Chief Inspector Japp is in a pickle: over the last three weeks there have been three jewel theft at high-society events, and the pressure is on to prevent another – so much so that our dear Japp of the Yard fears for his job.
Before you know it, at a Rich Folks Party thrown by jewel collector Hardman (David Lyon) a Mysteriously Begloved Figure burns sneaks into the study, burns the lock on the safe, and makes off with an emerald necklace that once belonged to Catherine de Medici. Although a constable guarding the party chases away a tramp, suspicion falls on four suspects at the party:
- Bernard Parker (David Bamber), a somewhat shady dealmaker for Hardman
- Lady Runcorn (Charmian May), a middle-aged woman who’s a bit cash-strapped
- Mr. Johnstone (Nicholas Selby), a rich businessman
- Countess Vera Rossakoff (Kika Markham), an exiled Russian countess visiting London who Poirot seems to be in love with.
Yes, our Belgian appears absolutely smitten with the Countess, and aside from an initial visit to the scene where he discovers the titular double clue – one of Parker’s gloves in the safe, and a cigarette case with the initials “BP” on it that Parker denies owning – he apparently spends the next three days dating the Countess, going on trips to the museum, the park, and presumably engaging in other suitably-chaste-yet-undeniably-intimate activities.
Given that Poirot professes a lack of interest in the case – so much so that he even hires a couple of other private detectives – Miss Lemon and Our Man Hastings take it upon themselves to investigate, resulting in a pretty funny series of scenes of their visits to each suspect.
Alas, with Poirot out of commission, Japp on the edge of being fired, and the erstwhile team of Hastings and Lemon unable to find the missing jewels or the thief, the case appears to be stalled out. Until, that is…
…Poirot asks Hastings and Lemon to return to the scene of the crime, whereupon the tramp seen on the night of the party pulls out a gun and fires at Our Man before speeding off in a flash red MG! Bruised but unbroken, they return to the office, where Poirot asks them to gather for the denouement at Hardman’s house later that day.
Before the gathering, though, M. Poirot stops for a picnic with the Countess, in which she gives him back the necklace she’d stolen, without a word of confession or apology.
At the denouement, Poirot explains that clearly the tramp that was spotted that evening scaled the window, broke open the safe, planted the glove and case, nicked the necklace, but was seen by the Countess and dropped the jewelry in the bushes outside the window – hence his return to the scene, in which he opened fire on Our Man earlier. Japp opens the window and retrieves the jewelry planted there by Poirot, relieved that he finally has some good news – and a suspect – to take back to his boss.
Later, Poirot dines with the Countess at the train station, where they express their mutual admiration for each other and the realization that being on opposite sides of the law they cannot stay together. She’s met by Redfern and Blake (those two private detectives Poirot hired earlier in the episode), who will be “escorting” her in her continued travels to America.
We also learn that Poirot hired the detective to impersonate the tramp at Hardman’s and fire blanks at Our Man and Miss Lemon, in order to throw them off the scent of the Countess and strengthen the false “tramp did it” narrative.
(Side Note: This for me is what definitively answers the “is it really love” question of the episode. I feel like Poirot doesn’t intentionally help a jewel thief escape the country out of simple admiration of skill or cause, there has to be some real emotional connection there to go to these lengths to see her free.)
Poirot gives the cigarette case to the Countess as she leaves on the train, explaining that what gave her away were the initials – “B.P” is Cyrillic for “V.R.”, hence he’s returning her case to her.
Poirot watches the Countess leave on the train with a wave and a forlorn “Au revoir”.
I’ve gotta say, I liked this episode WAY more than I thought I remembered I did.
From the opening notes of the Rachmaninoff-ized version of the familiar Poirot theme (brilliant touch, that) to the closing moments on the train, I thought what the episode did best was establish the humanity of the characters here, using a whisper of a plot as a backdrop.
Let’s start with Poirot, who never really lets on why he’s so attracted to the Countess. Instead, the script lets us infer that from watching their time together and listening to their conversations. It’s clear that she’s warm, intelligent, cultured, and something of an old, world-wise soul in the same manner as Poirot – and honestly, that’s enough. We don’t need to see (and it would be out of character for) Our Belgian to recite verse to Hastings about how he’s in love, or swoon puppy-eyed over her comically; non, friends, this is how we know the heart of Poirot is truly touched – he approaches the matter with the reverence true love deserves.
Hastings and Miss Lemon also get a great time here being actual people – not only is their Lemon N’ Hastings: Private Eyes sequence terrific, there’s a melancholy, moving scene later in the episode where they contemplate their futures should M. Poirot truly decide to pack it in and go off with the Countess. Hastings, for his part, contemplates farming in South America (nice bit of foreshadowing there), while in just a few seconds and a single line of dialogue Pauline Moran gives a devastating portrait of someone who literally doesn’t know what they’d do if things changed.
Our beleaguered and beloved Chief Inspector Japp, too, gets a few good showcases here. For one, you can tell he’s under the gun because he doesn’t wear his customary hat for the entire episode, and it’s a great, subtle way to show us how stressed out he really is. There’s also an amazing sequence about halfway through the episode that’s just Philip Jackson on the phone with his superior, having a conversation in which we only hear Japp’s side of it. The camera starts close in, then gradually pulls away from Jackson at his desk as the conversation continues (and gets worse for Japp). By the end of the scene, we’re pulled out so far that we get the picture of the isolated, stressed-out Japp alone in his dark little office at his wit’s end having just been told off by his boss. You really feel for the guy here, and his elation at finding the jewelry at the end is cheer-worthy all by itself.
And there’s a ton of funny stuff here, too! Plus Our Man speeding in a car to Poirot’s consternation! This episode really does make for a satisfying hour spent with our friends, and I’m glad to replace my older, faultier memories with fresher ones now that I’m in a spot to be more appreciative of what it’s going for. Recommended.
You Can’t Keep A Good Countess Down!: We’ll see Countess Rossakoff again in about 10 seasons, when she pops up for a return in the episode “The Labours Of Hercules”. She also makes a return in The Big Four, but – spoiler alert – she’s not in the TV adaptation.
Hey! It’s That Guy!: The shifty fixer Bernard Parker is played by David Bamber, whom you might know as Marcus Tullius Cicero from Rome.
Never Tell Him The Odds!: When asked by Hastings if he’s ever contemplated marriage, Poirot responds that it’s not in the cards for him, as he knows of no less than 5 cases of women murdered by their husbands, and 22 cases of men murdered by their wives.
You Might Want To Google That Guy Before You Hire Him!: One of the private detectives Poirot hires is named Redfern, which… let’s hope that’s just a coincidence and he doesn’t have a brother named Patrick. (This will only make sense if you’ve read or seen
Evil Under The Sun.)
Hastings: “So why did you go back into the house?”
Johnstone: “The call of nature, if you must know.”
Hastings: “Were there any witnesses?”
Hastings: “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. ”
Poirot: “If you are to be Hercule Poirot, you must think of everything.”
Poirot: “One can always tell when the summer, it is arrived.”
Hastings: “It’s in the air, eh?”
Poirot: “No, Hastings, it is in the speed of your driving.”
Next Week, on Poirot: It’s the third (but certainly not the last) Anthony Horowitz-penned adaptation in the series, as Our Belgian gets an unpleasant answer to the question, “Hey, why is blood leaking out of this box all over my carpet?” It’s… “The Mystery Of The Spanish Chest”!