Monday, November 1, 2021

November Book Report - Agatha Christie “Cards on the Table", a Hercule Poirot Mystery © 1936

 This month not only did I listen to a book by Agatha Christie, but it is available as an episode of the TV series Poirot starring David Suchet, so I watched it, too.

The title of this book, Cards on the Table, refers not only to the idiom of putting ones cards on the table (meaning to be open and honest about something) but to a game of bridge. A mysterious man who likes to dress like Mephistopheles, Mr. Shaitana, decides to hold a dinner party where he invites four sleuths, including Hercule Poirot and his occasional companion Ariadne Oliver (portrayed on the series by Zoe Wanamaker), and four criminals. Mr. Shaitana has learned through gossip that the four criminals he has invited are, in fact, murderers who have never been suspected of the murders they have committed.

After the meal, during which Mr. Shaitana baits the murderers with hints about the murders he knows about, the dinner guests break into two groups for bridge, with Mr. Shaitana sitting the game out by the fire. The murderers play their game in the room with Mr. Shaitana while the sleuths are in the next room for their game. Sometime during the course of the night, Mr. Shaitana is murdered. The sleuths have been out of the room the whole time, so it falls on them to learn the dark secrets held by the murderers and determine which one of them was able to murder Mr. Shaitana, without the others noticing.

I made the mistake of watching the episode before I finished listening to the book. This lessened my enthusiasm to finish listening to the book, but I did. There are some notable differences between the book and the show, the main one being that on the TV series Mr. Shaitana is a hobby photographer who has taken pictures of most of the murderers (maybe all, I forget) and the police detective who is in the sleuth group. There are no photographs of importance in the novel. This was added entirely for the TV show.

Two of the characters, Anne Meredith (murderer) and Superintendent Battle (sleuth), are changed from the novel as well, with Anne Meredith being more sympathetic and Battle being thrown into the suspect category.

There are other changes to characters, but not as notable to the story revolving around them. I will say that I adore Zoe Wanamaker’s performance as Ariadne Oliver on this and other episodes of the TV series, and would love to see a spinoff series of Ariadne Oliver solving crimes. Ariadne is much more likeable on the show than in the book.

Up until the very end, I wondered if the TV show had also changed the identity of the murderer, but it didn’t. The novel just makes a very convincing case for a different character which the TV show didn’t follow through with in the same way. The murderer also has his motive heightened for his original murder in the TV series. I’m still not sure from the novel why he did his original murder. If I heard the reason, I have forgotten it.

The audiobook was, like with the other Christie novel I listened to, read by Hugh Fraser. He is excellent at this and makes the characters come to life, doing all sort of accents and pitches with his voice. I enjoyed this story more than the last Christie one and infinitely more than the mystery from last month.

Somewhere (which means on Facebook or Twitter) I recently read about how mystery novels differ from other stories in that the detectives are not expected to have any character growth over their series of stories. They are only expected to be interesting and competent in solving mysteries. It got me thinking about Poirot, Miss Marple, Agatha Raison, Jessica Fletcher, Columbo and others. True. They don’t grow and change as people. They solve crimes and they do it the same way, which is what the audience finds so satisfying. They start off as interesting characters and the reader/viewer wants to learn more about them, not to see them grow and change. Anyway, I thought that was interesting and worth pondering.

Anyway, this month’s book is one of the better ones from the year. Oh, and I should mention that I basically know how to play bridge (my dad never let anyone else keep score, so I can’t do it), so that part of the plot wasn’t confusing for me. It might be for you if you are not familiar with bridge at all.