The past comes to haunt a wealthy gentleman in Agatha Christie’s novel the Murder on the Links. In the story Poirot faces a surprising adversary and an old murder mystery is used as the key to solving a new crime.
Murder on the Links, published in 1923, is Agatha Christie‘s second novel where we get to follow the charming detective Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells.
The story begins with a letter Poirot receives, which takes him and Captain Hastings to the north coast of France to help a wealthy business man who is afraid for his life. Only they arrive too late; a murder has already been committed.
Monsieur Paul Renauld died in mysterious circumstances. His wife was found tied up and managed to explain that masked men kidnapped her husband. Later his body was found on the nearby golf course with a dagger in the back.
The couple’s son Jack returns home to horrible news – but has he really been away? There are many suspects: observant servants, a grumpy gardener, the loyal secretary Gabriel Stonor and a girl called Bella who keeps sending love letters. Then there is the secretive neighbour Madame Daubreuil and her beautiful daughter Marthe, the girl with “the anxious eyes”.
Something in the tragedy awakens a memory within Poirot as he struggles to remember a previous crime which might link to Renauld’s death. In the end, it is with the help of an old mystery that the truth is revealed.
Surprisingly Poirot is not alone with the police in solving the crime. He has a competitor! A detective Giraud from Paris is confident he will find the guilty party before Poirot. This cocky gentleman has very different investigative methods and he challenges Poirot in a new way.
‘I know you by name, Monsieur Poirot’, he said. ‘You cut quite a figure in the old days, didn’t you? But methods are very different now.’
‘Crimes, though, are very much the same’, remarked Poirot gently.
I saw at once that Giraud was prepared to be hostile. He resented the other being associated with him, and I felt that if he came across any clue of importance he would be more than likely to keep it to himself.’
– Agatha Christie, the Murder On the Links, page 48
In the novel Poirot faces many adversaries, not only Giraud and the murderer but also, most shockingly, our beloved Hastings! There is a significant, albeit flimsy, love story where Hastings meets a mysterious young women called Cinderella and falls madly in love. This creates obstacles no one even thought possible, but changes the course of the captain’s life.
Murder on the Links is one of only three books that have Captain Hastings as the narrator, which makes it rather special. At the time of publication, Poirot was still a new character; he had been in existence for only three years. It is therefore curious to see Poirot through his companion’s eyes. He comes off as charming and warm, but much of him is still hidden from this rather foolish friend. There are not many insights that Christie hasn’t already established just by describing Poirot’s extraordinary behaviour.
“He was neat and dandified in appearance. For neatness of any kind he had an absolute passion. To see an ornament set crookedly, 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’ or ‘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.”
– Agatha Christie, the Murder On the Links, page, 10
The most entertaining aspect of the book is Poirot’s battle of wits and wills with Giraud. Where the latter tries to solve the crime with evidence, Poirot focuses on the human mind. In this story Christie almost over-emphasises Poirot’s use of psychology to find the murderer.
Murder on the Links is not the only time the author uses events of the past to solve a new case, but here the plot leaves a little to be desired. The complex solution is not as water tight as one would hope and the whole explanation seems a bit lacklustre. Many parts of the crime, red herrings and plot points rely heavily on happenstance. Still, it is a revelation that does not seem obvious to the reader.
Verdict: 3 out of 5