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first ever Christie novel
on 22 May 2017
This is the very first Agatha Christie novel, written and set during the First World War, though not published until 1921. It is also the first Hercule Poirot novel, with the famous Belgian detective being a refugee in England having fled the invasion and subjugation of his country by the Kaiser's army. He is first described as follows:
"Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound."
Even on his first appearance, he is regarded by several characters as an old eccentric who is already past his prime). Nevertheless, he of course sees through a tortuous set of clues to solve a murder, the final resolution of which seemed even more than usually convoluted and, frankly, absurdly risky from the murderer's point of view. The narrative did not feel particularly dated to me, unlike the last Christie novel I read, the Tommy and Tuppence novel The Secret Adversary, set in the 1920s. One interesting touch in this edition is the inclusion as an appendix of an alternative penultimate chapter where the plot threads are resolved, discovered in one of Christie's notebooks decades later; though the essential difference rests only in its taking place in a courtroom where Poirot is being cross-examined, rather than in the Styles House with the detective doing his standard presentation in the drawing room in front of all the principal actors.