Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cards on the Table, by Agatha Christie

Cards on the Table
By Agatha Christie

Elmore Leonard once said that part of the secret to his success as an author was in leaving out the parts most readers skip. Which is a quality I've always attributed to Agatha Christie. I've only read perhaps a dozen or so of her books, but with one or two exceptions I tend to find myself blazing through them like Evelyn Wood's star pupil.

Which brings us to Cards on the Table, which I'd rank at the top of the heap of those dozen or so Christie books. The premise here is quite simple but also contrived, almost to the point of being absurd. Which didn't matter much to me since Christie turned the whole business into such a fine yarn.

Said premise finds bridge games going on in adjoining rooms in the home of a rather unlikeable party host. At one table are a foursome of detectives and law enforcement types, including one Hercule Poirot. At the other table are a quartet who will become the chief suspects in the murder of the host. Who is killed during the game while sitting by the fireplace in the same room as the suspects.

In the challenge (of sorts) to the reader that precedes the story, Christie points out that this is a mystery that will be solved by considering the psychology of the suspects, rather than the traditional system of gathering clues, recreating movements and whatnot. Scotland Yard's Superintendent Battle, who was present at the time of the murder, takes the latter route toward solving the crime. Poirot, not surprisingly, focuses more on what the suspects remembered about the bridge game, their memories regarding the layout of the room and other things that will help him understand the way they tick.

Which obviously isn't fair play, unless I missed a key point somewhere, but I guess that's what Christie was getting at in her introduction. Perhaps there was a bridge-related clue hidden somewhere in all this that would have helped me figure it out but I know nada about bridge. In fact, my eyes tended to roll back in my head during the detailed discussions of the games and the scoring, but that was my only minor quibble with what I'd otherwise consider to be an outstanding work and one that comes with my highest recommendation.

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