Catchy little rhyme, isn't it? Though the words have come to us on the wings of Mother Goose, they could have been as easily taken from the mouth of M. Hercule Poirot, as he tries to solve an intricately planned murder in Evil Under the Sun (1941).
The mise en scène is pure Agatha Christie. The stage is a secluded island off Leathercombe Bay, complete with a pirate's cove and a causeway that floods at high tide. The players are a delightfully Christie-esque cast that leaves no one without questionable character, opportunity or motive. There's the much despised Arlena Marshall, a former actress, and as many of her fellow guests would have it: 'a man eater.' Her husband, Captain Marshall, is an excellent specimen of English reserve. There's a philandering husband and his wall-flower wife. An obnoxious couple from America (Mrs. Christie gets the 'And didn't I tell them, Odell' and the 'yes, dears,' just right); an athletic spinster; a successful dressmaker; a fanatical vicar; a shady, 'self-made' investor; and, lastly but not leastly, the neglected stepdaughter of the Marshalls.
All of these characters play some role -- even if ever so small -- in what turns out to be a most puzzling mystery. But M. Poirot, as Miss Lemon has known for so long now, is not to be gotten the better of.
Perhaps one of the particular pleasures of this novel (if Miss Lemon dare make mention of it) is to see the rough treatment the preening Poirot gets at the hands of Mrs. Christie. Horace Blatt, the self-made millionaire, sums up the company thus: 'A lot of kids, to begin with, and a lot of old fogeys too. There's that old Anglo-Indian bore and that athletic parson and those yapping Americans and that foreigner with the moustache -- makes me laugh that moustache of his! I should say he's a hair-dresser, something of that sort.'
Although the year was only 1941, and Dame Agatha was entering the peak of her powers as a crime novelist, it's clear that Poirot, loth as he'd be to believe it, is beginning to wear.
But her gentle barbs are just part of the fun. And they, with the mesmerizing seclusion of the coves and cliffs, make for a delightfully chilling game of mystery and murder. A perfect diversion for a hot summer's day.