Murder on the Links (1923)
Cast of CharactersHercule Poirot
The PlotThe year is 1923, and the great Hercule Poirot, Detective Extraordinary (Ret.), is leafing through his mail. One after another he tosses the letters aside. How boring they are these days! Nothing but banal requests "recovering lost lap dogs for fashionable ladies" and the like. Nothing, absolutely nothing, of interest.
But wait: here is something out of the ordinary.
"For God's sake, come!" writes Paul Renauld from his villa at Merlinville, in the south of France. He is in danger of his life, he fears... he hints at mysterious agents, and a deadly secret he mustn't reveal. He cannot go to the police, but he has heard of Poirot's abilities. Please! Poirot's interest is aroused. He will go, immediately. Has not M. Renauld requested haste? Quickly the dapper little Belgian gathers all he will need neatly packed, of course into a small suitcase, persuades his friend Hastings to accompany him, and heads for the boat-train.
The next day the two arrive at Merlinville, only to be repulsed at the gate of Renauld's villa by an unflappable sergent de ville. They cannot see M. Renauld, appointment or not. When they insist on knowing why, they are told:
"M. Renauld was murdered this morning!"
Too late, then -- the feared assassins have struck. But having come this far, Poirot will see the thing through. He may not have been able to save the man's life, but he will assuredly find his murderer.
The local police are happy to have his assistance, and Poirot begins his investigations. Certain facts come immediately to light. Renauld and his wife had a good marriage, say the servants -- though there is no denying that the attractive lady next door, a certain Madame Daubreuil, was a frequent visitor when Madame Renauld was not at home. In fact, she had been in only the night before. And there had been another female visitor too, an attractive young lady who seemed to be very upset about something. M. Renauld had tried to be rid of her, and was in fact overheard pleading with her, "For God's sake, go!" Who was she? No one questioned seemed to know.
Madame Renauld is not immediately available for questioning. She has been a victim, too, the previous night -- cruelly bound and gagged by the thugs who, she says, forced her husband out into the night clad only in underwear and overcoat, to be stabbed in the back and buried in a shallow grave on the golf course. Her wrists are badly cut and she appears to be in shock, but as soon as she is able she agrees to see Poirot, and relates to him the events of the night just passed.
Then, trembling, she accompanies the investigators outside to identify the body. Dear God, she cries, it is he, and falls away in a faint. Poirot rushes to her side. Is this a ruse, he wonders? Did she, as the only beneficiary of her millionaire husband's estate, somehow engineer the whole thing? But no -- the collapse is genuine, Poirot can see; her skin is clammy, her pulse faint. The servants are right: this is a woman who genuinely loved her husband, whatever the truth of his relationships with other women. She is truly in distress over his death.
Who, then, can be suspected? Madame Daubreuil, the ndghbor -- was she a spurned mistress, killing in revenge? Or had she been visiting for other purposes -- perhaps blackmail? Her bank account, the police discover, has grown steadily since the arrival of Renauld to the area several months before.
If it is blackmail it is undoubtedly tied to the "secret" Renauld had alluded to in his summons to Poirot. It may have had something to do with his previous life in Argentina, and with the making of his fortune there. He was, alas, very hazy about his past.
The identity of the other lady has police puzzled until they discover a note in the overcoat Renauld was wearing, a passionate love note signed "Bella Duveen." Another mistress! Parbleu! How does this square with the loving wife?
The checking goes on. There is a son, Jack, who is away; he returns. His father had sent him orders to go to Santiago, Chile, just prior to his death. He would be at sea now, in fact, but the sailing was cancelled at the last moment. No, he doesn't know why his father wanted him to go; he was to receive complete instructions upon arrival. Dots he know why his father's will had been changed just two weeks previously, leaving all to his mother instead of half to him, as an earlier will had done? Indeed not; he is not aware of the change. Until this very moment he had thought himself an heir...
Aha motive. Had father and son not been heard to quarrel violently a short time ago? Had Jack not slammed out of the house, uttering threats?
It looks bad for Jack, but Poirot wonders...
That story of Madame Renauld's, it is strange, no? It reminds him of something, though he cannot think what. No matter: it is impossible to think of her being involved; she loved her husband, he is sure, and could not wish him dead. If only he could find Bella Duveen... and then there is the matter of the footprints in the flower bed.
There are no footprints in the flower bed, says Hastings, ever the foil.
Exactly, replies Poirot. There ought to be -
Pressed, Jack Renauld explains the fight he had with his father: it concerned Marthe Daubreuil, beautiful young daughter of the household next door. They planned to marry, but the senior Renauld became infuriated when he learned of it, for reasons the younger man could not fathom. So what if her family's background was obscure! So, indeed, was his own. As for the relationship between his father and Madame Daubreuil, Jack knows nothing, but he is sure they were not lovers -- far from it. Renauld had seethed at the mention of the Daubreuil name, so much so that he forbade his son to see Marthe any more.
Which of course was impossible. They were in love; they would marry, blessing or no. Now, of course, with his father dead, there is no impediment to the marriage...
Aha more motive. Jack is getting in deeper with every twist of the plot. Curiously, he makes no effort to disentangle himself, other than to say that he is innocent. One might almost suspect that he wanted to be arrested. Why, for example, if he was out of town, does he not produce evidence to that effect? Could it be that he cannot?
It is so. Worse -- the railroad attendant at Merlinville has come forth to say that Jack Renauld arrived on the 11:40 p.m. train the night his father was killed. To the police it is clear as crystal -- they are sure the case is solved. Only Poirot knows that someone is lying, probably to protect someone else. But who is the liar, and who the beneficiary? The threads are still far from unraveled when a second body is discovered, in the same place as the first, and stabbed with the same dagger. Isn't one enough?
Hardly. Victims and villains leap out in seemingly endless succession; no one is what he seems -- or even who he seems -- to be. But the little gray cells rush to the rescue, just in time to prevent still another tragedy. Past sins are avenged, justice is done, and even love is triumphant, and if the reader is left a little breathless at the end, could anyone wish it another way?
Certainly not I.