Monday, 22 May 2017

Dumb Witness

Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot complaining that someone is trying to kill her.  She fell down the stairs, an accident attributed to her fox terrier's rubber ball.  However, by the time Poirot receives her letter, she is dead.

Emily's doctor says she died of chronic liver problems.  Emily's companion, Minnie Lawson inherits the deceased's house and fortune.  In a previous will, the inheritors would have been Emily's nephew, Charles, and nieces, Theresa and Bella.  Upon investigation, Poirot discovers a nail with varnish and a string attached to it at the top of the stairs.  "" had been the message that Emily had given before her death.  Poirot concludes that Bob the dog, who was outside that night, did not leave the ball on the stairs and that Emily was tripped by the string.

Emily's nephew and nieces talk about contesting the will, but it is not pursued.  The gardener reveals that the nephew, Charles, talked to him about his arsenic based week killer.  The bottle is almost empty.  Minnie Lawson says that on the night of Emily's death she saw someone through her bedroom window wearing a broach with the initials T.A. (possibly Theresa Arundell, Emily's niece).

IN the meantime, Bella reveals her husband Jacob is bullying her and she moves with her children to a hotel, with the help of Minnie.  However, for more security Poirot recommends she moves to another hotel.  The next day Bella is found dead due to an overdose of chloral, a sleep aid.

Poirot reveals his theory on the murders.  Theresa stole the arsenic but could not bring herself to use it.  She and her brother suspected each other.  Emily, fearing that Charles might be trying to kill her, revealed that she had revised her will.  He was satisfied with just stealing some of her money.  The brooch which Minnie had seen was really Bella's.  The initials TA, reversed in the mirror, stood for Arabella Tanios.  She hated her husband and wanted to separate from him and keep the children, but she had no means to do so.  Her first attempt with the ball and string failed.  Her second attempt involved inserting elemental phosphorous in one of Emily's liver capsules, which succeeded.

Emily was unaware that her aunt had revised her will.  When Poirot explained the murder, she took her own life and her children went back to their father.  Emily's husband is upset as he did love his wife.  However, he finds out she obtained the chloral to kill him.  Minnie decides to share her wealth with Charles, Theresa and Bella's children.  Theresa marries Dr. Donaldson,  Charles squanders his wealth.  The terrier goes to live with Poirot but he prefers Captain Hastings.

Dumb Witness

Dumb Witness, published in 1937, courtesy

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Cards on the Table

Mr. Shaitana hosts a dinner party and invites four sleuths and four people he thinks could have committed murder.  In a veiled accusation, he lists the way the guests might have committed murder based on their occupations.  After dinner, he seats the fours sleuths at one bridge table and the four other people at another table. When the sleuths finish their game, Hercule Poirot, one of them, discovers his host dead in his chair, a weapon from his own collection in his chest.

Poirot speaks with Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race and Mrs. Olivers while the other four guests wait in another room.  Battle questions each one.  Dr. Roberts Mrs. Lorrimer and Anne Meredith and Major Dethspar all deny any involvement in the murder.  Poirot collects the score sheets from the bridge game to mark the passage of time as well as to give clues to the character of each suspect.

As the investigation proceeds, each sleuth discovers a murder.  Battle finds out that a client of Dr. Roberts, along with the client's spouse, died separately, one of anthrax, the other of blood poisoning. Colonel Race reveals that Despard led botanist Luxmore through the Amazon jungle where the latter died of fever, with rumours he was shot.  Mrs. Oliver learns that a woman who employed Anne as a companion died of accidental poisoning.  Poirot uncovers the fact that Mrs. Lorrimer poisoned her husband.  Colonel Race leaves the country for his work in the Secret Service.  The reactions of the guests vary:  Anne is afraid, Despard engages a lawyer and Dr. Roberts carries on as usual.

Mrs. Lorrimer, who admits she killed her husband, says she has a fatal health condition and that she is the one who killed the host.  However, she is not believed; it appears she is trying to spare Anne.  Anne comes to visit Mrs. Lorrimer and the following morning the latter is found dead of a sleeping drug overdose.  However, when Poirot comes upon the scene he sees a hypodermic needle mark on Mrs. Lorrimer's arm.

