs Agatha Christie there is no end. She writes with Spartan simplicity, presents her clues fairly, and nearly always succeeds in simultaneously mystifying and satisfying her reader. This is no mean achievement in an art which is popularly supposed to be rapidly exhausting a limited stock of deception devices."

In The Observer's issue of 18 April 1937, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) wrote: "It is rather for herself than for the four awkwardly shaped Poirot stories which make up Murder in the Mews that I give Agatha Christie first place this week. There is sufficient in the latest exploits of the little Belgian to remind us that his creator is our queen of detective writers, but by no means enough to win her that title if she had not already won it. The last and shortest tale, Triangle at Rhodes, is just the one which should have been made the longest, since it is a problem depending entirely on the unfolding of the characters of four people. Mrs Christie has not given herself room for such unfolding, and is therefore constrained to tear the buds brutally apart. This plot would, I think, have furnished forth a whole novel. In the other three stories, each of that long-short form which used to be sacred to the penny detective adventure story, Poirot is but palely himself, and in each case the plot, though clever, is not brilliant. In the name piece the motive of the second crime is legitimately baffling; in The Incredible Theft I kept pace with Poirot; in Dead Man's Mirror, feeling a little cheated, I myself cheated by backing the most exterior of outsiders."

E. R. Punshon of The Guardian reviewed the collection in the 9 April 1937 issue when he wrote that it was "perhaps enough to say that they are all good, but not outstanding, Christie, and that in all of them Monsieur Poirot… is given full opportunity to display his accustomed acumen." Punshon stated that the title story was, "the best, and Mrs Christie is least successful when she enters into the international spy field. The last story is disappointing in that it presents an interesting psychological situation that seems to cry aloud for the fuller treatment. Mrs Christie could well have given it."

Mary Dell in the Daily Mirror of 1 April 1937 said: "Agatha Christie is keeping her famous detective, Poirot, busy. Here he is the murderer-chaser in four short stories which show that this author can keep you as "on edge" in shorter thrillers as in full-length ones. And another good thing is that you can come to the last untying of all the knots in one sitting.

Robert Barnard: "Four very good long short stories. No duds, but perhaps the most interesting is Triangle at Rhodes, with its 'double-triangle' plot, very familiar from other Christies."

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Murder in the mews - Agatha Christie

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