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Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is summoned to France after receiving a distressing letter with an urgent cry for help. Upon his arrival in Merlinville-sur-Mer, the investigator finds the man who penned the letter, the South American millionaire Monsieur Renauld, stabbed to death and his body flung into a freshly-dug, open grave on the golf course adjoining the property. Meanwhile the millionaire’s wife is found bound and gagged in her room. Apparently, it seems that Renauld and his wife were victims of a failed break-in, resulting in Renauld’s kidnapping and death.
There’s no lack of suspects: his wife, whose dagger served as the weapon, his embittered son, who would have killed for independence, and his mistress who refused to be ignored. Each felt deserving of the dead man’s fortune. The police think they’ve found the culprit. But Poirot has his doubts. Why is the dead man wearing an overcoat that is too big for him? And who was the impassioned love-letter in the coat pocket for? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically-murdered corpse
253 pages, with a reading time of ~4.0 hours (63,453 words), and first published in 1923. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2021.
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It was five minutes past nine when I entered our joint sitting–room for breakfast on the following morning.
My friend Poirot, exact to the minute as usual, was just tapping the shell of his second egg.
He beamed upon me as I entered.
“You have slept well, yes? You have recovered from the crossing so terrible? It is a marvel, almost you are exact this morning. Pardon__, but your tie is not symmetrical. Permit that I rearrange him.”
Elsewhere, I have described Hercule Poirot. An extraordinary little man! Height, five feet four inches, egg–shaped head carried a little to one side, eyes that shone green when he was excited, stiff military moustache, air of dignity immense! He was neat and dandified in appearance. For neatness of any kind, he had an absolute passion. To see an ornament set crooked, or a speck of dust, or a slight disarray in one’s attire, was torture to the little man until he could ease his feelings by remedying the matter. “Order” and “Method” were his gods. He had a certain disdain for tangible evidence, such as footprints and cigarette ash, and would maintain that, taken by themselves, they would never enable a detective to solve a problem. Then he would tap his egg–shaped head with absurd complacency, and remark with great satisfaction: “The true work, it is done from within. The little grey cells—remember always the little grey cells, mon ami!__”
I slipped into my seat, and remarked idly, in answer to Poirot’s greeting, that an hour’s sea passage from Calais to Dover could hardly be dignified by the epithet “terrible.”
Poirot waved his egg–spoon in vigorous refutation of my remark.
“Du tout!__ If for an hour one experiences sensations and emotions of the most terrible, one has lived many hours! Does not one of your English poets say that time is counted, not by hours, but by heart–beats?”
“I fancy Browning was referring to something more romantic than sea sickness, though.”
“Because he was an Englishman, an Islander to whom la Manche__ was nothing. Oh, you English! With nous autres__ it is different. Figure to yourself that a lady of my acquaintance at the beginning of the war fled to Ostend. There she had a terrible crisis of the nerves. Impossible to escape further except by crossing the sea! And she had a horror—mais une horreur!—of the sea! What was she to do? Daily les Boches were drawing nearer. Imagine to yourself the terrible situation!”
“What did she do?” I inquired curiously.
“Fortunately her husband was homme pratique. He was also very calm, the crises of the nerves, they affected him not. Il l’a emportée simplement! Naturally when she reached England she was prostrate, but she still breathed.”
Poirot shook his head seriously. I composed my face as best I could.
Suddenly he stiffened and pointed a dramatic finger at the toast rack.
“Ah, par exemple, c’est trop fort!” he cried.
“What is it?”
“This piece of toast. You remark him not?” He whipped the offender out of the rack, and held it up for me to examine.
“Is it square? No. Is it a triangle? Again no. Is it even round? No. Is it of any shape remotely pleasing to the eye? What symmetry have we here? None.”
“It’s cut from a cottage loaf,” I explained soothingly.
Poirot threw me a withering glance.
“What an intelligence has my friend Hastings!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “Comprehend you not that I have forbidden such a loaf—a loaf haphazard and shapeless, that no baker should permit himself to bake!”
I endeavoured to distract his mind.
“Anything interesting come by the post?”
Poirot shook his head with a dissatisfied air.
“I have not yet examined my letters, but nothing of interest arrives nowadays. The great criminals, the criminals of method, they do not exist. The cases I have been employed upon lately were banal__ to the last degree. In verity I am reduced to recovering lost lap–dogs for fashionable ladies! The last problem that presented any interest was that intricate little affair of the Yardly diamond, and that was—how many months ago, my friend?”
He shook his head despondently, and I roared with laughter.
“Cheer up, Poirot, the luck will change. Open your letters. For all you know, there may be a great Case looming on the horizon.”
Poirot smiled, and taking up the neat little letter opener with which he opened his correspondence he slit the tops of the several envelopes that lay by his plate.
“A bill. Another bill. It is that I grow extravagant in my old age. Aha! a note from Japp.”
“Yes?” pricked up my ears. The Scotland Yard Inspector had more than once introduced us to an interesting case.
“He merely thanks me (in his fashion) for a little point in the Aberystwyth Case on which I was able to set him right. I am delighted to have been of service to him.”
“How does he thank you?” I asked curiously, for I knew my Japp.