Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons was first published in 1959 and centres on an exclusive girls’ boarding school in England – Meadowbank.
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The story begins with a revolution in the Middle East where Prince Ali Yusef is eventually killed and his valuable family jewels are nowhere to be found. The reader is made aware that shortly before his death the Prince handed the jewels to his most trusted friend, Bob Rawlinson, and he in turn ensured their safe passage to England, by hiding them amongst his sister and niece’s belongings.
Before he can inform anyone as to what he has done, Bob is also killed in the revolution. What Bob didn’t realise is that someone else saw where he hid the jewels – through the reflection of a mirror – however they were interrupted before they could retrieve the jewels for themselves.
The story then moves to England and Meadowbank. We are introduced to several mistresses – including the formidable and striking Miss Bulstrode, one of the founders and the Headmistress of Meadowbank. There are many new students, including Princess Shaista, who was supposed to marry Prince Ali Yusef before the revolution struck as well as Jennifer Sutcliffe – the niece of Bob Rawlinson.
Agatha Christie uses the first third of the book to set the stage. She introduces a myriad of characters, which include those in the Middle East, all of the school’s mistresses, certain spies, who have been given the duty to keep an eye on things at Meadowbank, given the vanished jewels, and the key students. It isn’t until the reader is pointed in the direction towards where Bob stashed the jewels, that the first murder occurs – the brand new and not very well-liked sports mistress, Miss Springer.
The question comes – did she know about the jewels and was she looking for them, or did she stumble upon a thief in the night, who was invading her domain – the sports pavilion. From there an investigation ensues, with very little success. No jewels are found and no one can agree on a theory.
The story continues and we are drawn further in to the guessing game. Who was it that saw Bob hide the gems in the Middle East and who would be desperate enough to kill for them? Before the case is solved, there are more crimes committed and eventually – three quarters of the way into the book – Hercule Poirot is brought in to investigate. He is able, after hearing the accounts of all of those involved, to pull all of the threads together and solve the mystery.
Agatha Christie’s ability to spin a complex yarn and have all of the threads expertly untangled in the end by her famous detective is second to none. This particular story had so many elements to it – the revolution in the Middle East, the vanishing jewels, espionage, the Princess and the story of the insular and selfish Jennifer Sutcliffe, as well as the succession plan of Miss Bulstrode and the character of Miss Bulstrode herself.
Before I started to read, I already knew that it was a Hercule Poirot mystery. As I approached halfway through the book, I did wonder when exactly that he was going to make his appearance. Although it wasn’t until very late in the book, I must admit, that the police investigator and the secret agent, Adam Goodman, carried the story extraordinarily well and if Agatha Christie had decided to leave Hercule Poirot out, it wouldn’t have affected the book one way or the other.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It is a very ambitious story and it is extremely well told. The solution is solid and I must admit that this time I didn’t pick the killer.
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