Saturday, September 26, 2020

Book Review - The Murder on the Links

I've taken a very random approach to my reading of the Hercule Poirot stories so it felt very interesting to read Murder on the Links (the second in his series?) after having read some of the later ones.  It was fun to see ways in which Poirot's character and stories evolved over time.  The most notable feeling I had was that Christie was still working out the nature of the relationship between Poirot and Hastings. Their interactions in this novel felt closer to a Holmes/Watson pairing than in later books.  At the same time, I appreciate the points in which Hastings took a more central role in the plot (even if he did make a mess of it *spoilers*).

As you might expect, the writing is fantastic and the plot is tight.  From the initial few chapters you are knocked off balance while thrown into the thick of things.  Poirot receives a mysterious letter from a man worried for his life.  

The day Poirot arrives, the police are there investigating his murder. The French inspector, Giraud, is resentful of Poirot's help and treats him with antagonism and condescension, claiming that Poirot's methods are outdated and useless and that he should leave the job to the professionals and their modern training and methods.  

Fortunately, some of the other members of the French law enforcement group are a bit more open to Poirot's involvement but it is still a bit of an uphill battle.  The interplay between Poirot and Giraud make for humorous and delightful commentary not only on law enforcement but the way professionals in an occupation often view themselves and their competition.  I especially liked that Hastings was so impressed with Giraud that he tried to praise him and defend him to Poirot.  Naturally Poirot would not change his opinion and instead he set out to show that his methods, and his little grey cells, would prevail.

In addition to the core mystery, I found it interesting that Christie creates a smaller mystery as a thread to wind throughout the story.  Hastings has met a young woman on a train and become infatuated.  Even though Poirot chides Hastings for his senseless emotional behavior, there is something mysterious about this girl and so her mystery continues to appear throughout the book.  Rather than feeling distracting and disjointed, the working of this second mystery felt like a natural pairing and it was fun to see the two problems proceed to their natural conclusions and watch the interplay of the characters and their involvement in each.

This book does fall into the trap of having a solution that relies on specialized knowledge that the reader doesn't have.  In fact, this knowledge is so specific that Poirot has to leave the investigation completely to go and do research elsewhere and return with the answer.  There is some dissatisfaction in a mystery that can't be solved by the reader picking up on early clues dropped by the author.  Fortunately, there are enough other clues that the reader is able to make deductions in logical directions even without the specific bit of knowledge that's withheld from everyone until Poirot reveals it.

Probably the biggest disconnect for me was the title.  While it's true that the murder victim was found on a golf course, there was no other connection or interaction that tied the story to the golf course.  I suppose the title could have been a type of red herring to leave readers expecting some sort of intrigue with the golf course owners or groundskeepers or something (if you're anticipating that, I apologize for spoiling the lack of connection).  It's an adequate title, just a little misleading.  And as my biggest disconnect, that should let you know that this is a solid novel.

I personally found this to be a fun read and an engaging mystery.  There were enough questions to keep me second-guessing my assumptions up until the final revelations.  I really enjoyed the interplay between the characters, particularly those of Hastings and Poirot.  This is classic murder mystery done very well and well worth reading.

4 out of 5 stars

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