James Bentley is tried for the murder of Abigail McGinty, the charwoman of Broadhinny who also took in Bentley as her lodger. The evidence is overwhelming, and soon after he is sentenced to hang. Superintendent Spence is not convinced of the man's guilt, and so he visits Poirot, asking him to look into the case. Poirot then heads off to the village, where he becomes the paying guest of Maureen and Major Johnnie Summerhayes. Ariadne Oliver, Poirot's novelist friend, has also come to Broadhinny to collaborate on a stage adaptation of one of her novels with dramatist Robin Upward. With the clue of a bottle of ink purchased by the dead woman shortly before her death, Poirot searches Mrs. McGinty's belongings and finds an edition of The Sunday Comet newspaper, where an article concerning two women connected with famous murders has been cut out. With the story are two photographs of the women. Poirot discovers that Mrs. McGinty had seen one of the photographs before, and knew to whom it ... Written by
James Gordon Bentley, you have been tried for murder. Abigail McGinty was found by the baker on the floor of the sitting-room with extensive wounds to the head. The house in Broadhinny evinced no sign of forced entry. All the police surgeon was able to ascertain was that she'd been hit with a sharp, heavy implement, probably some time the night before. You, Bentley, were suspected from the very beginning. You knew where she kept her money; you had recently lost your employment, and...
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Mrs. McGinty's Dead: she has been hit over the head with a heavy instrument inside her own house. A poor young man that she had taken in as a lodger is arrested for the crime, convicted and awaiting execution. Having second thoughts about his guilt, Superintendent Spence asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the circumstances of the crime once again, in the hope that he might discover something that everybody else missed.
The initial set-up is somewhat similar to "Sad Cypress", but the difference is, the convicted character here is a relatively minor figure in the general scheme of things, whereas in "Sad Cypress" Elinor is the heart and soul of the story. In any case, this is not one of the Agatha Christie tales that will dazzle you with its brilliance, though parts of it have an interesting moral complexity. The strongest element of this episode is Ashley Pearce's direction, which is both traditionally elegant and modernly cinematic. Much like in "Appointment With Death", some of her images, particularly those of sunsets, look like paintings. The second strongest element is the return of Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver: this film really plays up the "Agatha Christie's-alter-ego" angle, with Mrs. Oliver arguing against the "commercial" changes to her books and expressing frustration at the fact that she's stuck with the same (fictional) character for life because her public likes him so much (according to most reports, Christie liked Miss Marple more than Poirot, but her readers did not agree). Zoë continues to excel in the role, as does Richard Hope in his second Spence appearance. Rest of the cast is OK (I liked Sarah Smart as Maude), but some of the men appear a little indistinguishable, and Amanda Root is perhaps miscast (age-wise) as the doctor's wife.
Minor complaints aside, this is another great-looking addition to the high-quality "Poirot" series. (***)
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