Thursday, 18 October 2012

BOOK REVIEW

The Murder on the Links (1923) by Agatha Christie

The hangover from last week’s Agatha Christie Week continues well into this one with a look at the mystery writer’s third novel for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

‘Yes,’ said Poirot doubtfully. ‘No one who knew would bury a body there unless they wanted it to be discovered. And that is clearly absurd, is it not?’ 

The Murder on the Links is considered to be one of the most gripping mysteries written by the Queen of Crime. Just when you thought you’d wrapped up the murder of wealthy businessman Paul Renauld and nailed the murderer, the Belgian detective works his “little grey cells, always the little grey cells” and produces a real humdinger—the history behind the mystery we’re reading and nothing is ever the same again. And all it takes Hercule Poirot is a little trip to Paris and Coventry.

Poirot and his friend, Captain Hastings, rush to France soon after receiving a distress letter from Monsieur Renauld who claims he is in imminent danger on account of a secret he possesses and requires the services of the veteran detective. Instead of greeting him in his study at Villa Genevieve, Merlinville, they greet his dead body lying face down in a grave on a golf course, a small paper knife sticking out of his back.

‘Mon ami, two people rarely see the same thing. You, for instance, saw a goddess. I—‘ He hesitated.

‘Yes?’

‘I saw only a girl with anxious eyes,’ said Poirot gravely.
 

The suspects are many, from Renauld’s wife Eloise and son Jack, to housekeeper Francoise and maids Denie and Leonie, both sisters, to neighbours Madame Daubreuil and her daughter Marthe, to his secretary Gabriel Stonor and the gardener, Auguste.

The sleuths investigating the murder are equally so, from Monsieur Hautet, the examining magistrate, and Monsieur Lucien Bex, the commissary of police, to Monsieur Giraud from the Paris Surete, to Poirot and Hastings. 

Giraud is a “famous” detective, albeit a cocky and arrogant one. His obvious hostility towards Poirot and a ridiculous desire to be one up over the Belgian sleuth causes him to jump the gun and arrest the wrong man. Not for long, though, as Poirot, the ever-seasoned private eye, is on hand to lay bare the shocking truth behind Renauld’s brutal murder—read mistress and blackmail—and the discovery of a second dead body that was never a part of the original crime.

Poirot’s brilliant deductions open a Pandora’s Box as Renauld’s past life that included murder, a conviction, evasion, tragic love, and a new life all come tumbling out of the closet. A murder that was remarkably similar to his own.

‘A crime almost precisely similar had been committed before. That, when you have two crimes precisely similar in design and execution, you find the same brain behind them both.’ 

My copy of the book
You can’t review Agatha Christie’s books without mentioning a few spoilers and that’s just not right considering that her mysteries are peppered with spoilers from page one. 

I liked The Murder on the Links for the little gems that Christie’s novels are delightfully notorious for.

For instance, in this story Hastings actually falls in love with a mysterious woman known to him only as Cinderella, whom he meets right in the beginning, someone with a seemingly ulterior motive, one that you’d never guess till Poirot reveals "her" role in the Renauld mystery. 


Interestingly, this is the only Christie book I've read where Poirot and Hastings fall out, in a gentlemanly sort of way, over the latter's desperate attempt to shield Cinderella from the probing mind of Poirot and possible suspicion and prosecution for the murder of Monsieur Renauld. To me, this was the surprise element of the mystery. 

‘Because I love you, Cinderella.’ 

She bent her head down, as though ashamed, and muttered in a broken voice, ‘You can’t—you can’t—not if you knew—‘ And then, as though rallying herself, she faced me squarely, and asked, ‘What do you know then?’

The other bit I liked about this novel is the humour. A lot of readers and reviewers of the Dame’s books usually focus on her mysteries and rarely on her funny bone, intelligent and original in its scope. 

Here’s a delectable line: ‘Some of the greatest criminals I have known had the faces of angels,’ remarked Poirot cheerfully. ‘A malfunction of the grey cells may coincide quite easily with the face of a Madonna.’ 

Or the time when he needles Hastings for his roving eye: 'Yesterday it was Mademoiselle Daubreuil, today it is Mademoiselle—Cinderella! Decidedly you have the heart of a Turk, Hastings! You should establish a harem!'

