Poirot (Classic): S01E02 “Murder in the Mews”

We open on Guy Fawkes’ Day celebrations, with our three leads Poirot, Hastings and Japp strolling through the park and enjoying some fireworks.

(Side Note: the best line I ever heard about Guy Fawkes was that he was the last man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions.)

Hastings remarks that it would be a good night for a murder (oh, you), what with the presence of fireworks to cover up the gunshot. Some banter later, Hastings departs once they reach the Bardsley Garden Mews, where he’s stored his car.

The next day, Japp calls Poirot back to the Mews, where one Barbara Allen has been found dead by her flatmate, seemingly of a suicidal gunshot to the head. The flatmate, a photographer named Jane Plenderleith (Juliette Mole), says she came home from a weekend trip and found her friend dead, as one does.

Japp immediately suspects foul play due to the placement of the gun in the right hand of the victim, despite having shot herself in the left temple. It also appears that the fingerprints on the gun aren’t consistent with someone who pulled the trigger themselves. Poirot pokes around and finds a few clues: a bunch of cigarettes in the ashtray and a broken cufflink that I would have sworn was a matchbook, which goes to show you how often I wear cufflinks.

Interviewing Plenderleith, it’s revealed that the victim had been engaged to an MP recently, one Charles Laverton-West (David Yelland). It’s also heavily implied (though I may be reading too much into it) that Miss Plenderleith had something of an unrequited crush on her flatmate. (More on that in the Grey Cells below.)

Meanwhile, Our Man Hastings has been taking the opportunity to tune up his car while interviewing a local urchin, who says he saw the victim drop a letter in the post the night of the suicide, after which a strange man visited for a bit before leaving. Japp asks whether the visitor or the victim was the one who shut the door, and… that’s a really good question! Well played, Japp.

Charles Laverton-West (MP –  Lower Stuffed Shirtingham) doesn’t seem particularly bothered by his fiance’s death, and is more concerned whether the news has gotten hold of the information rather than helping the investigation. Japp also tracks down the mysterious visitor, one Major Eustace (James Faulkner) – a shady lounge monkey purporting to be a friend of the victim’s from their time back in India, and whose story doesn’t quite match the version of events recounted by nearly everyone else in the episode. It’s discovered as well that the victim was withdrawing large sums of money on a regular basis – perhaps she was being blackmailed?

A funny scene later between Hastings, Poirot and Miss Lemon about the Chinese laundry that puts too much starch in our hero’s collars, a delightful trip to a golf course that sees Poirot throwing shade at Hastings’ game, and all is revealed as to exactly who perpetrated the murder in the mews.

Grey Cells:

Spoiler

Barbara Allen was indeed being blackmailed by Major Eustace, for the crime of having gotten pregnant by a married man while in India. (This was basically the equivalent of burning down a nunnery back in 1930’s England.) Unable to stand it anymore, Miss Allen did indeed commit suicide. Poirot deduces – by the lack of the smell of smoke at the scene despite the cigarettes in the ashtray AND a trail of broken golf clubs that Prenderleith had attempted to dispose of to hide the fact that Allen was indeed left-handed – that upon discovering the body, her flatmate Miss Prenderleith was so overcome with grief at her friend’s death she decided to frame Maj. Eustace for the murder, rearranging the crime scene so as to intentionally make the police suspect foul play and pin it on Eustace. Confronted with this by the gang, Prenderleith admits the whole thing.

This is where I don’t think the motive for the crime makes much sense unless Prenderleith felt something more for her flatmate than just friendship; I have to think that only love would make her go to all that trouble to get a man hanged, but perhaps that’s just my modern sensibilities. 

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Then Poirot offers to buy everyone lunch, because he’s a hell of a guy.

This was a good episode (and quite a funny one), not least of which because it gives a lot of screen time to Philip Jackson to establish Chief Inspector Japp as competent, determined, and not the unimaginative plod he could have so easily been (and which would become cliche in the genre). Jackson’s piercing stare combined with a face that uncannily resembles a bloodhound gives Japp an air of professionalism, and yet we also see him here delivering funny lines about the unseen Mrs. Japp, letting some air out of Poirot’s high-mindedness, and generally just being a salt-of-the-earth working class guy trying to do his job the right way. In other words, he’s a fully fleshed out character, not a walking plot hammer.

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In fact, Japp here generally draws all the right conclusions, finds key evidence, and establishes himself as someone who could conceivably actually have risen to the rank of Chief Inspector. And that’s important — Poirot is clearly the superhero of the series, but it would be demeaning and silly (and, frankly, boring) to simply prove himself the smartest guy in a room full of idiots.  By making Japp good at his job, it makes Poirot’s deductions seem even more brilliant.

Hey! It’s That Guy!: The aforementioned MP is played by David Yelland, who would show up in later years of the series as Poirot’s valet, George.

Some Things Age Like A Fine Wine, And Some Things Are This: When Poirot asks what Miss Lemon told the Chinese Laundry about his overstarched collars, upon Hastings’ advice she told them “Him collar no good, velly starchy.” Period attitudes notwithstanding… yiiiiiiiiiiikes. (That said, the scene is pretty funny overall if only for Poirot’s insistence on dictating a multipage letter of complaint against the laundry.)

So What On God’s Green Earth Is A ‘Mews’, Anyway?: I had only heard of them in reference to stables for horse carriages, and I wasn’t far off. From Wikipedia: Mews is a primarily British term formerly describing a row of stables, usually with carriage houses below and living quarters above, built around a paved yard or court, or along a street, behind large city houses, such as those of London, during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is sometimes applied to rows or groups of garages or, more broadly, to a narrow passage or a confined place.

Now That’s Just Good Sidekickin’!: Poirot warns Japp not to jump to conclusions about the situation, to which Japp replies: “”Never mind about jumping to conclusions, Poirot. This is a murder we’re dealing with.”

Quotent Quotables:

Poirot: “”That laundry is in the pay of my enemies!”

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Hastings: “Why don’t you get some turned down collars? They’re all the thing.”
Poirot: “You think Poirot concerns himself with mere THINGness?”

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Poirot: “The name of Poirot is feared on golf courses all over the continent!”

 

Next Time, On Poirot: “The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly”, which sounds more like a folk song than a Christie story, but contains a lot of classic elements of the genre. English countryside! Squires! Kidnapping! Ridiculously large houses!