Crime Fiction Alphabet: F is for Five Little Pigs

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 … ?

15 responses

  1. Jane – Oh, thanks for this :-). I’d thought of it, actually, but now I’m glad I didn’t, as you did. This is one of my favourite Poirot stories, actually, and in my opinion, you’ve highlighted quite a lot of what makes it work well. I think I’m going to go back and re-read it…. πŸ™‚

    • I hadn’t intended to bring another Agatha Christie novel into play so early in the alphabet, but when this caught my eye I had to reread. My planned F will now be M instead!

  2. I’d say you were lucky and got the best of the bunch. Though Crooked House is also excellent, and really should not be missed, the rest on that list are pretty bottom of the barrel. You missed one — Mrs. McGinty’s Dead — which is quite good.

    • I liked Crooked House, but I remember enough of the story that I’m not inclined to reread, at least not yet. And thank you for reminding me about Mrs McGinty.

    • I’m picking carefully – some books are stronger than others – and I’m appreciating the details and the clever plotting more second time around. So it’s definitely worth revisiting the books that call you.

    • My mother steered me towards Agatha Christie when I was in my teens. I loved her then, and I love her now. There’s something terribly reassuring about a well plotted mystery!

    • This one is worth seeking out, and I do think it’s one of her strongest.

      As to G, I considered both of the authors you mentioned, but I have in mind a short story by a Persephone author that gave its name to a much bigger book …

  3. Yes, that television adaptation is very, very good. I could watch it, and read the book, many times because they are just so clever and so elegant.

  4. I loved this one and the adaptation of it as well! I’m glad glad that Christie used nursery rhymes and such in her mysteries, never let it be said that crime fiction doesn’t teach you about the culture of other countries πŸ™‚

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