A governess, a mistress, a banker, an archaeologist and an herbalist come together to recount their own version of a murder in Agatha Christie's "Five Little Pigs." This 1942 novel features one of Christie's most beloved characters, irrepressible Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, as he uses his "little gray cells" to prove the innocence of a woman who has long since passed away.
Poirot Is Given a Task
Carla Lemarchant, an attractive young woman who is recently engaged, approaches famed detective Hercule Poirot and hires him. Sixteen years earlier her mother, Caroline Crale, was convicted of murdering her father, famous painter Amyas Crale. Carla believes her mother to have been innocent, and asks Poirot to clear her mother's name so Carla may marry without the black cloud of murder hanging over her family's name. Poirot accepts the task, intrigued by having to solve a crime completely with his mind, but isn't as convinced of Caroline's innocence as Carla is.
Poirot begins to collect details of the crime. He discovers that Amyas Crale was poisoned with coniine -- the poison in hemlock -- and that Caroline confessed to the murder after first having claimed that she procured the coniine with an eye toward suicide. Amyas had taken a mistress (Elsa Greer, the subject of one of Amyas' paintings) and Caroline was sure Amyas would leave her for the young woman. Visits to offices of lawyers for each side revealed overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Carolina had poisoned her husband. Most damning was the fact that coniine was found in a glass of beer Caroline had served him minutes before his death. He had been overheard saying, after consuming the beer, that "everything tastes foul today," indicating that something in his drink tasted wrong.
Poirot interviews the five possible suspects (whom he calls "the five little pigs") who were at the Crale house the day Amyas was murdered. He asks each of the five to write their account of what happened that fateful day. He collects versions of the story from Phillip and Meredith Blake (brothers who lived next door to the Crales), Elsa Greer (Amyas' mistress), Angela Warren (Caroline's baby sister and a respected archaeologist), and Cecilia Williams (Angela's governess). Certain details of the case are revealed in these accounts. Meredith, an herbalist, admits he witnessed Caroline Crale remove a bottle of coniine from his laboratory on the day in question. Phillip reveals that he'd been having an affair with Caroline. It comes to light as well that Caroline struck her baby sister many years before, leaving Angela disfigured. Amyas was insistent on having Angela sent to boarding school, and Poirot is very nearly convinced that Angela murdered Amyas to prevent being sent away. It is only the testimony of Cecilia Williams that proves to Poirot that Angela could not have been the murderer.
The First Idea
After he reads the five interviews, Poirot gathers the suspects and explains that he has determined who the murderer was. He was quite certain Angela Warren was the guilty party; in her final letter to her daughter, Caroline wrote that she was entirely innocent but that at the same time, she was at peace with her conviction, as she felt she had righted a great wrong. Poirot took this to mean that Caroline believed Angela to be the murderer, and had confessed to the crime to atone for having disfigured the girl as a child.
And the Murderer Is ... (Spoiler)
However, evidence led Poirot to be dissatisfied with this conclusion. Recalling Amyas' claim that "everything tastes foul today" after he drank his beer, Poirot determined that the poison was not in the beer at all. It would have taken far longer than a few minutes for the bad taste of the poison to be noticeable; he had actually been poisoned before he drank the beer. At the time of his death he was painting his mistress, Elsa Greer. Based on Meredith's testimony, Poirot knew Elsa Greer had also seen Caroline take the poison from Meredith's lab, and so could have easily retrieved the poison from Caroline's room and poisoned Amyas herself. Her motive was correct as well -- she had overheard Amyas promise Caroline that he would get rid of his mistress as soon as the painting was done. Poirot puts this evidence to Elsa, who admits she has been found out. The shocked onlookers watch as she leaves the room, and the book concludes with Elsa Greer returning home without suffering any punishment for her crimes.
- "Five Little Pigs"; Agatha Christie; 1942.