One of a series of Agatha Christie books based around nursery rhymes. In Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot is called upon to solve a crime that was committed 16 years ago. The story’s uniqueness at the time was around the way that a crime committed many years before is described from five different perspectives. Each of the five witnesses, or Five Little Pigs, gives their own account of the murder of Amyas Crale, and as a result, Hercule Poirot is able to determine the truth.
Carla Lemarchant asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the death of her father, Amyas Crale, a famous painter who was poisoned by hemlock 16 years before. Carla’s mother, Caroline Crale, was tried and convicted of the murder, but died in prison. On Carla’s 21st birthday she receives a letter from her mother denying the murder and protesting her innocence. Carlas asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the case to see if Caroline was really guilty of murder, or whether there has a terrible miscarriage of justice. Carla is convinced of her mother’s innocence, despite the overwhelming evidence against her. Carla is keen to find out the truth as she is engaged to be married, and one can only assume that she is worried that there may be a husband-killing gene in her make up!
There are only five suspects – as only five people were present when Amyas Crale was murdered: Caroline Crale who was the victim’s wife; Caroline's half-sister Angela Warren; Elsa Greer, the muse and subject of Amyas’ portrait and also his lover; Amyas’ lifelong friends Meredith and Philip Blake; and Angela's governess Cecilia Williams.
Loosely based around the nursery rhyme 'Five Little Pigs', Poirot must discover which little piggy went to murder! With no physical evidence remaining after 16 years, Poirot must rely on eyewitness accounts of the five suspects or “five little pigs” and piece together what really happened. Using psychological profiling and his “little grey cells” Poirot is able to find out what really happened and who the murderer was.
Amyas had fallen in love with the young Elsa Greer after she had asked him to paint her portrait when they met at a party. Amyas moved Elsa Greer into his family home, understandably infuriating his wife Caroline as result. Elsa then tells Caroline that Amyas was planning to leave her and marry Elsa. Although Caroline was used to her husband’s philandering, he had never before talked about leaving her and marrying someone else. The next day, Amyas is found murdered, poisoned with hemlock.
The day before the murder, Meredith Blake had taken Amyas, Caroline, Angela, Elsa and his brother Philip on a tour of his laboratory where, as an amateur chemist, he discussed the properties of hemlock. Whilst she was there Caroline stole some coniine (a poisonous alkaloid found in hemlock) which was later found in a perfume bottle in her drawer, and also found in the glass of beer that she had served to Amyas just before his death. Caroline admitted to stealing the poison, but claims that she was going to use it commit suicide.
Amyas, who continued with his painting of the portrait of Elsa on the day of his death, was given a bottle of cold beer and a glass by Caroline immediately before he died from hemlock poisoning.
Although everything pointed at Caroline as the murderer, she was calm when she stood trial, and seemed to confirm her guilt by her reluctance to prove her own innocence. Yet everyone knew that Caroline and Amyas had a tempestuous relationship and that Caroline had a violent temper, as she had thrown a paperweight at her half sister Angela when younger, scarring Angela for life.
Poirot wondered why Caroline Crale would not protest her innocence and accept a lifetime in prison if she wasn’t guilty?
Poirot regarded the five suspects as the “Five Little Pigs”: Phillip Blake ("this little piggy went to the market"); Meredith Blake ("this little piggy stayed at home"); Elsa Greer (now Lady Dittisham, " this little piggy had roast beef"); Cecilia Williams, the governess ("this little piggy had none"); and Angela Warren, Caroline’s younger sister ("this little piggy went 'Wee wee wee all the way home").
The eyewitness accounts of the ‘five little pigs’ give five different perspectives of the crime and start to reveal some interesting facts. Philip Blake had something to hide about his relationship with Caroline Crale; Meredith Blake had formed an attachment to Elsa Greer although it was unrequited, and Angela was furious with Amyas for sending her away to boarding school. However memories have faded and their stories are full of conflicts of evidence, any of which may, or may not, be significant. Each story reflects the witnesses own prejudices and views, although none of them has an obvious motive.
Agatha Christie’s ingenuity at fitting the nursery rhyme of Five Little Pigs around the story of the book doesn’t unfortunately add much to the story. However Five Little Pigs was widely admired for the way that Agatha Christie showed that reality is changed by each individual’s viewpoint.
Many parallels have been drawn to Agatha Christie’s own life, with a philandering husband who had left her and her daughter 16 years earlier, leading to the infamous Christie Disappearance for 11 days. All of the five suspects confirm that, 16 years previously, Amyas had indeed been about to leave Caroline Crale for another woman. Charles Osborne in The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie commented that “Consciously or not, she was commenting on herself and her marriage to Archie Christie”. Whether or not this is true, it does not detract from the fact that it is a well told story, with a very logical and satisfying solution.