The main problem with the Hercule Poirot novel, CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS – and I know this is not a criticism that Dame Agatha Christie would have welcomed at all – is that there just isn’t enough Hercule Poirot in it. It’s probably more than three quarters of the way through before the great Belgian detective shows up, but once he does it’s like the elixir of life has been injected intravenously into the page. He’s such a wonderful character that he immediately invigorates the whole book. And a story which was frankly becoming a slog, becomes suddenly a beautiful breeze.
Okay, when it comes to solving the case, Christie gives the reader no chance at all. The logical leaps Poirot has to make are frankly beyond any reader, and some of the information he has to unravel the mystery is stuff we simply don’t possess. As such, it’s a bit of a cheat, but by that point I was frankly so happy to see him that I forgave him the trickery.
The tale hinges on a murder in a girl’s school, and the first chapter is one of the most bizarrely opaque chapters I’ve ever read in popular fiction. Not really the kind of thing one expects from Dame Agatha at all. Half a dozen and more lady teachers are introduced, most with little more than a sentence of description, and they charge around while the reader tries to keep them all straight in their heads. It’s like Christie, to keep herself amused in the umpteenth Poirot story, has started using alienation techniques. As if what we have here is Agatha Christie in her Samuel Beckett phase.
However, more jarring than that was encountering the phrase “sex craved teenager” in a Poirot novel. Really? It’s like when P.G. Wodehouse had his Uncle Fred characters “dance the rock and roll”. It absolutely feels like a moment that shouldn’t be there. Hercule Poirot great detective of country house mysteries of the 1930s should no more be near a sex craved teenager, than he should buy a pint for P.J. Proby.
It’s an interesting book then, an odd book too – but one that definitely needs more old school Poirot.
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