AGATHA CHRISTIE – Funerals Are Fatal. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1953. First published in the UK as After the Funeral by Collins, hardcover, 1953. First paperback printing in the US: Pocket #1003, 1954. Reprinted many times. Film: MGM, 1963, as Murder at the Gallop.

   Hercule Poirot’s self-proclaimed procedure in investigating a case is to study the people involved, listen to them (sometimes surreptitiously), and above all engage them in conversation. Talk to a murderer long enough, he believes, and he (or she) will say something, perhaps very innocuously, that will give himself (or herself) away.

   And so it is in Funerals Are Fatal. It takes the full first chapter, a family tree and a Cast of Characters to identify all of the players firmly in the reader’s mind, but because each of the surviving members of the newly deceased Richard Abernathy’s family are such distinct individuals, as delineated so (seemingly) easily by Agatha Christie, it is not difficult to keep the various players straight from that point on.

   Not that Poirot doesn’t rely on physical evidence as well, for he does, even going so far as to hire a private detective himself, a task absolutely necessary to check out alibis and so on — not Poirot’s forte at all.

   The story. After Richard Abernathy’s funeral, his youngest sister Cora, a bit of an innocent, asks the question that perhaps the entire family (all in need of ready funds, it almost goes without saying) is also wondering: “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?”

   When Cora is found murdered the next day, the family solicitor takes it upon himself to employ Poirot to make some discreet inquiries, and so he does, in a case in which everyone has a motive and (quite surprisingly) opportunity.

   It is my firm opinion that anyone who claims that they can outwit Agatha Christie when it comes to solving the puzzles she put together when she was at the top of her game, as she is here, is — shall we say — exaggerating? Or very very lucky at guessing. (Maybe that is just sour grapes talking.)