(3.5 stars) Written in 1923, Agatha Christie's third mystery features Poirot working with Capt. Arthur Hastings, who acts as his assistant, despite Hastings's greater interest in pursuing charming young ladies. In this novel, Poirot is summoned to France by Paul Reynaud, a wealthy businessman with interests in Chile. By the time Poirot arrives, however, Reynaud is dead, stabbed and then pushed into a makeshift grave on the golf course beside his house. Mme. Reynaud bears bruises from being tied up by two intruders, who, she says, forced her partly clothed husband from the house and then killed him. Soon another death takes place.
Poirot, investigating is not the Poirot of later novels. Here he is not so much a caricature as he later becomes, even poking fun of his relationship with Hastings, as in the title's quotation. His contempt for the local police is typical, as is his arrogance, but he seems somewhat more human than usual here. Unfortunately, the nature of the mystery prevents much character development for any of the characters. Three young women, all with dark secrets (slowly revealed in the conclusion), act as the love objects of Capt. Hastings and Jack Renaud (the victim's son), while the secret histories, going back twenty years, of several other characters, including the victim and his wife, complicate relationships and hide the solution to the murders.
The plot strains credulity, though that is not necessarily a fatal fault with Christie, whose primary interest is in developing devious plots with minimal clues which still allow Poirot to deduce the murderer. This mystery is so complex and has so many characters, however, that readers will be hard pressed to keep track of them, their secret identities, their look-alikes, and their past histories. Though the plot is clever, there is too little characterization to keep the reader involved in Poirot's adventures here. Not one of Christie's most memorable novels. n Mary Whipple