Friday, February 19, 2021

Mrs. McGinty's Dead: Agatha Christie

As the book opens, Poirot has just finished a meal at a lovely restaurant. He walks home, thinking about food he likes, meals he likes and meals he does not like. 

"Alas," murmured Poirot to his moustaches, "that one can only eat three times a day..."

For afternoon tea was a meal to which he had never become acclimatised. "If one partakes of the five o'clock, one does not," he explained, "approach the dinner with the proper quality of expectant gastric juices. And the dinner, let us remember, is the supreme meal of the day!"

Not for him, either, the mid-morning coffee. No, chocolate and croissants for breakfast, Déjeneur at twelvethirty if possible but certainly not later than one o'clock, and finally the climax: Le Diner!

These were the peak periods of Hercule Poirot's day. Always a man who had taken his stomach seriously, he was reaping his reward in old age. Eating was now not only a physical pleasure, it was also an intellectual research. 

When Poirot arrives home, George (his valet) tells him someone is waiting to see him.  George conveys through his tone of voice some characteristics of the person arriving.

As he opened the door with his latchkey and stepped into the square, white lobby, his manservant, George, stepped softly to meet him.

"Good evening, sir. There is a - gentleman waiting to see you."

He relieved Poirot deftly of his overcoat.

"Indeed?" Poirot was aware of that very slight pause before the word gentleman. As a social snob, George was an expert.

In this case it is Superintendent Spence. A few years earlier, Spence and Poirot had worked together on a case. The Superintendent explains the reason for his visit. He asks Poirot to investigate the case of a man who has been convicted of murder and will be hanged for the crime very soon. Spence was the one who supplied the evidence for the trial, but he doubts that the convicted man was guilty.

Thus Poirot is present and involved in the investigation from the beginning in this novel. 


I enjoy reading about Hercule Poirot's quirks. Especially his extreme fastidiousness, as related to his dress and his surroundings. His horror of dirt and disorder.  This book is the perfect setting for displaying those eccentricities.

To investigate the crime, which took place in the village of Broadhinny, Poirot is required to stay in a very substandard country house that takes paying guests. The home is owned by Major Summerhayes and his wife Maureen. Maureen is a haphazard housekeeper, disorganized, and cannot cook well at all. This drives Poirot to distraction.

This was the second book that I had read that also featured Ariadne Oliver, the mystery author. She visits the town of Broadhinny at the same time Poirot is there, to work on a theatrical adaptation of one of her books with Robin Upward. He insists on the main character being young and athletic and having a sex interest, none of which suit the protagonist of Mrs. Oliver's books. And Mrs. Oliver is of course very willing to help Poirot out with his investigation.

All in all, this was a fun read. I find many of the Poirot novels humorous. With the presence of Ariadne Oliver and the unappealing living situation that Poirot has to deal with in this novel, there are many opportunities for humor here. 

We watched the Poirot adaptation with David Suchet recently. The plot and number of characters was pared down quite a bit, but the story was still entertaining. David Suchet was wonderful as usual, and Zoë Wanamaker is very good in the role of Ariadne Oliver.


Publisher:  Berkley Books, 2000. Orig. pub. 1952.
Length:     229 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased in 2021.


Rick Robinson said...

I believe this to be one of the very few Poirot novels I’ve not read. Surely Oliver didn’t appear in many? I may have talked Barbara into trying a Christie novel. Which would you choose? I’m thinking Ackroyd.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am I read it because I read every one in the seventies and eighties. And I am sure I saw the Suchet because I saw every one as they aired. But boy, it didn't stick.

TracyK said...

Rick, Ariadne Oliver appeared in six Poirot novels, mostly later in the series. (also in one non-Poirot, THE PALE HORSE, and a few short stories)

I agree with you, THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD would be a good one for Barbara to start with.

TracyK said...

Patti, I read many of the Agatha Christie novels in either the 1960s or the 70s. But by 2009, when I started reading them again, I remembered nothing of the plots nor which books I read. THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD was the only one I remembered specifically, and that I had not read AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

And I only started watching the POIROT series this year. Which was a great decision.

CLM said...

One of the things I didn't like about the Sophie Hannah continuations was they took fun out of Poirot and left only the quirks. There was a tedious quality to everything instead of (not sure this is the right word) almost a sprightliness.

TracyK said...

Constance, that is very interesting. I was never tempted to try the Sophie Hannah books, probably because when the first one came out, I had so many Hercule Poirot books to read (or reread). Now that I get close to the end of the Poirot books I think I will just reread them again later... after I read more of the Miss Marple and the standalone books.

Rick Robinson said...

I’m not a fan of continuation books. They never are as good as the originals, and why bother with so many other books to read?

TracyK said...

