This is only the second Christie novel in my re-readathon that I genuinely don’t remember ever reading before. I had the right instinct about who dunnit all along, but this Poirot mystery still boasts plenty of surprises and twists.
Even the great Hercule Poirot is a mere mortal who needs to see a dentist from time to time. A few hours after he leaves the dreaded chair, he receives a shocking news that Mr Morley, his amiable and capable dentist, has apparently shot himself soon after Poirot’s appointment. Neither Poirot nor Inspector Japp find the suicide plausible, and suspect foul play. But who would want to murder an unremarkable man like Morley?
Things get even more puzzling when a patient of Morley’s is found dead in his hotel room after an overdose of adrenaline and novocaine – standard local anaesthetic used by the dentists – and yet another patient disappears from her lodgings without a trace. The rather convoluted plot is busy juggling a large cast of characters who at first glance seem to have nothing to do with each other, among them a powerful and influential banker, a young American with radical political views, and a retired Secret Service agent. Though it’s not one of Christie’s full-on spy novels, there are hints of a complicated political intrigue behind it all. Meanwhile, Poirot keeps circling back to the buckled shoes of the missing lady patient, so you know that it’s a big clue he’s withholding till the end.
While I had a fairly good idea about the murderer and a partial idea about the motive, I’d never have guessed the way the various strands of the case all tied in together. After looking again through the opening chapters of the book, Christie does one of her favourite tricks where the heart of the matter is casually disclosed in a line that the reader would be bound to forget.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe would probably be a pretty standard entry in Poirot series, if not for a couple of interesting aspects. The novel was first published in 1940, and while there’s no explicit reference to the war other than a brief mention of Hitler and Mussolini, there’s a strong streak of anxiety about the future of the nation and the younger generation who’d like nothing better than to smash the existing order. Unsurprisingly, Poirot’s (and Christie’s) natural sympathies clearly lie with the stable conservatism. The story is also interesting for leaving Poirot with an intriguing moral dilemma at the end – while his moral compass remains unshakeable he actually wonders out loud if he judged wrongly, which is rare to see.
P.S. I’ve just read five Christie novels in a row, so my brain was obviously craving easy comfort reading these past few weeks. Not surprising in the circumstances, but I think I’ll give Dame Agatha a rest for a while and read something else for a change.