Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
First Published: Serialized 1st in the Chicago Tribune in October 1951
Summary: Superintendent Spence is a worried man. When Mrs. McGinty was murdered, he followed all the leads, evidence and suspects he could and they all led back to one man, James Bentley. While a jury found Bentley guilty, Superintendent Spence is not so sure...So he calls upon his old friend Poirot to look into the matter, since he looks at things from a different angle and may be able to find the real killer. And no pressure here, but justice moves swiftly and Poirot has about a week to find a killer and keep Bentley from swinging!
Review: I cannot say what a breath of fresh air this particular novel was after reading two disappointing novels in succession! What I didn’t know about this installment before I started it, is the fact it is essentially a Marple style mystery. A murder set against the backdrop of a quaint cozy village with a definite pecking order and members who are very interested in being well thought of by the other members (and the occasional Belgian) with Poirot wandering about the village to converse with the inhabitants in order to ferret out our murderer. One interesting piece of trivia pointed out to me in John Curran’s book, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, is that this is only the second time Poirot ventures out among the working-class people to investigate a rather unglamorous murder, which perhaps is why I enjoyed it as well as I did, I can see myself among the villagers, shop girls and the general working class far more readily than among the estate owners, gentry or the titled. Because isn't that the thing about great stories? You imagine yourself standing at the sleeve of the detective helping him solve the case? But I digress...
Another pleasing feature of this mystery was the addition of Ariadne Oliver which allowed the book to take a slight comedic turn, especially upon their first meeting where she accidentally pelts him with an apple core! I really enjoyed reading this particular mystery! It was exactly what I needed to read after wading through the last 532 pages contained in the last two books. It reminded me of eating a piece of cake you’ve saved until you finished all the chores on your self appointed task list; it tastes that much better with the feeling of satisfied accomplishment.
As the vast majority of Christie fans know, Ariadne Oliver contains quite a dash of Christie’s own personality and foibles. Christie often used Mrs. Oliver to voice vexing problems she faced as a world famous writer, allowing Christie to poke good naturedly at her fans and herself. While it is very funny to read, I do wonder how exasperated Christie became over time to actually incorporate veiled references to these issues into her prose. The one I found most entertaining concerned her gaffe in Death in the Clouds, “...that’s where I made a blowpipe a foot long and it's really six feet. Ridiculous that a blowpipe should be that size, but someone wrote from a museum to tell me so.” (pg. 124). It was not the only error she made in her books, but evidently it seems to be the one she’s been repeatedly lampooned over. What’s funny, even knowing the error it doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the book, since in the end Christie did get the method of murder correct (*spoilers* the blow pipe was a red herring, so it didn’t really need to be the real thing, just enough to obscure the true murder method).
Christie is not the first nor the last author who will make a factual gaffe while writing a book. Shocking, I know! J.K. Rowling on the twenty-seventh page of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone makes a tiny blunder, “The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry’s. It winked.”. (This is kinda of like Where’s Waldo fiction style...) Spot the problem? Snakes don’t have eyelids, so they really can’t wink properly. I suppose one could argue that since Harry is a Parselmouth with an affinity for snakes he could perceive when a snake was trying to wink...But science may find this a bit of a stretch. In either case it still does not lessen my enjoyment of the story, it just gives me a “Fun Fact” to recite when we are watching the movie!
Now if you want to see a really virulent fact checking, look up Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, there are web pages full of details which the book fudged up. The problem is Brown lost all of his wiggle room when he claimed (pretty much on the first page) every detail in his book was factual. It is impressive how he’s followed this party line, repeating it like a mantra in nearly every interview ever since. Which is either a clever marketing strategy, since hey it’s eleven years later and someone is referencing it (and even better - for Brown, certainly! - people are still buying it). Or alternatively he realized he’d messed up his fact checking and didn’t want to lose face by admitting it when he was confronted by people with advanced degrees waving copies covered in red ink pointing out his mistakes. Despite all the controversy out there, there are large swaths of people who enjoyed the book, mistakes and all.
Simple blunders can be fixed in subsequent editions, things like spelling, punctuation or minor inconsistancies - J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card and plenty of others have. However there are times when a bungled fact is woven so tightly into the narrative fabric that correcting it is impractical. But perhaps it is their imperfections which make them perfect - these errant details give the haters something to hate, experts something to overlook, fans something to smile indulgently over and fandoms details to debate endlessly.
But mistakes in first editions will alway plague an author, because a reader will always believe they are the first to spot an error...but there can only be one and usually you can bet after ten years, you are not the first.
“What a wonderful dispensation it is of Nature’s ...that every man, however superficially unattractive, should be some woman’s choice.” (pg. 51)
“Feeling completely bewildered, Mrs. Oliver was endeavoring to cower in the corner of a minute theatrical dressing room. Not being the figure to cower, she only succeeded in bulging.” (pg. 172)
“...there is the principle of the thing. If a man has not committed murder, he should not hanged.” (pg. 14)
Random Fact:Fortunately for Christie, she did not make an error (that I know of) in any of her mysteries pertaining to Cricket, Soccer or Baseball, which really would have disgruntled readers writing to her about her faux pas. The blow pipe (fortunately for her) is mainly used as a tool by hunters in South America, Africa and parts of North America. So on the whole not everyone will know that a blowpipe should be 4-6 feet long, or so I thought...
Did you know there is an organization trying to get the blowpipe into the Summer Olympics? The International Fukiya Association (IFA) founded and based in Japan (with American & French affiliated groups) is trying to do just that! It has standardized rules, equipment and levels of competition for the blowpipe. However it faces rather stiff competition for inclusion into the Summer Games - Baseball, Rugby, Squash, Golf and Karate all are struggling (and have been for years) to make it onto an Olympic podium.
One major step for inclusion into the games is for the IOC to recognize your sport’s organization (which as far as I can tell, the IFA has not). A couple of recognized groups include Bridge, Chess, Ballroom Dancing, Netball (like basketball sort of), Floorball (think hockey without the skates) and Surfing. All of these competitions are recognized by the IOC as sports and could lobby to become a demonstration event (but haven’t) during the Summer games. The trouble is even if the IOC allows the blowpipe a chance to audition during the Summer Games, it doesn’t mean it will make the cut! American Football (which I like), Bowling (which I like even more than football), ballooning (which is just pretty to watch...well with some wine from a distance) and roller hockey (which I have no discernible feelings on) all have tried and failed to move onto the permanent Olympic Schedule.
If, against all odds, the blowpipe manages to get on the bill and obtain Olympic Games status, it doesn’t mean it will keep it! Baseball, Softball, Lacrosse, Tug-Of -War, Cricket and Polo have all awarded medals to the elite of their sport at one time or another. However the IOC discontinued the competitions due to either poor audience attendance or sheer lack of participants. One of these unfortunate sports was Croquet. In the 1900 Summer Olympics held in Paris, Croquet made it’s debut; the problem was nine out of the ten players fielded were from France and the single Belgian who entered the competition didn’t finish. In an even more ludicrous turn of events the doubles competition only one team participated, and you guessed it - they were from France (they won the gold, in case you were wondering). The sport was dropped before the next set of Summer Games.
If the blowpipe as a sport ever manages to attain Olympic class level then Mrs. Christie’s gaffe might become more well known. But as it stands, with the competition for inclusion into the games is fierce and I think she might be safe for now!
Cheating: Holding on by the skin of my teeth! Only a week and a half to go! Now to think of what New Years Resolution I want to take up for next year....... hhhmmmm...... Tricky, very tricky!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014