I don’t usually find short stories as satisfying as novels, but the stories in Murder in the Mews are good, mainly, I think, because with one exception they are novellas, longer than the average short stories. The collection was first published in 1937.
There are four stories about crimes solved by Hercule Poirot:
- Murder in the Mews – at first it looks as though a young widow, Mrs Allen has committed suicide, but as the doctor pointed out the pistol is in her right hand and the wound was close to her head just above the left ear, so it’s obvious that someone else shot her and tried to make it look like suicide. The plot is tightly constructed, with a few red herrings to misguide Poirot and Inspector Japp and a moral question at the end. The book begins on Guy Fawkes Day and I like this conversation between Poirot and Inspector Japp:
(J): ‘Don’t suppose many of those kids really know who Guy Fawkes was.’
(P): ‘And soon, doubtless, there will be confusion of thought. Is it in honour or in execration that on the fifth of November the feux d’artifice are sent up? To blow up an English Parliament, was it a sin or a noble deed?’
Japp chuckled. ‘Some people would say undoubtedly the latter.’ (page 7)
- The Incredible Theft – Poirot is called in to investigate the theft of top secret plans of a new bomber from the home of a Cabinet Minister, Lord Mayfield, where a number of guests are gathered for a house party: Mrs Vanderlyn is an American siren who had formed friendships with ‘a European party’ (this was written in 1936). Air Marshall Sir George Carrington wonders why she is there. Lady Julia Carrington, Sir George’s wife is a keen bridge player, who has ‘the most frightful overdraft’ and their son Reggie, fancies the French maid. Also present are Mrs Macatta MP, and Mr Carlile, Lord Mayfield’s private secretary. This is perhaps the weakest story in the collection.
- Dead Man’s Mirror – a conventional murder mystery. Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore is found dead in his locked study, shot through the head. The bullet had shattered the mirror on the wall behind his desk. Again it looks like suicide, but the question is why he should kill himself. Poirot considers it’s all wrong psychologically – Sir Gervase was known as The Bold Bad Baronet, with a huge ego, much like Poirot, considering himself to be a man of great importance. This is another story, complicated by family relationships. Things of interest I noted are that Poirot studies the footprints in the garden outside the study, Mr Satterthwaite (seen in later stories) makes an appearance, and on a personal note I wondered if this was Agatha Christie’s cynical view of divorce?
I can’t see it makes a ha’p'orth of difference who you marry nowadays. Divorce is so easy. If you’re not hitting it off, nothing is easier than to cut the tangle and start again. (page 115)
- Triangle at Rhodes – although this is the shortest story, not my preferred length, I think this is the best one in the book. It’s similar to her later book Evil Under the Sun in that it is about a love triangle and a crime of passion. Poirot is on holiday in Rhodes and observes the jealousy and passion between two couples as he sits in the sun on the beach. He foresees trouble ahead and is worried as he traces a triangle in the sand. There aren’t many people on holiday there and he wonders if he is imagining things , reproaching himself for being ‘crime-minded‘. But he is not wrong and Valentine Chantry, a famous beauty, married to a commander in the navy, a strong, silent man, is murdered.
These stories demonstrate some of Agatha Christie’s plot elements and endings – the locked room murder, the murderer conceals the motive, Poirot foresees murder, the clues (often odd clues) are there hidden or in plain sight, there are red herrings and bluffs, chance remarks that have significance, and the final denouement, explaining the solution to the mystery.