‘Did she say anything?’
‘She said she had been into the bathroom to wash the blood off her hands—and then she said, “But you can’t wash things like that off, can you?”’
‘Out, damnéd spot, in fact?’
‘I cannot say that she reminded me particularly of Lady Macbeth. She was—how shall I put it?—perfectly composed. She laid the knife down on the table and sat down on a chair.’
‘What else did she say?’ asked Chief Inspector Neele, his eyes dropping to a scrawled note in front of him.
‘Something about hate. That it wasn’t safe to hate anybody.’
What a strange book!
When the book starts off with our favourite Belgian detective receiving a visit from a young woman who clearly has a problem that's been weighing on her mind, I was both dismayed and delighted.
Dismayed because Poirot's immediate attitude to the young is that of what I can only describe as a git.
He had hoped perhaps for something nearer to his own estimate of female attraction. The outworn phrase ‘beauty in distress’ had occurred to him. He was disappointed when George returned ushering in the visitor; inwardly he shook his head and sighed. Here was no beauty—and no noticeable distress either. Mild perplexity would seem nearer the mark. ‘Pha!’ thought Poirot disgustedly. ‘These girls! Do they not even try to make something of themselves? Well made up, attractively dressed, hair that has been arranged by a good hairdresser, then perhaps she might pass. But now!’
However, I was also intrigued by the woman's reaction to Poirot:
‘I’m awfully sorry and I really don’t want to be rude, but—’
She breathed an enormous sigh, looked at Poirot, looked away, and suddenly blurted out, ‘You’re too old. Nobody told me you were so old. I really don’t want to be rude but—there it is. You’re too old. I’m really very sorry.’
She turned abruptly and blundered out of the room, rather like a desperate moth in lamplight. Poirot, his mouth open, heard the bang of the front door.
He ejaculated: ‘Nom d’un nom d’un nom…’
And there we have one of the major conflicts of the book right from the start of the book - the generational clash - each treating the other with disdain. Unfortunately, much of the book continues in the same vain, pitching the fears of the old against the ignorance of the young.
It made me wonder if Christie had developed a dislike for young people at the time she wrote this, or if she merely didn't know any young people anymore and just lost touch.
The book is set in the mid-1960s (we have disparaging references to beatniks and The Beatles) and we get comments about men looking like women, women no longer taking care of their appearances, young people being generally rude and selfish in the way that they don't let other people know their whereabouts and a ton of other complaints about the awful state of society which is peopled by young people.
All the while, the actual young people we meet are nothing like any characters of the era. The actual characters struck me as drafts that Christie dug out from notes she made for an earlier book written or set in the 1930s. There is a bit of a difference there and when reading Christie's characters I felt that most infrequent of connections to the Joe Ortons and the Alan Silitoes of the time, who tried to give their generation an actual voice because Christie so very clearly could not.
Now, I realise that Christie in all likelihood also never intended to become the new spokes-person of British youth in the 1960s, but from the depiction of her characters it really sounded like she had completely disconnected with the world around her.
From there on, this book just became more bizarre and just ... sad.
While the Bright Young Things of Christie's earlier novels were charing, capable and full of spark, the young people (mostly in their early 20s) were self-fish, soul-less, callous, confused, incapable, naive, and - if we consider the main twist of this mystery - just plain gullable?
What happened Dame Agatha???
On top of this weird obsession with the generational divide, this is also the book that I will henceforth remember as the book where characters obsess about sex and throw in a bunch of pseudo-psychology references, which made for even more of a cringe-fest:
Poirot looked again at his list.
‘And what about Mr David Baker? Have you looked him up for me?’
‘Oh, he’s one of the usual mob. Riff-raff—go about in gangs and break up night clubs. Live on purple hearts—heroin—Coke—Girls go mad about them. He’s the kind they moan over saying his life has been so hard and he’s such a wonderful genius. His painting is not appreciated. Nothing but good old sex, if you ask me.’
Poirot consulted his list again.
‘So that is what you say. Rubbish! And not neurotic?’
‘Any girl, or almost any girl, can be neurotic, especially in adolescence, and in her first encounters with the world. She is still immature, and needs guidance in her first encounters with sex. Girls are frequently attracted to completely unsuitable, sometimes even dangerous young men. There are, it seems, no parents nowadays, or hardly any, with the strength of character to save them from this, so they often go through a time of hysterical misery, and perhaps make an unsuitable marriage which ends not long after in divorce.’
Oh, what insight! (*rolls eyes*)
I have mentioned before that there were certain aspects of Dame Agatha's writing that she was not very good at: espionage thrillers is one of them, anything to do with sex and/or romance is, imo, another.
As great as some of her other on-page relationships are, the romance angle in her books has never worked for me, and in many cases has even creeped me out - Sad Cypress, The Man in the Brown Suit (needed a barf bucket for that one), Taken at the Flood, ...
Sadly, there is a similar romance angle at the end of this story, which is both unbelievable (because why would a woman who has just survived a major trauma so readily fall in love) and also totally inappropriate (because that was still meant to be a professional relationship).
And still, even this was still not the dumbest aspect of this novel. Nope, the award for sheer w-t-f-ery has to go to the incredibly daft plot - not only the way that poor Norma is messed with but also the utterly ridiculous notion that she would not recognise someone in a wig.
Both are utter nonsense.
Nevertheless, the fact that we have Poirot, Miss Lemon, and Ariadne Oliver interacting in this one was fab.
Actually, Ariadne Oliver's presence in this book alone made up for some (but not all) of the disappointment that this books stirred in me.
‘How did you get this?’ asked Restarick of Poirot, tapping it curiously.
‘From a friend of mine via a furniture van,’ said Poirot, with a glance at Mrs Oliver. Restarick looked at her without favour.
‘I couldn’t help it,’ said Mrs Oliver, interpreting his look correctly. ‘I suppose it was her furniture being moved out, and the men let go of a desk, and a drawer fell out and scattered a lot of things, and the wind blew this along the courtyard, so I picked it up and tried to give it back to them, but they were cross and didn’t want it, so I just put it in my coat pocket without thinking. And I never even looked at it until this afternoon when I was taking things out of pockets before sending the coat to the cleaners. So it really wasn’t my fault.’
She paused, slightly out of breath.
Now pass me the Creme de Cassis.