|21-02-11, 11:41 PM||#1|
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Agatha Christie - The Murder on the Links
The Murder on the Links
Captain Hastings arrives in the flat that he now shares with Poirot in London, eager to tell the Belgian detective about a woman with whom he has fallen hopelessly in love on the train from Paris to Calais. But Poirot is busy sorting his mail, impatiently tossing aside bills and banal requests "recovering lost lap dogs for fashionable ladies". Then he finds an extraordinary letter from the south of France: "For God's sake, come!" writes Monsieur Paul Renauld. Poirot decides to investigate and he takes Hastings to France and the Villa Genevieve in Merlinville-sur-Mer on the northern French coast where Renauld wrote from. Asking for directions near the Villa Genevieve, they are watched by a young girl outside another smaller villa who has "anxious eyes".
Arriving at Renauld's house, they find they are too late: Renauld is dead. He and his wife were attacked in their rooms at 2.00 in the night by two masked men. Madame Renauld was tied up and her husband taken away by the men wanting to know "the secret". They appear to have got in to the house through the open front door with no sign of forced entry. His body was found stabbed in a newly dug open grave on the edge of a nearby golf course which is under construction and next to the placing of a bunker which was due to be dug that day. The Renaulds' son, Jack, had just been sent away on business to South America and Renauld also gave the chauffeur an unexpected holiday leaving just three female servants in the house who heard nothing. The eldest of the three servants tells Poirot and the police that quite often, after Madame Renauld has retired to bed for the night, her husband has been visited by a neighbour, Madame Daubreuil, who is the mother of the girl with the "anxious eyes", Marthe Daubreuil.
The dead man changed his will just two weeks before, leaving almost everything to his wife and nothing to his son. There is a smashed watch at the scene of the kidnap which is still running but has somehow gained two hours. The widow inspects the body to identify it. She loses her composure and collapses with grief at the sight of her dead husband.
Poirot is puzzled by some of these findings—why is the watch running fast? Why did the servants hear nothing? Why was the body found somewhere where it was bound to be quickly discovered? Why is there a piece of lead piping near the body? Poirot is hampered in his investigations by the attitude of Monsieur Giraud of the Sûreté who plainly believes the elderly Belgian is too set in his old-fashioned ways to solve the mystery. The local Examining Magistrate, Monsieur Hautet, is more helpful and tells Poirot that he has found out that the Renaulds' neighbour at the Villa Marguerite, Madame Daubreuil, has paid two hundred thousand francs into her bank account in recent weeks: was she Monsieur Renauld's mistress? They visit the lady who is furious when the suggestion is put to her and throws them out. Having now met Madame Daubreuil for the first time, Poirot tells Hastings that he recognises her from a murder case going back some twenty years.
Soon after, Jack Renauld arrives back; his trip to Santiago was delayed enabling him to return when he heard of his father's murder. Jack admits to rowing with his father over who he wanted to marry, hence the change of will. Poirot suspects that Marthe Daubreuil is the girl in question and feels that the answer to the problem lies in Paris. He goes there to investigate. Whilst he is away another body is found in a shed on the golf course. No one recognises the man who by his hands could be a tramp but is dressed in finer clothes. The strangest thing is that the man has been dead for forty-eight hours and thus died before Monsieur Renauld's murder. No one recognises the new corpse.
Poirot returns from Paris and, without being told details beforehand, staggers Hastings by correctly guessing the age of the man, place of death, and manner of death, despite having ben clearly shocked when Hastings originally told him of this new development. He examines the new corpse with the doctor. Poirot sees foam on his lips and the doctor realises the man died of an epileptic fit and was then stabbed after death.
When alone, Poirot tells Hastings that his investigations in Paris have borne fruit and that Madame Daubreuil is in fact a Madame Beroldy who was put on trial twenty years previously for the death of her elderly husband. He too was murdered by, supposedly, two masked men who broke into their house at night wanting to know "the secret". Madame Beroldy had a young lover, Georges Conneau, who absconded from justice but wrote a letter to the police admitting to the crime; there were no masked men and he stabbed Monsieur Beroldy himself. Madame Beroldy managed a tearfully-convincing performance in the witness box, convincing the jury of her innocence, but leaving most people suspicious. She then disappeared herself.
Poirot deduces that Paul Renauld was in fact Georges Conneau. He fled to Canada and then South America where he made his fortune and gained a wife and a son. When they returned to France, by great misfortune, the immediate neighbour of the house he bought was Madame Beroldy, now Daubreuil, who started to blackmail him. When a tramp died on his grounds of an epileptic fit, Renauld saw a chance to duplicate the ruse of twenty years earlier by faking his own death and escaping his blackmailer with his wife's cooperation. His plan was to send his son away on business, give his chauffeur a holiday, and stage a kidnapping by tying his wife up and disappearing. After leaving the house he would go to the golf course and dig a grave where he knew it would be discovered; he would then put the tramp into the grave after destroying his features with the lead pipe. The plan was for this to happen at midnight, giving Renauld the chance to get away from the local station on the last train and use the smashed watch to create an alibi. Unfortunately, the smashing of the watch did not stop it, so the deception failed on Poirot at least. What then went wrong was that Renauld was stabbed by someone else after he finished digging the grave but before he could fetch the body of the tramp, hence his wife's faint when she saw that the body actually was her husband's.
Jack is proven innocent by another girl he was also in love with and as far as Poirot is concerned that leaves only one suspect who had anything to gain by Renauld dying: Marthe Daubreuil, who did not know of the change of will disinheriting Jack and thought that by killing his father she would gain his fortune when she married his son. She overheard the Renaulds discussing using the dead tramp as a ruse and stabbed Renauld on the golf course after he had dug the grave. Marthe dies when she tries to kill Madame Renauld. Her mother disappears again. Jack and his mother go to South America and Hastings ends up with Dulcie Duveen, the sister of the girl who was able to prove Jack's innocence. She is also the woman he met on the train at the beginning of the novel.
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