Mr. Shaitana thought it would be most entertaining. He would invite four friends - detectives, really - to join him for dinner and a game of cards. And he would invite four other people to the same party - people, Mr. Shaitana said, who had quite literally gotten away with murder. It should make for a most amusing party.
Hercule Poirot did not think it would be amusing. He thought it could be deadly.
Poirot was right.
Agatha Christie's "Cards on the Table," written in the heart of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction, is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Christie novels are often filled with a great many potential suspects. That's not the case in "Cards on the Table." The author makes a point of telling the reader that there are exactly four suspects who might have committed the murder, which takes place during Mr. Shaitana's odd little party. Those four people are the ones who, according to Mr. Shaitana, have gotten away with a real murder sometime in their past, and who may kill again to prevent their previous crime from being exposed.
All of the suspects have been playing bridge - and their score sheets will provide Hercule Poirot with a major clue to the identity of the killer. And it is remarkable how - with such a small collection of potential villains - Christie is able to cleverly mislead her readers, forcing them to suspect now one, now another of the foursome until Poirot reveals the truth of what happened at that party.
"Cards on the Table" is not my favorite Christie by any means - I think there's too much talk and not enough action in this one for my tastes - and yet, as with just about any Agatha Christie, it is thoroughly entertaining as it plays with the reader. Which of the four purported murderers is guilty? See if you can figure it out ahead of Hercule Poirot - but beware.
"Cards on the Table," first published in 1936, remains in print today. There is also an ebook edition for the Amazon Kindle, and I am quite sure that other electronic editions are available as well.