Rick, In general I agree with you on continuation books. I cannot really think of any that come close to the originals. I did like the first 7 books that Robert Goldsborough wrote continuing the Nero Wolfe series, in the 1980's and 90's, but not so much the more recent ones.

FictionFan said...

I love Ariadne Oliver - I always wish she'd appeared more often. I love the way Christie uses her to make fun of her own mystery writing problems, and that comes over really well in this one with all the theatre stuff. Maureen Summerhayes is a great character too. For me it's the humour that lifts Christie above the pack - no matter how dark the plot may be, she never forgets that mostly we read crime fiction to be entertained. I wish some of the gruesome, gory, harrowing contemporary crime writers would remember that occasionally...

Cath said...

The humour is my favourite thing about Poirot, Christie really didn't get enough credit for this in my opinion. Loved reading the exerpts so thanks for including those.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

Haha, I read that first part about food and quite forgot that Poirot wasn't French! Really, I keep imagining Suchet whenever I come across the last mention of Christie, and it just adds to the whole humor. Thanks for sharing the excerpts
~ Lex (

Margot Kinberg said...

I have a special connection with this book, Tracy, since it was my first Agatha Christie. I've always really liked it, even though not everyone says it's her best. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too.

Nan said...

I was quite sure I had read this so looked it up on the blog, and it was almost 10 years ago! I wasn't quite as appreciative as you. If you want to read it, you have to go through a few other little write-ups of other books.
I love Poirot's eccentricities. I like people with strong passions about such things as meal times!

TracyK said...

Fiction Fan, When I first started reading Christie's books again after a long hiatus I was impressed by her skill at plotting, but it has been only recently that I have fully appreciated the humor in her books. I look forward to reading more books with Ariadne Oliver.

TracyK said...

Cath, I did not notice the humor so much when I was first reading Christie's books. Now I look forward to the books for the humor.

TracyK said...

Lex, Poirot is a wonderful character, Lex, and David Suchet was perfect in the role. It amazes me that his performance was so consistent throughout the series. I have watched all the episodes (we have about 6 more to watch) but I have watched at least one from every season.

I do love the part where he always has to explain that he is Belgian, not French.

TracyK said...

Margot, I wish I could remember which Christie book I read first. I do plan to do a list of my favorite Poirot novels when I have read them all (or most of them), and this probably won't be near the top, but it has many good characteristics and I would happily read it again someday.

CLM said...

I like the standalone books the best, especially They Came to Baghdad and The Man in the Brown Suit, but I do like Tommy and Tuppence and Miss Marple. Poirot is somewhere below although I do enjoy the books he is in and, as others have mentioned, Ariadne Oliver is a good character. Angela Thirkell also has a recurring character who is a writer, a sort of alter ego.

TracyK said...

Nan, I checked out your post. You read some interesting books that month. I especially liked your comments on the book by Rex Stout, Three Witnesses. I have been thinking about going back and rereading some of his novellas.

I would not put this book in my list of top Christies, or even top Hercule Poirot books, but I am having lots of fun reading Hercule Poirot books now and it had a lot of the good points I look for.

dfordoom said...

I love Poirot's quirks. What I love most about them is that Christie extracts humour from those quirks but without making Poirot seem ridiculous. We never forget that Poirot is a very formidable man and a very decent man.

She doesn't make the mistake that so many later crime writers made of making her protagonist horribly flawed and contemptible. Poirot's quirks are not flaws. They're features, not bugs.

col2910 said...

You haven't tempted me to add to my pile of unread Christie's which is a good thing.

TracyK said...

Constance, I haven't read They Came to Baghdad, but I did like The Man in the Brown Suit. I liked that it had Colonel Race is in it, and the different structure.

I used to prefer Miss Marple, but the more I read Poirot the better I like him. Tommy and Tuppence were a favorite when I was younger, but when I reread the first one, I did not like it so much the second time.

TracyK said...

Dfordoom, I agree with all you say. Even though Poirot is very self confident, he is not obnoxious about it. And he chastises himself when he (rarely) makes a mistake.

We watched Murder on the Orient Express with Albert Finney last night for the fourth time, and I was watching Finney's portrayal of Poirot especially. He mainly only had the hair, mustache and clothing quirks and seemed more loud and brusque than Poirot was in the books. (We have watched a lot of Suchet's Poirot lately.) I may reread that book soon.

TracyK said...

No, no need to add this one to your TBR pile. I am not sure if there is a perfect Agatha Christie for you to read.

Lark said...

I love Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries. This isn't one I've read yet, but I'm moving it higher up my TBR list. :D

TracyK said...

I have been reading lots of Hercule Poirot mysteries lately, Lark, about two or three a month. All of them have been good and fun, relaxing reads, some more than others. This one has lots of good points.