Wednesday, February 17, 2016

13 at Dinner: Agatha Christie

13 at Dinner is the seventh novel featuring Hercule Poirot. It was first published in the UK in 1933 as Lord Edgware Dies. Thus this is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century feature.

In this novel, Poirot is approached by the well known actress, Jane Wilkinson, to mediate for her to convince her husband, Lord Edgware, to divorce her. She states very openly that things would be much better for her if he was dead. The next day Lord Edgware tells Poirot that he has already agreed to the divorce and had mailed a letter to Jane months ago telling her this. That very evening Lord Edgware is murdered. The police assume that Jane is the murderer based on the evidence of two witnesses who saw her visiting him at his house the same night; she is soon released because she has an alibi. The rest of the book has Scotland Yard Inspector Japp and Poirot following leads to discover the real murderer.

>>> What did I like?

I liked the humor in this novel. Poirot's friend Hastings is the narrator, and he was especially critical of Poirot's conceit, which I always find entertaining.
'Mon cher, am I tonight the fortune-teller who reads the palm and tells the character?'
'You could do it better than most,' I rejoined.
'It is a very pretty faith that you have in me, Hastings. It touches me. Do you not know, my friend, that each one of us is a dark mystery, a maze of conflicting passions and desires and attitudes? Mais oui, c'est vrai. One makes one's little judgments - but nine times out of ten one is wrong.'
'Not Hercule Poirot,' I said, smiling.
'Even Hercule Poirot! Oh! I know very well that you have always a little idea that I am conceited, but, indeed, I assure you, I am really a very humble person.'
I laughed.
'You - humble!'
'It is so. Except - I confess it - that I am a little proud of my moustaches. Nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them.'
'You are quite safe,' I said dryly. 'You won't....'
The inclusion of Inspector Japp was also a bonus. This is the fourth Poirot novel to include Japp in the investigation, and he plays a large role. In Peril at End House, Japp only shows up at the end. In this novel, Japp is in charge of the investigation, but he encourages Poirot's participation and even follows up on aspects of the case when requested by Poirot.

>>> What did I dislike?

The case goes on too long with no resolution and no real breaks in the case. At the beginning of the book, Poirot states that he would never have solved it without hearing a chance comment when walking down the street. He leaves most of the work to Japp and makes little effort to pursue the investigation, even though he is sure Japp is going in the wrong direction.

This was not a major problem because Christie's writing and characterizations are good, but in this story it was the interaction of Poirot with other characters, particularly Hastings and Japp, that entertained me, not the plot.

I figured out the guilty party early on. I don't mind solving the puzzle, especially as I don't do it that often, but I did not feel that Christie was particularly good at introducing red herrings in this book.

>>> How well did the book reflect the times?

The book gives us a picture of the social classes in England at the time. The victim is the "wealthy but slightly eccentric" Lord Edgware, and Jane wants him out the way so that she can marry the Duke of Merton, also wealthy and able to give her the position in society she craves. There are plenty of other characters who are not in the upper classes, at times so many I could not keep track of them, but they all revolve around those households.

I noted that there were many female characters and a good number of them were supporting themselves. I don't know how commonplace this was but I liked seeing that in a vintage mystery. None of them seemed to be the clinging type, although Jane, who is a successful actress, is looking for a marriage that will improve her status. Carlotta Adams, another important character, is an American entertainer who does impersonations. Carlotta is not doing so well financially, which is a key point in the book, but she is supporting herself. Also featured are Miss Carroll, Lord Edgware's secretary, and Carlotta's friend Jenny Driver, who has her own hat shop.

In summary, I would not place this book in my list of favorite Agatha Christie books. There were too many characters, and it went on too long. But it was still a good read. Reading Agatha Christie is never a waste of time.

This post is also submitted for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Clock/Timepiece" category.


Publisher:  Dell, 1944. Orig. pub. 1933.
Length:     239 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot, #7
Setting:     London
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     I purchased my copies.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Nicely reviewed, Tracy. I haven't read this mystery. Some of Christie's books, such as this one, have more than one title which is often confusing. I think my wife has this book with both titles.

Clothes In Books said...

I like this one, but I first read it so long ago I don't know how easy it was to solve. On a re-read, I have to say, it seems to shout out what is going on, but I still enjoy it - I concur with all your criticisms, but I do like the characters, particularly Jane.

Anonymous said...

This is a fine review, Tracy! And I agree with you about the wit and the way the book reflects the times. And I do like the final sentence in the story. Not Christie's very, very best, but still a good 'un, I think.

TracyK said...

Thank you, Prashant. Multiple titles for one book is confusing. Since I like the old paperback editions, I don't mind ending up with multiple copies of the same book, but it is annoying to buy a book and then figure out you already have it.

TracyK said...

Moira, I feel like my post sounds more critical of this book than I am. I did like it but was disappointed with the 2nd half. Jane is definitely an interesting and unique character.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Margot. The fact that Hastings narrates is a plus for me AND I had not had much exposure to Inspector Japp before. I think Hastings only narrates 2 or 3 more of the novels. Now I am going to have to go back and read that final sentence.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I agree - it is mid range for 1930s Christie, but that is still saying quite a lot as she was truly at her height at the time in my view!

TracyK said...

This one was still fun, Sergio, just not as good as most of the others I have read in the last two or three years. I have only read one novel I disliked and really it was only the end I did not like and it had some great characters (Secret of Chimneys).

col2910 said...

Not one I'll be rushing to read Tracy.

TracyK said...

I don't think you would be rushing to read any of the books by Agatha Christie that I have covered on my blog, Col. You might like Crooked House OK. A stand-alone. Someday I will reread The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and see if I think you would like it.

Mathew Paust said...

What I like is the way you present your reviews, Tracy, this one especially. But, alas, like the Colonel, I suspect I shall let others ahead of me in the rush for 13 at Dinner. I enjoy watching Poirot in dramatizations, but find Christie's narratives a tad protracted.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

I like Jenny Driver - wish Christie had set a novel in a hat shop!

TracyK said...

Thanks for the kind words, Mathew. I have watched only one film adaptation of an Agatha Christie that I can remember, Murder on the Orient Express, with Albert Finney. But I would like to watch some other ones, with David Suchet.

TracyK said...

Jenny was a very good character, Lucy. I was surprised at how many good female characters there were in this book.