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Five Little Pigs: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Paperback – February 1, 2011
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“The answer to the riddle is brilliant.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))
“A brilliant piece of detective fiction, in which character plays an important part.” (Daily Telegraph (London))
“Straightforward bamboozling from start to finish.” (New Statesman (UK))
“As usual, Mrs. Christie hoaxes us with a double twist at the denouement, and provides excellent entertainment.” (Punch (UK))
“Agatha Christie never fails us, and her Five Little Pigs presents a very pretty problem for the ingenious reader.” (Manchester Guardian (UK))
From the Back Cover
Beautiful Caroline Crale was convicted of poisoning her husband, but just like the nursery rhyme, there were five other “little pigs” who could have done it: Philip Blake (the stockbroker), who went to market; Meredith Blake (the amateur herbalist), who stayed at home; Elsa Greer (the three-time divorcée), who had her roast beef; Cecilia Williams (the devoted governess), who had none; and Angela Warren (the disfigured sister), who cried all the way home.
Sixteen years later, Caroline’s daughter is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, and Poirot just can’t get that nursery rhyme out of his mind.
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Carla Larchmont comes to Poirot with a request. She tells him that her real name is Carolyn Crale and that her mother, of the same name, was accused and convicted of murdering her father, the famous painter , Amyas Crale. Carla shows him a letter written by her mother,to be given to her on her 21st birthday, that states that she did not kill Crale.
Carla has a fiancee who says nothing but whom she believes thinks that there may be a streak of madness in her family. She wants Poirot to discover a sixteen year old truth.
There are five people (five little pigs, as Poirot imagined them) who could have killed Crale: his two best friends and brothers Meredith and Phillip Blake , Elsa Greer, the 20 year old girl posing for Crale for a painting who lets it be known that he plans to leave Carolyn and their child for her, Angela Warren, Carolyn' s teen-age half-sister whom Carolyn disfigured in a fit of jealous rage when she was a baby and Angela's governess, Miss Williams.
Poirot asks each to write an account of the day before and day of the murder. It is after reading those letters that Poirot divines the murderer and in the final denouement brings all the principals plus Carla and her fiancee together to reveal the murderer and the motive.
First rate Christie
As always, there are sub plots within plots. Some, I think, are not quite as complex as others.
Hercule Poirot always has a soft spot for a young lady in distress or peril. In his previous appearance in EVIL UNDER THE SUN he had great admiration for the female murderer. In FIVE LITTLE PIGS he has great sympathy with Carla Crale's belief in her mother's innocence.
It is Poirot himself who names this case:
A jingle ran through Poirot's head. He repressed it. He must not always be thinking of nursery rhymes. It seemed an obsession with him lately. And yet the jingle persisted. `This little pig went to market, this little pig stayed at home...'
The structure of FIVE LITTLE PIGS is deceptively simple. In Book I there are ten chapters. In the first five Poirot interviews the officials involved in the court cases to see what they remember and what their impression was of Caroline Crale's guilt. In the next five chapters he interviews the five people who were present when the murder happened.
In Book II each of the latter five gives Poirot a written narrative of events and their own opinion of whether Caroline Crale was guilty of murder.
Book III also has five chapters. Poirot brings the five people together with Carla Crale and her fiance. He asks a question each of those who gave him a narrative and then reconstructs what happened as he sees it, pointing out that one of those present has lied, and some of the others are mistaken in their interpretation of what they saw and heard at the time.
For readers it is a most satisfying book because you have the same opportunities as Hercule Poirot to reinterpret the evidence and to look for the flaws in the narratives. I must admit to at first following the red herring that Christie so temptingly laid across my path. I always had an alternative reconstruction lurking in the back of my mind though, and that proved to be the correct one.
This was the last novel of an especially prolific phase of Christie's work on Poirot. She published thirteen Poirot novels between 1935 and 1942 out of a total of eighteen novels in that period. By contrast, she published only two Poirot novels in the next eight years, indicating the possibility that she was experiencing some frustration with her most popular character. (see more at Wikipedia about the novel)