One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (novel)
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Not known|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||Sad Cypress|
|Followed by||Evil Under the Sun|
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in November 1940, and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1941 under the title of The Patriotic Murders. A paperback edition in the US by Dell books in 1953 changed the title again to An Overdose of Death. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) while the United States edition retailed at $2.00.
It is one of several of Christie's crime fiction novels to feature both the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Chief Inspector Japp. This is Japp's final novel appearance. It also bears a stark resemblance to one of Christie's previous novels, Three Act Tragedy, which features similar elements with respect to the denouement and also the plot on the whole.
Hercule Poirot meets former actress Mabelle Sainsbury Seale while leaving his appointment with dentist Henry Morley. In this meeting, he helps retrieves a shiny buckle for her that had fallen from her shoe. Later that day, his friend Inspector Japp informs him that Morley has been found dead, having been shot in the head. Between Poirot's appointment and Morley's death, the dentist had three patients - along with Mabelle, he also dealt with Alistair Blunt, a prominent banker, and a Greek spy known only as Amberiotis. A fourth person was present at the surgery, Howard Raikes, an American left-wing activist who disliked Blunt but is enamoured with his niece, Jane Olivera. Amberiotis is later found dead from an overdose of anaesthetic, leading to the belief that Morley accidentally killed him and committed suicide upon realising his mistake. Poirot disagrees with this belief. He learns that prior to Morley's death, his secretary Gladys Nevill had been called away by a fake telegram, and that her boyfriend Frank Carter was disliked by the dentist.
Mabelle soon goes missing. A search turns up a body - the face smashed in - within a sealed chest in the apartment of Mrs. Albert Chapman, a woman who also has disappeared. Poirot makes a note of the dull buckled shoes on the body. Dental records soon reveal the body to be that of Mrs Chapman's. Poirot soon finds himself drawn into the life of the Blunt family, where two attempts are made on Blunt himself; the second is thwarted by Raikes. The culprit is found to be Carter - he had obtained a job as a gardener at the house under a false identity, and is found with a gun in his possession, identical to the one that killed Morley. Agnes Fletcher, Morley's maid, later admits to Poirot that she saw Carter on the stairs to the dentist's office before Morley's death. Poirot soon presses him for the truth, knowing he will be convicted of murder and attempted murder. Carter admits that while waiting to speak to Morley, he saw two people leave his surgery; when he entered, Morley was already dead.
With this information, Poirot meets with Blunt, and denounces him and his Scottish second cousin, Helen Montressor, as the killers. Montressor is actually Blunt's first wife Gerda, whom he had met alongside Mabelle in India. He had never divorced her when he returned to Britain and married his now-deceased second wife, Rebecca Arnholt; if his bigamy was exposed, he would be shamed and disgraced, and lose the fortune he inherited from her. Blunt had not expected to come across Mabelle when he was leaving Morley's surgery after an appointment; although she recognised him, she didn't know about his new life. Amberiotis later learnt of this chance encounter and Blunt's past when he meets Mabelle, and used this knowledge to blackmail Blunt. Blunt learnt by chance that Amberiotis had become a new patient of Morley's, so he and Gerda decided to take advantage of his dental appointment to murder him.
The morning of the murder, Gerda invited Mabelle to an apartment she secured under the alias of Mrs. Chapman, and killed her to steal her identity. She then went to attend Mabelle's dental appointment, due to take place after Blunt's. Her husband killed Morley when his appointment was over, rung for the next patient, and then pretended to leave. Once Gerda was in the surgery, she let her husband back in. While he hid Morley's body in a side office, Gerda changed Mabelle's records to become those of Mrs. Chapman - both this and Mabelle's face being disfigured after her murder, were to mislead the police on who the body in Chapman's apartment was. After his wife left, Blunt posed as Morley, knowing Amberiotis had never seen the dentist before. After summoning him into the surgery, Blunt injected him with a fatal dose of anaesthetic. Once Amberiotis had left, Blunt moved Morley's body back into the surgery, set it up to appear as a scene of suicide, and then left.
Poirot reveals the plan was exposed by a few facts - Carter had seen Blunt leave the surgery after Amberiotis' appointment, while he was waiting to see Morley; the telegram to Nevill was made by the pair, to ensure she would not be there when Blunt posed as the dentist; Gerda wore new shoes when impersonating Mabelle, as she couldn't fit into Mabelle's shoes after killing her. Although forced to admit that Blunt stands for the important things in public life, Poirot states that Blunt's claims to be needed in the world doesn't justify his crimes, stating: "I am not concerned with the fate of nations, Monsieur. I am concerned with the lives of private individuals who have the right not to have their lives taken from them." Blunt and his wife are handed over to the police. Later, Poirot meets with Raikes and Olivera and tells them to enjoy the life that they desire together, asking that they allow freedom and pity within it.
- Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
- Chief Inspector Japp
- Henry Morley, a dentist
- Georgina Morley, his sister
- Gladys Nevill, Morley's secretary
- (Martin) Alistair Blunt, a high-profile banker, widower of Rebecca Arnholt
- Julia Olivera, niece of Rebecca Arnholt
- Jane Olivera, her daughter
- Howard Raikes, Jane Olivera's lover, a leftist political activist
- Amberiotis, a dental patient who died of an overdose
- Mr Barnes, a dental patient and former member of the Home Office AKA Albert Chapman
- Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, a dental patient
- Frank Carter, Gladys's shady boyfriend
- Reilly, another dentist, Morley's partner
- George, Poirot's manservant
- Alfred Biggs, Morley's page boy
- Agnes Fletcher, the Morley's maid
- Gerda Blunt (née Grant), Alistair Blunt's first wife AKA Mrs. Chapman AKA Helen Montressor
Explanation of the novel's title
The book's UK title is derived from a well-known children's nursery rhyme of the same name, and the chapters each correspond to a line of that rhyme. Other Agatha Christie books and short stories also share this naming convention, such as Hickory Dickory Dock, A Pocket Full of Rye, Five Little Pigs, and – most famously – And Then There Were None.
