Mathew Davenheim (Kenneth Colley), a successful bank owner, arrives home for the weekend and prepares to receive a guest – one Gerald Lowen (Tony Mathews), another banker with whom Davenheim has a contentious relationship. As Mrs. Davenheim (Mel Martin) locks away her jewelry in a hidden safe, she pleads with her husband not to meet with Lowen, and it’s clear she’s anxious about something.
Mr. D retreats to his study, where he puts on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and prepares an envelope for the post. Although Lowen is scheduled to arrive soon, he decides to walk into the nearby village to post his package and says he’ll meet Lowen coming the other way on the road. Mrs. Davenheim watches her husband disappear into the fog.
However, Lowen arrives at the house (with a FABULOUS moustache) and says he didn’t pass anyone at all on the way there. An hour goes by, and Lowen, fed up, leaves in a bluster.
Poirot, Hastings, and Japp attend a magic show, where Poirot is clearly bored. Later that night back at the house, Japp recounts the details of the Davenheim disappearance and makes a wager with Poirot: he bets that Poirot can’t solve the case without leaving his apartment. Poirot accepts, and then sends Our Man Hastings out to conduct the investigation while Poirot spends the rest of the episode—
—practicing magic tricks and bird-sitting a parrot. I am not making this up.
While Japp and Hastings investigate the house and interview Mrs. D, the house staff, and a local boatman, we learn a few details:
- Mr. Davenheim had returned a few months ago from South Africa, with the customary jewelry he usually bought for his wife.
- The safe that said jewelry was kept in is found to have been cracked open forcibly.
- A local drunk/thief named Kellett is arrested for stealing Japp’s wallet, and found to have Davenheim’s signet ring on him. Davenheim’s clothes are found in the local lake.
Look, we’re gonna cut straight to the chase here, because honestly most of the episode takes a roundabout way to get to the heart of the Davenheim disappearance, which is…
…that Davenheim didn’t disappear, Kellett is actually Davenheim in disguise. (Shocking, I know.)
Davenheim had been embezzling from his own bank for years, using funds to buy expensive jewelry which he intended to abscond with once he’d blown off his old life entirely. His time in “South Africa” was actually 3 months he spent in jail, preparing his “Kellett” character for the eventual disappearance.
Knowing his bank was on the verge of collapse, Davenheim broke into his own safe, using the Tchaikovsky music to cover the sounds of his hammering away at it, which is, let’s face it, stupid. Putting the jewelry in the envelope he had been preparing in his study, he then walked into the fog, ditched his clothes and assumed his “KellettWear”(TM) intending to get arrested. (I know, I know.)
The plan was to get copped with his own signet ring, thereby earning the opportunity to throw suspicion on Lowen via made-up “eyewitness testimony”, pick Lowen out of a lineup and finger him for his own murder. A short jail stint to wait out the press and police attention until his eventual release and new life… uh… somewhere? After selling the jewelry? I guess. I feel like this was either overplanned or underplanned, but I’m not sure which.
In any event, Poirot tumbles to the goings-on when Hastings reports that A) the Davenheims have slept in separate rooms since he came back from South Africa, and B) there’s a razor in his cabinet. Eh, it seems a bit of a stretch to me, too.
It’s a bit of the old “somebody’s in disguise” (though it’s kept better hidden than previous ‘disguise’ episodes) mixed with a pinch of Doyle’s “The Man With The Twisted Lip”, but it doesn’t quite ever gel into anything compelling, despite an initially intriguing setup with Davenheim’s disappearance.
There’s no other suspect than Lowen, who’s so obviously being set up (and is so weirdly disinterested in the whole mystery) that we know about halfway in with about a 90 percent certainty that Davenheim himself is up to shenanigans.
Later that evening, Poirot and the gang have a good larf over Poirot being unable to make the parrot disappear, and we end on a freeze-frame of Suchet’s twinkly smile.
The central conceit – that Poirot is doing all the thinking while Hastings is doing all the legwork – doesn’t really change up the rhythm of the usual investigations, because all that really happens is they give Poirot’s usual interrogation lines to Hastings.
As a result, the biggest thrills of the episode are the magic tricks that Poirot performs every now and again in the running gag that he’s learning how to do magic. “Why on earth they inject the parrot halfway through the episode” is both a mystery to me and a sentence I never really thought I’d write, but here we are.
There are some good bits; we get a lot of Car Nut Hastings here, as Lowen is an avid racer, and there’s a lot of Japp just Jappin’ along trying to figure out what happened. There’s a pretty good running gag where Fraser and Jackson keep passing each other in their investigations and greeting each other. And much of the episode features the three main players together, trading information while having dinner together or otherwise hanging out at Poirot’s apartment.
Ultimately though, there’s no getting around the fact that — like most episodes that hinge upon disappearances — there’s little momentum or urgency here, nothing really driving the action forward. Keeping Poirot from interacting with any of the non-regular characters or from being out in the field turns out to be much less of an interesting execution than the premise would suggest. Not an awful episode, but not one you’ll be likely to rewatch any time soon, either.
I Guess We Can Add “Wizard” To The Business Card Now! Alert: David Suchet does four or five different magic/sleight-of-hand tricks in this episode, and… turns out he’s really quite good! I checked, and it appears that they were indeed performed by Suchet himself (although the credits list one Patrick Page as a “magic consultant” for this episode). The magic bits are the highlight, as they’re all kind of either happening offhandedly or off to the side, and it’s a pretty funny running gag throughout (except for that stupid final scene with the bird).
(Side Note: I still have not figured out why the bird is even in this episode.)
(Additional Side Note: I also find the idea that Poirot can spend a week reading a book called The Boy’s Guide To Conjuring over the course of a week and basically immediately be great at magic both hilarious and perfectly in character.)
Hey! It’s That Gal!: Mel Martin, the beleaguered Mrs. Davenheim, immediately struck me as familiar, which makes sense as she was the titular character’s ex-wife on a few episodes of my other favorite British mystery, Lovejoy. Checking her IMDB credits, it looks like she’s been in damn near every British drama for the last forty years, so chances are if you’re an aficionado you may have seen her in something too.
Today In Modern Architecture: The Davenheim house seen here is actually a place called Joldwynds, which sounds like it should be a town in Skyrim. In any event, finding this out led me to this website, which is an invaluable resource for anyone wondering where these weird, cool locations Poirot is always investigating at really are.
Hastings: “Excuse me for asking, but what color were the man’s trousers?”
Hastings: “I know it’s a rather odd question, but a rather odd person would like to know.”
Delivery Man: “Morning, Sir, I’ve got a parrot for Mr. “Poy-rot”.”
Poirot: “No no no! Poirot. It is pronounced “Pwa-roe”.”
Delivery Man: “I beg your pardon, Guvnor. I’ve got a “pwa-roe” for Mr.”Poy-rot”.”
Poirot: “And please, do not fraternize with that creature. I am still training him.”
Hastings: “It’s only a parrot.”
Poirot: “I was talking to the parrot.”
Next Week, on Poirot: It’s another episode that puts Our Man Hastings in the driver’s seat, as a trip to the seaside and Poirot’s impending retirement presents an opportunity to get in some quality sidekickin’! Antique Napoleon miniatures might seem innocent enough, but they’re at the heart of …”Double Sin”!