Entry number four in the ongoing Agatha Christie challenge keeps us with Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings, only instead of a single mystery, we now have a set of fourteen unconnected short stories. (A side note: this is the American edition – the UK edition only contains 11.) These stories originally appeared in magazine format (Sketch in the UK, from April to October of 1923; Blue Book Magazine in the US, from October 1923 to April 1925), and were collected for publication in book format in 1924 (UK) and 1925 (US).
These are much on the same lines as the first two Hercule Poirot novel entries – Poirot exercises his grey cells, Hastings is obtuse, and the mystery is neatly wrapped up in the final pages. (Well…perhaps “The Chocolate Box” is less true to these lines, but it would be spoiling things to say too much.) However, rather than reminding me strictly of The Mysterious Affair at Styles or Murder on the Links, what really sprung to mind were the short mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From reading the earlier novels, it was already apparent that Christie’s characters owed a debt to Doyle, but here I was even more forcefully reminded of his short story format. As in so many Holmes stories, we frequently see Poirot sitting in his rooms when a client arrives with a tricky little puzzle for Poirot to solve. In the opening story, “The Adventure of the ‘Western Star,’” he quickly deduces that the young woman walking up the street is coming to see him. And in “The Veiled Lady,” Poirot bemoans the quality of the criminal class (specifically his lack of interesting cases) and remarks that perhaps he should have taken up criminal acts himself. The ghost of Holmes haunts continually. This all adds up to the suggestion that these are still early Christie. On the other hand, I noticed less of the tendency to have Poirot solve the crime by means of knowledge the reader doesn’t (and can’t) have; even when he seems to have pulled the answer out of thin air, a revisit to the start of the story shows tracks carefully laid for the reader. And we still get the opportunity to outwit Hastings, who remains remarkably obtuse at times, a perfect foil to Poirot.
All-in-all, they are enjoyable little diversions. None perhaps terribly memorable on their own, but each easily readable in a short bit of time, perfect as the just-before-bed read.