Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie – A Review
Rating : 4/5
Finally, I am back to my home turf of Christie mysteries after an outing in a world of short stories, fairy tales and what not. This time around, I picked the book Five Little Pigs by Christie due to it beckoning me from my home bookshelf for over three months and my mind being filled with a lot of nursery rhymes after spending a few days with my 18 month old niece.
“This little pig went to the market.
This little pig stayed home.
This little pig had roast beef.
This little pig had none.
This little pig cried “Wee, wee, wee, wee!”
All the way home.”
Coming back to the world of mysteries, murders, poisoning and treachery, this story with Poirot at the helm was written during Christie’s golden stint with Poirot novels (1935 to 1942). The novel definitely stands out due to the timeframe when the crime was committed – 16 years before the request to investigate reaches Poirot! Also, the main accused was convicted and had already passed away; hence Poirot is left only with a series of court proceedings and police documents along with narratives from the people involved.
Carla Lemarchant approaches Poirot with the strangest of requests – to prove her convicted and dead mother Caroline Crale innocent in the murder of her artist father Amyas Crale. Poirot, already advocating the importance of psychology and character analysis over physical evidences like cigarette butts and fingerprints in solving a crime, takes the opportunity to prove his approach. Caroline Crale had been convicted by the authorities for poisoning Amyas Crale with coniine stolen from Meredith Blake’s laboratory in a fit of jealousy over Amyas’ decision to divorce her and start a life with Elsa Greer. He approaches the five eye witnesses present during the time who are listed below :
- Little pig went to the market : Phillip Blake, best friend of Amyas Crale
- Little pig stayed home : Meredeth Blake, neighbor and friend of the Crales and brother of Phillip
- Little pig had roast beef: Elsa Greer, Amyas’ lover and muse for his current painting.
- Little pig had none : Cecilia Williams , the Crale governess
- Little pig cried : Angela Warren, the disfigured step-sister of Caroline Crale
From the beginning, Poirot understands that the solution to the crime relies on his being able to understand the personality of the Crales. Yet, Poirot gets varying accounts of Caroline’s personality from the lawyers and officers who were present at the trial. Her description varies widely from that of listless and resigned to fate to having the nobility of a true-bred lady. Poirot has to filter through these contrasting information to figure out the real woman underneath without even meeting her once. Things become more complicated with the accounts of the five eye witnesses. She is descried as jealous, vindictive and totally lacking control of her anger by few while others characterize her as the epitome of nobleness, full of love and sacrifice for Amyas Crale and even forgiving of his wayward and rogue attitude. All these five eyewitnesses provide Poirot with a narrative of their whereabouts and events from their memory during the fateful two days when the news of Amyas’ divorcing Caroline is revealed to her in an unceremonious manner by Elsa. This repetitive narrative from the perspective f the five witnesses form a major part of the book.
This book is a standout from Agatha Christie books due to the character portrayals. Christie has succeeded in a detailed portrayal of Caroline Crale with a lot of nuance. Although the descriptions of Caroline by other characters are contradictory and each of them have some incidents to validate their claim, Christie has beautifully woven these characterization to create a living, breathing character with her positives and negatives. This characterization of Caroline and the days surrounding the incident forms a major part of the plot and spans a lot of pages. Also notable are the other female characters in the story who are so diverse and different from each other yet with their own strong personalities. Elsa Greer, a nouveau riche, is full of youthful vitality and sexuality and lacks the sense of morality that comes with a good upbringing. She is like a child bent on acquiring her favorite toy by hook or by crook. Mrs. Williams is a typical Victorian woman with a clear set of moral values and looks down on Amyas for his string of infidelities. She is a totally level-headed and practical person who even makes Poirot feel like a schoolboy in her presence. Angela Warren, the disfigured sister of Caroline, is a tom-boy full of curiosity and life. Elsa Greer and her loose morals are clearly contrasted with Caroline who stoically bears Elsa’s intentions on her husband under her roof.
Also, by going back to the crime and the people surrounding it after sixteen years Christie has successfully showcased the tragic influences it has on people. Whatever be the intention of the crime, people have suffered because of it. Carla Lemarchant, the daughter of Crales, grew up without her parents, Angela Warren lost a loving and caring sister, Elsa Greer lost the love of her life and remains stuck in the world of Amyas carrying on her life like an unfeeling machine and Phillip Blake lost his best friend. The story clearly showcases the futility of the act of the murder whether it be an impulsive action or a well thought out one.
On a lighter note, what was missing in this book for me was the one and only Captain Hastings. I took a sly pleasure every time Hastings had to hear Poirot praise himself and wince inside. Also with Hastings present, the readers were usually shown the proceedings from his point of view and he was quick to form an impression of a character. This was a good place for Hastings to make some “first impressions” as there was a British country house set up with a noble lady, a femme fatale and few English men. I would have loved to see his take on all the characters.
To summarize, the story has all classic Christie elements – an English manor, an unhappy marriage, a Victorian governess, few respectable English men and cleverly placed red herrings to confuse the readers. For all its writing and character portrayal, the mystery of the murder is not hard to figure out and I believe Poirot fans who can find the actual clues from a ton of information can easily figure out the culprit. Overall, this book is a great read for Christie’s characterizations and Poirot’s psychological approach to crime solving.