Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie – Book Review

Murder, stolen plans, locked room mystery and a menage a trois. Hercule Poirot is faced with four mystifying cases in what is by far the strongest and most re-readable collection of Christie’s short stories.

Personally I’ve always preferred Poirot novels to Poirot short stories, however aside from the very last story, the rest of Murder in the Mews is actually closer to novellas in length. Over the years, it’s been one of my most re-visited Christie books; I’ve lost count of how many times I would reach out for my dog-eared copy when I wanted something light to read while taking a very long bath.

Murder in the Mews
The first short story, which begins with fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day, is probably one of my all-time favourite Poirot cases. When Poirot and his friend Chief Inspector Japp walk home on the bonfire night, Japp casually remarks on how easy it would be to commit a murder on the night when a gun shot would be masked by the cracks and bangs. Sure enough, the next day Poirot gets a call asking for his assistance. A young widow is found dead and at first it looks as if she’s taken her own life, but on closer inspection it seems that someone has tried to make a murder look like a suicide.

The best Christie mysteries are like elegant puzzles, and this story is just superbly constructed, with a tight plot, clever red herrings, major clues hidden in plain sight and one of the most unusual adversaries Poirot has ever faced. It’s a case that really highlights Poirot’s strong sense of moral right and wrong, and the value he puts on human life.

The Incredible Theft
One of Christie’s better international intrigue stories, it takes place at the house of a rising politician Lord Mayfield, who arranges a small party with a secret agenda. One of the guests is Mrs Vanderlyn, an American femme fatale suspected to be a useful person for a certain European power (the book was published in 1937, so draw your own conclusions). It is the intent of Lord Mayfield to catch the lady in an act of espionage, and use the secret plans for a new fighter aircraft as a bait. Needless to say, the plans go missing without a shred of evidence against Mrs Vanderlyn, so Hercule Poirot is called in to save the day. It’s not the strongest story here, but it’s a fun spy outing that ingeniously pulls a rug from under the reader in the end.

Dead Man’s Mirror
This mystery has some of my favourite Christie tropes – a dysfunctional family with a cranky eccentric patriarch who gets murdered, a classic locked room mystery – as well as a brief cameo from Mr Satterthwaite, the benevolent social snob who’s appeared in other Christie novels and short stories.

Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore, the Bold Bad Baronet of the old school, is found shot dead in his study, with the bullet smashing the mirror. Once again, this looks like a suicide, but to Poirot it just doesn’t ring true psychologically, considering Sir Gervase’s grotesquely inflated ego and sense of self-importance. Besides, there’s something very fishy about the position of that shattered mirror. This is a story about family, blood and pride, complicated by the various relationships, and with a rather moving resolution.

Triangle at Rhodes
The shortest story in the collection, with a plot that bears a strong resemblance to Christie’s later novel, Evil Under the Sun. It may inevitably suffer in comparison somewhat, and feel slighter than the previous three stories, but I do love my holiday murders!

Poirot should be relaxing on a beach in Rhodes, but instead he grows increasingly concerned as he observes the simmering jealousy between the two couples, which ends with the death of beautiful and seductive Mrs Valentine Chantry. Intriguingly, rather than relying on his usual powers of deduction and observation, here Poirot correctly locks in the murderer based on the parallels with criminals he’s known before, and the idea that human nature is in the end quite repetitive, which I associate with Miss Marple more so than Poirot.

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