Poirot vs. Miss Marple

Earlier this year I read my first Miss Marple mysteries by the incomparable Agatha Christie. I was completely swept away by the humour, the setting and the complexity of the stories. It was easy to see how one could be completely smitten with Miss Marple, a little old lady from St. Mary Mead with a talent for crime solving.

But I stayed away from Christie’s other famous ‘detective’, M. Hercule Poirot, a Belgian with a fabulous moustache and an equal penchant for crime solving.

I don’t have an explanation for this. I just always gravitate towards heroines over heroes and Poirot just seemed kind of stern. Not what I look for in a hero. With the exception of Mr. Darcy in the first half of Pride and Prejudice. I know you will all agree with me there.

But I finally read a Poirot story, Cards on the Table and I loved it.

Poirot is walking around an exhibition on snuff boxes one afternoon (as you do) when he runs into an acquaintance, a Mr. Shaitana, who brags about an even better collection: people that have committed murder and gotten away with it. He invites M. Hercule Poirot over for dinner one night so that he can introduce him to this collection.

On the appointed day, Poirot arrives for dinner at Mr. Shaitana’s house. Along for the evening are a crime writer, a detective with Scotland Yard and a colonel in the Secret Service. Also on hand are a doctor, a major, a young woman and an older socialite. After a incendiary remark made by the host at dinner, the 2 parties break up to play cards. By the end of the evening, Mr. Shaitana is dead and it falls to the detective group to sort out who did it.

The unraveling is a delight! I kept changing my mind and was wrong every time. Poirot takes an incredibly unusual line of questioning with all of the suspects and of course he’s the one to sort it out. But not before there are more casualties. Poirot was fantastic but I think my favourite character in this one has to be the lady crime writer, Mrs. Oliver. I think she must have been a bit of a joke on the part of Ms. Christie.

It seems to be my modes operandi to read Agatha Christie novels in pairs, this time was no exception (they are so short!). Fearing I wouldn’t like Poirot, I grabbed another Miss Marple at the same time, They Do it With Mirrors. After visiting with an old friend who has a funny feeling that something is going on at the house of her sister Carrie Louise, Miss Marple is dispatched to stay in the house and see if she can puzzle out what’s going on.

Upon arrival, Miss Marple is greeted with a whole host of odd characters and circumstances. I found this one impossible to work out on my own so I just happily went along for the ride. Carrie Louise has been married 3 times and there are a variety of children, stepchildren and grandchildren running around, as well as Husband #3, and the at risk youth of the home for boys she and said husband run from their home. When her stepson arrives suddenly one night to speak to her husband and ends up dead, everyone is trying to figure out who did it. Add poison, a bludgeoning and a sizeable fortune and you have all kinds of motives for murder.

I always feel completely satisfied when I finish a murder mystery. Everything is tied up in such a neat little package, there is nothing left unsaid or done. Every once in a while, you need that kind of ending. Agatha Christie delivers every single time.

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