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Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

There are very few "formulas" that I truly like in detective fiction, but my one of my favorites is the "only one among you" mystery. The formula is as follows: there are X number of people in the room, and when one of them dies, the only possible culprit is one of the others in the room. As mystery stories go, it's pretty classic, and when I saw that Christie used the formula for a Hercule Poirot mystery, I couldn't resist.

Hercule Poirot is invited to a dinner at the eccentric Mr. Shiatana's house to view one of his collections: in this case, a collection of supposed murderers who, according to Shiatana, have gotten away with their crime. While Poirot and other sleuths, including mystery author Ariadne Oliver and Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard are playing bridge in one room, the four supposed murders and Shiatana are in the other, which is all well and good until Shiatana is found dead at the end of the evening. It's clear that only one of the so-called murders could have committed the crime, but which one? And which of the sleuths will be able to solve the crime successfully when they have varying methods, expertise, and success?

Agatha Christie has a fantastic way of leading you down one path of reasoning and then, at the last minute, jerking the reins and making you realize that you weren't going the right direction after all. When the story began, I was convinced that Shiatana did it himself, and then in turn was convinced each of the people in that room did it, only to be proved wrong pages later. The twists and turns really kept me going, as did the seemingly random moments: Hercule Poirot buying 19 pairs of women's stockings, for example, or Anne Meredith's annoying friend traipsing around. In the end, though, it all made sense.

Still, I couldn't help but feel that Christie was milking some of the surprises too hard. By the end of a mystery, I want to feel satisfied in knowing who has actually done it, and the last thirty-odd pages really just left me feeling jerked around as I was pulled from one suspect to another to yet another, with what felt like little rhyme or reason. The "big reveal" honestly fell short for that reason; not criminally short, mind, but enough that I sort of sat back and had a moment of "I'm not sure I liked that."

I really liked the book, but the ending just feels jarring now, especially after some reflection. I would have loved to have a bit more in the way of a proper finale and a bit more denouement, instead of being slapped in the face with the ending and told "ta-da!"


the forest-dweller

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