2020-04-24

Agatha Christie 100 - Cards on the Table

Wherein Christie clarifies that her stories take place in the same universe by allowing four previous characters to co-exist within the same narrative.


Hercule Poirot's acquaintance, Mr. Shaitana, invites him to a gathering - four murderers who were never suspected as such and four criminal investigators. Apart from Poirot, Inspector Battle, Colonel Race and mystery writer Ariadne Oliver come to Shaitana's dinner, and after the meal all eight guests settle down to play bridge. But as the games wind down, the guests find that Shaitana has been stabbed to death in his chair by the fire...

I'm going to rate this more highly than it perhaps deserves, simply because Christie managed something I didn't expect - she fooled me! In all previous re-reads, I was always more or less aware of who the culprit was and could study the narrative to see how Christie tries to fool the reader. But with this novel, I actually misremembered who the murderer was, and only shifted my suspicions to another character as the end approached. And yet it turned out that the real killer was in fact a third character... And when there are actually only four suspects available, that's a pretty good feat!

Otherwise, the main draw of this story is of course the gathering of Christie characters. Poirot and Battle do the bulk of the work in this novel, with Mrs. Oliver doing her fair share of the heavy lifting while Race is only a minor character in the grand scheme of things. But this is billed as a Poirot novel, and of course it is he who in the end points out the true villain.

To be honest, I don't think the misdirection is quite as good as in some of Christie's other novels, and the reason I was fooled was simply that I had a preconceived notion even before opening the book of who would be the killer which blinded me to Christie's main thesis - that the nature of Shaitana's murder can only be solved by studying the nature of the four murderer's previous crimes.

Ah well, how can I rate this lower than 82 out of 100 when I was so thoroughly bamboozled?

1938 1947 1964 1979
1987 1990 2014 1983 *

Another direct translation of the title for this novel, which was translated almost as soon as it was available.

The first cover from 1938 is not too bad, focusing on the bridge game. The 1947 cover distinguishes itself from the others by not featuring the cards at all. Instead we get a scene from the final exciting part where Poirot and Battle race to stop a murderer.

Zebra uses the cover to make this look like a cheap dime thriller, though with playing cards, while Delfinserien's 1979 edition again uses the British Fontana-cover.

The mid 80s Bonniers edition is the one I own and at least doesn't go overboard with the playing cards, featuring just the king of spades. The centenary edition from 1990 is okay, I guess, and at least they didn't outright steal the contemporaneous British cover, just the font.

The latest edition, six years old by now, is easy to recognise though not very distinguished. I suppose that's Hercule Poirot's silhouette (and maybe Battle's?), and perhaps those are supposed to be playing card diamonds? Hm.

The final cover here is a special case - the only omnibus edition of Agatha Christie novels in Sweden, featuring this title together with Five Little Pigs. It's hardly very interesting, though for completeness' sake I thought it belongs here.

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