Anne takes her flatmate Rhoda out in a boat on the nearby rivers as they await a visit from Despard.  Poirot and Battle race to Anne's cottage where they see Anne deliberately tip Rhoda out of the boat, but the latter pulls the former into the water as well, and neither can swim.  Despard saves Rhoda and then Anne.  Rhoda survives but Anne dies.

At Poirot's apartment he presents his theory on the murders.  The sleuth presents a window washer who saw Dr. Roberts inject Mrs. Lorrimer.  The police ruled she died of an anesthesia overdose.  Dr. Roberts killed Mr. Shaitana as well.  He waited until he was a "dummy" in the bridge game and excused himself to get a glass of water.  Furthermore, Doctor Roberts had killed Mr. Craddock, the husband of one of his patients, by putting anthrax on his shaving brush during a house call.  Then he injected Mrs. Craddock with her required anti typhoid injection before her trip to Egypt but added a germ which led to her fatal blood infection.  Roberts at first protests but eventually admits he is guilty.  The window washer was actually an actor used to solicit the confession from the doctor.

Major Despard is exonerated when it is proven that the botanist died from an accident shooting wound.  Despard ends up courting Rhoda, Anne's flatmate.

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table published in 1936 courtesy 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

ABC Murders

Poirot receives typed letters from a serial murderer, ABC, explaining where and when the next murder will be.   Alice Ascher is a tobacco shop owner killed in Andover.  Betty Barnard is a flirtatious waitress killed in Bexhill.  Carmichael Clarke is a wealthy man killed in his manor in Churston.  ABC leaves a railway guide with each victim.  Poirot wonders:  "Why would ABC write to him instead of Scotland Yard or any reputed newspaper?" and "Why did a meticulous man like ABC misspell Poirot's address on the Churston letter?"

The murder mystery is unravelled by Captain Hastings who talks about Cust, travelling salesman and Great War veteran, who suffered from epilepsy due to a war injury.  He is prone to memory blackouts and headaches.  Also involved in the investigation are Inspector Crome, who doubts Poirot's investigative abilities, and Dr. Thomson who profiles the serial killer.

Poirot notices a similarity among all three murders.  A stockings salesman visited each home before the murder, selling a pair of stockings to the first two victims, but being turned away by the third.  ABC sends a fourth letter, this time directing everyone to Doncaster where a famous horse race will take place.  But ABC strikes in a cinema where he kills George Earlsfield, instead of Roger Downes, the logical victim sitting only two seats away.  The salesman, Cust, who had suffered a blackout, later slips out of the theatre unnoticed.  Cust finds the murder weapon in his pocket and blood on his sleeve.

Cust, tipped off that the police are after him, flees but collapses at the Andover police station.  Cust, who can't remember the murder, fears that he is guilty.  Cust's room contains many incriminating items:  silk stockings, lists of clients, the fine paper used to type the letters to Poirot, an unopened box of ABC railway guides, and in the hall lies the bloodied knife from the most recent murder.  It is revealed that Cust was never hired by the stocking company and that the letters to Poirot were indeed typed on Cust's typewriter, the one he claimed the company gave him.  Poirot meets with Cust who has no recollection of any of the murders.  He has a solid alibi, however, for the Bexhill murder.

Poirot categorically explains how Cust could not have committed the murders.  Then he points the finger at Franklin Clarke, the brother of Sir Carmichael Clarke, the third victim.  Sir Carmichael was heir to a fortune and a member of Cust's legion.  The third letter, which contained an error, was meant to lead the reader astray.  Franklin had feared that, with Lady Clarke's death imminent, his brother would marry his young beautiful assistant.  When Sir Carmichael died, his wealth would go to his new wife and any children they had.  Franklin's meeting with Cust in a pub served as inspiration for his serial murder plot, with Cust serving as the stalking horse.

