Thursday, 22 June 2017


When I googled "heron" it said that the species most prevalent in Canada is the Great Blue Heron, which can be found from Nova Scotia to Alberta, with a large concentration in Prince Edward Island, the great blue heron capital of North America.  It stands anywhere from 3.2 to 4.5 feet tall and its wings span spreads anywhere from 5.5 to 6.6 feet.  The great blue heron, a colonial nester, builds stick nests, 1 metre in diameter, in the treetops.  The largest known colony of nests in P.E.I. was recorded at 507 in 1997.  The large bird arrives in Canada in the late March and departs in the late fall.  Great blue herons are expert fishers, swallowing their prey whole.  They live on average 15 years.

Alex Colville's Heron circa 1977 courtesy

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Moon and Cow

Hey diddle, diddle
The cat and fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed 
To see such sport.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
(The Cow Jumped over the Moon)

Moon and Cow — painting by Alex Colville

Moon and Cow, with the moonlit night and the resting cow, evokes a feeling of peacefulness.  I think of the nursery rhyme, The Cow Jumped Over the Moon.  I think of the steady rhythm of the poem and the innocence of a young child.

On the other hand, in 1963, when Alex Colville completed the painting, the world was in the throes of the Cold War.  Children hovered under their desks during atomic bomb drills.  The hands of the superpower leaders hovered over the nuclear "button".  Mercifully, President John F. Kennedy had recently averted disaster with the diplomacy he displayed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Only two years before however, President Kennedy had promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  And while the world sat on the precipice of World War III, which would have put us back into the stone age, the two superpowers were working feverishly behind the scenes to forge ahead and put a man on the moon.  The Space Race refocussed their attention.  It would be only six years later that 600 million spectators would watch in hushed silence as Neil Armstrong placed his boot on the moon's dusty surface and declared:  "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Three Horses

Unlike Alex Colville's Horse and Train (1954) or Church and Horse (1964), which evoke a sense of urgency and unease, Three Horses (1946), evokes a feeling of peace and tranquility.  Three horses, one brown, one rust-coloured and one grey, gather in a field of hay.  A barn sits in the background.  White clouds fill the sky.  It seems like all is well with the world.

Three Horses comes on the tail end of the Second World War.  Perhaps Alex Colville, after coming off the battlefield where he sketched scenes of horror and devastation, is content to just sit in a farmer's field and sketch horses.  He surrounded himself with animals all of his life, a source of companionship.  "Colville viewed animals as essentially innocent -- incapable of malice unless conditioned so by humans." (

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ocean Limited

Alex Colville's Ocean Limited, circa 1962, features a train that runs between Montreal and Halifax through Sackville.  While Colville's famous 1953 painting includes a horse facing a train, this piece includes a man facing a train, only this time the two are not on a direct collision course.  The man, dressed in a trench coat and hat, appears to be deep in thought.

Colville's painting harkens back to a bygone era when trains were part of Canada's landscape.  Rather than driving, most people rode the train for long distance trips.  Before transport trucks, everything was shipped by rail.  Even hobos rode the rails during the Great Depression.  By the 1960's, passenger rail travel was in decline due to the increase in automobile and air traffic.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Stop for Cows

Alex Colville's Stop for Cows, circa 1967, features a young woman in shorts and a sleeveless top ushering a herd of jersey cows along the road.  Farmland stretches on either side.  In the background is a string of mountains, likely the Appalachians of Nova Scotia.  The cows are not in a hurry; it harkens back to a slower pace of life.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie Leap Year in which Amy Adams character ushers a handful of cattle off the road in order that her and her chauffeur may continue on their journey to Dublin.  All seems well with the world until Amy looks down at her designer shoe and discovers it's covered in manure.

Artwork Stop for Cows by Alex Colville

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Woman Carrying Canoe

A woman rests a canoe casually on her shoulders.  The ankle deep water is calm and serene.  A narrow beach sits to the right and a cliff fills the background.  The woman is likely Alex Colville's wife and the beach is likely one in Nova Scotia where they lived.

The canoe is an integral part of Canadian history.  Derived from the Carib word "kenu" or dugout, the canoe was used by the Natives in North America.  The French fur traders who arrived in Canada in the 1600's used the canoe to cross streams and rivers as they portaged the country.  There are two types of canoes, the K-boat or kayak, intended for one passenger, and the C-boat or Canadian, intended for two passengers.  The C-boat is about 17 feet long and each passenger uses a paddle with a single blade to move the canoe.

Friday, 16 June 2017


Alex Colville's Stove, circa 1988, shows a woman stooping over her cook stove while her dog watches.  This painting harkens back to the days of the old cook stoves.  They took a long time to heat up but once they were hot, they were piping hot.  As a little girl my aunt mistakenly leaned up against the back of her mother's stove and got second degree burns.

The old cookstove had many compartments.  In Colville's painting the woman has opened the top right compartment.  Was that the oven used for baking bread?  I remember when my sister first got married she and her husband bought a house circa 1962 with all of the original appliances and furniture.  The cook stove also had many compartments.  One of the compartments was for the wood or coal used to heat the stove (my sister's, however, was electric).

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Couple on Beach

Alex Colville's Couple on Beach is likely a painting of him and his wife sun bathing in Nova Scotia. The wife lays on her side, her hat covering her face.  The husband, squatting next to her, appears to be looking out towards the horizon.  The rippled surface of the water meets the blue sky, scudded with puffy white clouds.

While this scene likely takes place in Nova Scotia in 1957, because we can't see the faces, this could be any couple.  It could be my husband and I on our honeymoon in British Columbia in 1992.  We packed a picnic lunch and headed to Okanagan Lake where we sunbathed.  We took a dip in the lake. In our newlywed frame of mind, we were oblivious of everyone else.  We didn't realize that Ogopogo was lurking in the lake's depths.  It was only later that Rob discovered his ring was missing. But we refused to let it spoil our glorious day.  

Note:  While Rob and I are about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this summer, Alex and Rhoda Colville were happily married for 70 years!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Seven Crows

"One crow, sorrow
Two crows joy
Three crows a letter
Four crows a boy
Five crows silver
Six crows gold
Seven crows a story never to be told."
(William Butler Yeats)

Alex Colville based his 1980 painting Seven Crows on the Yeats poem.  In literature, crows can act as a harbinger of death.  Seven crows lurk over a field by the water as clouds hover overhead.  The birds hang in the air as the unspoken tension hangs in the picture.  Something is about to happen.  Perhaps it's a thunderstorm, perhaps much more.  It's "a story never to be told".  

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Church and Horse

"More than any other artist in Canada, Colville's images permeate both our psyche and our everyday life." (Toronto Star)

Alex Colville's Church and Horse contrasts a peaceful white-clapboard church with a spooked black horse.  The sanctuary of the church is contrasted with the dangers of the outside world.  A foreboding sky hovers over the church and horse.  The gate remains open, ready for the horse to bolt right through it.

Painted in 1964, "JFK's funeral is the subtext for Church and Horse, a painting that I never understood until this encounter.  We watch that big black riderless horse in the funeral procession...then meet him again, galloping madly through Colville's painting." (

No one will forget the image of little John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin; of the veiled widow Jacqueline, clasping each of her child's hands; of Caroline Kennedy sneaking a hand under the American flag, as if to touch her father one last time; of the riderless horse clip clopping behind the slain President's coffin as it made its way to Arlington Cemetery.  Colville's horse conveys some of the public's unease felt in the turbulent months after JFK's assassination (

Monday, 12 June 2017

Dog and Priest

Alex Colville's painting Dog and Priest shows a dog looking out for his master.  Both dog and priest have dark coats.  Both dog and master have collars, although the priest's is obscured by the dog's.  The priest is reclining while the dog is sitting up, on the alert.  Priests are known for the faith in God while dogs demonstrate faith in their masters.

