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.
When Hercule Poirot's own dentist, Henry Morley, is found dead from a gunshot wound, the official verdict is that he has killed himself; a verdict apparently supported when it appears that he has given one of his patients a fatal overdose of anaesthetic. Poirot suspects, however, that there is more to the case than at first appears, and soon events confirm his worst suspicions.
Hercule Poirot leaves the office of his dentist, Morley, after an appointment, and notices the arrival of Mabelle Sainsbury Seale. He returns to her the shiny buckle that has fallen from her shoe. Later, he hears from Inspector Japp that Morley has died of a gunshot. Between Poirot's appointment and Morley's death there were only three patients: Alistair Blunt, a banker; Mabelle Sainsbury Seale; and a Greek secret agent and blackmailer, surnamed Amberiotis. The presence of Blunt, a man thought essential to Britain's economic survival, ensures Japp's involvement in the case. Amberiotis dies of an overdose of anaesthetic and it is thought that the dentist has killed himself after realising the accident for which he had been responsible; but Poirot does not believe this. The movements of people at the dental surgery are inconclusive. Morley's partner, Reilly, seems to have no motive. Morley's secretary had been called away by a fake telegram. Her sleazy boyfriend, Frank Carter, had a weak motive, given that Morley had attempted to dissuade her from seeing him. Also present at the surgery was Howard Raikes, a hard-nosed American left-wing activist, violently opposed to Blunt but enamoured of Blunt's niece, Jane Olivera. Poirot has a long discussion with another patient from that day, a retired civil servant from the Home Office, Mr Barnes, who knows that Amberiotis is a spy, and suspects that Blunt was the actual target of the murder: "They're out after Blunt all right. That I know."
When Mabelle Sainsbury Seale goes missing, Poirot's fears are realised. A search for her is conducted, and some time later her body is apparently found in a sealed chest in the apartment of Mrs. Albert Chapman, who has herself disappeared. The face of the corpse has been smashed in, and Poirot notices the dead woman's dull buckled shoes. He is sceptical of the theory that Mrs Chapman has killed Sainsbury Seale and fled. Sure enough, once the dental records are produced, it is discovered that the corpse is that of Mrs Chapman. Poirot is now drawn into the life of the Blunt family. An attempt is made on Blunt's life; Raikes happens to be a bystander. Poirot is invited down to Blunt's house, where he is persuaded to undertake a search for Sainsbury Seale. While he is there, a second attempt is made on Blunt's life, but it is seemingly thwarted by Raikes. The pistol used in the attack is found in the hand of none other than Frank Carter, who has taken a job as gardener at the house under a false identity.
When Agnes Fletcher, a maid in Morley's apartment, admits to having seen Carter on the stairs going down to Morley's office, it seems that Carter is likely to be tried and convicted of both the murder and the attempted murder. The fact that the gun with which he was captured was the twin of the murder weapon only makes things worse for him. At the climax of the novel Poirot realises that by allowing Carter to persist in his lies he can ensure that the real killer goes free, and wrestles with his conscience. Eventually he presses Carter to admit the truth: that he had seen two people leave Morley's surgery, and that when he entered it the dentist was already dead. This is the final element in the puzzle.
Poirot visits Alistair Blunt and explains the murders. The real Mabelle Sainsbury Seale had known Blunt and his first wife, Gerda, when she and Gerda were both actresses in India. Gerda is masquerading as Helen Montressor, a distant Canadian cousin currently living on Blunt's estate. Blunt's money came from his now-deceased second wife, but he and Gerda never divorced; if the fact of Blunt's bigamy were known, he would be disgraced and ruined. Running into Blunt in the street, Mabelle Sainsbury Seale had recognised and spoken to him in front of his niece, but had not realised that he was now the prominent banker. She had mentioned this chance encounter to the blackmailer, Amberiotis, who made the connection between the name 'Blunt' and the wealthy banker, and began to blackmail him.
Gerda, posing under several aliases including that of Mrs Albert Chapman, invited Sainsbury Seale to visit her, killed her, and took her identity; but she had to buy new shoes because those of Sainsbury Seale did not fit her. This is why the buckles on the shoes found on the corpse were dull, whereas the buckle of the woman whom Poirot met going into Morley's surgery was shiny: the fake Mabelle had newer shoes. The woman in the trunk could hardly have worn through a new pair of shoes in a single day. Ironically, the face of the corpse had been disfigured not because it wasn't Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, but because it was.
Poirot summarises the murders of Morley and Amberiotis as follows: Blunt attended his own dental appointment, at the end of which he shot Morley, and rang for the next patient. He pretended to leave the building just as the fake Mabelle was shown up for her appointment with the now-dead dentist. Blunt joined his wife, and together they stashed the dentist's body in the side office. They exchanged the dental records of "Mrs Albert Chapman" and Mabelle to ensure that the corpse would be identified as Mrs Chapman: a woman who in reality did not exist. Blunt then dressed as the dentist. Gerda, now impersonating Mabelle, left the office, while Blunt, now posing as the dentist, rang for the next patient. He administered the fatal overdose to Amberiotis, a new patient who had never met Morley. As soon as Amberiotis left, Blunt changed out of his dentist's disguise, moved the dentist's body back into the surgery, posed the body to appear as a suicide, and surreptitiously departed, without ringing for a new patient. Frank Carter, hiding on the stairs, saw both Amberiotis and Blunt leave, and then entered the surgery to speak to Morley, only to discover the body (whose blood had by now dried), at which he fled in a panic.
At the conclusion, Poirot is forced to admit that Blunt does indeed stand in public life "for all the things that to my mind are important. For sanity and balance and stability and honest dealing". Nevertheless, he adds: "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." Stating that he does not feel that Blunt's claims to be needed in the world justifies the deaths that resulted from his plan, he turns Blunt over to the police. Later, he speaks with Howard Raikes and Jane Olivera, telling them that they now have the "new heaven and the new earth" that they desire, asking them only to "let there be freedom and let there be pity". In the last chapter, Barnes tells Poirot that he took a strong interest in the case as his (Barnes's) own undercover sobriquet was Albert Chapman, but he had never been married.
- 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/politician
- Julia Olivera, Blunt's deceased wife's sister
- 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
- 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 started, "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