Hercule Poirot investigates the death of a husband in Africa and the murder of his alleged friend in England. One day at the Coronation Club in London Hercule Poirot overheard Major Porter tell members about the death of a friend in Africa and his widow's remarriage in New York. Porter added that the young woman was recently widowed again when her husband Gordon Cloade and and three servants died in a bomb explosion in London. The widow Rosaleen Cloade and her brother David Hunter were now living in Warmsley Vale.
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Soon after Poirot was visited by Katherine Cloade who was married to Rosaleen's brother-in-law, Lionel. Lionel was a general practitioner who also lived in Warmsley Vale as did his brother Jeremy, sister Adela Marchmont and cousins Lynn Marchmont and Rowley Cloade. The Cloades were anxious and upset about the consequences of Gordon's death. Prior to his marriage he had a will in which he left his considerable estate to his family. Throughout their lives he had given them financial supplements that made them comfortable. Since he had not made a new will before he died, his estate automatically went to his widow. Family members were now experiencing stress since they depended on the supplements.
Katherine asked Poirot to look into the death of Rosaleen's first husband, Robert Underhay. He allegedly died of a fever and was buried in Africa. Rosaleen met Robert in South Africa and remained behind when Robert headed north to work in more rural parts of Africa. She then left for the America's and married Gordon after a brief courtship. There was a significant age difference since she was twenty-five.
Katherine returned home to host a dinner party for her niece Lynn Marchmont. Lynn had returned home after being demobbed from the Wrens. She found her mother Adela preoccupied about family finances. Adela lived on a fixed income but could not pay her bills. She had to pay higher taxes and faced higher costs after the war. Lynn herself was adjusting to small town life. She had been stationed in Europe and the Middle East while her fiance Rowley Cloade had stayed home to work on his farm. Lynn looked forward to seeing him and meeting the new family members at the dinner.
As expected Rosaleen and brother David encountered veiled hostility at the dinner. Lynn was fascinated by David who was a Commando in the war. He appeared dashing and attracted to risks unlike Rowley, a more conservative man. Rowley later remarked on Lynn's talk with David when they discussed their future and agreed to marry later in the year.
In the days after the dinner Adela asked Rosaleen for a gift of L 500 to fend off creditors. Katherine also received L 250 to pay her mediums and possibly Lionel's morphine suppliers. When Frances asked for a loan of L 10000, she met resistance. David, who had been critical of his sister's generosity, was present this time. Frances sought the money for her husband Jeremy, whose law firm was at risk because of misuse of clients' funds. Frances' anger suggested there would be consequences to the refusal.
A mysterious stranger soon checked into the local Stag Inn. He had asked Rowley for directions and then sent David a letter requesting a meeting. When David went to the inn, the stranger, who gave his name as Enoch Arden, told him that he knew that Robert Underhay was still alive. Arden sought money in exchange for his silence. David reluctantly agreed to pay him later in the week. David wondered if Arden was actually Underhay. When he returned home, he sent his sister to London so she would not encounter Arden. Miss Beatrice Lippincott, the inn manager, overheard the discussion and reported it to Rowley.
Three days later having found the money David was heading to the Inn when he met Lynn in a passionate follow-up to their dinner talk. As a result Lynn became more ambivalent about her engagement. David went to the Inn where he found Arden bludgeoned to death in his room. He then missed the last evening train to London, arranged a call to Lynn which served as an alibi, took an early morning train and went to their apartment. Lionel happened to be dressing an injury Beatrice had received at work when a maid told Beatrice about the corpse. Lionel examined the body and Beatrice called the police.
Superintendent Spence headed the investigation. He arranged for the body to be removed and interviewed suspects who included family members. Rowley went to London to ask Poirot to look into Arden's allegations about Underhay. Rowley did not know and Poirot did not tell him about Katherine's similar request. Poirot suggested Rowley return later in the day. He arranged for them to meet with Major Porter who agreed to identify the body. At the inquest Rosaleen denied that Arden was her late husband whereas Porter was positive that Arden was Underhay.
Poirot had gone to Warmsley Vale before the inquest. After checking into the Stag Inn, met with Spence and the Cloade famly. The Cloades were hesitantly relieved. Meanwhile Rosaleen was becoming more and more anxious and guilty about her present situation. Her brother promised to support her and limited her contacts with others. Poirot had met her in the local Catholic church where they spoke about her feelings.