Dog and Priest, painted in 1978, represents a bygone era.  At one time, Roman Catholic priests would have been commonplace in Canada, especially the Maritimes with its large ethnic Irish population.  However, today, the number of priests is steadily declining.  The slower pace of life, something much of Canada has lost, is indicative of the Maritimes.

Sunday, 11 June 2017


A woman in a white dress stands in a telephone booth on a jetty as a cargo ship pulls out to sea.  Ripples cover the water; clouds dot the sky.  Departure, circa 1962, is yet another example of Alex Colville's preoccupation with the ordinary.

Just like the soldier saying goodbye to his girlfriend/wife, this may be a scene where a couple is about to endure a long separation.  During the Second World War, this scene would have played itself out many times.  For someone living in Nova Scotia like Colville, where the army and navy often deployed, this would have been a common event.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

To Prince Edward Island

A woman, facing the camera, holds a pair of binoculars as she heads To Prince Edward Island aboard a ferry.  A lifeboat hangs behind her.  Other than a string of puffy clouds above the horizon, the sky is a clear blue.

While many of Colville's paintings exhibit some degree of anxiety or tension, To Prince Edward Island has a serenity about it.  It is no surprise that the painting remains one of Colville's most loved works.  And Prince Edward Island remains one of the most popular destinations for both Canadians and foreigners.  Its red sand beaches, lobster dinners and friendly charm are irresistible.  A visit to Prince Edward Island, I imagine, takes one back to a simpler time.  The pace is slower and the people are friendlier.  Painted in 1965, on the heals of the Cuban Missile Crisis (perhaps the purpose of the binoculars trained on the viewer) such a painting would be a welcome respite from the Cold War angst.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Family and Rainstorm

I'll never forget the summers of my childhood in Grand Bend, Ontario.  My Mom, my sisters (and later my brother) and I would spend the day at the beach.  Sometimes, in late afternoon, dark clouds would blow in and before we knew it, a thunderstorm would hit.  We would pack up our towels and head for cover. We would sit in our mobile home and watch the fireworks display.  There's nothing like a thunderstorm on the lake.  It was more magnificent than anything you would witness on land.

Alex Colville's Family and Rainstorm reminds me of those thunderstorms, only this time set in Nova Scotia rather than Southern Ontario.  Dark clouds hovering over the water threaten to burst open at any moment.  A mother holds the car door open for her son and daughter as they climb inside.   The children, likely drained from a day of sun and sand, are ready to collapse.  The mother is likely dreaming of a warm bath to clean off the sand that clings to her body.  I see visions of the car, only minutes later, driving down the road, its wipers working full speed, its occupants relieved to be inside.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Milk Truck

"Toronto passed a law in the 1950's banning milk delivery before 7 am to prevent the disturbance of Torontonian's sleep."

Alex Colville's painting Milk Truck, circa 1959, is a tribute to the small town Maritimes.  A Mercury truck filled with crates of milk (and a dog) and with a boy hanging off of it ready to deliver the goods, drives down the main street of a small town.  In the background is a Simpsons Catalogue Store (a small town wouldn't have merited a full department store).  At the end of the street and the edge of the picture is the water, presumably the Atlantic.

But the milk truck wasn't just a part of Maritime history, but Canadian history.  I remember the milk truck that came down our street every day in Hamilton, Ontario.  I remember the milk box that was built into the side of our bungalow.  I remember the plastic jugs that the milk came in. Our neighbour, Mrs. Pellizari, still ordered her milk in glass bottles.

The milk truck was not always the mode of transportation for milkmen in Canada.  According to The Globe and Mail, "Most Canadians had milk, cream, butter, eggs, bread and even meat delivered -- and all by horse drawn wagon, a vehicle that some Toronto milkmen used until the late 1950's."  My Mom, who grew up in Dunbarton, 18 miles east of Toronto, remembers the horse drawn milk carts.  The horses knew the routes so well that they could continue without instruction; at a dead end street they could be counted on to turn around.

By the early 1960's, electric trucks had replaced horsedrawn wagons, but they came with their own set of problems.  They struggled in the cold and needed a pick up truck to climb steep hills.  The vehicle's rooftop refrigeration system often leaked, raining down on the driver.  Its small oil stove did little to keep the milkman warm.

Modern gas trucks soon followed with a proper refrigeration unit.  You would think that the motorized trucks would be much louder than the wagons.  However, it wasn't the rumbling of the truck motor that got the milkmen into trouble but the clinking of the milk bottles.  Toronto passed a law in the 1950's banning milk delivery before 7 am to prevent the disturbance of Torontonian's sleep.  In 1944, Ella Mae Morse had a top ten hit titled Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.

The death of the milkman and the milk truck came with the advent of modern refrigerators and the proliference of automobiles.  People could keep their milk fresh much longer at home.  They could drive themselves to the store to buy more.  The milk truck, as its predecessor the horse, was put out to pasture.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017


"Reproduced in magazines and books, on posters and postcards and television [Colville's paintings] have become icons of Canadianism, the visual expression of our spirit." (Fulford)

As Hellen Dow states:  "Alex Colville celebrates the ordinary."  In Canada, what could be more ordinary than a fishing trip?  My son Thomas and his friend Braden just came home from a fishing trip in French River.   My Grandad Stroud used to make an annual fishing trip to French River.  And what fishing trip would be complete without a photo of the prize fish?  Thomas caught a pike; not bad for his first time fishing.  Countless Canadians can reminisce about fishing trips taken as children.  

Colville's piece, Embarkation, appears to depict a husband and wife on a fishing trip.  Using an aerial view, Colville paints the woman descending the ladder to the fishing boat while her husband looks on.  The boat is devoid of fish so they must be just setting out (although not everyone who fishes comes back with any fish).  Colville grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia situated on the Cumberland Basin, an arm of the Bay of Fundy.  Fishing was an ideal sport for the locals who had access to islands, bays, rivers, points and shoals.  

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Berlin Bus

Related image

In 1971, Alex Colville worked in Berlin as a Visiting Artist for the Kunstlerprogramm.  Fascinated by the city's double decker busses, he sketched one.  In 1978, he produced a painting of the Berlin bus, this time with a girl running alongside it.

While Paris introduced the first motorized double decker "autobus" in 1906, the first one appeared in Berlin in 1923.  The double decker bus, while able to hold more passengers, was difficult to manoeuvre under bridges or up hills.  However, Berlin, being so flat, lent itself well to the double decker model.  Bus transportation was crucial in a city like Berlin, which today is nine times the size of Paris.  The double decker busses were a good way for people to commute to work.  In more recent years they have been used for tourists.

In 1973, the first female drivers were hired (  The same year saw the postal service issue a stamp commemorating the 1970 "doppeldeckautobus" (,_MiNr_449.jpg). Berlin's double decker bus fleet peaked in 1992 at 1000, but ten years later had fallen to 450.  At that time busses held 95 passengers.  The new busses can hold up to 128 passengers.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The River Thames

Alex Colville's The River Thames, circa 1974, features a woman in a fur trimmed coat and umbrella gazing over the bridge at the River Thames.  The scene, with the calm water, the buildings reflected in its surface, is utterly tranquil.  It does not betray the river's past or future.

The River Thames has been at the centre of much of London's history.  It was in 1858 that pedestrians crossed over its waters, handkerchiefs over their noses, to block out The Great Stink, the sewage emanating from the river's depths.  Workers at the House of Commons, on the banks of the Thames, soaked the curtains in lime.  Londoners who imbibed the drinking water were dropping dead due to cholera, a water borne disease.  The problem was not resolved until Joseph Bazalgette introduced his sewer system in 1866.

