Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

Cards on the Table was first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1936 and is one of my all time favourite Agatha Christie mysteries. It was one of the favourite cases of Hercule Poirot while Capt. Hastings found it very dull (but I never did have much faith in Hastings judgment!).

Curiously, the plot of this book had been described by Poirot in The A.B.C. Murders as his idea of the perfect case.

Poirot gets invited to have dinner at the house of the rich and rather disquieting Mr. Shaitana. Mr. Shaitana is a collector of various curiosities. At the dinner Poirot meets Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver and also Mr. Shaitana’s collection of  ‘successful’ murderers. Before the evening is concluded the host ends up getting murdered and Poirot (with a little help from his friends) tries to figure out which one of Shaitana’s collectibles turned lethal.

Cards on the Table can be called a locked room mystery. It has what I most enjoy about Christie mysteries, the psychological angle.

What I like most about this book is the setting of the murder and the impossibility of that setting. How could someone commit such a crime and get away with it (even if for a short period of time)? Then there are the twists. Even if I could spot them from some time before (but that is because I’ve read too many Christie books), they are still good.

This book is unique in a sense that never in any of the Poirot books that I’ve read have I come across so many recurring characters. This book has the characters of Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle and Ariadne Oliver coming all together with Poirot for the first and the last time.

This book also marks the first appearance (in a Poirot mystery) of one of my favourite Christie regulars, Mrs. Ariadne Oliver. She had formerly appeared in the book Parker Pyne Investigates in a short story titled The Case of The Discontented Soldier. Mrs. Oliver would go on to assist Poirot on several more of his cases. This in my opinion is one of the best books to feature the formidable Mrs. Oliver and the incomparable Poirot together.

Among the characters I like Rhoda Dawes. She is vivacious and full of life unlike her pretty but lifeless friend Anne Meredith. Mrs. Lorrimer is kind of frightening with her grim and practical manner. The character of Major Despard is a bit wooden.

Even though I don’t understand bridge (or any other card game for that matter), the way Poirot uses the bridge game scores to analyze the characters of the suspects is marvellous. And Christie has done a wonderful job of explaining the significance of the bridge scores that even a clueless person like me had no trouble comprehending it.

This may be a book with a card game at its centre but one doesn’t have to be a card enthusiast to love this yarn. Anyone who loves a gripping mystery can play in this game of cards.

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