A Review of Cards on the Table
Someone you've never met shares their thoughts on an Agatha Christie.
It All Began After Dinner...
Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table begins on a very simple premise. What would happen if you stuck four murderers together in a room with a very stupid man who has threatened to expose their crimes? The first part is rather obvious, the stupid man dies. It is what comes next that is interesting. What if there where four detectives, or reasonable facsimiles there of, in the next room?
This is what sets this book apart from most murder mysteries: each murder given different motivations or reasons could have done it. We are told that each has murdered and could just as easily murder again. It is this rat's nest of red herrings that the four detectives, lead of course by Poirot, try to untangle. That is where the bridge scores come in. The murderers where playing bridge together at the time of the murder and Poirot uses their scores to try and put together a profile of their personalities, and find out what would make them kill. The other detectives mostly work on piecing together each murderer's past and try to find out who they have already killed and why.
The four murderers are completely different sorts of personalities. There is the frightened, invariably good looking girl, the cheerful, slightly too chatty doctor, the stoic big game hunter/explorer, and an elegant older widow. One of them is guilty, but which one? The detectives include characters from Agatha's lesser known works. Inspector Battle, who features in The Seven Dials Mystery, is I think second in command. Next comes Agatha's self lampoon, Ariadne Oliver. (although I am pretty sure, that she would say she was leading the investigation.) Colonel Race does a small cameo, he mostly just sends the other three information and follows the leads that seem to dead end in other countries.
I would guess that Agatha wrote this book as an exercise in character studies. Each murderer is so well fleshed out and believable. They have to be, too, because the only way you would be able to figure out who is guilty is to look at the psychology of each murderer. What would they do, and almost more importantly, how would they do it? There is no muddy footprint to measure, and no cigarette ash to examine. There is only the mind of the killer. Isn't that, after all, what makes crime so fascinating?