It was in 1940 that pedestrians standing on the London Bridge over the Thames watched the sky light up as Hitlers bombs reigned down on the city.  While many Brits retreated to the Underground to seek refuge from the Blitz, 43,000 civilians still perished, about half of which were Londoners.  The River Thames' docks in the East End were a common target for the Luftwaffe.  While bombs peppered the city during a 57-consecutive night Blitz, the London Bridge remained intact, almost personifying Britain's fierce leader, who proclaimed:  "We shall never surrender!"

In 1945, the smoke cleared and London returned to peacetime.  However, the city lived for many years in the shadow of the Second World War.  It was a long time before tourists once again strolled across the London Bridge and watched as Londoners slowly rebuilt their city.  By the time the city was back on its feet in 1965, its fearless leader was laid to rest amid much pomp and circumstance. The 1960's also saw a rise in immigration and London, more than ever before, became a multicultural centre.

London's peacetime was not shattered until 2005 when terrorists targetted London's Underground, killing 56 people and injuring almost 800.  The date was referred to as 7/7 in the wake of 9/11.  Earlier this year, the London Bridge became the location for another terrorist attack when a vehicle ran over many pedestrians.  This past weekend, Londoners once again heard gunshots and bomb blasts as terrorists laid siege to London Bridge and Borough Market.

It seems fitting, today, that I blog about Alex Colville's 1974 painting The River Thames which hearkens back to a more innocent time.  I pray for peace for London.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Soldier & Girl at Station

A soldier and his girl share a long embrace at a train station.  Is he departing or arriving?  The picture does not say.  I get the impression that the soldier is departing as the scene looks quiet and sad rather than happy and exuberant.  They are the only two people on the platform, as if the rest of the world does not exist. It's likely a scene that Alex Colville witnessed dozens of times in his work as a war artist.  One blogger explains:  "It was the accompanying sketches that Colville drew, before going off to war, of the same scene, but crowded and bustling with other passengers."  The painting, completed in 1953, is both a testament to the blinding effect of love and the lonely effect of war.

Colville based the station on the Sackville Train Station in New Brunswick which precedes the Amherst, Nova Scotia Station, Colville's home as a boy.  While Soldier & Girl at Station disappeared for decades into private collections, it resurfaced in recent years and sold at auction for over $663,000.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Woman at Clothesline

In the 1950's, Alex Colville painted a series of paintings highlighting domestic life.  Woman at Clothesline depicts a housewife, modelled by his real life wife Rhoda, holding a laundry basket.  The painting was completed at Colville's house on York Street.

The beauty of the painting is in its simplicity:  the simple dress that the woman wears, the simple sheets hanging from the clothesline, the simple task that she performs.  As one essayist explains Alex Colville's work:  "It is uncluttered by period sentiment, aloof, complete and self explanatory:  such things travel well through time."

Alex Colville embraced magic realism, "a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy."  While Colville passed away in 2013, his style is alive and well in artists like Alan Bateman, son of the famous Robert Bateman.

Woman at Clothesline

Friday, 2 June 2017

Horse & Train

"Against a regiment, I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train."

Canadian painter Alex Colville used to construct model trains as a little boy. He was a student of order. His father and grandfather owned horses.  It seemed the perfect mix, then, to paint an horse and a train in 1953.  But there was another source of inspiration for Colville's painting -- the poem A Dark Horse Against an Armoured Train published by South African writer Roy Campbell in 1949.  "Against a regiment, I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train."  The setting for the painting is Aular, near Sackville, New Brunswick where the elevated tracks cross the Tantramar Marshes.

The order that Colville thrived on as a little boy was upset by the images he saw and sketched during the Second World War, particularly the massive piles of bodies in the concentration camp, Bergen Belsen.  When Colville returned to Canada after the war, he tried to make sense out of the disorder in the world through existentialism.  He sought to embrace existence and to find meaning in his life.  The Horse and Train painting symbolizes the freedom of both the horse and the engineer:  while on a collision course, the horse could change direction at any time and the engineer could apply the brakes.  At the same time, as one columnist pointed out:  "Everything in an Alex Colville painting has an air of inevitability."

Horse and Train, arguably Colville's most famous piece, was acquired by the Hamilton ARt Gallery in 1957 where it remains to this day.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Alex Colville: Canada's Norman Rockwell

Last October, I blogged every day about one of Norman Rockwell's paintings (  Today, I googled Canada's Norman Rockwell and came up with the name Alex Colville.  In fact, Colville "traces his initial inspiration to become an artist to the hours he spent as a boy pouring over the Saturday Evening Post", a magazine filled with Rockwell's illustrations (

The famous Canadian painter was born in Toronto and grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia.  He first used his painting skills when he served in the Canadian Army during World War II.  When he returned from overseas, he married and started teaching art at Nova Scotia's Mount Allison University.  His artwork featured "tranquil compositions which focussed on routine moments of family life and featured landscapes, animals and the sea."

"To Prince Edward Island", "Nude and Dummy" and "Horse and Train" are three of his more prominent pieces.  Colville's work was viewed by millions of Canadians via art galleries, magazines, book covers, postcards, posters, television, coins and a record album (Bruce Cockburn).

Embracing abstract and impressionist art, and with a focus on the ordinary, Colville has been called "Canada's Norman Rockwell".  The painter's technique involved "a painstaking process of multiple drawings, precise geometry and carefully applied blots of paint."  By the 1950's, Colville came to be associated with the regionalist school of painting demonstrated by the American Precisionists of the 1930's.  While Colville's career began in Canada, it was not until he pariticpated in exhibitions in Hanover, German and London England in 1969 that he found commercial success here at home.

Colville served as visiting professor at the University of California in 1967 and as visiting artist at the university of Berlin in 1971.  He was named Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967.  From 1981 to 1991, he was chancellor of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  Colville's 1953 painting, "Man on Verandah" sold for $1.29 million in 2010, setting a record for a piece by a living Canadian artist.

Man on Verandah — painting by Alex Colville

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Hollow

Lucy Angkatell invites Hercule Poirot to her estate for a party.  As a lark, she stages a mock murder for the detective.  By the end  of the evening, everyone is surprised to discover a dead body in the pool.

Doctor John Cristow, husband of Gerda, is having an affair with sculptress Henrietta Savernake.  The beautiful Veronica Cray, a former flame of John's staying at a nearby cottage, appears at the party looking for matches.  John walks Veronica back to her cottage and returns at 3 am.  The next day, Gerda Cristow stands at the edge of the pool next to her husband's bleeding body, a gun in her hand.  Lucy, Henrietta and Edward, a cousin of Lucy's are also present at the scene of the crime.  After uttering one word "Henrietta", John dies.

It would seem obvious that Gerda is the murderer.  However, no one actually saw her pull the trigger.  Henrietta takes the gun away from Gerda and it falls into the swimming pool, destroying the evidence.  Lucy kept a pistol in her basket of eggs, but it is of a different calibre than the one used to kill John.  Henrietta looks suspicious after a strange doodle is found in her sketchbook.  The murder weapon turns up in Poirot's hedge, but with fingerprints not matching any of the suspects.

It turns out Gerda had two pistols, one to shoot John and the other to use as a decoy.  Henrietta assumes that john's appeal to her is to help Gerda.  She takes the pistol out of Gerda's hand and later hides it in the hedge.

Midge Hardcastle is in love with Edward.  However, Edward is in love with Henrietta who has rejected his countless marriage proposals.  Realizing Henrietta has changed, and realizing that Midge is no longer "little Midge", he proposes to the latter.  However, still believing Edward is in love with Henrietta, she turns him down.  Distraught, Edward attempts suicide, but is saved by Midge.  Realizing he really loves her, she agrees to marry him.

