Wondrous Words

Reading Agatha Christie’s books I often come across words or phrases that I’m either not sure what they mean but can get the gist of the meaning from the context, or have never come across before.

I found an example of each type whilst reading The Murder on the Links, an early Poirot mystery first published in 1923:

Traps as in this sentence: ‘I had made a somewhat hurried departure from the hotel and was busy assuring myself that I had duly collected all my traps, when the train started.(page 5)

Captain Hastings is the narrator and is returning to London on the Calais train, so I thought he couldn’t be taking animal traps with him on the train and it was more likely to be his luggage. According to the Chambers Dictionary that is the meaning of the word: ‘personal luggage or belongings’. 

I didn’t know what the Bertillon system was. Poirot referred to it when talking about the lack of fingerprints on the murder weapon and remarked that ‘The veriest amateur of an English Mees knows it – thanks to the publicity the Bertillon system has been given in Paris.’ (page 35)

The Bertillon system is described in Wikipedia in the article on Anthropometry. Simple put it is a system for identifying criminals based on a series of their physical measurements introduced by Alphonse Bertillon in 1883. In 1894 England had adopted the system and had added the partial use of fingerprints. By 1900 England relied on finger prints alone.

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Kathy at Bermuda Onion.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie: a Book Review

I’m taking part in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. I couldn’t wait until I’d got them all in the order she wrote them so I’ve been reading them as I come across them. Some of her earlier books have been hard to find, but on a recent trip to Barter Books in Alnwick I was able to fill in some of my gaps.

I’ve read 34 of her books before finding her third book,The Murder on the Links, originally published in 1923. This is the second book featuring Hercule Poirot.  There have been many editions published since then and my copy is a paperback, published in 1960 by Pan Books.

Agatha Christie had the idea for the book after reading newspaper reports of a murder in France, in which masked men had broken into a house, killed the owner and left his wife bound and gagged. From these facts she then invented her plot, setting the book in the fictional French town of Merlinville ( midway between Boulogne and Calais), at the Villa Genevieve, next to a golf course and overlooking the sea. The owner of the villa, Mr Renauld, a South American millionaire had written to Poirot asking for his help as he feared his life was in danger.

When Poirot and Hastings arrive they are too late to help him as the night before their arrival he was found dead, lying face down in an open grave, stabbed in the back. As they are in France, Inspector Japp does not appear, instead there is a young French detective, M. Giraud, who thinks very little of Poirot’s methods and disagrees with his findings. This is very much a mystery puzzle book, with many clues and several red herrings.

In her Autobiography, Agatha Christie describes how she was writing

… in the Sherlock Holmes tradition – eccentric detective, stooge assistant, with a Lestrange-type Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Japp – and I now added a ‘human foxhound’, Inspector Giraud, of the French police. Giraud despises Poirot as being old and passé. (page 290)

And it was then that she realised that she had made a mistake in starting with Poirot so old. She would have preferred to have abandoned him after her first three or four books and begun again with someone much younger, but she was stuck with him.

It is rather a melodramatic tale, but still enjoyable as Poirot unravels the mystery. An interesting subplot involves a love interest for Hastings, when he mets a young lady calling herself Cinderella. There is a hint at the end of the book that he will marry her and move to South America. Agatha Christie was stuck with Poirot, but she felt she could get rid of Hastings – she was getting rather tired of him. She didn’t write him out completely and he does reappear in later novels, visiting Poirot from his home in Argentina. I like Hastings, who in this book shares rooms with Poirot and is a ‘sort of private secretary to an MP.’

Her Autobiogaphy also reveals that Agatha Christie was not pleased with the jacket cover her publishers had designed as she felt it didn’t reflect the plot. In fact she was ‘really furious and it was agreed that in future she should see the jacket first and approve of it.’

She thought The Murder on the Links was ‘a moderately good example of its kind‘ and I liked it. My rating: 3/5.