Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

I just finished Cards on the Table, a Hercule Poirot mystery by Dame Agatha Christie. I had not read this one before.

Eight folks at a dinner party; afterwards, two tables of bridge. Later, the host, a Mephistophelian-like fellow Mr. Shaitana, is found dead sitting by the fireplace. Stabbed through the heart. Fortunately, M. Hercule Poirot is a guest as well as Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, Colonel Race with the Secret Service, and Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, the mystery writer who shows up now and again in Ms. Christie's tales. 

The other guests, the ones playing bridge in the room where the host was killed, all have secrets in their pasts which give each of them a motive for murder. 

And so the game is afoot.

As secrets are revealed - each suspect could possibly have murdered in the past and had been found out by Mr. Shaitana - the case becomes curiouser and curiouser. 

Of course, M. Poirot and his little grey cells unravel the mystery but, alas, not before two others are found dead. It is all very psychologically intriguing and great fun. (Well, except for the dead people).

Ms. Christie gives Mrs. Oliver an opportunity to tell a young woman, Rhoda, that being a writer is hard work, that there is much thinking involved about plots and poisons.

Mrs. Oliver: “One actually has to think, you know. And thinking is always a bore. And you have to plan things. And then one gets stuck every now and then, and you feel you’ll never get out of the mess—but you do! Writing’s not particularly enjoyable. It’s hard work like everything else.

"... Some days I can only keep going by repeating over and over to myself the amount of money I might get for my next serial rights. That spurs you on, you know. So does your bankbook when you see how much overdrawn you are.”

“It must be so wonderful to be able to think of things,” said Rhoda.

“I can always think of things,” said Mrs. Oliver happily. “What is so tiring is writing them down. I always think I've finished, and then when I count up I find I've only written thirty thousand words instead of sixty thousand, and so then I have to throw in another murder and get the heroine kidnapped again. It’s all very boring.”

I suspect these are the words of experience.

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