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Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie – The #1936Club

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie. (1936) French title: Cartes sur table.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie is my first read for the #1936 Club hosted by co-hosted by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book. I bought it during my stolen escapade to an English bookstore in Paris last February.

Mr Shaitana collects various objects but puts his life on the line when he decides to invite to diner four sleuths and four murderers who got away with it. After the meal is over, the guests are split into two rooms to play bridge.

The four sleuths are Superintendent Battle from Scotland Yard, Colonel Race from the Secret Service, Hercule Poirot, a private detective and Mrs Oliver, a crime fiction writer.

The four murderers are Dr Roberts, a middle-aged and jolly GP, Mrs Lorrimer, a very clever widow and skilled bridge player, Major Despard who seems to have been to every corner of the British Empire and Miss Meredith, a rather poor young lady who works as a paid companion.

Mr Shaitana stays in the room where the four criminals play bridge and is murdered, stabbed with one of his own daggers.

Scotland Yard opens an investigation and Superintendent Battle handles it in his official capacity. However, he decides to involve the other three. Each has their own method to dig out the truth and of course, Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells is always ahead.

Agatha Christie draws a very clever plot, full of suspense and with original premises. Colonel Race is less involved in the investigation than the three others but Christie shows three different and yet complementary ways to search for the culprit.

Battle has his official position and the means that go with it: he’s all about clues and interviews.

Poirot takes the psychological route and asks left-field questions to understand the murderer’s mindset and deduct who did it.

Mrs Oliver uses her literary clout to befriend Miss Meredith’s friend and collect gossip about the past. I suspect that Mrs Oliver is a sly caricature of mystery fiction writers like Agatha Christie herself.

When I was in my teens, I read a lot of Christie books, all in French. It’s the second time I read a book with Poirot in the original. It’s a delight to read Poirot’s English and its French ring. Poirot never makes too many blatant grammar mistakes but here and there, his turn of phrase sounds French. Like here:

Je crois bien – a Grand Slam Vulnerable doubled. It causes the emotions, that! Me, I admit it, I have not the nerve to go for the slams. I content myself with the game.

It causes the emotions implies an improper use of the, something French native speakers struggle with when they learn how to speak English. When do we have to use nouns without articles? That’s a tricky question for us.

The I admit it is the literal translation of Je l’admets, which is often used in French but sounds weird in English. It’s the same about I content myself with the game, which stands for Je me contente de jouer and means I only care about the game. I’m not a native speaker myself but I don’t think one would use sentences that include it causes emotions, I admit it or I content myself with.

Here’s another example:

It is not my business – no. But, all the same, it offends my amour propre. I consider it an impertinence, you comprehend, for a murder to be committed under my very nose – by someone who mocks himself at my ability to solve it!

In this passage, you comprehend is the literal translation of vous comprenez which, in this context, means, you see. And someone who mocks himself comes from the French se moquer, which is reflexive. Poirot means either that someone makes fun of his ability to find out the murderer or wants to test it.

It amuses me to spot the things in the text. However, the language I certainly didn’t understand in this book is the one regarding bridge. I don’t know how to play bridge and I was totally lost in the explanations of the game, like in the first quote. I get the general meaning but not the subtelties that helped Poirot solve the crime.

Cards on the Table is an entertaining book, published in 1936 but it is timeless. Nothing from the outside world and its political affairs interferes in the characters’ lives. It is a good Beach and Publish Transport book. Un roman de gare, quoi!

  1. April 14, 2021 at 8:28 am

    A Christie I haven’t read – thank you for the tip! And yes, great observations about Poirot’s use if English. I suspect Christie was quite good at French and could pick up these typical mistakes.

    Like

    • April 14, 2021 at 8:46 pm

      I too, think Agatha Christie spoke French very well. You need to really know the language to make Poirot speak like this.
      It’s a good plot, you’ll have a good time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April 14, 2021 at 9:41 am

    Like you I read this in my teens, and I’ve amazed myself by remembering who did it! Normally my memory for plots is terrible. I’m very tempted to a re-read. I still don’t understand bridge though – baffling.

    Like

    • April 14, 2021 at 8:47 pm

      Hello! It’s nice to have you back, I hope you’re doing well.
      I’m impressed that you remember who did it.
      Bridge. Well it seems to be to cards what golf is to sport.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. April 14, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    I love your comments on Poirot’s French creeping through to his English – as someone who only speaks English, I never know how accurate these ‘mistakes’ are, but it sounds like Christie knew what she was doing. And like you, I certainly don’t speak the language of bridge!!

    Like

    • April 14, 2021 at 8:49 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed the part about Poirot’s way of speaking. And yes, Agatha Christie either spoke French very well or had a good friend who was a French native speaker and made those mistakes all the time.

      Like

  4. April 14, 2021 at 3:41 pm

    Like you (and many others I suspect) I read a lot of Christie in my youth, although mostly the Miss Marples and various standalones. This would probably be a new one for me. Her plots are very clever, aren’t they? No wonder she is still considered the Grande Dame of crime.

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    • April 14, 2021 at 8:54 pm

      She’s one of the first adult crime fiction writers that young reades discover.
      I’ve read a lot of Miss Marples too.

      This plot is clever and I like that she doesn’t really on psycho killers but on normal people who cross the line, which is much more interesting.

      Like

  5. April 14, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    It offends my amour propre that I have read so few Agatha Christies in English. It causes the emotions, to think that there is so much more to read, vous comprenez?
    Some time ago I read Antal Szerb’s Pendragon Legend (you’ve read it too!) in Hungarian and thought he was also very good at making the Germans sound German in Hungarian, and the English sound English in Hungarian, and same with the French. I wonder whether others who read the book with a non-Hungarian’s eye noticed this too. These games with languages are always fun when they’re well done.

