Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Thirteen at Dinner

Thirteen at Dinner. Agatha Christie. 1933. 228 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The memory of the public is short. Already the intense interest and excitement aroused by the murder of George Alfred St. Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware, is a thing past and forgotten. Newer sensations have taken its place. My friend, Hercule Poirot, was never openly mentioned in connection with the case. This, I may say, was entirely in accordance with his own wishes.

Premise/plot: Thirteen at Dinner is the ninth novel in the Hercule Poirot mystery series by Agatha Christie. It is narrated by Poirot's good friend Captain Hastings. He is recounting for readers a case that Poirot himself was a bit ashamed of being involved in.

It begins with a performance: Hastings and Poirot witness a one-woman show, Carlotta Adams. One of the imitations she does is of actress Jane Wilkinson. Wilkinson has married into the nobility, Lord Edgware, but it has not been a successful match--at all.

Later that evening, Poirot meets Jane Wilkinson for himself. She has come to him--pleading with him. Will he be willing to go to Lord Edgware and ask him to grant her a divorce so she can remarry? If not she doesn't know what she'll do. Poirot agrees to go. Lord Edgware agrees to a divorce promptly. In fact, he claims that he agreed over six months ago letting her know by letter!

The next day Lord Edgware is DEAD. Who murdered him and why?!

My thoughts: If you've read Lord Edgware Dies, you've read Thirteen at Dinner. But. If you're like me, you won't mind a bit rereading this Christie mystery. It is one of my favorites. Why? Not because of the details of the mystery. But because of the WRITING. I love Hastings' narration. I love the banter between Hastings and Poirot. Poirot can be such a hoot! It was a TREAT to reread this one.

"Do you not know, my friend, that each one of us is a dark mystery, a maze of conflicting passions and desires and aptitudes? Mais oui, c'est vrai. One makes one's little judgments--but nine times out of ten, one is wrong."
"Not Hercule Poirot," I said smiling.
"Even Hercule Poirot! Oh! I know very well that you have always a little idea that I am conceited, but indeed, I assure you, I am really a very humble person."
I laughed.
"It is so. Except--I confess it--that I am a little proud of my moustaches. Nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them. (5-6)
"Stop Poirot!" I cried. "You are making my head spin. "
"No, no, my friend. We are only considering possibilities. It is like trying on the clothes. Does this fit? No, it wrinkles on the shoulder? This one? Yes, that is better--but not quite large enough. This other one is too small. So on and so on, until we reach the perfect fit--the truth." (65)
"I always find alibis very enjoyable," he remarked. "Whenever I happen to be reading a detective story I sit up and take notice when the alibi comes along." (101)
"Between the deliberate falsehood and the disinterested inaccuracy it is very hard to distinguish sometimes.."
"What do you mean?"
"To deceive deliberately--that is one thing. But to be so sure of your facts, of your ideas and of their essential truth that the details do not matter--that, my friend, is a special characteristic of particularly honest persons." (107)
"The positive witness should always be treated with suspicion, my friend. The uncertain witness who doesn't remember, isn't sure, will think a minute--ah! yes, that's how it was--is infinitely more to be depended upon!"
"Dear me, Poirot," I said. "You upset all my preconceived ideas about witnesses." (107-8)
"My good friend," he said. "I depend upon you more than you know."
I was confused and delighted by these unexpected words. He had never said anything of the kind to me before. Sometimes, secretly, I had felt slightly hurt. He seemed almost to go out of his way to disparage my mental powers.
Although I did not think his own powers were flagging, I did realize suddenly that perhaps he had come to depend on my aid more than he knew.
"Yes," he said dreamily. "You may not always comprehend just how it is so--but you do often, and often point the way."
I could hardly believe my ears.
"Really, Poirot," I stammered. "I'm awfully glad, I suppose I've learnt a good deal from you one way or another--"
He shook his head.
"Mais non, ce n'est pas ca. You have learnt nothing."
"Oh!" I said, rather taken aback.
"That is as it should be. No human being should learn from another. Each individual should develop his own powers to the uttermost, not try to imitate those of someone else. I do not wish you to be a second and inferior Poirot. I wish you to be the supreme Hastings. In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated." (111)
"You are like someone who reads the detective story and who starts guessing each of the characters in turn without rhyme or reason." (112)
"You have a theory, then?"
"A detective, M. Martin, always has a theory. It is expected of him. I do not call it a theory myself. I say that I have a little idea. That is the first stage."
"And the second stage?"
"If the little idea turns out to be right, then I know! It is quite simple, you see." (129)
"Do not antagonize your son! He is of an age to choose for himself. Because his choice is not your choice, do not assume that you must be right. If it is a misfortune, then accept misfortune. Be at hand to aid him when he needs aid. But do not turn him against you." (145)

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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