Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

This is one of the Christie novels I have been particularly looking forward to reading, as so many people list it amongst their favourites. I had hoped to read it last month as it was September’s selection for the 2019 Read Christie Challenge, but it ended up having to be an October read for me instead.

Published in 1942, Five Little Pigs is one of Christie’s Poirot mysteries, but it is slightly different from the others in that Poirot is trying to solve a crime which took place many years before the novel opens. Carla Lemarchant has received a letter from her mother, Caroline, who has died in prison while serving a life sentence for the murder of her husband, Amyas Crale, sixteen years ago. In the letter, Caroline assures her daughter of her innocence – and because Carla knows that her mother was always a woman who told the truth, she believes her. Hoping to find out what really happened, Carla approaches Hercule Poirot and asks him to investigate.

This is not Poirot’s usual sort of mystery – there is no active crime scene to visit and any evidence is likely to have been lost or destroyed long ago – but he agrees to Carla’s request. He begins by collecting statements from the five people who, other than Caroline, had been present on the day of the murder: the stockbroker Phillip Blake and his reclusive brother Meredith; Elsa Greer, with whom Amyas Crale was thought to be having an affair; the governess Cecelia Williams; and Caroline’s younger sister, Angela, who was just a teenager at the time. If Caroline was innocent, then one of these five must have been the murderer – but will it still be possible to identify the real culprit now that so much time has passed?

I can understand why Five Little Pigs is so highly regarded by Christie fans. The characterisation is excellent; the suspects are well drawn and have believable motives for wanting Amyas dead, and there is evidence of character development too, in the contrast between their present day selves and the people they had been sixteen years earlier. The structure is clever too – the statement each character writes is given in full and although I thought at first that I would find it repetitive reading about the same events five times in a row, that wasn’t really a problem. Each account of that fateful day is slightly different and each one makes us question what we were told in the previous one. It’s only once Poirot has all five accounts in front of him and has spoken to all five of the writers in person that he can piece everything together and solve the mystery.

I enjoyed this book but it hasn’t become a personal favourite and there are other Poirots I’ve liked more. The problem I had with this one was that, although I appreciated the structure and the characters, I didn’t find the mystery itself particularly imaginative or entertaining. I thought The ABC Murders and Dumb Witness both had better plots, to give two examples that I’ve read this year for the Read Christie challenge. Having just caught up with September’s book at the end of October, I am going to skip October’s book for the challenge (a new short story collection, The Last Séance) and will wait to see what November’s choice will be.

And if you’re wondering, the title of Five Little Pigs refers to the fact that the five suspects remind Poirot of the children’s rhyme, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home; This little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none; And this little piggy went ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home!”

This is book #6 read for this year’s R.I.P. event.

14 thoughts on “Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

  1. FictionFan says:

    Not a personal favourite of mine either. The Last Séance, however, is my favourite of her short stories – brilliantly scary and perfect for spooky season! Have I tempted you to reconsider? 😉

  2. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    Due to the structure and characterisation, I would list this among my favorites, but when I really think about it, the sollution is probably one of the more obvious ones.

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    I did wonder about the title. I like the cover. BTW, I have finally begun The Game of Kings. I was fairly well defeated by the first chapter or so but I finally got moving on it and am beginning to see the light. I went last night and read your review which made me feel even more determined to persist. Your excitement is contagious!

    • Helen says:

      A few of her books have titles based on children’s rhymes, including this one. I love The Game of Kings, but it’s definitely not an easy book to get into so I won’t be offended if you don’t enjoy it! I do recommend persisting though, because I found that everything started falling into place in the second half.

  4. Jo says:

    This is one of my favourite Christie’s, something about the logic of the way Christie writes and Poirot investigates sits right with me. The tv adaptation was very good and virtually like the book. Having just read The Pale Horse in preparation for the new adaptation I wait and see how that has been changed.

    • Helen says:

      The Pale Horse is new to me, so I’m still trying to decide whether to read it first or wait to watch the adaptation first. I’m glad to hear the Five Little Pigs adaptation closely followed the book – I find it annoying when they change things too much for no real reason.

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