Five Little Pigs aka Murder in Retrospect by Agatha Christie

Five Little PigsSomeone must have bought Hercule Poirot a book of nursery rhymes that he read too much. When Carla Crale comes to him to ask him to find the truth about her father’s murder – he was poisoned and her mother was sentenced to life imprisonment  for the crime – he decides that the five potential alternate suspects represent the pigs in the rhyme “This Little Piggy…” – which they don’t, really. Seriously, what was Poirot thinking, apart from, “Hey, maybe it might help Dame Agatha come up with a title for a book…”

Amyas Crale, a painter, was poisoned, apparently by his wife Caroline. But her daughter believes that her mother was telling her the truth when she denied her guilt in her final letter, and hires Poirot to find the truth. But sixteen years have passed since the crime took place, fifteen since Caroline died in jail, so all Poirot has at his disposal is the five witnesses – two friends of Crale, the young model he was having an affair with, his young sister-in-law and her governess. With so much time having passed, is it possible that the truth can be discovered?

It’s often said that Christie didn’t like Poirot – often said by her, in fact. But from 1935 to 1942, she wrote eighteen novels, thirteen of which featured the little Belgian – nine in a row, in fact. Anyway, this was the last of the thirteen, before she took a four year break until The Hollow – not my favourite of her books. There’s no sign of any animosity here though, as he gets a good run out in this cracking little mystery.

This is very much played as a mystery based on personalities and psychologies, but it isn’t really. On paper, it sounds rather dull – Poirot interviews all five suspects, reads their accounts of the day of the murder and then solves the crime. It’s not, though. Well, mostly not. As we got the fifth suspect, to be honest, I could have done with the plot moving on a bit.

The mystery itself is, of course, fairly clued and, if you can sift through all the evidence, then it’s all quite solvable.

You can tell there’s a “but…” coming, can’t you?

But… the murderer is pretty obvious – at least three of the suspects have motives that vary from “weak” to “non-existent”. As with Sad Cypress, the reason for Caroline’s silence is dubious. And there’s a massive plot-hole.

This might verge pretty close to a spoiler… apologies, so stop reading if you haven’t read the book.

Still here? Right. Why exactly does Caroline take the poison from Meredith Blake’s cabinet? It’s not to kill Amyas or Elsa, or to commit suicide. I’ve re-read the last section three times and it’s never explained, and I can’t think of a reason that makes sense either. Very annoying.

It has been described by some as one of her best – I can’t agree with that, but it’s worth a look to see her try something different with Poirot. It’s probably her best attempt at the “murder in the past” storyline, certainly the best using Poirot – I prefer Sleeping Murder and need to look at Nemesis again – but the plot-hole really bugs me. If I’ve missed something obvious, do let me know.

So, recommended, but there are a number of better Poirot novels out there. There’s also my Agatha Christie page, with a number of Poirot links on it.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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13 Responses to Five Little Pigs aka Murder in Retrospect by Agatha Christie

  1. John says:

    I happen to be in the camp that says this is one of her best. From a narrative structure standpoint it is a marvel. They way Christie incorporates so many viewpoints and how she plants the clues especially in the manuscripts submitted to Poirot are truly admirable qualities. As for that logical loophole — the simplest explanation is that people often do inexplicable things in real life. And I think fictional characters should be allowed freer rein to behave illogically and inexplicably.

    • Hmm… you’ve not convinced me about the plot-hole.

      But you’re right, there’s much to admire about this one, it just didn’t quite click with me. If there was more reason to suspect anyone apart from the murderer, it would help. The clue-planting, however, is a work of art.

  2. TracyK says:

    I am reading through the Agatha Christie books, slowly, and haven’t gotten to this one, so I skimmed some of this. But seems like an interesting discussion of the book, and I look forward to seeing how I like it.

    After having read a lot of Christie in my younger years, the ones I am reading now are like new to me. I have only read three Poirot’s, and he still isn’t my favorite investigator, but the stories have been good regardless.

    • Poirot’s on good form here. Confident in his own abilities, he plays the five suspects well in order to get them to spill the beans.

      Probably in the top half of the Poirot books…

  3. Sarah says:

    I totally agree. It’s not a bad book but not one of her best. It seems a little derivative and I wonder if there was a true life case that Christie based the story on. Thanks for the review!

  4. Pingback: The Puzzly – the ISOTCMN Book of the Month – April 2013 | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  5. I found this to be a very good mystery. In fact, I stayed up to two in the morning last night to finish Five Little Pigs. I was able to figure out the false solution to the mystery (Caroline’s actions after the crime don’t make sense otherwise) but was fooled by the real solution. I thought that the real killer didn’t have a motive for the crime, but I overlooked a clever bit of wordplay which Poirot seizes upon to solve the crime. (I think the same wordplay is in a Miss Marple mystery, but I’m not sure.)

    As for your plot hole, I think the answer is simple. Caroline steals the poison intending to kill herself, but changes her mind. The reason why she changes her mind also gives the killer their motive.

    I’m interested in what you think of Lord Edgeware Dies, but I would recommend checking it out of your library rather than purchasing it. You may think the killer in Three Little Pigs is obvious, but the killer in Lord Edgeware Dies is INCREDIBLY obvious.

    • I’ve read Lord Edgware Dies – one of the first ones I read nearly thirty years ago. Absolutely loved it, but yes, the killer was obvious even then.

      For the record, I’ve read almost all of the Poirot novels – the exceptions are, I think, Blue Train and Big Four – partly because everyone says they’re rubbish. But I’ll get round to them eventually…

  6. Kate says:

    I am still confused about the ending of the, “FIve Little Pigs,” by Agatha Christie. If you have not read the book, STOP LOOKING AT THIS COMMENT!! It will spoil the book for you.
    Those of you who have read the book, will you please answer my one question of, “Who actually committed the crime?” To me, it did not state it clearly in the book. So, if you have read the book, please answer this question.

    • I think that it is stated clearly right at the end of Chapter Four – the very last paragraph in fact. I won’t indicate who it was for casual blog readers, but Poirot makes it clear here. And it’s confirmed in Chapter 5…

  7. I’ve just finished this book and was completely baffled by the same plot hole – just spent the last hour trying to find something on the net to help me out and found your comments! So thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one – I don’t feel quite so stupid for feeling like the whole story was ruined. I’ve just started reading Christie in my forties and really enjoying it so far. “And then there were none” is fantastic. Also the audio book of “Orient Express” read by David Suchet is brilliant – how anyone can produce so many different character voices and have multiple conversations like that – deeply impressive stuff.
    BTW ……..SPOILER………Kate – it was ……..……
    ….
    …..
    ……
    [REDACTED] – see my reply to Kate’s post above – Puzzle Doctor

  8. Still haven’t got round to Orient Express, as it’s too gimmicky for me. I much prefer Poirot in his more standard mysteries – Mrs McGinty’s Dead is a particular favourite.

    And I’ve lopped the spoiler off your comment, btw, but Kate should be able to work it out from what I’ve told her

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