First published in 1923, The Murder on the Links is Agatha Christie’s third novel and the second to feature her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. I remember it mostly as “the one where Hastings meets his future wife”.
If I was truly pedantic about my Agatha Christie challenge I’d probably have committed to re-reading Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple series in strict chronological order, but I haven’t, so I end up re-visiting the same characters at random stages of their lives. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter since the crimes themselves are rarely tied to a particular time period, but it can also be disorienting when, say, a character refers to “the war” and you have to remind yourself that they’re talking about World War I rather than World War II.
Anyway, in this novel narrated by much younger Captain Arthur Hastings, he and Poirot travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer in France after Poirot receives an intriguing letter from a South American millionaire Paul Renauld. In the letter, Renauld writes of fearing for his life, but it seems that his cry for help comes too late. When Poirot and Hastings arrive at Monsieur Renauld’s villa, he’s already found dead, stabbed in the back and his body thrown into a freshly dug grave on the nearby golf course. His wife, meanwhile, is found bound and gagged in their bedroom, and tells the story about two masked and bearded men breaking in during the night and kidnapping her husband. It all sounds very dramatic… too dramatic, in fact. Add a son who hasn’t been too happy with his father lately, a couple of possible mistresses, and a second dead body that makes no sense, and you have a head-scratcher of a case.
The plot of The Murder on the Links is rather labyrinthine and complex, and the investigation appears to reach the bottom of the matter again and again without satisfying Poirot’s little grey cells. You get the sense that Christie was still figuring out the art of laying down her intricate puzzles and springing surprises on the reader in this earlier novel, but she still pulled it off quite well even if it lacks the ingenuity of her best work.
In this story, both Hastings and Poirot keep secrets from one another, which leads to more friction between the two friends than usual. The addition of Inspector Giraud, an arrogant French detective whose inexhaustible energy impresses Hastings and makes Poirot scoff, is a nice comic touch. Hastings’ romantic subplot involving a mysterious young woman he deems too modern and unsuitable for him is somehow both endearing and lame. It’s quite amusing to see his stuffy old-fashioned attitudes to women made fun of, but I swear, a twelve-year-old me would probably have written a less awkward romance than this and built it up better.