He also saw Lynn who discussed her feelings about Rowley and David. After Poirot commented on her character, they went off to see Rosaleen only to find that she had died in her sleep from a drug overdose. Rosaleen had been taking mild sleeping pills prescribed by Lionel.
Prior to her death Poirot had gone to London to see if Gordon had made a new will. He discovered no will but did find the body of Major Porter who shot himself. He did not apparently leave a note. His suicide was the result of feeling guilty about his false identification. He was reluctant to testify at any trial. On his return to Warmsley Vale Poirot had to deal with three deaths. He had learned that people at the inn had seen a woman leaving Arden's room the night of his death. She was dressed in Rosaleen's style and favorite colors. A cigarette lighter and lipstick were found in the room. Meanwhile David remained the prime suspect in the death of Enoch Arden. He established his alibi and blamed the Cloades for his sister's death. Poirot confronted Frances with his conclusion that Arden was Charles Trenton, a cousin Frances enlisted to threaten David. He also dismissed Lionel as a suspect in Rosaleen's death despite the fact that morphine was substituted for the bromide sleeping pills.
Poirot had determined that he was dealing with an accident, murder and suicide. Before he could report his results he rescued Lynn from Rowley who tried to strangle her. She had gone to his farm to tell him that she was leaving him for David. Poirot appeared just in time. He then
discussed his findings with Lynn, Rowley and David who also appeared at the farm.
Trenton's death was an accident. Rowley had gone into his room to discuss Trenton's plan. They got into an argument, Trenton fell and his his head on a fireplace brick when Rowley hit him. Rowley then struck him with fireplace tongs to cover up the accident. David entered the room disguised as a woman who resembled his sister whom he was trying to set up as the murderer. Poirot realized that Rosaleen was actually a maid who survived the explosion where the true Rosaleen had died. David persuaded the maid into enter into a conspiracy to defraud the Cloades. David decided to flee when his partner became more reluctant to continue. He had to eliminate her before he left. He substituted morphine he took from Lionel's office for her bromides and waited. Rowley had bribed Major Porter who was in need of funds. Porter killed himself before he received the money.
David fled the meeting but was picked up by the police. Lynn reconsidered marrying Rowley. When she later told him, he hesitated. He wondered how she could marry him after he tried to kill her. Rowley was feeling guilty about his role in the deaths. Lynn reassured him that they would get through it. She pointed out she liked risks.
Best part of story, including ending:
Liked the pace of the story and the integration of the characters and their dialogue into the body of the story.
Best scene in story:
Favorite scene was the dinner party at the beginning of the story. It pointed out future conflicts and alliances in an amused tone.
Opinion about the main character:
Poirot can be irritating in his meticulous habits but was less so here. He was more empathic with the suspects and active in his role.
The Cloade family has always financially depended upon Gordon Cloade, the sole member of the family who was really wealthy. His brother Lionel, a doctor, counted on him to finance his scientific experiments, Gordon sent money to their sister every three months or so and Rowley, the future husband of Lynn, Gordon's niece, knew that Gordon would help him extend his farm after the war. So, when Gordon Cloade, after a transatlantic cruise, comes back to London and tells them that he's just married Rosaleen, the 25 years old widow of Robert Underhay, it's a shock for the Cloade family. And when Gordon dies, two days later during an air raid, without having had the time to modify his will, it's truly a tragedy.
Rosaleen is Gordon's sole heir and, with her no good brother, David Hunter, moves in Gordon's lustful estates. The Cloades, used to be supported by Gordon, try to draw off money from Rosaleen but soon David convinces his sister to stop wasting time and money for them. A few days later, David Hunter is contacted by a man who tells him that Robert Underhay could very well be still alive, somewhere in Africa. David accepts to pay the blackmailer but must leave town at once when the man is found dead in his hotel room. Lynn's fiancÚ, Rowley, decides then to ask the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to come to Warmsley Vale and try to prove that the blackmailer was Robert Underhay himself. Poirot quickly finds an old friend of Underhay, the Colonel Porter, who identifies his friend. The following day, the Colonel Porter commits suicide (or not), and the police is forced to release David Hunter who has an alibi. When Rosaleen also dies, poisoned, Hercule Poirot will start his own investigation. First published in 1948.
The review of this Book prepared by Daniel Staebler