After aging detective Hercule Poirot receives a bizarre visit from a young woman who "may have" killed someone, he unravels an intimate family drama of fraud, deception, and murder. When the aging detective Hercule Poirot is interrupted at breakfast by a young woman claiming that she may have killed someone, he feels compelled to investigate- and in the search of her crime, discovers a far more sinister family plot that he must unravel.
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The novel opens with Hercule Poirot savoring his morning cup of hot chocolate at home. He is interrupted by the abrupt intrusion of a young woman of about twenty. Poirot, who is elderly and has old-fashioned sensibilities, finds her to be a drug-addled, neurotic and slovenly representative of her generation. She tells him, in an extremely scattered manner, that she “may have” committed a murder- and refuses to tell him more, saying that he is “too old”. She leaves as abruptly as she arrived.
Hercule Poirot relates the incident to his friend, the mystery writer Ariadne Oliver. She tells him that she met the young girl in question at a party, and told her about Poirot. Her name is Norma Restarick, and she lives in a flat in London with two other girls, the efficient blonde secretary Claudia and the artsy brunette, Frances. Ariadne and Poirot use various pretexts to visit her apartment and her family mansion in the country. They learn that her father has recently returned from Africa to take over the family business, that he brought a young blonde wife with him named Mary, and that Norma seems to dislike and resent them both, particularly her stepmother. It is suspected that Norma had attempted to poison Mary, as she has recently been ill. Andrew Restarick, Norma's father, seems unused to the life of a businessman, and has hung an old painting of himself by a fashionable portrait-painter of twenty years ago in his office. Norma has a flashy, artistic, and charming boyfriend named David whom her family and Poirot seem to distrust. Everyone who knows Norma says that she seems highly neurotic, “not all there”, and possibly addicted to drugs.
The investigation stalls until Ariadne happens upon Norma and David having brunch at a cafe. She calls Poirot and tells him to come quickly, disguises herself, and follows David as he leaves. Meanwhile, Poirot arrives at the cafe and attempts to get answers out of Norma, but she evades his questions and leaves. Ariadne is discovered by David, who brings her to his artist's loft where Frances and another young man are painting. Ariadne is disarmed by their geniality and leaves, only to be coshed by an unknown person.
Norma, meanwhile wakes up in the office of a young doctor, Dr. Stillingfleet. He tells her that he rescued her after she jumped in front of traffic, which she reveals to be a suicide attempt. Norma tells him that her father abandoned her family when she was five years old to go to Africa with another woman named Louise, he has only returned recently and she feels alienated from him, that she has long gaps in her memory, dreamlike hallucinations, and a hatred of her stepmother. He sends her to a treatment facility.
We then find out that Stillingfleet was working with Poirot, in order to keep tabs on Norma and ensure her safety. Ariadne learns that a woman named Louise in Norma's apartment building fell to her death from her floor, in what was assumed to be a suicide. Poirot feels sure this Louise is Andrew's former mistress, and that this is the death Norma was referring to in the beginning.
Norma finds a personal ad in the newspaper from David and leaves the treatment facility for her . Frances finds David's dead body at their apartment and screams. The police are summoned, and Norma is discovered at the scene with a knife in her hands. She states that she has killed him.
Poirot, Ariadne, Frances, Andrew Restarick, and Dr. Stillingfleet all gather at the apartment, while Norma is kept under police supervision. Poirot pulls a blonde wig from a folder and throws it upon Frances' head, revealing that she is also Mary Restarick, Norma's stepmother. Poirot explains that Andrew Restarick died in Africa, and the person now passing as Andrew Restarick is an imposter named Robert Orwell, and Frances is his accomplice. Orwell and Frances moved to England to steal Andrew's business and wealth. They hired David to paint the painting of “Andrew” as a young man in order to give him more credibility. They had also been drugging Norma with a combination of hallucinogens, psychedelics, and barbiturates, so that Norma would be easily suggestible and helpless. When they learned that Louise was in London and trying to see Andrew again, Frances pushed her from the building, as Louise was the only person alive and in the area who would recognize Orwell as an imposter. She arranged that Norma would think she had done it. Poirot shows them a letter found at the scene of the crime from Louise to Andrew, asking to see him. It was also Frances who coshed Ariadne, believing that Ariadne was becoming suspicious of her. David began to blackmail the couple, so Frances placed the ad in the paper luring Norma to the apartment, killed David there, and left in time to return and “discover” the body once Norma arrived.
Orwell and Frances confess and are arrested and taken away. Stillingfleet proposes to Norma. She accepts and agrees to go to Australia with him.
Best part of story, including ending:
I enjoyed the portrayal of Norma, which Christie managed to do with detail and a certain compelling poignance. I however thought that the ending seemed a little far-fetched. There had been nothing linking Frances with Mary, so their being the same person seemed forced.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was the ending, where Poirot explains the crime. Not simply because it revealed the mystery, but because it undid all of the assumptions previously held by Poirot, Ariadne, and the narrator- that Norma was neurotic and drug addled, that David was the criminal, and that the respectable, elderly businessman and his proper wife were the "good" characters.
Opinion about the main character:
The main character, Hercule Poirot, is extremely egotistical, often laughably pompous, and judgemental. However, he has a near-infallible intellectual and logical ability as well as the capability of inspiring confidence in others and dissecting their personalities and motivations. He is also often tender-hearted and sympathetic to young love.