"Murder in the Mews" was the last book Agatha Christie published in 1937 and consists of four Poirot short stories - although all are quite long by her usual standard, and one really novella length. All feature Poirot, one features his old friend Inspector Japp and another has a guest appearance by Mr Satterthwaite, of the Harley Quin stories and "Three Act Tragedy".
The first title story, "Murder in the Mews" and the third story, "Dead Man's Mirror", both feature a suicide, later suspected of being murder. One story is set in a small house, in a street peopled with those who service the aristocracy (there are, for example, a large amount of chauffeurs living nearby). "Dead Man's Mirror" sees Poirot summoned to a country house by a wealthy man obsessed by his family name, but both cleverly weave the plot around ties of family and the past.
The second story, "The Incredible Theft" involves espionage and important documents stolen from a study during a weekend party. Lastly, there is the enjoyable "Triangle at Rhodes", with Poirot on holiday. Christie always wrote excellent stories in exotic locations and this is no exception. For me, it is the best story in the collection, with an actress (often a baddie in Christie novels!) causing jealousy and marital discord on the beach. These are a nice collection of stories, with Poirot cleverly solving each case in his own special way. Out of interest, for a man who distained the methods of Sherlock Holmes, you will find that he is actually inspecting footprints in "Dead Man's Mirror", the first time I can remember him doing so. Overall, a fun collection with the author, and her detective, at their best.
on 5 September 2011
Murder in the Mews is a collection of four novellas, each depicting one of Hercule Poirot's minor cases. There are two cases of suspect suicide, a theft and an accidental murder.
The first three cases each have a good amount of meat on them, though number three has a few too many characters to keep track of in such a brief tale. I'm afraid I didn't find any of them particularly strong, particularly in some places where vital clues were withheld from the reader - something Christie is usually very good at avoiding. This having been said, even in the stories which did keep everything in the open I was unable to successfully pinpoint the culprit before the big reveal.
I don't think the the novella formats lends itself well to Poirot's adventures, and story three (which was my favourite) looked as if it could have been extended into a full novel. However the short story format of the final tale felt even more of a let down after the more detailed episodes that it followed.
Overall, I'm afraid to say that this collection is probably best one for the purists rather than the casual reader, and hitting the full length novels would better serve anyone seeking a whodunit to tax their brains.
on 10 February 2001
I'm not really into Agatha Christie's short stories because the beauty of her books many times lies in the development of the characters in a 'standard' novel.
However, after reading this book, my impression changed. Hercule Poirot has to be at his best to solve four curious crimes.
In 'Murder of the Mews', a widow committed suicide with a shot in her left temple, by the gun was in her right hand. Was it murder? Was the murder intended for another person?
In 'The Incredible Theft', the plans of a bomber was mysteriously stolen in the study of Lord Mayfield. Poirot has to uncover the motives behind the guests in the house to discover the shocking truth.
In "Triangle at Rhodes', a popular actress with her 'ways with men' was murdered in a bar after taking a poisoned drink intended for her husband, and Poirot must clear the name of the obvious killer.
In "Dead's Man Mirror' which is my favourite story in the book, Sir Chevenix-Gore was found dead in his locked study, keys in his pocket and pistol in the room. The key to solving the apparent suicide (which is, in fact, murder) is the broken mirror in the room.
Read the book to enjoy a refreshed Poirot experience!
on 31 October 2001
The theme of illusion and illusive identity is an essential element in Agatha Christie's technique as a writer of classic crime fiction. That illusion is a theme of infinite variety is demonstrated in the three novellas and final short story that pack this volume full of snap and crackle.
