I’ve now plowed through about one third of Agatha Christie’s detective oeuvre (only three more years to go before I finish them all, going by the current pace… wheee), but I’ve only now stumbled on a novel that features and is narrated by Hercule Poirot’s own faithful Watson, Arthur Hastings. I say stumbled because, while the details of the story gradually floated back into my memory the longer I read, especially the undeniably clever ending, this novel had kinda faded from my brain. Though maybe not the most memorable Poirot mystery ever, it’s not without its charms, not the least of which is the friendship between Poirot and Hastings. Everyone likes a bickering couple!
Hastings and Poirot are on a holiday in the idyllic Cornish Riviera, and as the novel opens Poirot insists to his friend, in a typical melodramatic and mock-humble manner, that he’s retired from crime solving with no chance of a farewell tour. This retirement lasts until page 7, where Hastings and Poirot make an acquaintance with a pretty and cheekily irreverent young woman who goes by the name Nick Buckley. Poirot’s detective instincts are awakened in an instant when Nick mentions several recent brushes with death in a string of accidents that could have ended badly. When he finds what looks like a fresh bullet hole in the sunhat Nick leaves behind, Poirot decides to come out of the retirement and protect the girl.
But preventing a murder is a harder task than solving one that’s already happened. There’s a great big cast of friends, servants and guests hanging around Nick’s family house – the titular End House – but no apparent motive in sight, not even good old-fashioned money as the house is re-mortgaged and hardly worth killing someone over. Poirot has to peel off several layers before he gets to the heart of the mystery, with everyone around, including the intended victim, holding something back, and the whole affair has him befuddled and frustrated for maybe longer than usual.
The solution is quite ingenious and, typically for Christie, second-time readers will be amused to see that Dame Agatha hides the key to the whole thing in one casual line of dialogue very early on. But the high point of the novel to me was the dynamic between Poirot and Hastings; I forgot how delightful this odd couple is between Poirot’s eccentricity and Hasting’s square normalcy. Their endearing affection for each other is sprinkled with a fair dose of exasperation; Hastings is frequently irritated by Poirot’s ego and self-importance, while Poirot mocks his friend’s naivety and inability to notice things. This interplay makes for some entertaining banter and barbed exchanges that made me chuckle quite a bit.
P.S. By a weird coincidence, this is a second Agatha Christie novel in a row I’ve read where a secondary character has a cocaine problem.