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Mystery and History

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Sep 22, 2006 byWulf Forrester-Barker

Book Review

Rating: 4/5

Link to Amazon

A recent news item on the radio noted that a collection of items from Agatha Christie’s former home were being auctioned off to raise money towards renovating the house and opening it to the public. One of the interviewees lauded her as a writer of very readable mysteries, despite being “weak” in plotting, characterisation and description, and that is probably why I decided to pick up another Christie novel, Five Little Pigs on my latest trip to the library.

While Christie is not the most exciting, invigorating writer of mysteries, I think it was unfair to suggest she was weak in almost all the key areas of a good story. The genre as a whole comes with the expectation that the writer will lead you along, making you question, suspect and examine the case in question.

In Five Little Pigs, Christie accomplishes this admirably. The “five pigs”, drawn from a nursery rhyme are represented by five characters who were on the scene at a murder; sixteen years later, the daughter of the woman who was accused of the crime (and died in prison not long after) approaches the inestimable Hercule Poirot to see if he can support her firm belief in her mother’s innocence.

That is the mystery of the book, which Christie gradually unfolds. As was often her wont, she doesn’t follow a straightforward narrative track but creates a fitting structure to follow the plot; introduction, interviews with officials, first interviews and then written statements from each of the “pigs” and, finally, Poirot’s gathering of the five for the denouement.

The history comes from the views Christie gives of the time she was writing (1940’s). Unconsciously, it acts as a mirror on the contemporary values of her society. Some inclusions and omissions seem dated (no mobile phones and computers for her characters) but it is surprising to see how much remains the same, particularly the feeling that moral standards have slipped a lot in recent years (and this in a time before most of the present generation of “moralists” were born!).

History and mystery, and a highly recommended little book.


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