A Cat Among the Pigeons
About the Book:
Unpleasant things are going on in an exclusive school for girls – things like murder…
Late one night, two teachers investigate a mysterious flashing light in the sports pavilion, while the rest of the school sleeps. There, among the lacrosse sticks, they stumble upon the body of the unpopular games mistress – shot through the heart from point blank range. The school is thrown into chaos when the ‘cat’ strikes again. Unfortunately, schoolgirl Julia Upjohn knows too much. In particular, she knows that without Hercule Poirot’s help, she will be the next victim…
This is my first Agatha Christie and while I can’t deny it was an entertaining read, if I didn’t have a special Folio edition of Murder on the Orient Express, it would likely also be my last. This book has not dated well, from two perspectives. The first concerns Christie herself. Not only was this book filled with derogatory references toward Black, Asian, Italian, French Native American and Arab peoples, it also contained distasteful passages about Jews and Catholics. All of her characters use racial epithets in normal conversation, repeatedly. Now, I do understand that when you read these older ‘classic’ titles, you do need to allow for changing conventions and the differing mores of the eras, but even accounting for this, Christie was unbelievably pro-British Empire in a very white supremacist kind of way, and this translates over and into her characters, dishing up racism and intolerance in layers. It’s quite nauseating.
The other aspect in which this book doesn’t date well is more to do with language convention. Again, times have changed and so has the way we speak, but there seemed to be this innuendo running through the novel, and to have listed all of the examples might have led to this review being flagged as containing offensive material! However, to give you an idea:
‘How’d you like to penetrate into a girls’ school?’ he asked.
‘Nom d’un nom d’un nom!’ ejaculated Poirot in an awe-inspired whisper.
Is this really the way that people in the 1950s spoke? There was also a section in which one of the characters says that she has a ‘big pussy installed’ in her unwell mother’s house to care for her whenever she is not there. I can’t even go there, sorry. Is she talking about a nurse, a housekeeper? Have they ever been called that? Or is it a service cat? It all seems a little beyond the pale, to be honest.
As I mentioned initially, the story was entertaining in terms of a murder mystery and the sophistication of the plot. It’s billed as a Poirot novel, but the great man himself doesn’t even make an appearance until over two-thirds of the way through. Perhaps this is normal for Poirot novels. He is enlisted to help, does some preliminary investigations with the remainder of his case being worked off-page. Then he gathers everyone in the same room, presents his findings in a way that tricks the guilty party into making a confession, and then the case is closed. To me, it seemed as though Christie spent all this time building a cracker mystery only to have Poirot explain her plot at the very end as a means of wrapping everything up quickly and neatly.
‘You seem to have explanations for everything, Mr Poirot.’
‘That’s his speciality,’ said Inspector Kelsey with slight malice.
At least no one can gasp in astonishment that I’ve never read a Christie anymore. Can’t say it’s enriched my life now that I have! However, I needed to read a classic I’ve never read before for my last bingo category and this fit the bill nicely.
Cat Among the Pigeons
First Published in 1959