This collection of short stories, first published in 1924 and featuring Christie’s own Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, may not be as satisfying as Christie’s Poirot novels, but it showcases the future Queen of Crime honing her craft.
I have to say upfront that my view of the book was probably skewed by a couple of things: I read it during the brief period of post-lockdown blues when I wasn’t in the best of moods, and straight after revisiting After the Funeral, one of Christie’s most accomplished Poirot novels that stands out for its strong characterisation and well-written family dynamics. So inevitably, this collection of feather-light and brisk mysteries came off as rather thin and less substantial in comparison, as well as lacking the grounded feel of the Miss Marple short stories which I had enjoyed a lot more. As I said before though, I might have felt more favourably if the timing was different.
The eleven short stories, all narrated by Poirot’s (rather clueless) friend Hastings, see the great man solve a wide range of mysteries involving missing jewels, a suspicious insurance claim, high society murder, mysterious deaths surrounding an ancient Egyptian tomb, and even a kidnapping of the British Prime Minister. The most intriguing setup of the lot is the case of a ridiculously cheap flat, which attracts Poirot’s curiosity, though this refreshingly mundane premise turns into a much less interesting thriller/assassination plot. I just never had much taste for Christie’s international intrigues.
The Case of the Missing Will is the Poirot version of a similar Miss Marple story, where his services are enlisted by a young lady poised to inherit a fortune from her eccentric uncle – but only if she proves her wits by finding his real will after his death. At the end, Hastings raises a valid point on whether the young woman is playing fair by involving Poirot, which Poirot brushes away by saying that she in fact proves her intelligence by employing the expert. Despite my mixed feelings about the collection, it’s still a lot of fun to see Christie develop her outrageously vain little Belgian who so far had only appeared in a couple of books, with his ego and fussy habits and obsession with order and logic.
Hastings, who is clearly meant to mimic Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr Watson, works far less successfully than Watson in these short stories, mostly because there’s no real obvious reason why he’s involved in Poirot’s investigations at all. This makes Hastings feel more like a blatant device with no life or purpose of his own – seriously what does Hastings do when he’s not tagging along with Poirot?? Christie must have come to the same conclusion, since she promptly sent Hastings off to Argentina and limited his appearances in Poirot novels to a handful of returns to England.
Though these short stories only held my interest sporadically, and don’t match the excellence of Poirot novels which have the space to go far more in-depth on characters and plot, there’s no denying that they’re all tightly written, with neat and concise solutions. I genuinely loved the solution of The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor. Remember kids, if anyone asks you to put the end of your rifle in your mouth, do not do it under any circumstance.