Thursday, 20 January 2011

Lord Edgware Dies (1933)

Plot: So who would want Lord Edgware dead?

“Getting rid of husbands is not my speciality”

Poirot almost comes a cropper in this outing which is full of style and charm, but, as my friend Lee points out, is “one of those where the least likely person did it.” In other words, people keep on pointing out that X cannot possibly have done the crime, and the more they underline this, the more you suspect X did it after all. A Murder Is Announced is another good example of this.

Where this book succeeds is in its evocation of 1930s London, full of parties and nightclubs and bright young things, a land of champagne and divorce and actors and female impressionists and all sorts of modern things.

In among all this is the character of Lord Edgware. “I just can't describe him, but he's – queer.” The clearly depraved Lord (forever nipping off to Paris, city of sin) is a baffling monster, far more effectively creepy for his enigmatically satanic nature and remarkably pretty butler than if Christie spelt out what exactly his problem was. The nearest we get are some snide remarks about the butler by Japp and some muttering about how the butler “might have posed for Hermes or Apollo. Despite his good looks there was something vaguely effeminate”.

Poirot is almost the only innocent character in this murky mess of deviance and deceit. “I should like everyone to be happy” he says early on, but even there we are misled. Japp later pronounces: 

“He's always been fond of having things difficult.... It's like an old lady playing at patience. If it doesn't come out, she cheats. Well, it's the other way round with him. If it's coming out too easily, he cheats to make it more difficult.”

Japp is right all along. Poirot takes great delight in terrorising a suspect who misled him. “I hope you have now been sufficiently punished for coming to me – me, Hercule Poirot, with a cock-and-bull story.”

In the end, although Poirot is clever, the murderer nearly gets away with it by being stupid. This sounds silly, but isn't. This is a story about a social manipulator who isn't clever but is very good at using people. In some ways this is far more satisfactory than a master criminal – seeing Poirot faring badly against his intellectual inferior is a great payoff.

1 comment:

  1. Since when Poirot and Hasting visited Lord Edgware and noticed something about the butler, I thought there was a gay theme in this story and that in the it would be explained. But it wasn't. I guess it's because of the time the story was published. Nowadays it is so natural to write a story with such theme, but there were then the thirties.

    About the switch between Miss Adams and Lady Edgware, since they mentioned Lady Edgware talked about greek mythology at the dinner, I thought that Miss Adams should have been the one to attend the dinner, because it was said that Lady Edgware wasn't remarkably smart (or that she was frivolously smart) and there was also the prank call.

    In the end, a very good story. I finished reading it a few minutes ago.