“It’s psychology that interests you, isn’t it? Well, that doesn’t change with time. The tangible things are gone – the cigarette end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those anymore. But you can go over all the facts of the case, and perhaps talk to the people who were there at the time – they’re all alive still – and then – and then, as you said just now, you can lie back in your chair and think. And you’ll know what really happened.”
(Carla Lemarchant to Hercule Poirot, in Five Little Pigs)
Yes, I live in a bedroom community in sunny California, and you all live . . . out there somewhere. We don’t get the opportunity to have a nice sit-down, but over the next four weeks, people! you can hear my squeaky little voice spanning the globe, as I discuss two of my favorite mystery novels with some wonderful, internationally-placed folks.
First up, let’s join my British MFL (Mates For Life) Jim Noy (The Invisible Event) and Moira Redmond (Clothes in Books) as we sit down for another one of JJ’s Spoiler Events. This time around, we’re discussing Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, Five Little Pigs. A few years ago, I wrote a post, of which I’m rather proud, on this favorite novel of mine (you can read the full article here if you like), and this is how I introduced the book:
“Five Little Pigs is an important novel in Christie’s canon and deserves significant attention. First of all, as the final title in a run of sixteen Hercule Poirot mysteries that appeared between 1932 and 1942, it forms the apotheosis of the peak of Poirot’s career. (Between 1942 and 1952, Poirot appeared only three times.) Secondly, it forms a significant departure from the earlier cases, where Poirot bustled about the city, or down to the country, or boarded a train, plane or boat for distant climes. Five Little Pigs presents Poirot at his most cerebral. The detective challenges himself to solve a crime by distilling the testimony he hears through his little grey cells. There is no fresh scene of the crime, to investigate, no physical evidence at hand; there is only contradictory testimony and hearsay.
“Thus, the whole affair is presented as a purely intellectual exercise . . . which brings us to the third point. Instead of the dry “murder in retrospect” (as the American publishers re-titled the book) we might come to expect given the circumstances, Five Little Pigs turns out to be one of Christie’s most emotionally resonant novels, rich in characterization, and perhaps her most evocative rendition of the effects a tragedy like murder can have on people’s lives. This is not a book where a crime occurs, the case is solved, and everyone returns to the way they were before. Before and after the solution is reached, lives are damaged and/or changed irrevocably.”
Here’s a link to JJ’s post where you can listen to our conversation. You can also find it wherever you go for your podcasting pleasure. I hope you’ll give it a listen because talking with Moira and Jim is truly one of my favorite things to do every time – even when we disagree, as we do here. In July, we’re discussing another personal favorite, Towards Zero), so be sure you pick that one up if you want to join in on the discussion.
I took a lot of notes in preparation for our talk, but as I was determined not to blather on as I usually do, some choice tidbits got lost. We touched upon the autobiographical parallels between this novel and Christie’s life. Biographer Laura Thompson mentions this in her book about the author:
“. . . The story of Caroline Crale is not that of Agatha’s first marriage but it is perhaps the closest she came to telling it in her detective fiction . . . It gives a very real sense of the disrupted household: the quarreling couple, their neglected daughter, and the governess who is totally loyal to Caroline.”
Thompson also devotes much time to the close friendship between Christie and Stephen Glanville, an old friend of Max’s, with whom she developed an intense relationship while Max was working in the Middle East. No one suggests that what happened between Christie and Glanville amounted to an affair, but I think it’s interesting that she dedicated Five Little Pigs to this particular friend. Some folks think that Glanville was the prototype for Dr. John Cristow in The Hollow as well, which – as you’ll hear in our podcast, is also significant!
With Five Little Pigs, Christie creates something rare for her. The puzzle element is perfectly fine (although it has flaws, which we discuss), but I would suggest that, for once, they are secondary to something grander that she rarely attempted or achieved. It amounts to what John Curran called “ . . . the apex of Christie’s career . . . her most perfect combination of detective and ‘straight’ novel.”
Next week, a different author and a different podcast. We travel Down Under for a three-week battle-of-wits with two zany mates over one of my favorite impossible crime novels by a mystery legend! See you then!