Cards on the Table

Rating: ****

Mr. Shaitana is no ordinary personality. He is a collector. Approaching Poirot one day, the Mephistopheles-like character invites him to a dinner party in which he will show case his unique collection – a collection of murderers; those murderers who have gotten away with their crimes.

Four crime experts; four supposed criminals; that is Mr. Shaitana’s idea of a dinner party. Hercule Poirot meets Mrs. Oliver, the celebrated detective writer, Colonel Race, a Secret Service Agent, and Superintendent Battle from the Scotland Yard, all representatives of law and order. The other mysterious guests include murderers Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Miss Anne Meredith, and Major Despard. At the end of a game of bridge, the crime experts come to take their leave of Mr. Shaitana, only to find him murdered. The only four in the room with Mr. Shaitana were the other four guests playing bridge. It is up to the others to find the murderer from within the murderers.

Some thoughts
The interesting thing about this case was that the authorities had absolutely no evidence to go upon. The deduction had to be purely psychological and Hercule Poirot is the king of psychology. The motive is obviously a previous murder that one of the guests thought Mr. Shaitana had discovered. Poirot reveals the purpose of the party to his law-enforcement friends and now they must discover the guests’ previous murders as well as Mr. Shaitana’s murderer.

This case also has the interesting feature of including four of Agatha Christie’s most famous characters: Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver and of course Hercule Poirot. Each have starred in other novels but this is the only time when they all come together.

I was so tempted to rate this five stars. The only reason I didn’t, was, that although the case was one of the best (even better than some five stars), none of the characters really moved me. It was psychologically intriguing but the story was not as touching as it was in Murder on the Orient Express or Death Comes as the End. But as I said, I’m tempted……..

The Pale Horse

Rating: ****

On a foggy night, a certain Father Gorman is murdered after hearing the confession of a dying woman. Inspector Lejeune, the lead detective on the case, discovers a list of names hidden in the priest’s shoe. What significance do those names bear? What is the connection of those names to the dying woman? Far away at a cafe in Chelsea, Mark Easterbrook, a historian, watches as two girls fight and one pulls out tufts of the other’s hair. Later, he reads of the death of one of the girls.

By sheer coincidence, Mark Easterbrook comes into contact with the list of names. Slowly, he discovers that the list is a list of victims. The girl at the cafe, his god-mother, a friend etc. …Were these people being blackmailed? Or something more sinister? What was the dying woman involved in?

Mark Easterbrook believes from the onset that the list contains the names of dead people. He finds that many of the names are known to him as of people who have recently died. This list becomes connected in his mind with a name: the “Pale Horse” (a hugely coincidental connection). Casually mentioned by an empty headed girl at lunch one day, the place apparently deals with murdering people for money. Shortly, he himself travels to the Pale Horse and meets Thyrza Grey, its mysterious owner. At first inclined to dismiss the superstition attached to the place as ridiculous, he finds himself horrified by the rantings of its occupants. Thyrza Grey apparently believes in the concept of being able to kill people by suggestion. A lot of scientific jargon popular in Christie’s day is used and ‘thought-waves’ and ‘mediums’ are considered as the supernatural basis for the deaths as the victims – all rich – supposedly suffered a natural death.

The young historian finds himself in a curious position. He confides his suspicions to Ginger, a girl he met in the locality of the Pale Horse. Together, they hatch up a plan to approach the people involved as prospective clients. In a dangerous situation, it is in the end Inspector Lejeune who uncovers the true leader behind the ring.

Some thoughts
Re-reading was more fun than I thought. The Pale Horse had some interesting characters and a small romance to round it all off. I always enjoy Agatha Christie’s depiction of characters. Mark Easterbrook, although somewhat credulous as far as ‘thought-projection’ and ‘waves’ are concerned, was a reliable and intelligent hero. He provides most of the narration in the novel which ends on the normal twist: whodunnit is never so simple in Agatha’s mystery novels. It’s the suspense that keeps you hooked till the end.

The Pale Horse is one of Agatha’s later mysteries. Published in 1961, it contains famous characters Ariadne Oliver the detective fiction writer, Rev and Mrs. Dane Calthrop (also in The Moving Finger) and Colonel and Mrs. Despard (also in Cards on the Table).

I categorized this novel as one with the ‘young couple’. Agatha Christie occasionally stereotyped her characters. This is most apparent in novels with Miss Marple, whose method consists of ascertaining ‘types’ of people. Although it was generally done with foreigners to make it easier for her readers to understand them, in my opinion it stretched to the protagonists in certain novels.