I swear I had forgotten who killed Mr Shaitana during his own dinner party in Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie before I’d finished reading the last page.
It didn’t matter to me, as I find the joy of an Agatha Christie book is in the characters and how the author portrays social groups, rather than in the actual murder and unravelling the clues to learn who the murderer is (although of course these elements are enjoyable, too).
This particular group included two of my favourite Agatha Christie characters, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and English crime-fiction writer, Mrs Ariadne Oliver, who attended a dinner party hosted by the aforesaid, soon to-be-murdered Mr Shaitana, along with four people whom he believed had previously gotten away with a murder. Hercule Poirot and Mrs Oliver were partnered with two more people who normally worked to catch criminals. After dinner, the eight guests played bridge while Mr Shaitana dozed in front of the fire. As it turned out, Mr Shaitana wasn’t dozing….
I was delighted by Agatha Christie putting a little of herself into the character of the charming Mrs Oliver. When Superintendent Battle told her that he enjoyed her last book, the “one where all of the Chief Constables were shot simultaneously” she declined his offer of assistance for her future books with policing details as she wasn’t interested in accuracy and neither were her readers. Later Mrs Oliver said she regretted making the detective in her novels a Finn as she knew nothing about Finns and was always receiving letters from Finns complaining about faults in his character. I also enjoyed Mrs Oliver telling a fan of her books that writing was hard work and that thinking through and planning plots was a bore and of course, wondered if Agatha Christie had felt this way herself.
There was a level of racism in the book which surprised me. Major Despard voiced his dislike for his host due to his race, as according to him Mr Shaitana was “too well-dressed – he wore his hair too long – and he smelled of scent,” along with “No one knew where he was from, Argentina, Portugal, Greece or somewhere else” or if Mr Shaitana was “some other nationality rightly despised by the insular, Brition, nobody knew.” Funnily enough, his race didn’t stop any of Mr Shaitana’s guests from attending his parties or dinners.
As always, Agatha Christie tells a good story and the joy of forgetting who the murderer was means that I’ll be able to enjoy this story again in future.