It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mystery fan, having just read a satisfying Christie whodunit, must be in want of another.
And after finishing Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, I was rarin’ to tackle one more. As the next episode of the Poirot series was a dramatization of the 1955 novel Hickory Dickory Dock, I decided to go for that one. I do remember reading it in my long distant youth, but the plot and characters had long since been purged from my mind so it was like I was reading it for the first time.
The case is brought to Poirot by his secretary, Miss Lemon, who had only ever appeared in a few short stories up to this time. It seems Miss Lemon’s sister, a Mrs Hubbarb, who does not live in a shoe but in a hostel for college students, is worried because of a series of odd things that have been occurring in the hostel. Small things disappearing, rucksacks being cut up. Poirot is intrigued and agrees to an interview. The hostel is located on Hickory Road, and that’s about the only connection to the children’s nursery rhyme that serves as the title of the book.
Well, Poirot solves the mystery of some of the disappearing objects in short order, but he realizes that more is going on and he’s right as shortly there’s a murder to be solved.
This is a change of pace in several ways for Christie as it doesn’t take place in a country house and the suspects are students of all sorts of ethnic and national backgrounds. I think Christie, who was in her 60s when she wrote the book, does a pretty good job of handling the different students and brings a bit more humor into the book than is usual for her.
That said, the mystery is one of her less satisfying ones. And her critics are divided. For example, Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited, wrote that it “began well,” but deteriorated “a third of the way through into twaddle.” Robert Barnard adds, “A judgment which, unusually for him, erred on the side of charity.”
Meanwhile, Charles Osborne hedges his bets: “… it must be admitted that Hickory Dickory Dock is both interesting and entertaining, though the solving of the case involving three murders can hardly be counted as one of Hercule Poirot’s greatest triumphs.”
Well, what about the dramatization? Sometimes the less successful books can make for better dramas. With a script by Anthony Horowitz, one of my favorite writers, it looked promising, and hey, there’s a very young Damian Lewis in the cast. But it was set back in pre-war England so the different ethnicities were jettisoned (Boo, Tony! But maybe that was a producer’s decision), and why is the camera constantly cutting to that silly little mouse scampering hither and yon? I gave up on it after about half an hour.
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