    Like

    • April 14, 2021 at 8:57 pm

      I love your first paragraph.

      Reading Pendragon Legend in Hungarian? Congratulations. It must be difficult. Given Szerb’s sense of humor I can imagine that he’s given himself à coeur joie to make the Germans sound German and the English sound English.

      Like

  6. April 14, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    I didn’t much care for this book the first time I read it – mainly because I didn’t understand how Poirot was using the bridge scores to understand the suspects. But I did a reread recently, and loved it – even though I still did not understand the Bridge part.

    Like

    • April 14, 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one who felt loss with the bridge explanation.
      For me it’s like cricket, baseball or football (American or European) metaphors. They just go over my head.
      At least, it didn’t prevent me from understanding what Poirot was playing at.

      Like

  7. April 15, 2021 at 3:46 am

    I’ve never enjoyed Agatha Christie, always found her too contrived. I’ve read a few of course because they used to be the sort of book that was lying around. I thank you too for your lucid explanation of Poirot’s ‘difficulties’ with English.

    Like

    • April 15, 2021 at 7:52 pm

      You’re probably the only crime fiction reader I’ve “met” who doesn’t like her.
      Who would be your favorite crime fiction writer? (Not that she’s mine, btw)

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 16, 2021 at 1:38 am

        Simenon/Maigret, Upfield/Boney, Greenwood/Phryne Fisher, Robb/Eve Dallas, Ian Rankin, and all the Swedes

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 17, 2021 at 3:24 pm

          I’ve never read Upfield, Greenwood or Robb. I’ll check them out. Thanks!

          Like

          • April 18, 2021 at 3:29 am

            Arthur Upfield is the most interesting – an English/Australian from the 1930s with an Aboriginal police Inspector. I’ve reviewed him a couple of times for books he set in Western Aust.

            Kerry Greenwood and JD Robb are fun, don’t take themselves too seriously. JD Robb is the romance writer Nora Roberts and her protagonist police lieutenant Eve Dallas is surprisingly good – she had a very troubled childhood and is now (in the 2060s) married to a billionaire Irish ex-street kid.

            Like

            • April 18, 2021 at 9:22 am

              I’ll have a look at Arthur Upfield. His inspector is named Napoleon Bonaparte?!! Now I’m definitely intrigued. You just increased my TBR.

              Liked by 1 person

  8. April 15, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    Lovely post and one I wish I’d got to revisit for 1936 – it’s such fun, and I do love Mrs. Oliver. And thanks for your comments on Poirot’s English – so interesting!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. April 18, 2021 at 10:37 am

    I think this is the second Agatha Christie I read in English. The first one was The Man In The Brown Suit and for quite some time, it deterred me from picking up another AC. Couple of years later, I was told that a close-by papeterie has this bibliothèque roulante from where my mother placed two ACs, one of them was Un Meurtre Sera Commis Le… And I was hooked. I loved Cards on the Table but I’m not sure I remember it: is this the one where handwriting the scores is analyzed by Poirot?

    Like

  10. April 23, 2021 at 4:23 am

    The two authors that often seem to be a bridge between kids’ books and adult (for English readers) are Christie and Sherlock Holmes. I love how she poked fun at herself with the character of Ariadne Oliver.

    It’s fascinating to see how she used Poirot’s English to enrich his character and tell the stories. I think something she does is have Poirot ‘misspeak’ sometimes to further his questioning during an investigation, for example when he seems to not know the English for something when he actually does, but is using that to mislead or get a response from someone. It’s lovely to have a French speaker’s perspective on Poirot’s use of English!

    Like

    • April 26, 2021 at 9:35 pm

      I totally agree with you about the “bridge between kids’ books and adult” books.

      I think you’re right about Poirot making more mistakes in English when interviewing suspects. He hopes that his accent and mistakes make him sound dumb and get the perso to lower their guard.
      I love picking these details in Christie’s books and I’m glad it is of any interest for English speaking readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. May 15, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    I’m in the middle of listening to all of Hercule Poirot (by chronological order of publication), and it’s been striking me how much AG plays with the French language. I had not noticed this when I read a few in my school years, or even when I watched the BBC series. Listening to them makes me more alert to things like what you highlighted “And someone who mocks himself comes from the French se moquer, which is reflexive.”
    I had not been aware that AG was so fluent in French to be able to do that.
    Obviously only bilingual people will pick up these, there are a lot, in all of the HP books. Really fun at that level too.
    I loved that one, and I’m currently listening to Sad Cypress, a new one to me, and also very good.
    Most of the audiobooks are narrated by Hugh Fraser, who is so so good.
    David Suchet is my favorite HP actor, but I don’t like him as a narrator, I think he overdoes it especially often too high pitch for female characters

    Like

    • May 16, 2021 at 9:07 pm

      Thank you for this comment and I’m happy that you hear the French under Poirot’s speech too. It’s such great fun to find these little gems in the story.

      I don’t know if she spoke French fluently but it’s a valid option for someone educated at her time.
      If she didn’t know French that well, then she knew a French person pretty well and picked up all the little mistakes they made. (Like you can pick whatever mistake an English native makes in French by listening Jane Birkin)

      PS: Same kind of comments in this billet

      #1920Club. The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie – how you can hear French in Poirot’s English

      Like

  1. April 15, 2021 at 6:04 pm
  2. April 16, 2021 at 9:35 pm

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