Franklin laughs off the accusations until Poirot states that the former's fingerprint was found on Cust's typewriter key.  Further Franklin has been recognized by Milly Higley, a coworker of the deceased Betty Barnard.  Franklin tries to shoot himself but Poirot is one step ahead of him and has emptied the bullets from his gun.  Poirot reveals to Hastings that the fingerprint on the typewriter key was a bluff.  Cust, meanwhile, has an offer from the press to sell his story,  

The ABC Murders

The ABC Murders, published in 1936, courtesy 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Murder in Mesopotamia

Amy Leatheran, a nurse, is hired by Swedish archeologist Dr. Erich Leidner, to care for his wife, Louise.  They are currently on a dig in Iraq, a British protectorate.  Louise was married briefly during the Great War 15 years earlier.  She turned in her husband, Frederick, a German spy, and he was imprisoned.  He escaped and hopped a train, but the train crashed.  A body with his identification was found at the site of the crash.  However, Louise is now receiving letters from her "deceased" husband which puts her on edge.

A week after the nurse is hired to care for Louise, the latter is found dead in her room, the victim of a blow by a blunt instrument.  Dr. Reilly examines the body and establishes a time line, concluding that it was an inside job.  He calls in Hercule Poirot, travelling in Iraq at the time, to solve the crime.  Poirot determines that it must be someone from the expedition who is guilty of the murder.  The murderer must have entered the victim's bedroom from the inside of the house as the bedroom window is barred.  However, after one round of questioning it appears that everyone has an airtight alibi.

Nurse Leatheran tells Poirot the story of Louise's young brother in law, William, who was fifteen years younger.  She points out that Louise always craved the attention of men.  Poirot suspects that William, or even Frederick himself might be part of the expedition as Frederick's identity was never proven on the train wreck.  Poirot warns Nurse Leatheran that she might be a future target of the murderer but she still insists on attending Louise's funeral.

After the funeral, Nurse Leatheran and Miss Johnson are up on the roof and the latter points out how someone could enter the house without being seen.  Later Miss Johnson is poisoned:  someone substituted hydrocholoric acid in her water glass, through her window..  Poirot solves the crimes, but has no proof.

It turns out Mrs. Leidner and Miss Johnson were murdered by Dr. Erich Leidner.  Poirot determines that Leidner is really the long lost husband, Frederick who really didn't die in the crash.  Leidner did die and he has stolen his identity.  Frederick remarried his wife who, after 15 years, didn't recognize him. He was the one who sent her the letters to discourage her from engaging in relationships with other men.  He discovered that his wife was falling in love with his friend, Richard Carey, and he murdered her in a jealous rage.  Miss Johnson figured it out and he in turn murdered her.

On the night of the crime, Louise heard a noise up on the roof.  Unbeknowst to her it was her husband sorting pottery.  She opened her bedroom window to investigate only to be knocked out by a stone quern.  In the meantime, Frederick removed the bloodstained rug and closed the window before calling the nurse.  With the nurse on the scene, she could vouch for the time of death.  Frederick tried to make Miss Johnson's death appear a suicide; however, Poirot points out that hydrolic acid is an incredibly painful way to kill oneself.   

Murder in Mesopotamia

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Death in the Clouds

Hercule Poirot is on a flight from Paris to Croydon when one of the passengers, Madame Giselle, drops dead.  Speculation has it that she died of a wasp sting, but Poirot determines the cause of death to be a poisoned dart.  What instrument was used to shoot the dart?  Was it the flute carried by one of the passengers?  Was it the ancient tubes brought on board by the two archeologists?  Was it Lady Horbury's cigarette holder?  And what were the two coffee spoons doing in the victim's coffee cup?

Poirot discovers that Madame Giselle was known for blackmailing her clients who hadn't paid up.  Also, Madame Giselle had an estranged daughter who should inherit her mother's estate; she might be on board the plane.  Poirot questions several of the passengers including Mr. Clancy, a detective novelist.  Countess Horbury also comes under suspicion.  She came from the lower class but married well.  In the meantime, her husband has cut her off and she had owed Madame Giselle money.  The Countess' maid, called into the compartment during the flight, would have had the perfect opportunity to commit the crime.  The maid is revealed as the long lost daughter of the victim.  It appears as if she is guilty, but she in turn is murdered on the boat train to Bologne.

