Cat among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie is not your typical Hercule Poirot book, with Poirot’s not making his first appearance until the last third of the book, but it still is a terrific read. The vast majority of the book takes place in an exclusive girls’ school, Meadowbank, where Miss Bulstrode reigns as the headmistress who founded the school. But the whole book centers around the back story of a revolution in Ramat, a kingdom in the Middle East, where Prince Ali Yusuf is deposed and has to flee the country with his friend and pilate, Bob Rawlinson. Shortly before they flee, the prince entrusts a bag of priceless jewels to his friend, who hides them in the handle of the tennis racket belonging to his niece, Jennifer Sutcliffe, who is visiting the country before enrolling at Meadowbank. But he never gets a chance to tell anyone the hiding place before he must leave, when his plane crashes from sabotage. So the search for these jewels centers around Meadowbank, where not only Jennifer, but Princess Shaista, the 15-year-old fiance of the dead prince, is attending.
Shortly after the start of school, the matron sees a light in the new sports pavilion in the middle of the night and goes to investigate, only to discover Miss Springer, the new games mistress, shot dead. As the investigator called to the case states, “Death of a games mistress. Sounds like the title of a thriller on a railway book stall.”
The book continues with intrigue, suspicion, and more murders. We keep questioning if the characters could really be in disguise. This is supported by the early introduction of Colonel Pikeaway of Special Branch and Mr. Robinson, a mysterious financier, as well as Adam Goodman, the name used by a member of Special Branch sent by Colonel Pikeaway to pose as a gardener while keeping his eye on Meadowbank. Hercule Poirot enters the book towards the end and helps to wrap up the mystery.
This book does not use the same style or organization of typical Hercule Poirot books, with more intrigue than traditional investigation. It does gives hints of Christie’s love of using nursery rhymes as themes, this time with hints of the story of Aladdin.
The audio version is narrated by Hugh Fraser, who ably manages the various accents of the different characters from around the world. I enjoy the listening experience.
Cat among the Pigeons may be different than other Hercule Poirot books and give him a smaller role than typical, but the book is a great read that keeps the reader drawn to the story. Though Christie is known as a great mystery writer, she could easily have made a name for herself as a spy writer too. If you like the spy aspect, check out the Tommy and Tuppence books (stay tuned in a few months for my reviews of that 5-book series) and They Came to Baghdad. I give this book five stars.
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