Gerda and Henrietta are about to sit down for tea when Poirot arrives.  The detective, concerned that once Gerda is cornered she will murder Henrietta, switches the tea cups.  Gerda drinks from Henrietta's cup and dies.  Distraught, Henrietta visits one of John's former patients for closure.  She decides to make a new sculpture named "Grief".

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Moving Finger

Jerry is injured in a plane crash after which he and his sister, Joanna, take up residence in Mrs. Burton's country house in Lymstock.  They receive an anonymous letter accusing them of being lovers while they are simply siblings.  It turns out many people in town are receiving poison letters.  Mrs. Symmington receives a poison letter claiming that her husband is not the father of her second son; later she is found dead.  Beside her body is a glass containing potassium cyanide and a note stating:  "I can't go on."

Her 20 year old daughter, Megan, stays with the Burton's for awhile.  The Burton's maid receives a call from the distraught maid of the Symmington's.  They plan to meet, but the former never shows up.  The next day her body is found in the cupboard under the stairs by Megan.

An investigator from Scotland Yard concludes that the poison letter writer/murderer is a middle aged, prominent Lymstock resident.  The vicar's wife calls her own expert, Miss Marple.  Elsie Holland, governess to the Symmington boys, receives a poison letter. The police catch Aimee Griffith typing on the same typewriter used by the murderer and arrest her.

Jerry heads to London to see the doctor and takes Megan along.  They stop at the dressmaker to get Megan some clothes.  Jerry realizes he has fallen in love with her and proposes, but she turns him down.  Jerry then asks Mr. Symmington if he can woo Megan.  Megan blackmails her stepfather by saying she has proof that he murdered her mother.  Mr. Symmington pays her off, but does not admit his guilt.  After giving Megan a sleeping drug, he tries to murder her, but Jerry and the police are waiting for him.  Jerry rescues Megan and Mr. Symmington is arrested.

Miss Marple explains that the letters served as a diversion.  Mr. Symmington, in love with Elsie Holland, wanted to get rid of his wife.  He modelled the letters on a case that he worked on as a solicitor.  Miss Marple, knowing that it would be hard to prove his guilt, had Megan lure him into a trap.

Megan realizes she is in love with Jerry who buys Miss Barton's house for them.  His sister Joanna marries a doctor from Lymstock.  Emily and Aimee go on a cruise together.

The Moving Finger

The Moving Finger, published in 1942, courtesy 

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Body in the Library

There's a dead body in the library at Gussington Hall.  The woman is flashily dressed and heavily made up.  The owners, Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife, Dolly, do not recognize the woman.  Colonel Bantry phones the police while his wife calls Miss Marple.

Suspicion is cast on the neighbour who makes movie props and whom the Colonel dislikes.  Blake has been dating another platinum blonde, but his girlfriend is still alive.  The autopsy reveals the woman was drugged, died between 10 pm and 12 midnight.  Despite her appearance, she was still a virgin.  She is identified as Ruby Keene, a dancer at the Majestic Hotel.  A fellow dancer, Josie, and had had Ruby fill in for her as an exhibition dancer with Raymond Starr, the hotel's tennis star and dance instructor.  However, when Ruby went missing Josie still had to perform, despite her ankle.

Conway Jefferson, a hotel guest who had become fond of Ruby, phoned the police when she went missing.  Several years before, Conway had lost his wife, son and daughter in an airplane crash in which he had also lost his legs.  He is now accompanied by his daughter's widower, Mark, and his son's widow, Adelaide, who are now his heirs.  Conway planned to adopt Ruby and leave her as sole heir to his fortune, which would leave Mark and Adelaide with nothing.  However, they were accounted for, playing bridge in the hotel ballroom with Conway and Josie.  George Bartlett was Ruby's last dance partner that night.

The police suspect that Ruby sneaked off to meet someone who strangled her.  Bartlett's car is found with the corpse of another girl, Pamela.  She had been approached by a director offering her a screen test when she disappeared.  Basil confesses that after quarreling with Dinah, he went home and found the body and dumped it in the Bantry's library.  Conway plans to change his will and leave his money to a dance hostel.  At 3 am an intruder tries to murder Conway in his bedroom.

Miss Marple discovers that Mark was married to Josie.  They murdered Ruby so that she would not inherit Conway's money.  The two were also responsible for Pamela's murder.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

As Hercule Poirot leaves the dentist's office, a woman arrives.  He returns to her the buckle that has fallen off her shoe.  Later he learns from Inspector Japp that his dentist has died from a single gunshot wound.  Between his appointment and the dentist's death, there were only three appointments:  Alistair Blunt, a banker; Mabelle Seale the woman who lost her shoe buckle; and a Greek secret agent named Amberiotis.

Amberiotis later dies of an anathesia overdose, thought to be the result of his dentist's visit.  Some believe that the dentist, Dr. Morley, killed himself over the guilt from the overdose he gave his patient.  But Poirot remains unconvinced.  He investigates the dentist's partner, but he lacks a motive.  Dr. Morley's secretary has been called away by a fake telegram.  The secretary's boyfriend might be motivated by the fact that Dr. Morley tried to discourage her from seeing him.  Also present at the dental surgery was Howard Raikes, a hardnosed American left wing activist, who was opposed to Blunt but who liked Blunt's niece, Jane.  Poirot talks to another patient of the day, Mr. Barnes, who suspects that Blunt was the target of the murder.

In the meantime, Mabelle Seale goes missing and her body is found in the apartment of Mrs. Chapman, who is also missing.  Poirot examines the body and notices the buckled shoes.  He dispels the theory that Mrs. Chapman killed Mabelle and fled.  Once the dental records are uncovered, it appears the body is that of Mrs. Chapman, not Mabelle.  Mr. Barnes may be right when two attempts are made on Blunt's life.  The smoking gun is found in the hands of Frank Carter who has taken a job as a gardener at Blunt's house.

Dr. Morley's maid says she saw Frank Carter on the stairs of the dentist's apartment.  He is also found with a smoking gun.  Poirot gets him to admit that not one but two people were scene entering dr. Morley's office and that when he entered. Morley was already dead.  The real Mabelle had known Blunt and his first wife, Gerda.  Blunt attended his dental appointment, shot Morley and left.  He pretended to leave the building as the fake Mabelle was showing up for her appointmentl.l  He gave the fatal overdose to Amberiotis, a new patient who had never met Morley.  As soon as Amberiotis left, Blunt moved the dead dentist's body back into the chair to make it a appear like a murder/suicide.  Frank Carter saw both Blunt and Amberiotis leave only to be shocked by the dead body of the dentist.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Evil Under the Sun

Hercule Poirot is holidaying in Devon.  Also at the hotel is a beautiful actress named Arlena, a known flirt.  She is vacationing with her husband, Kenneth, and teenage stepdaughter, Linda, who hates her stepmother.  Arlena flirts with the handsome Patrick Redfern, angering his wife, Christine, a former schoolteacher.  Other guests at the hotel include Sir Horace Blatt, a braggart, Major Barry, an Anglo-Indian military officer, Rosamund Darnley, a dressmaker and former girlfriend of Kenneth, Carrie Gardener, an American tourist, and her husband Odell, Reverend Stephen Lane and Emily Brewster, a quiet spinster.

Arlena, known for sunbathing, is found face down in the sun, dead.  Poirot collects alibis.  Linda drops a parcel of candles when Christine asks her to Gull Cove.  Arlena paddles to Pixy Cove for a rendezvous.  Both Kenneth and Patrick look for her.  Patrick asks Emily to join her daily row.  He finds a Arlena's limp body lying face down, arms outstretched.  He stays with the body while Emily fetches the doctor who concludes it is death by strangulation, likely a male.

