After my stupendous last read I was a bit unsure what title to choose next, as any new to me read was going to have a lot to live up to. So I decided in the end to go for a re-read, in particular a re-read which I knew going in was middle of the road. My memories of this book are a bit fuzzy to say the least and are predominately based on the Suchet TV adaptation, which I think had a few changes in it.
For those unfamiliar with the story it is set at a prestigious girl’s school called Meadowbank, though early on in the novel this setting is paralleled with scenes in Ramat in the Persian Gulf, in which a revolution takes place. It is from this setting that we receive a key piece of intrigue – namely a collection of expensive jewels which are to be smuggled out of the country and of course make their way to Meadowbank. That isn’t a spoiler, as any reader will tumble to this notion fairly rapidly. Murder eventually rears its head, more than once, causing confusion and dismay. Christie throws in other lines of investigation for the reader to contemplate including wartime espionage and teacher rivalry. Poirot makes a very late appearance into the tale, though that doesn’t prevent him from getting to the bottom of things.
So I have to admit I left this book feeling rather lukewarm about it. A younger Christie could have done a lot better with this plot, as in itself it is not a bad one, but I think in parts it is poorly executed. After The Big Four, this is closest Poirot gets to being in a thriller, with its political intrigue and spy undertones. In conjunction with this, I think Poirot’s late, and rather forced in my opinion, entrance into the book, makes his final solution feel less satisfying. Definitely an out-of-a-hat feeling to it all. Personally I think the book would have been better if Poirot had not been in it at all and even more heretical, aside from making a good non-series story, I think perhaps it could have made for a good Tommy and Tuppence novel.
Given the thriller vibe of the book that also means we tend to get Christie’s generalisations on the world, in particular the difference between the West and the East and how the latter perceives the former. We even get generalisations about women from Europe and all of these assumptions tend to get boiled down into the international school children and teachers, who invariably are presented as much more sexually aware in comparison to the innocent and plain English girls. I think in particular this re-read drew to my attention the sexualisation of Princess Shaista. I know there are reasons related to the mystery plot for this but I did find it odd to come across an extended passage in which a school teacher complains to the head teacher about Shaista’s unnecessary equivalent of a push up bra. It felt all too convenient for the head teacher to then brush this issue aside suggesting that girls develop quicker from the Middle East physically but are somewhat behind intellectually. On the whole I would say the characterisation fell a bit flat for me in this book, the two exceptions being the two pupils Julia and Jennifer, along with Mrs UpJohn. This trio are delightful and memorable characters. I could definitely read a follow on book with these three in.
There is an underlying theme of women at work vs. women choosing marriage, but like the characterisation, it lacked impact and overall I think this is one of Christie’s novels which lacked depth for me, in comparison to some of her other works. A few touches I did enjoy were the unexpected nature of the murder victim identities. These Christie did cleverly conceal and I also liked the aptness of the story’s title.
I wonder whether in some ways I preferred the TV adaptation. Its’ thriller nature at times is probably more suited for the screen. Having written my last sacrilegious sentence, I will now wait with bated breath for all the reader responses explaining how I am wrong.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): At school