Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his companion Arthur Hastings gathered at Styles Court – a country manor where the duo solved their first murder together – and unlike the traditional “whodunit” or “howcatchem” Agatha Christie’s “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” is a more unconventional detective novel, with all the characters and the developments set in the same house. The motives and the murders were established much later, with Poirot of the opinion right from the get-go that one of the guests is a serial five-time murderer. And because the Belgian detective is confined to his wheelchair due to arthritis, it is his companion who goes about with the investigations.
The book can be frustrating at times, though the feeling probably also echoes the experience of Hastings, who is deliberately kept in the dark by Poirot about the identity of the mythical murderer X. As with the other books in this genre, I enjoyed the attention paid to the different characters and their respective quirks (with Hastings giving an overview, after Poirot said that a murder had been arranged), the clues and the red herrings (“How little we realised that [Stephen] Norton’s hobby might have an important part to play in the events that were to come”), and the foreshadowing of events to come (“The time had not yet come when I could say to her: ‘You are right. It wasn’t Maggie … ‘”).
Up to the very end, along this tangent, both the reader and Hastings remain in the dark, and both the ending and the decisions taken by the protagonist – of the Belgian detective sending a manuscript which explains everything, in particular – were reminiscent of Christie’s most famous work (and a personal favourite) “And Then There Were None“. Odd satisfaction is therefore derived from eventual knowledge of the supposed murderers and their motivations, though the modus operandi may be a stretch for some. I enjoyed it. After all, to expect a faultless conclusion to a book marking the end of an iconic series is a tall order, and while the pacing of the story towards the end could have been improved, the reader will still enjoy the many features which characterise a good detective fiction novel.