Police questions the suspects.  Kenneth was heard typing letters responding to figures in previous mail.  Linda lies and says she was fond of her stepmother.  She and Christine went to Gull Cove at 10:30  and didn't return until 11:45.  The Gardeners were with Poirot the entire time.  Emily and Patrick saw Rosamund reading at Sunny Edge.  Reverend Lane and Major Barry went out.  Sir Horace Blatt spent the morning sailing.  Christine Rosamund, Kenneth and Mr. Gardener went to play tennis at noon.  Earlier in the day, Miss Brewster narrowly missed being hit on the head with a bottle tossed from a window.  Someone ran a bath at noon but no one is admitting to it.

At Pixy Cove, Poirot finds a new pair of scissors, a pipe fragment and heroin.  Poirot also smells a perfume only used by Arlena and Rosamund.  Poirot invites everyone on a picnic to test their vertigo:  Christine, who claims she has vertigo, easily traverses the bridge.  Linda overdoses on six sleeping pills, and almost dies.  Linda admits to the murder, but Poirot finds her library book and realizes she thinks that piercing a voodoo doll qualifies as murder.  Christine made her sleeping pills availabe and Linda took them.

Poirot investigates any local strangulations and discovers that Alice Corrigan was strangled.  Her husband, Edward, was too far away to have committed the crime.  Police identify Patrick Redfern as Edward Corrigan.  They identify the deceased as Christine Redfern, then known as Christine Deverill, Patrick's true love.  Patrick simply used Arlena for her money.  While Arlena did not suspect anything, if her husband discovered she emptied their bank account, he would be suspicious.  Patrick and Christine decided to get rid of her.

Patrick told Arlena to meet him that fateful day at a cave.  Christine set Linda's watch ahead by 20 minutes to give her an alibi.  Christine put on some tan makeup and pretended to be Arlena.  Emily was fooled by her.  Christine returned to her hotle room to wash off the suntan makeup, the bath that no one had admitted to.  She threw the empty bottle out the window, the one that narrowly missed Miss Brewster.  Meanwhile, Patrick called the unsuspecting Arlena out of the cave and strangled her.

Rosamund gives up her career to marry Kenneth and Linda ends up with a loving stepmother.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Sad Cypress

Elinor and Roddy are engaged to be married when they receive an anonymous letter saying that someon is sucking up to their wealthy aunt, Laura Welman, from whom they expect to inherit a fortune.  Elinor is niece to Mrs. Welman while Roddy is nephew to the late Mr. Welman.  Elinor suspects Mary Gerrard, the lodgekeeper's daughter, as the subject of the letter.  Not knowing who wrote the letter, they burn it.

Elinor visits her aunt who complains about the fact that she is partially paralyzed from a stroke.  She wants to end her life but her doctor will not hear of it.  In the meantime, Roddy falls in love with Mary, prompting Elinor to end their engagement.  After a second stroke, Mrs. Welma asks Elinor to make provision for Mary.  However, before the will can be changed, she dies and her estate goes directly to Elinor.

Elinor sells the house she inherited and gives two thousand pounds to Mary.  The latter dies of poisoning during a lunch at Hunterbury.  Everyone at the house has access to the poison.  Elinor is arrested.  Later, everyone learns that Mrs. Welman also died of poisoning.  Peter Lord, in love with Elinor, brings Hercule Poirot into the case.  Poirot soons discovers the author of the letter.  Was the poison in the sandwiches made by Elinor or in the tea prepared by Nurse Hopkins?  Also, what is the secret of Mary's birth?  What is the significance of the scratch made by a rose thorn on Hopkins' wrist?

It turns out Nurse Hopkins is the murderer.  The thorn scratch on Nurse Hopkin's wrist is really an injfection mark from the needle full of emetic she injected herself with causing her to vomit up the poison in the tea.  She went to wash the dishes so that no one would see her vomit.   Mrs. Welman, and Sir Lewis Rycroft, had an illegitimate daughter and she is Mary.  If this infomration had been learned sooner, Mary would have inherited some of the estate.  When someone encourages Mary to write a will, she names her aunt, Mary Riley, from Australia as beneficiary.  Mary Riley's married name is Draper.  It turns out Mary Draper is really Nurse Hopkins, who is bent on getting her hands on the money.

Elinor is acquitted and she married Peter Lord.

Sad Cypress

Sad Cypress, published in 1939, courtesy

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Incredible Theft

Lord Mayfield, a rising politician and a millionaire, hosts a house party.  In attendance are Air Marshal, Lord Carrington, his wife Lady Julia, his son Reggie, Mrs. Vanderlyn, a beautiful American woman, and Mrs. Macatta, a forthright MP.  Joining them for dinner is Mr. Carlile, Lord Carrington's secretary.

All the guests leave the table except Lord Mayfield and Sir George, to discuss a new aircraft that will give Britain supremacy over the skies.  Lord Mayfield invites Mrs. Vanderlyn, a spy, to tempt her with the plans for the new fighter jet.  Everyone goes to bed except Lord Mayfield and Sir George.  Mr. Carlile heads to the safe to retrieve plans for the new aircraft where he collides with Mrs. Vanderlyn searching for her handbag.  Lord Mayfield spots a figure leaving the study by the French window.  In the study, Lord Mayfield quickly discovers that the plans for the fighter jet are missing.  Mr. Carlile says he definitely left the plans on the table.  However, he was distracted by a scream which turned out to be Mrs. Vanderlyn's maid, claiming she saw a ghost.

Poirot is called in the middle of the night.  He examines the grass outside the study but finds not footprints.  Therefore he concludes that the theft of the plans was done by someone inside the house.  He questions everyone and discovers that the maid did not see a ghost; she was startled by Reggie who snuck up on her to steal a kiss.  Lady Julia believes her son stole the plans as he is short on money and was unaccounted for at one point in the day.  She promises Poirot that the plan swill be returned in 12 hours if no further action is taken.

Poirot explains that Mrs. Macatta was snoring in her room, Mrs. Vanderlyn called for the maid from upstairs and Sir George was with Lord Mayfield on the terrace.  But what about Mr. Carlile and Lord Mayfield?  Mr. Carlile had access to the safe and therefore could have taken a sketch of the drawings at any time.  Poirot is convinced Lord Mayfield pocketed the drawings.  Lord Mayfield, not wanting to reveal that he was involved with a belligerent foreign power a few years before, was blackmailed into handing the plans over to Mrs. Vanderlyn.

The Incredible Theft

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Appointment with Death

On vacation in Jerusalem, Poirot overhears a brother and sister conversing about their evil stepmother:  "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed," Raymond Boynton tells his sister.  On a trip to Petra, the stepmother is found dead, a needle puncture in her wrist.  Poirot offers to solve her murder in 24 hours.

Sarah King, who relays the tale along with Dr. Gerard, is attracted to Raymond Boynton.  Jefferson Cope wants to take Nadine Boynton away from her husband, Lennox Boynton, and the influence of her mother in law.  Confronted with her strategy to take the young Boynton's away from their mother in law, Sarah confronts Mrs. Boynton who replies:  "I;ve never forgotten anything -- not an action, not a name, not a face."

Poirot sets out to interview all the suspects.  He establishes a timeline which seems impossible.  Sarah King places the time of death well before various suspects claim to have seen the deceased alive.  A hypodermic needle was seemingly stolen from Dr. Gerard's tent.  The poison administered to the victim, digitoxin, was something she already took medicinally.  Poirot calls a meeting explaining how each member of the family discovered Mrs. Boynton's victim, but in turn didn't report the crime, suspecting another member of the family as the murderer.  No one in the immediate family would have needed a needle to commit the crime; they simply would have given her a bigger dose of the medicine already prescribed.  Therefore, Poirot suspects an outsider.

Lady Westholme is revealed as the murderer.  A former inmate at the prison where Mrs. Boynton was a warden, she had it in for the woman.  It was to Lady Westholme, not Sarah, that Mrs. Boynton had addressed her threat.  Disguised as an Arab, she had administered the hypodermic needle.  Eavesdropping in an adjoining room, and not wanting her criminal history to be revealed, Lady Westholme commits suicide.

Happier times ensue for the family as Sarah marries Raymond, Carol marries Jefferson and Ginevra marries Dr. Gerard.

Appointment With Death

Appointment with Death, published in 1937, courtesy

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Death on the Nile

Almost everyone on the cruise down the Nile River has a reason to hate heiress Linnet Ridgway.  Mrs. Van Schuyler wants her jewels.  Linnet's maid is upset because she won't give her a promised dowry.  Writer Salome Otterbourne faces a lawsuit launched by Linnet.   Salome's daughter, Rosalie, wishes to protect her mother.  American Andrew Pennington has been embezzling from the Ridgway's.  Former friend Jacqueline Bellefort is outraged that Linnet stole her former fiance, Simon.  It is not long before Linnet Ridgway is murdered.  When all is said and down, 5 out of the 13 main characters have died.  It falls to Hercule Poirot, who is also aboard the S. S. Sudan, to unravel the mystery.

Old photos from the S. S. Sudan courtesy

The 1930's were the golden age of Nile River cruising.  Diplomats, businessmen and archeologists paid to ride on boats like the S. S. Sudan.  In 1933, Author Agatha Christie, along with her archeologist husband, took this boat.  Refined ladies with parasols and gentlemen with pipes would stroll its decks.  Fine Egyptian cuisine was served in the charming dining room.  The wooden panelling, gilded and copper bed frames and parquet floors in the cabins kept the passengers coming back. The five day cruise aboard the S. S. Sudan, still running today, follows the Nile River from Luxor in the north, to Aswan in the south.  Highlights include the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx.  The ship boasts 15 cabins and 8 suites, including the Agatha Christie Suite and Hercule Poirot Suite. It was here that the bestselling novelist penned her famous book Death on the Nile.

Death On The Nile

Death on the Nile, published in 1937, courtesy 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Dumb Witness

Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot complaining that someone is trying to kill her.  She fell down the stairs, an accident attributed to her fox terrier's rubber ball.  However, by the time Poirot receives her letter, she is dead.

Emily's doctor says she died of chronic liver problems.  Emily's companion, Minnie Lawson inherits the deceased's house and fortune.  In a previous will, the inheritors would have been Emily's nephew, Charles, and nieces, Theresa and Bella.  Upon investigation, Poirot discovers a nail with varnish and a string attached to it at the top of the stairs.  "" had been the message that Emily had given before her death.  Poirot concludes that Bob the dog, who was outside that night, did not leave the ball on the stairs and that Emily was tripped by the string.

Emily's nephew and nieces talk about contesting the will, but it is not pursued.  The gardener reveals that the nephew, Charles, talked to him about his arsenic based week killer.  The bottle is almost empty.  Minnie Lawson says that on the night of Emily's death she saw someone through her bedroom window wearing a broach with the initials T.A. (possibly Theresa Arundell, Emily's niece).

IN the meantime, Bella reveals her husband Jacob is bullying her and she moves with her children to a hotel, with the help of Minnie.  However, for more security Poirot recommends she moves to another hotel.  The next day Bella is found dead due to an overdose of chloral, a sleep aid.

Poirot reveals his theory on the murders.  Theresa stole the arsenic but could not bring herself to use it.  She and her brother suspected each other.  Emily, fearing that Charles might be trying to kill her, revealed that she had revised her will.  He was satisfied with just stealing some of her money.  The brooch which Minnie had seen was really Bella's.  The initials TA, reversed in the mirror, stood for Arabella Tanios.  She hated her husband and wanted to separate from him and keep the children, but she had no means to do so.  Her first attempt with the ball and string failed.  Her second attempt involved inserting elemental phosphorous in one of Emily's liver capsules, which succeeded.

Emily was unaware that her aunt had revised her will.  When Poirot explained the murder, she took her own life and her children went back to their father.  Emily's husband is upset as he did love his wife.  However, he finds out she obtained the chloral to kill him.  Minnie decides to share her wealth with Charles, Theresa and Bella's children.  Theresa marries Dr. Donaldson,  Charles squanders his wealth.  The terrier goes to live with Poirot but he prefers Captain Hastings.

Dumb Witness

Dumb Witness, published in 1937, courtesy

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Cards on the Table

Mr. Shaitana hosts a dinner party and invites four sleuths and four people he thinks could have committed murder.  In a veiled accusation, he lists the way the guests might have committed murder based on their occupations.  After dinner, he seats the fours sleuths at one bridge table and the four other people at another table. When the sleuths finish their game, Hercule Poirot, one of them, discovers his host dead in his chair, a weapon from his own collection in his chest.

Poirot speaks with Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race and Mrs. Olivers while the other four guests wait in another room.  Battle questions each one.  Dr. Roberts Mrs. Lorrimer and Anne Meredith and Major Dethspar all deny any involvement in the murder.  Poirot collects the score sheets from the bridge game to mark the passage of time as well as to give clues to the character of each suspect.

As the investigation proceeds, each sleuth discovers a murder.  Battle finds out that a client of Dr. Roberts, along with the client's spouse, died separately, one of anthrax, the other of blood poisoning. Colonel Race reveals that Despard led botanist Luxmore through the Amazon jungle where the latter died of fever, with rumours he was shot.  Mrs. Oliver learns that a woman who employed Anne as a companion died of accidental poisoning.  Poirot uncovers the fact that Mrs. Lorrimer poisoned her husband.  Colonel Race leaves the country for his work in the Secret Service.  The reactions of the guests vary:  Anne is afraid, Despard engages a lawyer and Dr. Roberts carries on as usual.

Mrs. Lorrimer, who admits she killed her husband, says she has a fatal health condition and that she is the one who killed the host.  However, she is not believed; it appears she is trying to spare Anne.  Anne comes to visit Mrs. Lorrimer and the following morning the latter is found dead of a sleeping drug overdose.  However, when Poirot comes upon the scene he sees a hypodermic needle mark on Mrs. Lorrimer's arm.

Anne takes her flatmate Rhoda out in a boat on the nearby rivers as they await a visit from Despard.  Poirot and Battle race to Anne's cottage where they see Anne deliberately tip Rhoda out of the boat, but the latter pulls the former into the water as well, and neither can swim.  Despard saves Rhoda and then Anne.  Rhoda survives but Anne dies.

At Poirot's apartment he presents his theory on the murders.  The sleuth presents a window washer who saw Dr. Roberts inject Mrs. Lorrimer.  The police ruled she died of an anesthesia overdose.  Dr. Roberts killed Mr. Shaitana as well.  He waited until he was a "dummy" in the bridge game and excused himself to get a glass of water.  Furthermore, Doctor Roberts had killed Mr. Craddock, the husband of one of his patients, by putting anthrax on his shaving brush during a house call.  Then he injected Mrs. Craddock with her required anti typhoid injection before her trip to Egypt but added a germ which led to her fatal blood infection.  Roberts at first protests but eventually admits he is guilty.  The window washer was actually an actor used to solicit the confession from the doctor.

Major Despard is exonerated when it is proven that the botanist died from an accident shooting wound.  Despard ends up courting Rhoda, Anne's flatmate.

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table published in 1936 courtesy 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

ABC Murders

Poirot receives typed letters from a serial murderer, ABC, explaining where and when the next murder will be.   Alice Ascher is a tobacco shop owner killed in Andover.  Betty Barnard is a flirtatious waitress killed in Bexhill.  Carmichael Clarke is a wealthy man killed in his manor in Churston.  ABC leaves a railway guide with each victim.  Poirot wonders:  "Why would ABC write to him instead of Scotland Yard or any reputed newspaper?" and "Why did a meticulous man like ABC misspell Poirot's address on the Churston letter?"

The murder mystery is unravelled by Captain Hastings who talks about Cust, travelling salesman and Great War veteran, who suffered from epilepsy due to a war injury.  He is prone to memory blackouts and headaches.  Also involved in the investigation are Inspector Crome, who doubts Poirot's investigative abilities, and Dr. Thomson who profiles the serial killer.

Poirot notices a similarity among all three murders.  A stockings salesman visited each home before the murder, selling a pair of stockings to the first two victims, but being turned away by the third.  ABC sends a fourth letter, this time directing everyone to Doncaster where a famous horse race will take place.  But ABC strikes in a cinema where he kills George Earlsfield, instead of Roger Downes, the logical victim sitting only two seats away.  The salesman, Cust, who had suffered a blackout, later slips out of the theatre unnoticed.  Cust finds the murder weapon in his pocket and blood on his sleeve.

Cust, tipped off that the police are after him, flees but collapses at the Andover police station.  Cust, who can't remember the murder, fears that he is guilty.  Cust's room contains many incriminating items:  silk stockings, lists of clients, the fine paper used to type the letters to Poirot, an unopened box of ABC railway guides, and in the hall lies the bloodied knife from the most recent murder.  It is revealed that Cust was never hired by the stocking company and that the letters to Poirot were indeed typed on Cust's typewriter, the one he claimed the company gave him.  Poirot meets with Cust who has no recollection of any of the murders.  He has a solid alibi, however, for the Bexhill murder.

Poirot categorically explains how Cust could not have committed the murders.  Then he points the finger at Franklin Clarke, the brother of Sir Carmichael Clarke, the third victim.  Sir Carmichael was heir to a fortune and a member of Cust's legion.  The third letter, which contained an error, was meant to lead the reader astray.  Franklin had feared that, with Lady Clarke's death imminent, his brother would marry his young beautiful assistant.  When Sir Carmichael died, his wealth would go to his new wife and any children they had.  Franklin's meeting with Cust in a pub served as inspiration for his serial murder plot, with Cust serving as the stalking horse.

Franklin laughs off the accusations until Poirot states that the former's fingerprint was found on Cust's typewriter key.  Further Franklin has been recognized by Milly Higley, a coworker of the deceased Betty Barnard.  Franklin tries to shoot himself but Poirot is one step ahead of him and has emptied the bullets from his gun.  Poirot reveals to Hastings that the fingerprint on the typewriter key was a bluff.  Cust, meanwhile, has an offer from the press to sell his story,  

The ABC Murders

The ABC Murders, published in 1936, courtesy 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Murder in Mesopotamia

Amy Leatheran, a nurse, is hired by Swedish archeologist Dr. Erich Leidner, to care for his wife, Louise.  They are currently on a dig in Iraq, a British protectorate.  Louise was married briefly during the Great War 15 years earlier.  She turned in her husband, Frederick, a German spy, and he was imprisoned.  He escaped and hopped a train, but the train crashed.  A body with his identification was found at the site of the crash.  However, Louise is now receiving letters from her "deceased" husband which puts her on edge.

A week after the nurse is hired to care for Louise, the latter is found dead in her room, the victim of a blow by a blunt instrument.  Dr. Reilly examines the body and establishes a time line, concluding that it was an inside job.  He calls in Hercule Poirot, travelling in Iraq at the time, to solve the crime.  Poirot determines that it must be someone from the expedition who is guilty of the murder.  The murderer must have entered the victim's bedroom from the inside of the house as the bedroom window is barred.  However, after one round of questioning it appears that everyone has an airtight alibi.

Nurse Leatheran tells Poirot the story of Louise's young brother in law, William, who was fifteen years younger.  She points out that Louise always craved the attention of men.  Poirot suspects that William, or even Frederick himself might be part of the expedition as Frederick's identity was never proven on the train wreck.  Poirot warns Nurse Leatheran that she might be a future target of the murderer but she still insists on attending Louise's funeral.

After the funeral, Nurse Leatheran and Miss Johnson are up on the roof and the latter points out how someone could enter the house without being seen.  Later Miss Johnson is poisoned:  someone substituted hydrocholoric acid in her water glass, through her window..  Poirot solves the crimes, but has no proof.

It turns out Mrs. Leidner and Miss Johnson were murdered by Dr. Erich Leidner.  Poirot determines that Leidner is really the long lost husband, Frederick who really didn't die in the crash.  Leidner did die and he has stolen his identity.  Frederick remarried his wife who, after 15 years, didn't recognize him. He was the one who sent her the letters to discourage her from engaging in relationships with other men.  He discovered that his wife was falling in love with his friend, Richard Carey, and he murdered her in a jealous rage.  Miss Johnson figured it out and he in turn murdered her.

On the night of the crime, Louise heard a noise up on the roof.  Unbeknowst to her it was her husband sorting pottery.  She opened her bedroom window to investigate only to be knocked out by a stone quern.  In the meantime, Frederick removed the bloodstained rug and closed the window before calling the nurse.  With the nurse on the scene, she could vouch for the time of death.  Frederick tried to make Miss Johnson's death appear a suicide; however, Poirot points out that hydrolic acid is an incredibly painful way to kill oneself.   

Murder in Mesopotamia

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Death in the Clouds

Hercule Poirot is on a flight from Paris to Croydon when one of the passengers, Madame Giselle, drops dead.  Speculation has it that she died of a wasp sting, but Poirot determines the cause of death to be a poisoned dart.  What instrument was used to shoot the dart?  Was it the flute carried by one of the passengers?  Was it the ancient tubes brought on board by the two archeologists?  Was it Lady Horbury's cigarette holder?  And what were the two coffee spoons doing in the victim's coffee cup?

Poirot discovers that Madame Giselle was known for blackmailing her clients who hadn't paid up.  Also, Madame Giselle had an estranged daughter who should inherit her mother's estate; she might be on board the plane.  Poirot questions several of the passengers including Mr. Clancy, a detective novelist.  Countess Horbury also comes under suspicion.  She came from the lower class but married well.  In the meantime, her husband has cut her off and she had owed Madame Giselle money.  The Countess' maid, called into the compartment during the flight, would have had the perfect opportunity to commit the crime.  The maid is revealed as the long lost daughter of the victim.  It appears as if she is guilty, but she in turn is murdered on the boat train to Bologne.

Dentist Norman Gale, who had a crush on the novel's heroine Jane Grey, is revealed to be Anne's new husband.  Poirot discovers that Gale brought his dentist's jacket on board and excused himself to go to the washroom.  He donned the jacket and posed as a steward.  Under the premise of delivering a coffee spoon to Madame Giselle, he stabbed her with the poison dart.  Gale's intention had been to frame the Countess.  The blowpipe found behind Poirot's seat was supposed to be behind the Countess' but they had switched at the last minute.  Poirot allows the detective novelist to listen in as he joins the dots in the story's denouement.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Three Act Tragedy

At a party in Cornwall, the mild-mannered minister, Reverend Stephen Babbington, chokes on his cocktail, goes into convulsions and dies.  Investigation of the glass finds no poison.  Hercule Poirot is baffled; there appears to be no motive.  The party, hosted by Sir Charles Cartwright, also included:  Dr. Strange, Lady Mary Lytton Gore and her daughter Hermione, Captain Dacres and his wife Cynthia, Muriel Wills,Oliver Manders, Mr. Satterthwaite, and Mrs. Babbington.  Sir Charles mixed the drinks.

Another party is hosted in Yorkshire with many of the same guests, except Sir Charles, Mr. Satterthwaite and Poirot.  Oliver Sanders' motorcycle breaks down right in front of the manor. Sir Charles new butler serves port to all of the guests.  Dr. Strange collapses and dies.  His glass is tested and it is determined he died of nicotine poisoning.  Reverend Babbington's exhumed body reveals the same substance.

