Top critical review
One person found this helpful
Entertaining in parts but a little contrived and unbelievable
on 18 February 2014
This is a slightly differently constructed murder-mystery from many of Dame Agatha's stories, and although interesting and entertaining in parts, it ultimately feels rather contrived.
The plot involves the murder of Mr Shaitana, a showman/poseur who dresses like Mephistopheles and enjoys teasing and baiting his acquaintances for his own amusement in a manner that most would probably find obnoxious (I have a vision of Christopher Lee!). He invites four detectives, including Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver, and Colonel Race, to a dinner party together with four other guests that he informs Poirot have all committed an undetected murder. And they all accept the invitation, despite not really liking him! After dinner the two group separate and play the card game Bridge in separate rooms. During the Bridge games one of the four 'murders', fearing revelation, kills Shaitana with a stilletto dagger as he dozes in a chair. The detectives then set about trying a identify the culprit.
Poirot uses the Bridge scores and the observational abilities of the four suspects to make conclusions about their character, which is clever in parts, whilst all four detectives investigate the history of the suspects. Some say they find Ariadne Oliver a little annoying, but although I think she adds some welcome humour, one can't help thinking that as a literary self-caricature Dame Agatha is almost mocking her readership at times.
A strong point of the novel is that Poirot is present with his piquant observations, deductions and all his glorious character flaws from the start. Dame Agatha mis-directs the reader with the usual range of blind avenues and red-herrings.
However, overall the story has a very contrived feel to it. There seem some obvious plot difficulties, such as how did Mr Shaitana know what he says he knows, why would the 'guilty' guests accept such an invitation from him, and some strange behaviours and the use of coincidence is a bit of a stretch. At times it reads like a few welded together short stories. The ending stretches credibility too.
Overall, entertaining but in my opinion not one of the better Poirot novels