When Jane Wilkinson, Lady Edgware, contacts Hercule Poirot to ask him to intercede with her husband so that she can get a divorce and marry another man, Poirot agrees reluctantly. Lord Edgware, it turns out, is surprised by this request since he had written a letter to Jane agreeing to end their marriage three months before. Lord Edgware is soon discovered dead, and a woman identified by witnesses as Jane, his estranged wife, has entered his house late on the night of his death. The problem? Jane Wilkinson has been at a dinner party that night, and twelve other guests have seen her.
In this novel, written in 1933, Hercule Poirot is in his seventh outing as Christie's detective, and, joined by his redoubtable assistant, Capt. Arthur Hastings, he "helps" Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard in the solution to this complicated case. The world of theatre plays an important role--Jane Wilkinson and Carlotta Adams (soon the "late" Carlotta Adams) are actresses, and several other characters, notably Brian Martin, have theatrical careers. The world of art also plays a role in the conclusion, and the lives of aristocrats and would-be aristocrats, such as Jane Wilkinson, along with their servants and staff, keep the action high-toned, but not high-principled.
Poirot rises to the ensuing challenges when two more murders take place. Relying on his "little gray cells" as much as on the clues he finds--in a letter written by a murder victim before death, in an engraved gold case filled with Veronal, in secret loves, and in positive witnesses who may not have witnessed what they think--Poirot provides the reader with much amusement, the result of his affectations, and much suspense, since he does not share his thoughts until he the time of his grand announcement. The clever ending contains a tour de force which adds an extra bit of clever amusement for the reader.
Though the mystery is clever and the interplay of the characters allows the mystery to develop in a way that keeps the reader off-guard but believing in Poirot, the casual anti-semitism revealed here may undercut the reader's full admiration for the novel. Though this is not a major part of the novel, the fact that it appears at all--in England, just five years before Kristallnacht brought all of Europe to attention--casts a surprising light on English sentiments, at least among the upper classes. Mary Whipple