This is the first of the Poirot novels to reflect the pervasive gloom of the Second World War, and is one of Christie's most overtly political novels. Frank Carter is a fascist and Howard Raikes a leftist. Blunt's credentials as a champion of conservative reaction are made obvious throughout the text. Nevertheless, given the choice between setting free a murderer and expediently allowing an unpleasant but innocent man go to the gallows, Poirot (with marked reluctance) saves Carter.
Literary significance and reception
Maurice Willson Disher in The Times Literary Supplement of 9 November 1940 was not impressed with either the novel or the genre when he said in the article titled Murder of a Dentist, "Possibly the reader who wants to be puzzled may be the best judge of a detective story. If so Agatha Christie wins another prize, for her new novel should satisfy his demands. But another type of reader will find it dry and colourless." He continued; "The facts are stated in a joyless style of impartial investigation; it quickens into life only when a revolting corpse is discovered. This is characteristic of Christie's school. The 'full horrible details' that bring people to death are accounted of more importance than details which bring people to life."
In The New York Times Book Review of 2 March 1941, Kay Irvin concluded, "It's a real Agatha Christie thriller: exceedingly complicated in plot, briskly and compactly simple in narrative, with a swift course of unflagging suspense that leads to complete surprise. After closing the book one may murmur, "Far-fetched", or even "Impossible". But any such complaint will be voiced only after the story has been finished; there won't be a moment to think of such things, before."
Maurice Richardson in the 10 November 1940 issue of The Observer stated, "The Queen of Crime's scheming ingenuity has been so much praised that one is sometimes inclined to overlook the lightness of her touch. If Mrs Christie were to write about the murder of a telephone directory by a time-table the story would still be compellingly readable." He did admit that the "[f]iend's identity is perhaps less obscured than usual; motivation a trifle shaky, but clue details are brilliant."
The Scotsman of 26 December 1940 said of the book that, "Although motive is not of the obvious order, Mrs Christie deals with the mystery in the most ingenious way and, as usual, produces a masterly solution."
E.R. Punshon in The Guardian of 13 December 1940 summed up by saying, "Mrs Christie has to work coincidence rather hard and the plot is more ingenious than probable, since the culprit could, and certainly would, have reached his end by simpler means than murder."
An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of 15 March 1941 referred to the story as a "neat puzzle" having a "highly involved plot" with a "not-unforeseen solution." The reviewer added, "the pace is swift and talk – curse of the English detective story – is kept to a minimum" and concluded by saying, "Far from usual is ... Christie's use of her thriller to expound a number of her own rather odd political opinions."
Robert Barnard wrote "It is usually said that Christie drags herself into the modern world in the 'fifties, but the books in the late 'thirties show her dipping a not-too-confident toe into the ideological conflicts of the pre-war years. Here we have political 'idealists', fascist movements and conservative financiers who maintain world stability. But behind it all is a fairly conventional murder mystery, beguilingly and cunningly sustained."
References to other works
- In Part 4, i, of the novel, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp joke that a plot involving a body being "put into the Thames from a cellar in Limehouse" is "like a thriller by a lady novelist," in a reference to Hastings' adventures in Agatha Christie's own novel The Big Four.
- In Part 7, iii, of the novel, Poirot recollects the jewel thief, Countess Vera Rossakoff. Rossakoff, the nearest that Poirot comes to a love interest, appeared as a character in Chapter six of The Big Four (1927).
- In Part 8, ii, of the novel, mention is made by name of the Case of the Augean Stables. This had been first published in The Strand in March 1940 but would not be collected in book form until 1947, in The Labours of Hercules.
The novel was adapted in 1992 for the series Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet as Poirot. The adaptation is, overall, faithful to the book, but lacks certain characters such as Raikes. Blunt's niece therefore has not as great a role as in the novel. The adaptation for TV has gained much praise in several countries, standing out as one of the darkest episodes of the series, in contrast to adaptations that have been lighter in tone.
- 1940, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1940, Hardback, 256 p.
- 1941, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1941, Hardback, 240 p.
- 1944, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback (Pocket number 249)
- 1956, Pan Books, Paperback, 192 p. (Pan number 380)
- 1959, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 p.
- 1973, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 322 p.
- 2008, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1940 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 1 April 2008, Hardback, ISBN 0-00-727457-2
The book was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in nine parts from 3 August (vol. 106, no 5) to 28 September 1940 (vol. 106, no. 13) under the title The Patriotic Murders with illustrations by Mario Cooper.
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The Times Literary Supplement, 9 November 1940 (p. 569)
- The New York Times Book Review, 2 March 1941 (p. 26)
- The Observer, 10 November 1940 (p. 5)
- The Scotsman, 26 December 1940 (p. 7)
- The Guardian, 13 December 1940 (p. 7)
- Toronto Daily Star, 15 March 1941 (p. 27)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 201). Fontana Books, 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- BBC Radio Listings: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe