Elephants Can Remember. Agatha Christie. (Hercule Poirot). 1972. 212 pages.
Mrs. Oliver looked at herself in the glass.
While I tend to prefer Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot most of the time, when Christie's Poirot novels feature Ariadne Oliver, it becomes trickier to play favorites. For Ariadne Oliver is a writer, a writer of detective fiction or mysteries. And her perspective on the genre--and on writing in general--which is shared with readers is just fun. In Elephants Can Remember, Mrs. Oliver is approached by a woman who is memorable for all the wrong reasons:
A large woman. Ample proportions, large white champing teeth. What in French could have been called une femme formidable, but who definitely had not only the French variety of being formidable, but the English one of being supremely bossy. Obviously she either knew Mrs. Oliver, or was intent on making her acquaintance there and then. The last was how it happened to go. (8)Mrs. Burton-Cox is "concerned" about her son who is contemplating marrying Mrs. Oliver's goddaughter. Now, Mrs. Oliver has had many goddaughters through the decades, and this particular one has slipped her mind completely. Well, until forced to remember by Burton-Cox's persistence. Celia Ravenscroft is the goddaughter in question, the "inappropriate" young woman, that Burton-Cox does not want for her daughter-in-law. Why? Well, there was a family tragedy when Celia was just a girl. Her parents died in an apparent suicide. No one knows if her father shot her mother or if her mother shot her father. No one knows what provoked this murder-suicide. Was her mother involved with another man? Was her father involved with another woman? And though it seems almost everyone has forgotten this tragedy except Mrs. Burton-Cox, she's convinced that Celia is not good for her son.
Mrs. Oliver is annoyed by Mrs. Burton-Cox. But she is also curious. She was out of the country when the tragedy happened all those years ago, and, well, part of her wants to know the truth--or as much of the truth can be discerned or concluded--herself. So she decides that if Celia will give her blessing, she'll begin to snoop around. And she'll even call her old friend, Hercule Poirot. He may be able to connect the dots and solve this one.
"Human curiosity," said Poirot. "Such a very interesting thing." He sighed. "To think that we owe to it throughout history. Curiosity. I don't know who invented curiosity. It is said to be usually associated with the cat. Curiosity killed the cat. But I should say really that the Greeks were the inventors of curiosity. They wanted to know. Before them, as far as I can see, nobody wanted to know much. They just wanted to know what the rules of the country they were living in were, and how they could avoid having their heads cut off or being impaled on spikes or something disagreeable happening to them. But they either obeyed or disobeyed. They didn't want to know why. But since then a lot of people have wanted to know why and all sorts of things have happened because of that. Boats, trains, flying machines and atom bombs and penicillin and cures for various illnesses. A little boy watches his mother's kettle raising its lid because of the steam. And the next thing we know is we have railway trains, leading on in due course to railway strikes and all that. And so on and so on." (25)
"As one journeys through life," said Poirot, "one finds more and more that people are often interested in things that are none of their business. Even more so than they are in things that could be considered their business." (117)
© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews