Five Little Pigs
I was dead set on reading this book under it’s original title – Five Little Pigs. It’s an odd enough title that it always caught my interest. But I’m a creature of some convenience and thrift, and so when I realized that I already had access to the story under its US release as Murder in Retrospect, I had to succumb to practicality.
What a dry title though – Murder in Retrospect. At least, that’s what I thought as I initially started to turn the pages. I’ll tell you this though – upon completing this 1942 Poirot novel, I can see no name more fitting.
That’s what it is after all – a murder in retrospect. Poirot is approached by a young woman with the request that he investigate a murder that occurred 16 years in the past. Her mother, Caroline Crale, was convicted of the murder of her father Amyas, a well renowned painter. Although Caroline died in prison, she left a note to her daughter proclaiming her innocence. Poirot is intrigued enough by the case to take it up, drawn in by the prospect of solving a mystery without ever being able to glimpse the crime scene.
“The tangible things are gone – the cigarette end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those anymore. But you can go over all of the facts of the case, and perhaps talk to all the people who were there at the time – and then… you can lie back in your chair and think.”
Although the case against Caroline Crale seems to be open and shut, there were five other people present at the time of the crime who could conceivably be considered suspects. The crime in question is a straight forward poisoning, delivered in a glass of beer that Caroline handed to her husband. Sufficient evidence and testimony points towards Caroline being the culprit -in fact all of the evidence leads to that conclusion.
Christie tells an interesting tale of perspectives – I’ll pretentiously call it her Rashomon (ignoring that the film came eight years after the book). Poirot begins by interviewing the police and the lawyers involved in the case, providing us with an initial overview of the facts of the murder. Subsequent chapters lead to interviews with the five other suspects, in which we get five additional perspectives on those facts. Then, at Poirot’s request, each of the five witnesses provides a written account of their recollection of the circumstances surrounding the murder.
In all, we’re treated to twelve separate accounts of the events surrounding the poisoning. Poirot finishes with a thirteenth, which shockingly shows that the scene that we’ve observed so many times is far different than what was actually occurring.
I’m happy to proclaim that Christie thoroughly shocked me with this one. With such a small circle of suspects, I had plenty of time to consider the potential for each to be the murderer. And, inevitably, I saw clearly who that guilty party must be. In fact, I would say that I was almost bored by how obvious the conclusion was.
Yeah, she got me. With one chapter left, I saw nothing but the one killer that I had my eye on. Plus, even if that wasn’t that correct culprit, I had already considered scenarios for the remaining four, and none of them were that interesting.
The true solution was a mile away from what I was suspecting and caught me unprepared – a particularly satisfying conclusion when entering a final chapter thinking “I don’t see any way that this could surprise me”. To be fair to myself, I had detected some aspects of the misdirection but cast them in the wrong direction. But this isn’t just about misdirection – it’s about emotion. The ending to Murder in Retrospect is absolutely devastating. Like, Christianna Brand devastating. This is one that I like to think will stay with me always.
There is a beautiful line delivered by Poirot in the last two pages of the book – a line that I would give anything to quote if not for spoilers. That one line transforms an already excellent read into somewhat of a masterpiece. And this ending has transformed the way that I’ll look forward to my next encounter with Christie.
I look forward to viewing the David Sutton movie version of this book – and when I do, I’ll be keeping my eye out for one specific thing that ties back to that line delivered by Poirot. I can’t wait to see how it’s pulled off.
The series was recently available in the US via Netflix, but to my horror last night, it appears to have been pulled. Thankfully it is available via Amazon Prime for the time being.
I watched the David Sutton movie and loved it – but for some reason they left the key detail that I wanted to see out of the movie. I provided some comments over at Ah Sweet Mystery where Brad already has a suitable post discussing Christie in film.
And now for a few comments that verge on spoilers. Please be sensitive with any comments that you leave below. Murder in Retrospect was such a powerful experience for me that I’d hate to see it ruined for anyone else.
I entertained a number of theories on this one, including the utterly ridiculous idea that the five year old daughter was the actual killer. That was really the only “shocking” ending that I could dream up – the daughter who hires Poirot to track down the killer ends up discovering that she herself committed the crime. I’m sure that’s been done somewhere… and if it has, don’t tell me!
I ultimately got tricked into the false solution that is discussed right before the true solution. I imagine most readers clue into it as well.