Five Little Pigs
First Published: AKA: Murder In Retrospect - Serialized in Collier’s Weekly in September 1941.
Summary: Sixteen years after her mother was convicted and executed for her father’s murder, Carla Crale wants Poirot to look into the case. Why? Her mother left her a letter proclaiming her innocence and Caroline knows her mother never lied to her - even when a fib would have made things easier. So she asks Poirot to take up a case to prove to her fiancé (and to the world) that her mother was truly innocent of the charges brought against her.
Review: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned", we have all heard that saying at least once. But did you know this quote is the boiled down version? The full quotation is, ”Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned, Nor a hell a fury, like a woman scorned.”. Surprisingly it wasn't written by Shakespeare, but by another William - William Congreve.
Congreve coined this phrase in 1697 - about eighty-ish years after the Bard’s death - in his play The Mourning Bride. Congreve penned only five plays during a seven year span in his twenties. Beyond this maxim about vengeful women, Congreve gave us two other famous axioms; “..you must not kiss and tell.” (Love For Love 1695) and “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” (once again boiled down to - music can soothe the savage beast - from Love For Love). Then the fashion of the theater changed and Congreve’s writing style fell out of favor with audiences and critics alike. After one particularly scathing review by Jeremy Collier, (who sharpened his knife on a number of other writers) Congreve gave up the theater and his career as a dramatist. (Can you imagine if he went on?)
Now what exactly does a quote from a seventeenth century playwright and Christie have in common? Wrath. Both writers described this sharp sensation, bright passion exceptionally well. Each of suspects in Five Little Pigs had a reason to want the victim dead: he angered each and every one of them. Poirot’s job ultimately is to figure out who slipped from ordinary anger into the all consuming flames of wrath. The book, I felt, was a hair too long and convoluted. I was ready to cheer when I reached the point where Poirot revealed who murdered the misogynist. But then I read Poirot's summation of the case and (for the first time in the book) was riveted. The motive and method of the murder was clearly painted for the reader and made the whole build-up worthwhile. Christie’s vivid description of our murderer’s pure and unadulterated wrath was absolutely fascinating. The book is just like a lengthy dinner at your grandmother’s house (not your favorite one either); you have to make your way through the yams, brussels sprouts and beets to reach the long awaited lemon meringue pie (my favorite).
Now I must admit I did not tease this idea of wrath out of the writing when I initially read Five Little Pigs. I focused in on the interwoven plot devices between Five Little Pigs and a couple of Miss Marple mysteries. Five Little Pigs reminded me strongly of Miss Marple’s last case, The Sleeping Murder which was penned about two years before Five Little Pigs - it just wasn’t released until after Christie’s death in 1976. In both,the legendary detectives tackle cases which happened years before, they both have young women who wish to discover the truth, and both are warned that the truth may not be exactly what they are hoping for. In addition, both books feature a quote from the Duchess of Malfi which identifies who the killer in retrospect for the reader (no spoilers here - because I didn’t give you the quote, or the speaker so you should be safe).
The connections between the two detectives flows in the opposite direction as well. In Five Little Pigs Poirot, “...sat down to review what resources he had in Devonshire.” (pg. 80). Fifteen years later, Miss Marple uses the same tactic (almost word for word) in 4:50 To Paddington, which results in Miss Marple employing Lucy Eyelesbarrow to be her eyes and ears in the Crackenthorpe household, while she stayed nearby with a former maid. My main take-away from this week's mystery was the observable interconnectedness within the Christie canon of plot devices and detective styles.
It was the publisher that made the broader connection/correlation between the seven deadly sins and seven Christie mysteries. I just happened to discover this and to agree with their selection. In the ABC Murders - pride, Murder Is Announced - envy, Sparkling Cyanide - sloth, At Bertram’s Hotel - gluttony, Endless Night - avarice, Evil Under The Sun - lust. I don’t want to go into detail here; to really show the sin used in each book requires me to tell you at minimum why the sin motivated them, thus giving away who did it, and I didn’t want to be responsible for spoiling the mysteries for you! But if you have already read them, I think you will agree with this list.
I cannot believe I missed the forest for the trees! I completely missed the curious correlation between the Christie canon and the mortal sins. It was’t until I was researching for this post and discovered the 2004 themed omnibus that I clued into it. Whether she intentionally penned the seven sins into her books or not, she captured them all the same (with the number of sources she pulled inspiration from I cannot say for certain; I’ll leave it to the experts). Or perhaps she was just that good.
