Sometimes you just need to read an Agatha Christie, don’t you? Well, I do. When I was getting bad headaches still (they seem to have worn off now, for the moment at least) I needed something that didn’t require much thought, but which still would be good – and so I picked up Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie. You may remember, from my report of a talk at Folio HQ, that Christie’s biographer Laura Thompson considered Five Little Pigs her best novel, and so I had to give it a go.
I shan’t write that much about the novel, because I really want to use this post to find out which one you think I should read next, but I’ll give you a quick response to Five Little Pigs (1942). Well, for starters, I don’t think it’s her best. Laura Thompson admired the way in which character and plot progressed together, and depended upon one another. I agree with that in the abstract – but not in the way that the novel actually reads.
Poirot is investigating a murder that took place 16 years previously – on the commission of the daughter of the woman who was convicted. Carla is the daughter, Caroline is the supposed murderer, and Amyas – Caroline’s husband; Carla’s father – is the artist who died of poisoning. Shortly before she died in prison, Caroline wrote to her daughter to say that she was innocent… Carla, although only a young child at the time, believes her mother is telling the truth. Poirot agrees to investigate… and narrows down the search to five people.
The title Five Little Pigs is based on a nursery rhyme. To quote Wikipedia: “Poirot labels the five alternative suspects “the five little pigs”: they comprise Phillip Blake (“went to the market”); Philip’s brother, Meredith Blake (“stayed at home”); Elsa Greer (now Lady Dittisham, “had roast beef”); Cecilia Williams, the governess (“had none”); and Angela Warren, Caroline’s younger half-sister (“went ‘Wee! Wee! Wee!’ all the way home”).”
The conclusion is clever and believable, and the characters well drawn (especially the contrasts between their present personalities, and the personalities shown in everyone’s accounts of the fateful day.) The big problem with the novel, for me, is how repetitive it is. Poirot goes to interview each of these five in turn, and he then receives written accounts from each of them (which are given in full). That means we get ten accounts of the day, one after another. Ten. Five felt like it was pushing it; ten was simply dull by the end. I get that Agatha Christie wanted to show how perspective can shed different lights on events. But… too much.
Still, this is Agatha Christie. It was still very enjoyable, and pretty compelling reading, but I don’t usually want to skip chunks when I read her. Contrary to what Laura Thompson said, this is probably one of my least favourite Christie novels…
…and now I want you to suggest which one to read next. Whenever I read one Christie I want to read more straight away. I asked on Twitter, and got some great recommendations which I’m definitely keeping in mind, but I want to see which one would be most popular – so do comment with a recommendation even if someone else has already mentioned it. To help you out, the following are the novels by Christie I HAVE read, so you don’t need to suggest these… oh, and I know the twist to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, so I don’t really want to read that one just yet. Over to you (thanks in advance!)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Murder at the Vicarage
Peril at End House
Murder on the Orient Express
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
The ABC Murders
And Then There Were None
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
The Body in the Library
Five Little Pigs
The Moving Finger
A Murder is Announced
They Do It With Mirrors
A Pocket Full of Rye
Hickory Dickory Dock
4.50 From Paddington
The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
A Caribbean Mystery
At Bertram’s Hotel