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"The most interesting thing about this case is the personality of the dead woman."
on 11 September 2006
Agatha Christie sells herself short with this remark--the most interesting thing about this case is the fun that Christie herself has with the mystery! Setting up a "closed room" murder, which in this case takes place on an airplane traveling between Paris and Croyden, she plays with the reader's expectations, parodies the exotic murders in other mysteries of the period, and provides a large cast of easily remembered characters whose lives come under scrutiny for their possible relationship with the deceased.
The victim is Mme. Giselle, a French money-lender who ensures repayment by keeping a black book of blackmail information. When she is killed with a poisoned dart shot from a blowpipe while the plane is in the air, no one, including Hecule Poirot, sees the murder take place. Poirot teams up with Inspector Japp to interview the passengers--a motley assortment, including a pair of French archaeologists, a London doctor, a mystery writer (a hack who finds real murder even more exciting than his own novels), a young hairdresser on vacation, a dentist, and the actress wife of an English lord, a woman who is a compulsive gambler.
Christie's ingénue, Jane Grey, the hairdresser, is attracted to both the dentist (Norman Gale) and to the younger of the archaeologists (Jean Dupont), providing some warmth and emotional connection in this mystery, and two of the passengers work with Poirot to try to solve the mystery. How did someone use a blowpipe to kill Mme Giselle without being seen? How would someone get the rare snake venom used on the tip of the dart? Who is Mme Giselle's daughter, a girl brought up in an orphanage in England? Which of those on whom Mme Giselle had blackmail information had an opportunity to kill her?
A challenging mystery for the reader, the novel is also amusing for its emphasis on the exotic and its deliberate romantic excess. Written in 1935, when Christie, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers were all the rage, this novel is a delightful example of the popular genre, highlighted with some tongue-in-cheek pokes at herself and her fellow writers. n Mary Whipple