Mrs. Ariadne Oliver has for once agreed to accept a dinner invitation, but is both astonished and appalled when she is cornered there by a Mrs. Burton-Cox, who asks Mrs. Oliver about two old acquaintances of hers who died in a suicide pact alternatively were murdered. While she has no answer for Mrs. Burton-Cox, Mrs. Oliver becomes interested and turns to her old friend Hercule Poirot for help in sorting out exactly what happened to her friends.
This novel is based on a tragic story, a sad tale of the futility of man and boundless love, and it rather struck me as I finished the last few chapters. It's a pity it's not married to a stronger mystery plot. As soon as the character Dolly is introduced, any moderately astute mystery reader will know where the story is heading. Had this been written in Christie's heyday, she would have known as well and would gleefully have thrown in a number of red herrings and distractions, and then during the revelations she would either have dismissed the reader's expectations, or even better, turned the reader's expectations upside down by actually returning to this early solution.
That's unfortunately not what happens here. Instead, we're treated to the ubiquitous sins of Christie's late career works, tangents and digressions and every little happening being drawn out to (or beyond) its stretching point. The mystery plot could have made a fairly powerful short story, because the motivations are strong enough to carry a narrative of that length, but don't suffice for a novel.
Poirot's investigations (and those of Mrs. Oliver, who has an even larger role in this book than in most of her earlier appearances) are fine, but are a bit too thinly spread out. And unfortunately, at times there's an odd narrative structure where this reader was convinced that the story was contradicting itself, though I think it turned out that it could actually be worked out.
On the whole, this was therefore a bit of a disappointment, if nowhere near the catastrophe that would follow the year after in Postern of Fate. I'll award this a 33 out of 100. I wouldn't actively dissuade a Christie fan from reading it, it's nowhere near as bad as that, but it certainly shouldn't be among the first Christies you read.
Another title with just two Swedish editions. The Swedish title is quite different from the English one (but if I understand it correctly, derived from the second section of the book). The meaning is quite similar, though: Långa skuggor means Long Shadows. Also, we don't really use the saying Elephants Can Remember in Swedish, though after having read this one, any Swedish reader would be forgiven for beginning to use it, as often as the characters refer to it....
The first cover is intriguing and I like it quite a bit. Though it's not featured in the plot, the flower along the top border brings in a splash of colour to an image which otherwise probably had been a bit too stark. Meanwhile, the early 80s cover is quite obviously another Fontana steal. As usual, though, it's a rather lovely cover with a Tom Adams image that definitely draws attention to itself. Were I less charitable I'd say that the covers outdo the contents...