Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs
There was a time in my life, between ages 11 and 13 I believe, when I read a lot of Agatha Christie’s novels. Once in a while I like to reread a novel I have loved in my youth. Some live up to my fond memories of them, some don’t…
Five Little Pigs is different from other Hercule Poirot novels in the sense that for once, Poirot investigates not the present but the past, as the murder happened sixteen years earlier. The famous and gifted painter Amyas Crale was found dead, poisoned by coniine, like Socrates. His wife Caroline was sent to prison for the murder and died there one year later, but their daughter Carla is sure that her mother was innocent, because she told her so in a letter she wrote before she died.
Poirot then meets everybody involved in the investigation and the trial (counsels, solicitors and police inspector), as well as the five people present on the day of the murder, who could have been guilty if Caroline was innocent: Philip Blake, the “little pig who went to the market” (according to the nursery rhyme), a stockbroker and the victim’s best friend, his brother Meredith Blake, the “little pig who stayed at home”, a quiet man interested in botany and chemistry, the “little pig who had roast beef”, Elsa Greer now Lady Dittisham, then a young woman in love with the victim, the “little pig who had none”, the governess, Cecilia Williams, who was in charge of the “little pig who cried Wee Wee Wee”, Angela Warren, Caroline’s young sister.
At the beginning, none of the character believes that Caroline could be innocent. From each of the characters, Poirot will get a description of the other characters’ personalities and of their relationships with each other, as well as an account of the events of the day of the murder. He then will ask them one question each to clarify things, before making his usual show by gathering the culprits and explaining how and by whom the deed was done.
Five Little pigs is original, in the sense that it relies on memories and impressions of five different persons, after a gap of sixteen years, and it will be up to Poirot to sort between truth and interpretation, unreliable memories and facts. In this sense, it is quite impressive and revolutionary (of course telling the same tale through different narrators has been done countless of times since, and in a better way, but then Agatha Christie was one of, if not the first, to do it). Also, the different perceptions that characters have of each other, sometimes giving the impression that they don’t even talk about the same person, is very interesting and opens the way to the psychological thriller such as written today by authors like the late Ruth Rendell or Sophie Hannah.
But, on the minus side, I found the process of going over the same day over and over again through a different testimony slightly tedious in Five Little Pigs. I must confess that it bored me a little. So, as much as I wanted to be blown away once more by the experience of reading Five Little Pigs, I was not. I must admit that I have more pleasure now reading the more recent queens of crime, even of they owe so much to Agatha Christie…