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Sunday, March 3, 2013

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, by Agatha Christie

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
By Agatha Christie
1940

You're talking like a thriller by a lady novelist. (Inspector Japp to Hercule Poirot)

In my relatively limited experience with Agatha Christie's Poirot books, it has almost always seemed that the great Belgian detective was a supremely confident and rather unflappable sort. So it came as something of a surprise as this volume opened to find that confidence shaken by something as mundane as a visit to the dentist.

Of course, this being Christie, it stands to reason that we're not seeing Poirot go to the dentist just for purposes of character development. As coincidence would have it, not long after Poirot's appointment concludes he finds out that his dentist has apparently done himself in. Or has he? Well, yeah.

And the plot thickens, as they so often do. The interesting thing about this one is that it's not long before it takes an abrupt turn from being a garden variety whodunit - for lack of a better term - into being something rather different. It would be a mild spoiler to get into this, in my opinion, and it's the type of thing I don't usually care much for in crime and mystery fiction but Christie handles the whole affair so skillfully that I quite liked it.

At one point in the proceedings Poirot remarks that one of the other characters has "the brain of a hen." Which is about how I felt when Christie finally began to work her way around to the solution. This came from way out in left field, if you ask me, but I thought it was nicely done and there was nothing in it that made me want to cry foul.

Then there's the mystery of why this book needed at least three different titles. The 1964 Dell paperback edition that I read was titled An Overdose of Death, with a cover note that the original title was (the quite dreadful) The Patriotic Murders. But apparently the book started life as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, which makes a great deal more sense, given the content of the book itself. Perhaps the ways of publishers are one of the truly great mysteries.

In any event, whatever you want to call this one, I'd call it an entertaining piece of work that's likely to befuddle the average reader - or maybe it was just me.

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