One Easter holiday, Miss Emily Arundell invites her relations to visit her in the town of Market Basing for the week-end. Her family is fond enough of her, but they’re also quite well aware that she has a very large fortune to leave, so everyone is quick to accept the invitation. The house party includes Miss Arundell’s niece Bella Tanios and her husband, Dr. Jacob Tanios, as well as Miss Arundell’s other niece Theresa Arundell and her brother Charles. Late one night, Miss Arundell, who sometimes has insomnia, gets up to go downstairs. She trips and falls down the stairs, coming close to very serious injury. At first, everyone thinks Miss Arundell’s fall was an accident. Miss Arundell herself, though, begins to suspect that the accident was staged and that her life is in danger. So she writes a letter to Hercule Poirot, asking for his help in a delicate matter which she doesn’t specify.
Poirot receives the letter two months after Miss Arundell wrote it, and he and Captain Hastings travel to Market Basing. By the time they arrive, though, it’s too late. Miss Arundell has since died of what looks like liver failure. The diagnosis isn’t so surprising, since she had liver trouble, but Poirot begins to suspect that Miss Arundell may have been poisoned. So he and Hastings begin to investigate. They soon find that more than one person had a motive to kill Miss Arundell. There are, of course, Miss Arundell’s relations, all of whom are eager for her fortune. There’s also Miss Arundell’s companion Wilhelmina “Minnie” Lawson, to whom Miss Arundell has unexpectedly left her considerable wealth. And then there’s Dr. Rex Donaldson, who’s engaged to Theresa Arundell, and who would benefit immensely if his research were to be funded. In this investigation, interestingly enough, everyone has more or less the same motive for murder – money. No-one hated the victim, and she didn’t have any secrets to hide. Nor did she know anyone else’s secret. So Poirot and Hastings have to focus instead on the kind of murder it was, and the sort of person who would use that method. In the end, Poirot uses that approach to tie in the murderer with the method and finds out who the killer is.
As with most of Christie’s work, one of the very important elements in this novel is the mystery itself. All of the suspects had the opportunity to commit both the attempted murder and the actual murder. Each suspect has an equally strong motive, too. So Poirot and Hastings (and the reader) have to rely on clues and on what the suspects and witnesses say (and lie about), as well as the psychology involved in the murder, to find out who the killer is. There are some interesting plot twists and of course, “red herrings,” and I know the first time I read this novel, I didn’t guess whodunit.
The main characters in the novel are an interesting element, too. For example, Theresa Arundell is a young jet-setter whose picture is often seen in the papers. She runs with what used to be called a “fast crowd,” and is willing to do things not strictly within the law to get her share of her aunt’s fortune. And yet, for all that, she’s likeable. She’s vivacious, has a true flair for style and is very much alive. A lot of people don’t trust Jacob Tanios, most especially because he’s not English, and he is as eager as anyone for a share of Miss Arundell’s fortune. But he is warm and friendly and proves himself an able and compassionate professional when Miss Arundell has her fall. And of course, there’s Miss Arundell’s dog, Bob the terrier. He’s got a distinct personality, too, and in fact, he provides an important clue to the mystery.
There are some interesting and eccentric minor characters in the novel as well. For instance, there’s Caroline Peabody, a holdover, you might say, from the Victorian Era, who’s a friend of Miss Arundell’s. She has a sense of humour (more on that in a moment) and a rich, flavourful personality. She’s known the Arundell family for sixty years, so she’s able to give Poirot and Hastings some interesting and useful background information on the Arundell family history. And then there are Julia and Isabel Tripp, who are friends of Miss Lawton. They share, among other things, an interest in spiritualism and séances.
In part, it’s those eccentric characters who add a touch of humour to the novel. For example, Poirot and Hastings arrange to meet with the Tripp sisters, whom Christie describes as
“…vegetarians, theosophists, British Israelites, Christian Scientists, spiritualists and enthusiastic amateur photographers.”
The two ladies are very pleased to meet Poirot, who’s led them to believe he is also an old friend of Minnie Lawson. He and Poirot have an odd sort of interview with the sisters, and at one point, Isabel says to the epicurean Poirot,
“‘Would you, that is, stay and share our evening meal? A very simple one – some shredded, raw vegetables, brown bread and butter, fruit.’
‘It sounds delicious,’ Poirot said hastily. ‘But alas! My friend and I have to return to London.’…
‘Thank goodness, Poirot,’ I said with fervour. ‘you got us out of those raw carrots! What awful women!’
‘Pour nous, un bon bifteck – with the fried potatoes – and a good bottle of wine. What should we have had to drink there, I wonder?’
‘Well water, I should think,’ I said with a shudder.”
Poirot and Hastings also have a meeting with Miss Peabody, during which he says that he’s writing a book about Miss Arundell’s family. As we find out later, she doesn’t really believe him, but she tells him what she knows of the Arundell family. At one point, Miss Arundell addresses Hastings:
“‘You are his secretary, I suppose?’
‘Er – yes,’ I said doubtfully.’
‘Can you write decent English?’
‘I hope so.’
‘H’m – where’d you go to school?’
‘Then you can’t.’
I was forced to let this sweeping charge against an old and venerable centre of education pass unchallenged as Miss Peabody turned her attention once more to Poirot.”
Miss Peabody is clever, witty and provides some useful information.
All of these characters fit quite well in the market village setting, which is another interesting element in the novel. Because it’s a small village, gossip spreads quickly, as we find when it’s discovered that Miss Arundell has left her fortune away from her family. Opinion’s sharply divided on the topic, and it’s interesting to see how people take sides. Poirot Loses a Client is a solid mystery in the classic English village setting, with interesting characters and Christie’s trademark twists and “red herrings.” But what’s your view? Have you read Poirot Loses a Client? If you have, what elements do you see in it?