In this, the thirty-third Poirot mystery, Poirot receives a request for help from mystery-writer Ariadne Oliver. Mrs Oliver has been down at Nasse House, Nassecombe, Devon, where a village fête is to be held and one attraction is a ‘murder hunt’ on the lines of a treasure hunt which she is in charge of organising. (Poirot is to be present in the guise of giving out the prizes.) While the plans are going along well, Mrs Oliver is certain that she senses something wrong, perhaps that someone has been getting her to alter things ever so slightly, a small detail here and there, though she can’t point her finger to who or what, and what exactly might go wrong. Nasse House is owned by Sir George Stubbs whose wife Hattie (Lady Stubbs), originally from the West Indies, is simple minded. His efficient secretary Miss Brewis, Mrs Folliat whose family originally owned the house, and other residents at the village are all enthusiastically organising and contributing to the fête—Sally Legge (who is staying for a few months at the village with her husband Alec) for instance is to tell people’s futures as Madame Zuleika. Meanwhile, it seems that a cousin of Hattie Stubbs, Etienne De Sousa, whom she hasn’t seen for years (since she was a child, in fact) wants to look her up, and will arrive on the day of the fête. On the day of the fête, Mrs Oliver’s fears prove real and the young schoolgirl who was to play the ‘body’ in the murder hunt is found actually murdered while Hattie Stubbs has vanished entirely with no clue to where she could be and no body found. Where could she have gotten to? Had she been killed? And what reason would anyone have for killing Marlene Tucker, a harmless schoolgirl? This is a puzzle that baffles not only the police who are glad of Poirot’s presence on the scene but also Poirot who can’t solve the case quite as fast (or easily) as he usually does.
This was once again an enjoyable mystery from Christie, who (as another reviewer on Goodreads has also said) certainly has the best puzzles. She doesn’t leave us without clues—in fact here too, if one pays attention to even casual conversations Poirot has with various persons present, one might actually catch on to what was really going on (though one almost always never does, and some observations might be interpreted more than one way). This time since I was rereading, I did pick up some at least of these, a hint here, a clue there—and this was fun though I would say that may be compared to some other mysteries of hers, the clues/hints in this one weren’t perhaps as clear; yet everything and everyone, even if they seemed to be just a background or unconnected feature had a purpose.
Compared to his usual adventures, Poirot perhaps also took a touch longer to solve this one having to go back ‘defeated’ for a bit before he returns for another visit and set of conversations and can finally solve the case. Nonetheless, it is him and his grey cells alone that can put things together eventually, not only solving the mystery but also locating the evidence.
Mrs Oliver does not spare him over the time he takes, telling him when he calls her nearly a month after the events that it was about time he did see things. She is here in all her glory, with her rather fantastical hairstyles, and jumble of thoughts (from which she does manage to produce fairly complicated plots, and an equally complicated murder game) adding a bit of fun to the gravity of the murder and the other more serious storylines. In this one, she doesn’t have her usual struggles with her Finnish detective (reflecting Christie herself), but her one of her reader’s misconceptions about her add a few further comic moments as well.
As with Christie’s other books, this one too has other storylines moving alongside the mystery thread—some turn out connected while others simply throw one off course. But all the characters we are introduced to are also well developed—each with their individual personality and story.
An enjoyable revisit, and one where from cover onwards, everything gives you a clue!