Hickory Dickory Dock
First Published: AKA Hickory Dickory Death in
Summary: Poirot, after all these years, has a keen eye for detail, and his secretary, Miss Lemon, meets even his exacting standards. Well, she did until today, when she made three typos in one simple letter....This simple act plunges Poirot into an odd mystery surrounding the youth hostel on Hickory Road - things going missing, others destroyed and culminating in a murder. All of which sets Poirot’s little grey cells into overdrive!
Review: This was my first encounter with Miss Felicity Lemon, the secretary’s secretary, and I have got to say I am intrigued. How often do you find a character whose heart and soul is invested in finding a faultless filing system? I may have to investigate Poirot’s short stories so I can meet her again! Miss Lemon and her sister are what I found really enjoyable about this book. The solution Poirot set before the police (which of course was accurate) tied up all the loose straws in a most pleasing and comprehensive way. I would recommend this book to a friend!
And for those of you with musophobia (the fear of mice) not one single furry scurrying creature made an appearance! I promise!
In any case this is the last of the nursery rhyme crimes (other than a few short stories) on my reading list! And all in all, I found this subcategory in the Christie canon a mixed lot. You have the tower heights of And Then There Were None, where the rhyme added to the menace and suspense of the story and is considered her masterpiece. In Pocket Full of Rye, the rhyme was strained and frayed to try and throw us and the police off the murderer’s scent. Then there is Hickory Dickory Dock, in which the rhyme really has nothing at all to do with the mystery other than the name of the street (Hickory Road) where the youth hostel was located. Poirot makes a small reference to the rhyme on the very last page of the book, but it doesn’t really connect with the rest of the book, so it is a bit of a mystery why Christie decided to name her book after this nursery rhyme since it had so little to do with the book. So I guess I am just laying down a small warning for you all: don’t go into this book thinking you are going to be inundated with mousey references or suspenseful plots revolving around a sinister clock. You will be let down. However if you just want to read a simple murder mystery, then you won’t be let down!
Speaking of mice did you know they don’t actually like cheese? They prefer grains or fruits generally; they will eat cheese if there isn’t anything else - but they won’t seek it out, unlike humans who can’t seem to get enough of the stuff! In fact cheese is the most stolen food stuff in the world! You would think the Pappy Van Winkle whiskey theft a year ago (which still remains unsolved) would have tipped the numbers in favor of alcohol thefts but apparently not. In a latent bit of irony with this week's reading, cheese also turns out to be very popular among smugglers. In fact it is vying for the title of most smuggled commodity in the world!
I know you're thinking drugs, conflict diamonds or human trafficking must come before cheese on a smuggling list. In human terms, these three are devastating and incalculable in the toll taken on the people caught within them. But that is why cheese is rising to the top of the heap - because it is just cheese. The moral problems which accompany the big three don’t seem to really apply to fromage. Other than breaking the customs act and a few trade laws, the only thing you are harming is the dairy market and perhaps your country’s dairy farmers. This nebulous and (almost*) victimless crime is why food smuggling is gaining popularity - it allows the smuggler to make a decent profit without hurting anyone the way the big three do, allowing "principled" crimes to occur.
This rationalization opens the doors to people who wouldn’t normally break the law to consider it. Especially in Canada where cheese is around 22% higher in price than in the U.S. for the local stuff and imported cheese is off the charts expensive because of a 200-300% tariff and quota system. These duties and limits are meant to protect the domestic cheese & dairy market from outside competition of cheaper foreign fromages. So smuggling U.S. or EU cheese into Canada can be very profitable if you have a network of buyers in place. Even selling it out of the back of your car can make a tidy profit as well apparently, which is probably what led two Canadian police officers to smuggle cheese in their cars over the border for a Canadian food importer, who under-declared the value of his cheese shipments to avoid paying tariffs. Then there’s the guy who simply wanted to bring a wedge of cheese home from his vacation and due to customs laws was forced to smuggle it in (he wrote about it in his blog). Who would have thought so much criminal activity could be associated with cheese?
I grew up during Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” Campaign of the eighties and during the same period, I wrote a report on rumrunning during Prohibition - so drugs and alcohol were the first things I thought of when the topic of smuggling came up in Hickory Dickory Dock. Fortunately Poirot thought of the same thing during his investigation on Hickory Road. He and the police might have had a harder time if the smuggling angle of the book had of revolved around cheese. However Christie might have been able to work in the mouse angle of the nursery rhyme a bit more if perhaps a fuzzy round rodent had lead Poirot to an illicit stash of gouda, brie or pule. Or perhaps Poirot could have sniffed out a crumb of smuggled epoisses de bourgogne and found a mouse nibbling on it (this cheese so stinky it is rumored to be banned from all modes of public transit in France). Christie’s publishers and critics might have lampooned her for such a cheesy plot (see what I did there?), however I think she would have carried it off marvelously. Instead we are all left scratching our heads, wondering why she named her book after "Hickory Dickory Dock" while she didn’t really utilize the theme within the mystery.
*Now I say almost victimless because there was for a while some cheese was being smuggled into the U.S. from South America which contained bad cultures and made people extremely sick when they ate it.
“With George, his perfect manservant, and Miss Lemon, his perfect secretary, order and method ruled supreme in his life. Now that crumpets were baked square as well as round, he had nothing about which to complain.” (pg. 1) - I’ll give you three guesses (and the first two don’t count) to who was so satisfied with life! And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a square crumpet!
“It was well known that the whole of Miss Lemon’s heart and mind was given, when she was not on duty, to the perfection of a new filing system which was to be patented and bear her name.” (pg. 2) - seriously who wouldn’t want their name to live on in posterity for something which they invented?
“Mrs. Hubbard watched him with the rapt attention of a small boy watching a conjurer, waiting hopefully for a rabbit or at least streams of colored ribbons to appear.” (pg. 11)
Random Fact: Over the years many films and books have been turned into unlikely musicals to varying success. In the 1960’s, according to John Curran, Hickory Dickory Dock was going to be turned into a musical called Death Beat. I am thinking the large cast of characters of diverse backgrounds might have led producers to think this was a good idea. But can you imagine Poirot singing? I think this adaptation would need to be altered to not include him (this has precedent), because I cannot imagine Poirot fans standing for such treatment of their beloved sleuth. Can’t say that I blame them.
While a seeing a singing Poirot fell through for the fans, other works haven’t been so fortunate. American Psycho and Back To The Future I can almost see a working adaptation for, they have important scenes set to music. Spiderman seems to work, despite delays and actors getting hurt during the production. But Silence Of The Lambs, A Clockwork Orange and Carrie? Seriously singing psychopaths? Sweeney Todd I suppose is similar but there is a black humor which accompanies it which really isn’t present in the other three. “It puts the lotion in the basket.”, set to song is vastly creepier but I am not sure I could watch it.
Cheating: I MADE IT! I READ 52 BOOKS AND I DIDN’T ONCE CHEAT!
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
My husband owes me one trip!
You should see what I have planned for 2015! Not quite as comprehensive but just as fun? But that is a post for a different day....
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2014