Agatha Christie outshines herself with each successive novel. With The Murder on the Links she outperforms herself many times over. What amazes me about Christie’s writing is her train of thought, her power of deduction, her ability to mystify the reader with intrigues, the placing of clues that are so obvious as to miss them altogether, the subplots that are more fascinating than the main plot, and her mysterious characters, each with his or her own little secret, all leading up to a cracking mystery that leaves you satiated by the end.


Christie is a generous writer: she helps you along with the clues as you read but expects you to sniff them out on your own and lay them out in a logical sequence, just as Poirot expects of Hastings, 'You have a little idea, I see, mon ami! Capital. We progress.'















'Still, one must take crimes as one finds them, not as one would like them to be.'








16 comments:

  1. Hi Prashant - good choice. I remember liking this one a lot, both for its complicated plot and for the 'contest' with Giraud too though it's been ages since I read it actually.

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. I happened to read this one while posting for the Agatha Christie Day last week and thought of writing about it before I forgot the plot which, I agree, is rather complicated. Yes, Giraud does manage to annoy Poirot a fair bit in this novel, to the extent the latter actually makes disparaging remarks about the egocentric Parisian sleuth.

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  2. Sounds like if I want to get an intro to Christie I should try this one. Gonna see if I can get it on bookmooch.

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    1. Charles, that'd be a good starting point as this is only the second Hercule Poirot mystery, the first being THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES where Christie first introduces us to both Poirot and his friend Captain Arthur Hastings. You could begin with one or the other and then proceed to THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, the sixth novel by Christie and the third Hercule Poirot mystery.

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  3. This is again quite a favourite of mine. I loved the ending. This is the second Poirot, isn't it? Thanks for highlighting it.

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    1. You're welcome, Neer. It's a good mystery with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. As Sergio mentioned, I also liked the keen contest between Poirot and Giraud and for once I was delighted to see the Belgian detective get rattled by his French counterpart. Certain aspects of Agatha Christie's novels are predictable but not in the way they are in, say, a P.G. Wodehouse book. THE MURDER ON THE LINKS is, indeed, the second Poirot mystery and only the third of Christie's novels.

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  4. This is a nice review with lots of detail, although I did skim some of it because I don't like to know too much about a book before I read it. I am going to read more Christie next year and this will definitely be one of them. Thanks for this review.

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    1. TracyK, thanks for your appreciation. I hope I didn't spoil it too much for you though I was careful to leave out most of the stuff because, with Christie's mysteries, anything you write could well be a spoiler. I look forward to your opinion about this particular book—it's definitely one of her better novels.

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  5. Believe it or not, I have completely forgoten this book and I know I read all the Poirot books when I was in high school. I remember so many of the Poirot plots, but this one? Pfft -- gone into the ether. Now I want to re-read it.

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    1. John, I revived my interest in Agatha Christie's books only this year and I'm reading them in order of publication, though I'd already read many in the past. I have vague memories of the plots of the books I did read. I definitely need to read some of Jane Marple's books too. One thing I realised after reading THE MURDER ON THE LINKS is that the Poirot-Hastings relationship is not infallible, though we know they remain close friends right up to the end.

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  6. Not a great fan of this writer, although she is one of my wife's favourites

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    1. Parrish Lantern, Agatha Christie is one of my wife's favourite writers too and, in fact, I was introduced to the Queen of Crime through her wide collection of AC novels. I think Christie, for whatever reason, is more popular among women though I might be wrong in my assumption.

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  7. Not one of my favorites, Prashant, but certainly still a terrific book. (It was later turned into a pretty good film as part of the Poirot series. They actually kept to the original story, more or less.)

    Poirot always teases Hastings about his (Hasting's) fascination with red or auburn haired damsels.

    "The auburn hair, Hastings, always the auburn hair."
    He says to him in one of the short stories.

    If I'm not mistaken the main theme of DEATH ON THE LINKS was more or less based on one of Christie's own earlier short stories. But if you ask me which one, I draw a blank. As usual. :)

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    1. Yvette, I liked this mystery because of its array of characters and the convoluted plot, though I don't recollect seeing the film or TV series adaptation of the book. Poirot is quite the sporting fellow who doesn't mind the occasional banter with Hastings and, in fact, even revels in it, at his poor friend's expense. That's the humour element for me.

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  8. Like Yvette, this book isn't one of my favourites although it does have some nice moments in it.

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    1. Sarah, I might probably change my good opinion about this book by the time I'm through reading most of Christie's novels and right now I'm not even halfway there.

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