I didn’t finish my previous read, Strange Weather In Tokyo, until Saturday and I was busy for most of Sunday. So, I knew that I needed to pick a quick read for today’s review. I always read less during the week because of work, so I decided to listen to an Agatha Christie audiobook instead. On days when I don’t have to do much writing, I find it easy enough to listen to books as I work. If I’m doing any kind of copywriting, it becomes trickier. Nobody wants me to start typing out Poriot’s speech about who the murderer is. Well, nobody who would be browsing our website anyway. This is a book that I’ve been meaning to include on my big Agatha reread because I love the concept. It’s classic Christie and classic Poirot. With work being so stressful at the moment, it’s been great to be able to shut everything else out and just listen instead.
I can’t say for sure that Agatha Christie was the first writer to introduce a cold case element to her crime fiction but she must surely have been one of the earliest examples. Five Little Pigs is a different kind of novel to her other works and offers a fresh take on a Poirot mystery. The detective must look back in time and solve a crime that took place 16 years ago. Rather than witnessing the Belgian detective look for clues and following the killer’s trail, he instead looks at the eyewitness accounts of 5 people who were present on the day of the murder. It’s all very exciting and offers even more of a puzzle for both Hercule and the reader.
It all starts when the great man is approached by a young woman who claims her mother was wrongly convicted of murder. Carla Lemarchant’s mother, Caroline Crale, was found guilty and imprisoned for the death of her husband Amyas. Amyat was a famous painter who has recently begun a relationship with the subject of his latest painting, Elsa Greer. Shortly after Elsa announced that he would be leaving his wife, the painter was found dead. Everybody present believed that the death was an act of revenge by the scorned wife. Not long after she was imprisoned, Caroline wrote her daughter a letter claiming her innocence. With Caroline long dead, Poirot must rely on the other people who were present in the house that day. He takes statements from all 5 eyewitnesses. Will they all point to the same conclusion or is someone lying?
There’s something extremely satisfying about this book. The structure works really well to create a fantastically engaging mystery. The first act sees Poirot talking to everyone involved with the case and the 5 eyewitnesses. The second act relays their accounts of what happened the morning of the murder. The final act sees Poirot gather everyone together for the classic reveal. It has the kind of logical and measured structure that you’d expect from the Belgian. Everything moves along quite briskly and you can’t help but be drawn into the drama. The middle section is the most interesting as we get to hear the various accounts. How could you not enjoy being able to pick apart these statements and find any conflicting information? It really places you in the role of detective and allows you to use your own little grey cells.
Is this the most complicated and surprising Christie novel you’ll ever read? No. I’d say it was fairly easy to see the various twists in the tale but I don’t think that really matters here. In fact, I’d say it matters less here than in her other novels. This isn’t really a novel about the murder but about the investigation. It’s about psychology and human behaviour. It’s about reading between the lines and seeing what somebody is trying very hard to hide from you. You’ve got the evidence right in front of you, so of course, it’s going to be easier to see the flaws in someone’s narrative. Christie does some remarkable work here and her subtle use of language is key to making this work. Being able to see her clues presented in this way is exciting.
Then there’s the fact that she really knows her characters. She does so much work in developing her characters here. Each of the individual narratives is written in the voice and style of that person. They each have their own feel and flow to them. They are very well judged and have their own identity. This novel brings together quite the cast of characters and the five little pigs are all memorable. On our list of eyewitness we have: Elsa, the other woman; Phillip Blake, Amyas’s friend; Meredith Blake, Phillip’s brother; Angela Warren, Caroline’s half-sister; and Cecilia Williams, Angela’s governess. All very different but all hiding their own secrets from Poirot. But could any of them really be a killer? That’s what makes Christie so good. She manages to make everyone seem both capable and incapable of committing the crime.
This isn’t a Christie novel that will appeal to everyone because not a lot happens. It’s a story that goes over the same events quite a few times. We don’t learn much about Caroline or her husband. We don’t learn anything about her daughter. Then there’s the fact that the story doesn’t offer the same dramatic tension because it’s reliving the past. There’s no imminent danger and the investigation is a more sedate affair. However, I do think there is a lot to enjoy about this. It might be subtle but, if you’re willing, you can really get a lot out of this one. It’s very clever and incredibly engaging,