The second full length mystery story featuring Hercule Poirot, written by Agatha Christie as her third novel. Murder on the Links is narrated by Captain Hastings who meets his future wife during the story, Dulcie Duveen.
Called to France by a desperate letter from Monsieur Renauld, a millionaire in fear of his life, Poirot and Hastings arrive at the Villa Genevieve to discover that Renauld has already been murdered.
Renauld had made his fortune in South America and now resides in Merlinville-sur-Mer with his wife. His body is found face down in a shallow grave which has been dug in the grounds of a part completed golf course (hence the title Murder on the Links). Giraud believes that this indicates that the assassins were strangers to the area, whereas Hercule Poirot feels that the body was buried there so that it could be easily discovered, although he cannot understand why this may be the case.
Renauld’s wife was found bound and gagged in their home nearby and claimed that she had been tied up by two masked men, who then took her husband away in his underwear and overcoat as they wanted to know “the secret”. The attackers struck at 2am as Mme Renauld heard the clock strike. A wristwatch which got smashed in the struggle is however still working, and has gained two hours.
The attackers appear to have entered the house through an open front door, with no sign of any forced entry, so Poirot wonders if they perhaps had an accomplice?
None of the three servants heard any noise, despite the two attackers climbing some very creaky stairs. The chauffeur went on an unexpected holiday just days earlier, and their son Jack Renauld had been sent on business by his father to South America.
The murder weapon which was used to stab Renauld was a paperknife that was given to them by their son Jack. It was taken from the dressing-table in the Renaulds' bedroom. When asked to identify the body, Madame Renauld collapses with grief at the sight of her dead husband. Monsieur Renauld had changed his will just two weeks earlier, leaving most of his fortune to his wife and nothing to his son.
Monsieur Giraud, from the Paris Surete, has a very different approach to solving the murder – he looks for physical and forensic evidence, whilst Poirot uses his little grey cells. Whilst the energetic Giraud is scouring the ground for minute details and clues, Poirot appears to be doing nothing. Giraud finds a discarded cigarette end and match which his expertise identifies as being from South American. Poirot believes that each criminal has his particular method, and that any other crime he commits will closely resemble the first. He therefore tries to remember which crime this one reminds him of. He goes to Paris and returns with details of a crime committed 20 years previously
In this book, Murder on the Links, Agatha Christie starts her exploration of the themes of the psychology of the killer, and also the influence of past crimes on the present. This influence of the past on the present became one of Christie's most persistent themes in subsequent works. It led her to write a number of stories in which crimes from the past were investigated and solved in order to heal and free the living.
Mme Daubreuil, a mysterious local beauty, was rumoured to been a frequent visitor to Mr Renauld, and her bank balance has improved enormously since he moved into the next door villa. However Renauld and his son Jack had a furious row, shortly before his death, about Jack’s relationship with Mme Daubreuil’s daughter, Marthe. This is believed to be why Jack Renauld changed his will in favour of his wife.
Meanwhile Captain Hastings is susceptible to the ladies, admiring the young Marthe Daubreuil whom he describes as a goddess, although Poirot comments that she has “anxious eyes”. However Hastings becomes besotted with a young acrobat who calls herself Cinderella whom he met on the train from Paris to Calais. Although she swears freely and behaves in a “modern manner”, Captain Hastings succumbs to her allure. The acrobat, whose real name is Dulcie Duveen, takes advantage of Hastings’ kind nature to try and do all she can to protect her sister, Bella Duveen, who is also embroiled with Jack Renauld.
Jack returns back to Merlineville to discover his father has been murdered. He never went to Santiago and tells of his father’s anger over his desire to marry Marthe Daubreuil.
And then another body is found in a shed on the golf course, stabbed with exactly the same murder weapon. No one knows the man, who is well dressed but with worn hands and dirty fingernails. It appears that this man has been dead for a couple of days, and therefore he died before Monsieur Renauld was murdered.
Two bodies, two crimes, but one solution?
In her autobiography, Agatha Christie said that Murder on the Links was inspired by a once famous case of a woman who claimed that she had been bound and gagged by men who murdered her husband.
Agatha Christie dedicated Murder on the Links to her first husband, Archie Christie, who was a huge golf fan. Her dedication was to him as “A fellow enthusiast for detective stories and to whom I am indebted for much helpful advice and criticism”.
Murder on the Links is a complex story, with more clues and red herrings than you know what to do with, and a few amazing coincidences which strain credulity!
It is a complicated and intense book with so many clues and red herrings that you have to fight your way through them to find the murderer. Too complex a detective story to have much chance of guessing whodunnit!!