#1054: Murder in the Mews, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Mirror [ss] (1937) by Agatha Christie – ‘Triangle at Rhodes’, a.k.a. ‘Before It’s Too Late’ (1936)

So, can you have four people in an eternal triangle? Asking for a friend.

It turns out — and I really should have noticed before I started reading — that ‘Triangle at Rhodes’, a.k.a. ‘Before It’s Too Late’ (1936), the fourth and final case in the Murder in the Mews (1937) collection, is significantly shorter than the three previous stories. And yet the scope doesn’t fell especially smaller, almost as if this is the first time in this collection that a story is being told at the right speed.

Again we have a commentary on the different generations, this time evinced not just in their attitudes to divorce and relationships…

[Valentine Chantry] had had five husbands and innumerable lovers. She had in turn been the wife of an Italian count, of an American steel magnate, of a tennis professional, of a racing motorist. Of these four the American had died, but the others had been shed negligently in the divorce court.

…but also in the attitudes one takes while on holiday:

[Hercule Poirot] belonged to the old-fashioned generation which believed in covering itself carefully from the sun. Miss Pamela Lyall, who sat beside him and talked ceaselessly, represented the modern school of thought in that she was wearing the barest minimum of clothing on her sun-browned person.

And yet, as is typical with Christie, you get no sense of judgement of the younger generations for being so free, in the same way that she does not castigate the older generation for being so very stuck in their ways. The pure joy of Christie’s writing about these concerns is simply the pleasure she takes in observation of human behaviour, in the same way that she’s not criticising Pamela Lyall when she says that…

Unlike most English people, she was capable of speaking to strangers on sight instead of allowing four days to a week to elapse before making the first cautious advance as is the customary British habit.

Indeed, Christie really does seem to be having fun with her characters here, being as playfully unsparing of her as she is with everyone else:

[T]hough Hercule Poirot was a conceited little man where his profession was concerned, he was quite modest in his estimate of his personal attractions.

That’ll show him.

The plot, and that four-sided triangle, concerns the alluring Valentine Chantry, her fifth husband — Navy man Tony Chantry — and holidaying (very much not honeymooning: “[H]er clothes aren’t new enough. You can always tell brides!”) couple Douglas and Marjorie Gold. For Douglas Gold is going to become rather smitten with Valentine Chantry, a turn of affairs that Mrs. Chantry will do nothing to discourage, much to the displeasure of Douglas’ wife and Valentine’s husband, and before the fortnight is up one of these people is going to be murdered.

I remembered this story vaguely — in my mind, if not in reality, it was a shorter version of Evil Under the Sun (1941), one of my very favourite Poirot novels — and my convictions became stronger, if a little confused, when Poirot warns Mrs. Gold that she should leave the island “before it is too late” (supplying the root out of which that thoroughly awful variant title grew). If you don’t know what’s coming it’s a clever piece of “Oh, wow, so that’s what was happening there” when you reread it (we really need a catchier name for this), and the murder when it comes is sudden, unexpected, and rather striking in the way it rips apart a pleasing little scene of friendly socialising.

Alas, what this lacks is any sense of the real plot behind the murder, since the foreground misdirection is so very well built up that there’s not really room to offer evidence of what Poirot claims to have been at the heart of it all. We must be content with a penultimate page declaration of Poirot’s rightness (“My name is well-known. The moment the police heard my story they realized that it put an entirely different complexion on the matter.”) — and, yes, I know there’s one clever piece of allowing the reader to make assumptions which is accounted for, but for completeness I’m sure Christie could have added 500 words to this just to really tie the knot a little more satisfyingly tight (man, it’s difficult to review individual stories — the fewer events leaving less to talk about and so even more circumspection required when talking about them to avoid spoilers; bring back the Spoiler Warnings, I say!).

Still, I did enjoy the sense of a world decidedly less connected than it is today, mainly because I find myself somewhat wistful for an age where every single event wasn’t beamed around the globe in a matter of minutes (“Can’t say the Continental Daily Mail four days old is much use to me. Of course I get The Times sent to me and Punch every week, but they’re a devilish long time in coming…” — god, it sounds like bliss). The sense of such holidays being something of a novelty very much came through to me here, though I have to admit that I can’t attribute this to any particular thing in the text; it might simply be because I associate that realisation with Christie becasue I was so thoroughly blown away by the description of air travel in Destination Unknown (1954) and that’s still seventeen years away.

Anyhow, while the seasoned reader — especially of Christie — won’t be fooled by this, rereading it now very much reminded me of my first encounter and the lovely moment of surprise that hit me when I realised that All Was Not What it Seemed. It’s a sensation that got me intrigued enough to explore the genre further, and all these years later here I am still up to my neck in fascination with this most surprising of genres. So while this might not stand up to repeated visits from a plotting perspective, the nostalgia it incited was very much appreciated.


Stories in Murder in the Mews, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Mirror [ss] (1937) by Agatha Christie

  1. ‘Murder in the Mews’ (1936)
  2. ‘The Incredible Theft’ (1937)
  3. ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’, a.k.a. ‘Hercule Poirot and the Broken Mirror’ (1937)
  4. ‘Triangle at Rhodes’, a.k.a. ‘Before It’s Too Late’ (1936)

One thought on “#1054: Murder in the Mews, a.k.a. Dead Man’s Mirror [ss] (1937) by Agatha Christie – ‘Triangle at Rhodes’, a.k.a. ‘Before It’s Too Late’ (1936)

  1. Three things: first, I had never heard the alternate title before, so . . . yecch and thanks.

    Second, I totally get your nostalgia for a world where we’re not all electronically connected. It felt . . . easier to concentrate. And I can’t help thinking wistfully of the excitement of waiting at the dock each month as your latest blog post came sailing in on a transatlantic cruise ship. (Oh . . . have I gone back too far?)

    Finally, if you EVER again tease about bringing back Spoiler Warnings when I’m naked and vulnerable and haven’t had my coffee, I will be reduced to a sobbing puddle and you will NEVER hear the end of it.


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