“But can one expect pity from radiant youth? It is an older wiser emotion.” (pg. 191)
Random Question: There is a certain amount of seductiveness in trying to solving a murder in retrospect, not only for a smartypants Belgian detective and an insightful spinster, but for those of in the real world. Don’t believe me? There have been over one hundred suspects put forth for consideration for being Jack the Ripper. Each expert claims their guy did it and they “solved” the case once and for all. Yet for all the theories and conjecture, no one has definitively proved who committed the crime, thus denying his victims any sort of justice.
Experts investigating retrospective murders don’t just stick to deaths we are certain are murders. They often examine historical figures who died under circumstances which suggest foul play might have occurred. Then they try (often in one fell swoop) to prove a crime was committed and who perpetrated it. Pablo Neruda is a prime example. It is theorized his death was the result of murder due to his political views. When the Chilean military government lost power, the new government started investigating crimes committed by the previous administration, which including looking into Neruda’s, since it had been theorized for years that he may have been murdered by the government.
So a judge ordered Neruda’s remains exhumed and subjected to rigorous testing by forensic experts who were looking for toxic substances. In 2013 the results came back and stated nothing was found - not that his death wasn’t suspicious - experts just couldn’t prove that Neruda was murdered, leading to speculation that either the compound used disappeared quickly from the body after death (there are some which do), or perhaps he really did die of natural causes. In all fairness, a couple of years before Neruda’s case was reexamined, Chilean Minister Jose Toha was exhumed (he’d passed away around the same time as Neruda). In 1974 Toha’s death had been ruled suicide by hanging, after a second look it was determined he was strangled. A second case from 1981 found that former Chilean president Eduardo Frei Montalva, who went into hospital for routine surgery, was murdered - poisoned with thallium and mustard gas. So while they didn’t find any thing concrete in Neruda’s case, history suggests something fishy may have happened.
However, how far is too far when pursuing a murder in retrospect? For Poirot, it was still possible for justice to be found. If he proved Carla’s mother innocent, her daughter could have a sense of justice for her father’s murder and overturn her mother’s false conviction. In the Ripper case, we know vividly that horrible crimes were committed. If definitive proof could be found by exhuming either one of the five victims or a culprit (whose identity had some seriously valid evidence behind it) then yes, exhumation is the correct answer. In Neruda’s case, historical events render the crime possible - science perhaps just needs to make a few more breakthroughs before we can definitively prove or disprove that a crime occurred. This is also an important distinction: in Neruda’s case, the actual perpetrators may still be available to stand trial, i.e. alive. Once again, justice can be served.
Even after an exhumation has been performed and the body tested, the answers are not as decisive as you might think. Just as in Neruda’s case, no crime could be proven to have occurred, while events around his death supported the idea, science couldn’t confirm it. Another case where science really didn’t help substantiate a theory involves Napoleon Bonaparte. A few years back, Napoleon was exhumed because someone theorized he was murdered (he wasn’t a real likable guy with plenty of enemies and was constantly coming up with political intrigues so it was an easy theory to come up with). Admittedly there was a substantial amount of arsenic found in his remains; this finding however was not conclusive. Arsenic levels found in human tissue, homes and environment were significantly higher back then (seriously they put the stuff in everything!) making it difficult to prove this theory. Even with this additional scientific evidence, Napoleon’s death is still subject to debate. The exhumation did little to clear up the muddied waters.
So where is the line in the sand? Do we uncover the bones of any prominent historical figure if there is a one percent chance they may have been helped to their grave? Who would it benefit? They would still be dead and so would their murderers. Would human history gain anything substantial from this knowledge? Don’t get me wrong, if I was murdered and the only way to prove it was by exhuming me, then by all means bring the bastard to justice! Give my husband and family the sense of closure they would need by seeing my murder caught. However, if it was two hundred years from now? What’s the point? I will still be dead (frolicking in the universe's best library, I hope) and so will my killer (provided he’s not an immortal like in the Highlander or Forever). And where would it end? Would we dig up Leonardo da Vinci to look at his skull to figure out if the Mona Lisa is really based on a self portrait? Socrates to figure out if he really drank hemlock? Would you exhume Abel if someone theorized Cain was innocent?
Solving a murder in retrospect is just as dangerous as both Poirot and Miss Marple warn their “clients” that it would be, because the truth is difficult to suss out and once you find it you may not like it and you can never forget it.
Cheating: Which of the seven sins would this be...Avarice since I would be trying to gain something through lying. I think, I wasn’t really raised to think about them in those terms - just taught in a general sort of way not to commit them! But in any case my conscience is free of cheating!