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Written in 1936 and probably being Christie's only crossover of detectives with the inclusion of both Poirot and Superintendant Battle, "Cards on the Table" was written by Christie partly as a challenge to herself and to her readers. Out of a total of nine people within a room, there can only be four possible suspects to the crime that takes place. With such a small group it would appear that the culprit will be easy to note, but with all of them appearing to have an equal opportunity, motive and ability, uncovering the actual person will not be easy.
The story commences with an invitation to a Bridge party for Hercule Poirot by a rather flamboyant character, a Mr Shaitana. Eccentric, extravagant and with an expert eye to noticing people or things he considers interesting Mr Shaitana has the idea of inviting a very select group of people over for a special party and Poirot is asked to be one of them. As the night progresses Mr Shaitana declines to join in with the games, yet later on it appears that he was playing a very dangerous game of his own. Having previously confided to Poirot that he finds murderers fascinating it becomes apparent that Shaitana has devised a rather risky exhibition for his own amusement. Out of the eight guests four are connected with the solving of crime in some capacity and four, it will soon be made apparent, are believed by Shaitana to be guilty of murder. As the night progresses Shaitana declines to leave his chair and thus it is not for some time that a shocking discovery is made. With seemingly lightning speed and incredible daring one of four people has stabbed him. Thus a murder case is opened in which four people initially seem to be incapable both psychologically and opportunitically to have committed the crime, yet as the novel progresses long buried secrets are revealed and before long it becomes a case of wondering who didn't undertake the killing.
Upon reading the story several points can be noted. To begin with it is evident that the persona of Ariadne Oliver, a fictional crime writer is a very thinly disguised representation of herself, with her own fictional detective of Sven Hjerson being a reference to Hercule Poirot. By devising the character of Oliver, Christie was able to set down her frustrations, fears and limitations in a way that would be unlikely to concern her readers, allowing her dislike of Poirot, for example, to subtly reveal itself.
Furthermore, as Christie herself points out within the foreword to the story, the solution to the murderer must be employed primarily through psychological means. Since all of the four suspects are believed to be capable of murder and since all of them had an equal opportunity, it falls upon the detectives and the readers to consider who was the most likely person from a psychological aspect. It is, therefore, no surprise that this ability shall be undertaken so carefully by Poirot.
As with many of Christie's novels there can be noted similarities between this and other works. Anne Meredith, for example, appears to be rather similar to Vera Claythorne in "And then there were None" and in some ways the fact that Shaitana plays with human emotions for his own enjoyment might ensure he can be compared to Mrs Boynton in "Appointment with Death". There are also very brief references to "Murder on the Orient Express" and "The Chocolate Box". Yet to a large degree this is one of Christie's most original works, pitching the reader truly against Poirot's own skills and allowing us to see him use his "little grey cells" to the utmost. With twists and surprises throughout the story this is surely one of Christie's greater novels.If a criticism is to be made it might be done from a personal perspective, in that not everybody will be pleased that the element of surprise is taken away from them. By only presenting us with four suspects there can hardly be any true shock when the murderer is uncovered. However, for those who enjoy a fresh challenge, or seeing Poirot and the other detectives pitched into more unusual circumstances, this is an ideal choice.
Cards on the Table
Author: Agatha Christie
No. of pages : 320
When Christie wrote this novel in 1936 , she wanted to make it different to all her earlier works and according to her The most likely murderer in general would be the least likely person to have committed the crime, so she warned her readers beforehand that this was not that kind of a mystery.There are only four suspects and given the right circumstances , any one of them might have committed the murder. Each of them have already committed at least one murder or more , and each of them is capable of committing further murders.They come from a widely different background and would employ different methods.The deduction therefore has to be entirely psychological as Poirot says " When all is said and done it is the mind of the murderer that is of supreme interest"...
Hercule Poirot is visiting an exhibition of Snuff-Boxes at Wessex House when he has a chance encounter with Mr.Shaitana, a person with a bizzare taste in clothes and appearance, and, according to Poirot someone who every healthy decent Englishman longed earnestly and fervently to kick !
Nobody knew Mr Shaitana's origins , but what was known was that he was very rich and lived in the lap of luxury,and, he gave wonderful parties - sometimes macabre, sometimes queer, sometimes classy but never dull. And lastly he was a man of whom nearly everybody was a little afraid . He made it his business to dig out any little hidden secrets of various people known to him and took pleasure in making them aware of this fact by giving little hints about his knowledge which made them uncomfortable and uneasy ..
Shaitana while baiting Poirot at the exhibition invites him to his apartment where he claimed he had a 'Black Museum' , and he was willing to show Poirot some objects in his own line , crime !
According to Shaitana murder was an art form and the 'ones who got away with it' were the successes and according to him were the ' ultimate artistes'.
Shaitana arranges a dinner party for Poirot to meet his 'exhibits' (the ultimate artistes?) - but Poirot is reluctant to attend the party and warns Shaitana against the idea , but, finally gives in and decides to attend the party out of sheer curiosity.
The party consists of Poirot, Mrs Oliver the well known writer of detective novels and a feminist to the core, Superintendent Battle, one of Scotland yard's best representatives and Colonel Rice , an unassuming, quiet secret service agent , with a sharp observant mind.
The other guests include Dr. Roberts, Mrs Lorrimer, Major Despard and Miss Meredith - supposedly Shaitana's four exhibits. Shaitana's idea of fun was to have a party with his four exhibits and four sleuths.
What begins as an absorbing evening consisting of an Excellent dinner, a lively discussion on crime and murder and bridge, turns into a dangerous game with Shaitana found stabbed with one of his own collection of an exquisitely carved and jewel headed Stilletto. Shaitana literally signed his own death warrant when he made certain leading remarks and concluded 'But who am I to pronounce with so many experts present ?'
As Poirot remarks later 'The stupid little man, to dress up as the Devil and frighten people' - Now it was the task of the four sleuths to find the murderer , who was exceptionally daring and cunning..
My views about the book
This is another very interesting book by Christie. As she writes in her forward at the beginning of the book, there are just 4 suspects and anybody could have done it. They all had the motive and all of them had the courage and the desperate need to execute the crime. This is another one of her whodunnits where i had absolutely no clue about the identity of the murderer, and Christie has made sure that you dont come to know about it right until the very last page..
Very gripping and compelling and witty like most of her novels, i would rate this as one of Poirot's most complicated cases and probably that's why there are three other experts helping him out.
I like the way Christie describes Mrs Oliver the writer of detective stories, who makes an appearance in many other novels along with Poirot. She is the typical feminist writer, a bit vague but with an eye for detail and unknowing to herself she blurts out the right things at the wrong moment ! this leads to many humorous situations which is quite funny and enjoyable.
Given the circumstances it seems impossible to commit a murder within the confines of a room where eight people are playing bridge, with Shaitana sitting and watching them, quite enjoying the tricky situation he has created and totally unaware of the dangerous situation he has put himself in !
When Christie explains the daring manner in which the murder is committed one can visualise the desperation of the murder- excellent suspense
This was made into a film with David Suchet in the lead role of Hercule Poirot..
But there were some unnecessary changes that made a mess of the storyline and reduced the impact .The book was one of Christies masterpieces but sadly the film was not upto the mark.This has been happening with many of Christie's works of late, and in my opinion there is no advantage , in fact it only dilutes the storyline..