I love Agatha Christie, but I have always been a little bit wary of the nursery rhyme books:
- A Pocket Full of Rye
- Hickory Dickory Dock
- Five Little Pigs
- Crooked House
- One Two Buckle My Shoe
The concepts just seemed a little bit too contrived, a little bit forced.
But then a lovely facsimile edition of Five Little Pigs appeared in the library. I had to pick it up and look at it more closely. I was intrigued. I brought the book home. I read it. And now I have to admit that it really is rather good.
Hercule Poirot is prevailed upon to reinvestigate a murder that happened some sixteen years earlier.
A young woman, soon to be married, had learned that her mother had been convicted for the murder of her father. But, before her death, her mother had a left a letter to be given to her daughter on her twenty-first birthday. A letter that, clearly and simply, said that she was not guilty.
But the case against her seemed clear. Amyas Crale had a string of mistresses and affairs, and his latest flame had told his long-suffering wife, Caroline , that she was to be divorced so that Amyas could marry her.
The next day Amyas was dead, poisoned by the beer that his wife brought to him while he was painting his young mistress in the garden.
Caroline didn’t fight, she accepted her fate …
Poirot begins by questioning the key players in the prosecution of Caroline Crale.
Each has different memories, each paints a different picture of the woman accused of her husband’s murder.
And then he moves on to the alternative suspects, the five little pigs of the title.
This little piggy went to market.
Phillip Blake: Amyas’s closest friend. A second som who would not inherit the family estate and so he went to the city and forged a successful career
This little piggy stayed home
Meredith Blake: Phillips elder brother. He inherited the family estate and was every inch the country gentleman.
This little piggy had roast beef
Elsa Greer, now Lady Dittisham: Amyas’s young mistress. She had money, status and power, but she was still bitter at what she had lost.
This little piggy had none
Cecilia Williams: The governess, who had been devoted to her mistress but knew that she must be guilty.
And this little piggy went wee wee wee, all the way home
Angela Warren: Caroline’s young sister. Angela was horribly scarred by Caroline in a freak accident, but she had risen above it to become a huge success in the world of academia.
Poirot’s charm – and his cleverness – come to the fore as he meets the quintet and persuades each to write their own account of the events leading up to the murder.
Wonderful portraits are painted of five very different characters, and the psychology is very clever.
I have to say that the women are particularly good. The cold society woman who becomes passionate when she recalls the woman who, she says, destroyed her life. The meek governess who is so pleased to hear of her former pupil’s success. And the successful professional woman who so clearly loved the sister who hurt her.
The mystery is baffling. Caroline must be innocent. Caroline must be guilty. I was confounded.
She was the most intriguing character of them all.
Poirot pulls together little details from the five stories, to build a new conclusion that is both elegant and credible. Everything falls into place perfectly.
The final scene is simple and striking.
Job done, done very well.
And now I must ponder those other nursery rhyme mysteries …
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”
So next week, G is for … ?