Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly
Herein lies the tale of two great stories. First, the background.
In 1954, Agatha Christie offered to write a story and donate the proceeds to buy stained glass windows for her local church in Devon, England. She wrote a novella, Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly. She was already famous, by this time having published over 40 books, beginning with the introduction of her Belgian detective Poriot in 1920 with The Mysterious Affair at Styles and the rule breaking The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926.
The length of Folly was a problem: too long for a short story, too short for a full novel. It should be reassuring for all writers to discover that Agatha Christie, the most widely published author of all time and in any language outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, could not get something published.
Christie liked the story and turned it into the full-length novel Dead Man’s Folly. Then she wrote a more traditional length short story, “Greenshaw’s Folly,” making the snoopy Miss Marple the detective; this was published in 1956 and was collected into The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. Presumably the church got its windows.
Any story that features mystery author Mrs. Ariadne Oliver promises amusement. Poriot gets a call from Oliver, who seems to eat an inordinate amount of apples, to come to a country house where she is planning a mock murder mystery game. Something isn’t quite right, but she can’t be more specific.
Christie uses Ariadne Oliver to discuss the techniques of detective fiction. Oliver’s detective is the exotic vegetarian Finnish detective Sven Hjerson. More exotic than the Belgian Poriot, allowing Christie can gently poke fun at herself. This novella is a wink-wink by Christie who uses all the clichéd elements she can in this story. A big country house owned by a jumped up commoner, a beautiful if simple wife, the day of the village fete, lots of intrigue.
Mrs. Oliver frets (was Agatha ever assailed by such doubts?) that she may have made the clues in her “find the body, solve the mystery” game too hard.
The dead body in the folly is played by Marlene, a village girl who has a stash of comic books to keep her occupied, a clue stashed among them—but in good old Christie fashion is the least likely person to get murdered, and so of course, she does.
This never before published novella is vintage Agatha Christie. Not her best work but a reminder of how much fun was to be had in The Golden Age of mystery writing: plenty of red herrings, suspects that are caricatures but fun to read about, and a body in a quintessential English setting.