Friday, September 6, 2013

Elephants Can Remember: Review

This is one of Dame Agatha's weakest mysteries.  At least I think so now (I don't have a record of how I rated it the first time I read it).  And I say that because Christie is one of the few mystery writers who can fool me almost every time.  It doesn't matter how many times I've read her stories--there's usually a plot twist that get me.  Or I may have a vague feeling who did it....but I'm never sure.  Not this time.  I had it all figured out long before the ending on the cliff.  And it's been at least 30 years since I read this one--so we can't say it's stuck in my memory.  I also find it weak because everything is so vague--all the interviews with those involved in the mystery are just vague.  Each one remembers things a little bit differently and there seem to be no real facts.  Nothing one can really get hold of.'s the scoop: Hercule Poirot's friend Ariadne Oliver, a mystery writer, attends a literary luncheon.  It's the first she's ever attended because she always dreads the standard questions: "Where do you get your plot ideas from?"  "Are your characters base on real people?" and she doesn't know how to respond to the gushing "Oh, I just loved your last book!  How do you do it?"  But she is pleasantly surprised at how much she enjoys herself....until a Mrs. Burton-Cox corners her and insists that Ariadne (who must know all about murders and whatnot since she writes about) find out whether her (Ariadne's) god-daughter's mother shot her father--and then herself--or if her father shot her mother--and then himself.  It's ultra-important, you know, because Mrs. Burton-Cox's son Desmond is thinking about marrying the god-daughter, Celia Ravenscroft, and we want to know what's what with these murderous tendencies.  And if Mrs. Oliver doesn't know the answer, then she should ask the god-daughter.

Which Ariadne says she absolutely will not do. And she won't try to figure anything out. No way, no how.  But then she has a good think about it and decides to visit Poirot and tell him all about it.  Needless to say, she ignores his advice to leave it all alone, and soon she and Poirot are digging up all sorts of ancient history (well...13 years ago, anyway).  She goes off to find the "elephants" who will remember--because there are always people who remember things.  And Poirot makes contact with the officials who were involved at the time.  Everyone they talk to seems to believe that it was a sort of suicide pact.  But the more they investigate the more hints the find that there may be more to it.  There are stories of children who died or were hurt, identical twins, madness or illness in the family, and a dog whose attitude changed.  It all leads Poirot to one conclusion--and he reveals all on the very cliff where Celia's parents were found.

I generally like the stories with Mrs. Oliver--but this one, at least this time, has not impressed me as much as, say, Hallowe'en Party or Dead Man's Folly. It seemed obvious and not nearly as mystifying as Dame Agatha's usual efforts.  Two stars.


It is easier to hate where you have loved than it is to be indifferent where you have loved. ~Poirot (p. 178) 

9/7/13 Update!: Just watched the David Suchet production of this story--and I have to say that it is an improvement on the story.  A whole (connected) subplot has been added that fills out the story in a very nice way.  David Suchet and Zoe Wannamaker are excellent as Poirot and Mrs. Oliver.  It is nice that they were able to take a sub-par book and make it into a pleasurable viewing experience.


Gypsi said...

I didn't mind this one so much, but I just finished Posterns of Fate (her final novel) and I found it so disappointing! I guess I just have a set expectation for her mysteries and I don't like to give her any leeway!

Debbie Rodgers said...

I read this decades ago and can't remember much except a vague sense of disappointment (vague now - not necessarily then). But it can't be as bad as Postern of Fate!

I think Christie just lost her edge near the end of her career. But I'll forgive her: she gave me so much enjoyment for so many years.

Ryan said...

I can't remember if I've ever read this one or not. I want to say I did as a kid, but I don't remember anything about it.