Dentist Norman Gale, who had a crush on the novel's heroine Jane Grey, is revealed to be Anne's new husband.  Poirot discovers that Gale brought his dentist's jacket on board and excused himself to go to the washroom.  He donned the jacket and posed as a steward.  Under the premise of delivering a coffee spoon to Madame Giselle, he stabbed her with the poison dart.  Gale's intention had been to frame the Countess.  The blowpipe found behind Poirot's seat was supposed to be behind the Countess' but they had switched at the last minute.  Poirot allows the detective novelist to listen in as he joins the dots in the story's denouement.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Three Act Tragedy

At a party in Cornwall, the mild-mannered minister, Reverend Stephen Babbington, chokes on his cocktail, goes into convulsions and dies.  Investigation of the glass finds no poison.  Hercule Poirot is baffled; there appears to be no motive.  The party, hosted by Sir Charles Cartwright, also included:  Dr. Strange, Lady Mary Lytton Gore and her daughter Hermione, Captain Dacres and his wife Cynthia, Muriel Wills,Oliver Manders, Mr. Satterthwaite, and Mrs. Babbington.  Sir Charles mixed the drinks.

Another party is hosted in Yorkshire with many of the same guests, except Sir Charles, Mr. Satterthwaite and Poirot.  Oliver Sanders' motorcycle breaks down right in front of the manor. Sir Charles new butler serves port to all of the guests.  Dr. Strange collapses and dies.  His glass is tested and it is determined he died of nicotine poisoning.  Reverend Babbington's exhumed body reveals the same substance.

Mr. Satterthwaite and Sir Charles investigate the two deaths.  It turns out Dr. Strange gave his usual butler a vacation just two weeks before his death.  After his murder, his temporary butler disappeared.  In Ellis' room papers are found indicating he was blackmailing Dr. Strange.

Poirot receives a telegram from Mrs. D at the sanitarium.  Later, Mrs. D is discovered murdered as a result of nicotine poisoning.

It turns out that Sir Charles murdered all three victims. Charles had wanted to marry Hermione but couldn't because he had a wife in the insane asylum.  British law forbade him from divorcing her.  He murdered Dr. Strange who was the one person who knew about his wife.  The Cornwall party was a dress rehearsal for the real murder.  Reverend Babbington was the guinea pig.  Sir Charles managed to switch Babbington's tainted glass with an untainted one.

Sir Charles then convinced Dr. Strange to let him play the role of the butler.  When Muriel spoke up, Sir Charles was prepared to kill her too.  However, Poirot told her to go into hiding.  Mrs. D was silenced because otherwise she would have told Poirot she did not send the telegram and was unconnected to the crime. Sir Charles is arrested and Hermione matches up with Oliver Manders.

Three Act Tragedy, published in 1934, courtesy 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Spanning a continent, from Paris to Istanbul, the Orient Express was the "King of Trains".  Presidents rode it for its luxuries; spies used it as a secret weapon; businessmen rode it for its connections.  The train would be the subject of books and movies.

In the mid-1800's, Belgian businessman Nagelmackers had a dream for a train route from Paris to Constantinople.  He travelled to America where the Pullman sleeping car made quite an impression on him.  In 1883, Nagelmackers' Compangie Internationale des Wagons-Lits opened a Paris-Constantinople route.  The journey would span 1500 miles and would take 80 hours.  Newspapers dubbed the route "The Orient Express", even though it never reached the Orient.

The train resembled a fine European hotel with its wooden panelling, its deluxe leather armchairs, its silk sheets and its five-course meals.  Its elegance attracted royalty.  The king of Bulgaria, an amateur engineer, insisted on driving the train through his country.  Czar Nicholas II ordered extra cars built for his trip to France.  And one president, likely in the sauce, fell off the train.

Diplomats made history on the train:  the German surrender of 1918 took place in one of its cars.  Hitler ordered the same car for the French surrender of 1940.  Later when the tide of the war turned, the dictator ordered the famous car destroyed.

Spies conducted operations on the train.  Robert Baden Powell posed as a lepidopterist during the war.  He made intricate butterfly sketches which turned out to be coded representations of the enemy's fortifications, helping the Allies to clinch a victory.

Agatha Christie wrote her famous "Murder on the Orient Express" in the 1930's.  The movie adaptation was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Ingrid Bergman in the 1970's.

Shortly after Hitchcock's movie, the Orient Express stopped its service to Istanbul.  Bit by bit it cut back its service.  Finally, in 2009, it shut down completely.