Mr. Satterthwaite and Sir Charles investigate the two deaths.  It turns out Dr. Strange gave his usual butler a vacation just two weeks before his death.  After his murder, his temporary butler disappeared.  In Ellis' room papers are found indicating he was blackmailing Dr. Strange.

Poirot receives a telegram from Mrs. D at the sanitarium.  Later, Mrs. D is discovered murdered as a result of nicotine poisoning.

It turns out that Sir Charles murdered all three victims. Charles had wanted to marry Hermione but couldn't because he had a wife in the insane asylum.  British law forbade him from divorcing her.  He murdered Dr. Strange who was the one person who knew about his wife.  The Cornwall party was a dress rehearsal for the real murder.  Reverend Babbington was the guinea pig.  Sir Charles managed to switch Babbington's tainted glass with an untainted one.

Sir Charles then convinced Dr. Strange to let him play the role of the butler.  When Muriel spoke up, Sir Charles was prepared to kill her too.  However, Poirot told her to go into hiding.  Mrs. D was silenced because otherwise she would have told Poirot she did not send the telegram and was unconnected to the crime. Sir Charles is arrested and Hermione matches up with Oliver Manders.

Three Act Tragedy, published in 1934, courtesy 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Spanning a continent, from Paris to Istanbul, the Orient Express was the "King of Trains".  Presidents rode it for its luxuries; spies used it as a secret weapon; businessmen rode it for its connections.  The train would be the subject of books and movies.

In the mid-1800's, Belgian businessman Nagelmackers had a dream for a train route from Paris to Constantinople.  He travelled to America where the Pullman sleeping car made quite an impression on him.  In 1883, Nagelmackers' Compangie Internationale des Wagons-Lits opened a Paris-Constantinople route.  The journey would span 1500 miles and would take 80 hours.  Newspapers dubbed the route "The Orient Express", even though it never reached the Orient.

The train resembled a fine European hotel with its wooden panelling, its deluxe leather armchairs, its silk sheets and its five-course meals.  Its elegance attracted royalty.  The king of Bulgaria, an amateur engineer, insisted on driving the train through his country.  Czar Nicholas II ordered extra cars built for his trip to France.  And one president, likely in the sauce, fell off the train.

Diplomats made history on the train:  the German surrender of 1918 took place in one of its cars.  Hitler ordered the same car for the French surrender of 1940.  Later when the tide of the war turned, the dictator ordered the famous car destroyed.

Spies conducted operations on the train.  Robert Baden Powell posed as a lepidopterist during the war.  He made intricate butterfly sketches which turned out to be coded representations of the enemy's fortifications, helping the Allies to clinch a victory.

Agatha Christie wrote her famous "Murder on the Orient Express" in the 1930's.  The movie adaptation was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Ingrid Bergman in the 1970's.

Shortly after Hitchcock's movie, the Orient Express stopped its service to Istanbul.  Bit by bit it cut back its service.  Finally, in 2009, it shut down completely.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

While playing a round of golf with his friend Dr. Thomas, Bobby Evans swings his golf ball over a cliff.  At the bottom of the precipice he finds the crumpled body of man whose last words are;  "Why didn't they ask Evans?"  Bobby finds a photograph of a beautiful woman in the dead man's pocket, but without identification.  Another man who comes upon the scene, Roger Bassington-French, offers to stay with the body while Bobby leaves to play the organ at his father's church.  The dead man is identified as Alex Pritchard and the beautiful woman in the photo is his sister Amelia Cayman.

Bobby rejects a job offer from Buenos Aires.  In the meantime he drinks from a poisoned beer bottle.  Bobby discovers that Amelia Cayman is an imposter.  He figures that the stranger at the scene of the crime must have switched the photo in the dead man's wallet.  Bobbie and his friend Frankie search for Bassington-French and find an address in Hampshire.  There, they stage a car accident hoping that Frankie, injured, will be invited into the home.  Inside, Frankie meets Roger's brother, Henryk, and sister in law Sylvia.  Frankie shows the couple a newspaper clipping of the dead man.  Sylvia says he resembles a man who was good friends with a big game hunter, Alan Carstairs, who killed himself after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Frankie meets Henry and Sylvia's neighbours, Dr. and Moira Nicholson, who run a sanitarium.  Bobby investigates the sanitarium where he runs into the beautiful woman from the photo.  Moira turns up at the local inn where Bobby is staying and says her husband is trying to kill her.  Frankie asks Roger if he took the photo of the beautiful woman and he admits that he dead, wanting to avoid scandal for her.  In the meantime, Henry is found dead in his home, an apparent suicide.

Frankie asks a solicitor about Savage's will and finds out that he was staying with Mr. and Mrs. Templeton when he first discovered he had cancer.  One specialist, however, said he was perfectly fine.  When he died, he left 700,000 pounds to the Templeton's.  Bobby is kidnapped and Frankie is lured, along with Roger, to an isolated cottage.  Badger Beadon arrives to find a drugged Moira in the cottage.  When the police appear on the scene, Roger has vanished.

They trace the witnesses to the signing of John Savage's will.  They are the former cook and gardener of Mr.and Mrs. Templeton.  The parlourmaid, Gladys, however, was not asked to witness the singing of the will.  In reality, it was not John Savage who signed the document but Roger Bassington-French.  Gladys' last name is Evans, hence the dying man's question:  "Why didn't they ask Evans?" Gladys is now the housekeeper at Bobby's home and the dying man was trying to find her.  

Returning to Wales, they find Moira who claims she is being followed by Roger.  Frankie, suspicious of Moira, spoils the latter's attempt to poison their coffee.  It turns out Moira was really Mrs. Templeton and Roger's accomplice.  Moira attempts to shoot Bobby and Frankie but is overpowered.  Weeks later Frankie received a letter postmarked South America from Roger who admits that he murdered Carstairs and his brother Henry.  Frankie and Bobby get engaged.

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, published in 1933, courtesy

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Lord Edgware Dies

Actress Jane Wilkinson asked Poirot to convince her husband Lord Edgware to agree to a divorce.  Poirot speaks to Lord Edgware who says he has already written a letter to his wife to that effect.  That evening, Lord Edgware is found dead in his study.  The newspaper reports the next morning that Jane was at a prominent party the previous night.

Inspector Japp informs Poirot of the murder.  It turns out that Jane arrived at Regent Park the night before, announced herself to the butler and was spotted entering her husband's study by the secretary. The prominent dinner party had thirteen guests.  One guest pointed out that a table of thirteen meant bad luck for the first one to rise.  Jane was the first to get up to answer a telephone call.

In the meantime, Carlotta Adams, who liked to do impersonations of Jane, is found dead from an overdose of Veronal.  The butler, along with some money, disappeared on the day of Lord Edgware's death.  Ross is suspicious of Jane when he discovers she demonstrates an unusual amount of knowledge of Paris of Troy.  He phones Poirot to tell him of his suspicions and while on the phone, he is murdered.

Poirot tries to piece together the three murders.  He believes that Carlotta Adams impersonated Jane at the dinner party enabling Jane to take a taxi to Regent Park and murder her husband.  Carlotta and Jane meet up later where Jane has promised her money for her impersonation, but gives her a fatal dose of Veronal instead.  Jane then planted a case with Verona in it on Carlotta's person to make it seem like she was addicted to the drug.  Jane, knowing that Ross was a risk as he pursued Poirot, murdered him.  Jane's motive for killing her husband was that she wanted to marry the Duke of Merton.  The Duke was a Roman Catholic who was permitted to marry a widow but not a divorcee.

Lord Edgware Dies

Lord Edgware Dies circa 1933 courtesy