The title story, "Murder in the Mews", opens on 5th November, the night English children set off a blaze of colourful fireworks. The sky glows and bursts as comets, rockets, and squibs explode in memory of Guy Fawkes' plot to blow up the Palace of Westminster when King James I and VI opened Parliament in 1605. It is a night when any loud bang can be mistaken for another. A quite innocuous crack might be interpreted as something suspicious while the sound of explosives, however deadly, goes unnoticed. In this skilfully crafted novella, Monsieur Poirot and Inspector Japp investigate a fatal shooting of the fiancée of a Member of Parliament. Nobody hears the shot to determine the exact time of death. 'Nor likely to,' insists Mrs Hogg the chauffeur's wife, 'with fireworks popping off here, there and everywhere and my Eddie with his eyebrows singed off as near as nothing.' The question of when death took place is followed by the problem of how and why it occurred. Was the shooting murder or suicide? Moreover, has a perfectly constructed secondary plot been set in motion that only Poirot can prevent from achieving its lethal justice? "Murder in the Mews" is a story of moral dilemma as grave as that faced by any seventeenth-century plotter. 'Is it in honour or in execration that on the fifth of November the feu d'artifice are sent up?', muses Poirot, 'To blow up the English Parliament, was it a sin or a noble deed?'
Politics and all its knavish tricks are the background to "The Incredible Theft" in which Poirot investigates the disappearance of political documents. Political espionage has never been Agatha Christie's strong suite. Novels like "The Big Four" and "They Came to Baghdad" have always struck me as brave experiments that fizzle out without much sparkle, rather like a damp Roman Candle on Guy Fawkes' Night. This novella is the weakest in the collection but its relative brevity and the presence of Poirot rather than one of Mrs Christie's lesser-known or one-off sleuths prevents it from marring the volume. And there is excellent humour! 'If you could not make the best of both worlds', remarks Hercule Poirot to Lord Mayfield, 'you would not be a politician!' Indeed, what is politics if not a superlative form of illusion?
'To blow up the English Parliament,' Poirot pondered in "Murder in the Mews", 'was it a sin or a noble deed?' In "Dead Man's Mirror", the longest and best of the novellas in this collection, the author juggles with the ethics of whether it can ever be right to take a life in order to preserve the wellbeing of a third party. For Christie addicts, the first pages of the story hold a special delight in that Hercule Poirot meets Mr Satterthwaite, the dried up stick of a man who plays a fascinating role in "The Mysterious Mr Quin". Mr Satterthwaite and one of the dowager duchesses he invariably accompanies are quizzed as to the background of Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore, a baronet of fabulous wealth who traces his ancestry back to a twelfth-century crusader. Sir Gervase is fighting his own crusade, a supposed case of fraud, and has commissioned Poirot to take up arms at Hamborough Close, an English country house typical of the 'Christie Classic'. It is a tense tale of illusive bloodlines and bloodstains in which the Chevinix-Gore genealogy and the social class bias with which it is bound up supply both a motive for murder and a shroud to secrete that motive.
Readers might feel slightly cheated by the last story in this collection. Too short to be described as a novella, "Triangle at Rhodes" appears to be a 'make-weight', included for no better reason that to ensure the book has the right number of pages for a Christie publication. However, this is yet another intriguing tale of illusion that prefigures two later novels, "Evil Under the Sun" and "Death on the Nile". Hercule Poirot, taking a holiday in Cyprus, observes the development of what every reader of detective fiction immediately recognises as the typical love triangle. The geometry of passion, though, can prove delusive, all too like one of those trick drawings that we perceive in one way rather than another for as long as nothing in our field of vision contradicts the most likely optical hypothesis. The moment something disturbs our field of vision we notice an alternative pattern that suggests, rightly or wrongly, that our original perception was false. The love triangle Poirot sees in Rhodes appears typical of the form until something shifts our perspective, causing us to question which individuals are part of the deadly pattern. That Poirot perceives the illusion and the reality from the beginning is, perhaps, slightly provoking but, after all, Poirot is Poirot!
It has to be said that Agatha Christie does not excel as a writer of short stories. The best collections, such as "The Mysterious Mr Quin", are held together by a remarkable leitmotif. Other volumes, "The Hound of Death" for example, earn their place on the bookshelves by virtue of a one brilliantly constructed narrative. "Murder in the Mews" does not fall into either category. None of these four stories are in the Premier League of detective fiction. However, this volume is the most evenly balanced, well-composed collection of short narratives that Mrs Christie has produced and, what is more, there is gunpowder, treason, and plot aplenty!