Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie

February’s prompt for the Read Christie 2023 challenge is a murder method – the use of a blunt object. A lot of Christie’s novels involve murders carried out in this way and there were plenty of suggestions on the official challenge page this month. I chose a book I hadn’t read, Hickory Dickory Dock, which is a Poirot mystery first published in 1955.

The novel begins with the unthinkable – Poirot’s very efficient secretary, Miss Lemon, has made a mistake! Several mistakes, in fact, in a letter she has been typing. When Poirot asks her if something is wrong, she confesses that she’s worried about her sister, Mrs Hubbard, who has recently begun working at a student hostel on Hickory Road. Strange things have been happening at the hostel, Miss Lemon explains – a number of items have been stolen, but there seems to be no logic behind the thefts. A diamond ring, light bulbs, a stethoscope, lipstick, one shoe…what can be the connection? Finding an excuse to visit Hickory Road for himself, Poirot begins to investigate. At first it seems that there could be a fairly innocent explanation, but as these little incidents begin to take a more malicious turn, Poirot needs to discover the truth before somebody is killed.

This is one of several Christie novels that uses part of a children’s rhyme as its title, but apart from the name of the street, it doesn’t have any significance to the plot this time – unlike, for example, A Pocket Full of Rye or Five Little Pigs. That was a bit disappointing (surely a mouse or a clock could have been worked into the plot somehow!) but otherwise I enjoyed this book. I don’t think it’s one of the very best Poirot novels, but even a slightly weaker one is still fun to read. Although the crimes being committed seem quite trivial at the beginning, it gradually becomes clear that something more serious is going on in the background and once the murder takes place, the plot becomes much more compelling.

Setting the novel in a house full of students gives it a busy, bustling feel and means there’s a large cast of characters to provide both victims and suspects. The students are of all nationalities, some British, some French, with others from Africa, Jamaica, India and a whole range of other places. As the book was written in the 1950s, you can probably guess that the way these characters are portrayed is not always politically correct; there’s some racist language and some attitudes that aren’t considered acceptable today. However, for the most part, the students seem to mix together across racial and class boundaries, forming the usual friendships and rivalries you would find in any large group of young people.

I can’t really claim to have solved the mystery, as I worked out part of it but not all of it, but I don’t think it was one of Christie’s cleverest plots and the solution wasn’t as surprising as some of her others. Still, it was entertaining, as all of her books are, and I’m looking forward to reading more as Read Christie 2023 progresses. The March prompt is a motive – anger. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be joining in with that one, but will see if I can fit it into my March reading.

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