When Sophie Hannah brought literature’s greatest detective – Hercule Poirot – back to the masses in brand new adventures, she was bound to invoke the collective ire of die-hard Agatha Christie fans. But that was nothing compared to the rage felt by fans of the Belgian sleuth’s sidekick – the legendary Captain Arthur Hastings – at his replacement by the largely useless Inspector Edward Catchpool. Whatever the perceived faults of Hannah’s Poirot novels, there is a certain faction of readers that see the expulsion of Captain Hastings as her greatest slight.
I am one such reader.
But it wasn’t enough for me to simply rue the lack of Hastings action whilst at the same time developing murderous intentions towards the tiresome Catchpool. I couldn’t help but want for Captain Hastings to burst in and reclaim his rightful place at Poirot’s side. But how far would he go to usurp the young pretender? It might have happened a little bit like this…
One balmy afternoon in Plymouth, two gentlemen sat quietly on the terrace, both obscured by voluminous broadsheet newspapers. Bees and a cluster of seagulls were the only interruptions to the gentle lilt of the cricket commentary on the wireless. The man in the pinstripe jacket with a delicate pink silk handkerchief in the top pocket folded his newspaper and addressed his companion, a striking fellow clad head to toe in Hartwist striped tweed.
“You know, Artie, I think it’s dreadfully bad luck for you and your wife. A most inexplicable set of circumstances.”
“A dashed conundrum,” replied Artie. Major Smart was the only person who had ever called him ‘Artie’. Most people knew him as Captain Hastings. “Who would have thought that we could find the only village in Argentina to be populated entirely by beguiling auburn-haired ladies with friendly temperaments and a weakness for a British accent.”
Major Smart shook his head.
“You didn’t stand a chance, old boy.”
“Mrs Hastings is still very angry,” the Captain sighed. “I hope she will calm down soon.”
The benign murmurs on the wireless conferring the sedate pace of action at Lords were abruptly interrupted by the clipped and urgent tones of a solemn-sounding newsreader.
“The body of actor Maurice Kelly was discovered at his London home earlier this morning, apparently murdered. He is the third actor to have been found dead in as many weeks and this latest incident is widely believed to be another in the notorious Marble Murders series that has shocked the stage community in London’s West End. The police are being ably assisted by detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot, although no official comment has been made about the investigation so far…”
“I say!” exclaimed Hastings. “Not Maurice Kelly!”
“I don’t think I know the fellow,” grumbled Major Smart, a man uninterested by arts of any kind.
“Oh, he’s been in all sorts,” Hastings replied. “Never a lead, mind – but he’s been in all the big ones. Goodness knows why anyone would want to kill him.”
“Looks like your man is a bit stuck on this one, old boy” remarked Major Smart. “Perhaps he has finally met his match with this Marble Murderer fellow!”
Captain Hastings furrowed his perfect brow, tapping his lips with his fore finger.
“I say. I can’t believe that for a second,” Hastings replied. “Something must be dreadfully amiss. I think perhaps I should head up to town and find out what’s going on.”
“Do you suppose you can help him solve the case?”
Hastings smiled modestly.
“Well, I do feel that I have always been a vital element in the success of our previous cases. I am sure I can be of service.”
“You don’t think he might not thank you for sticking your nose in, old boy?” asked Major Smart.
“Nonsense, Major,” Hastings snorted. “The old chap will be delighted to see me.”
Meanwhile, in London, the discovery of the most recent brutal slaying was sitting particularly heavily with Inspector Edward Catchpool, the man charged by Chief Inspector Japp with investigating the so-called Marble Murders. It really wasn’t going so very well. Despite having previously worked with the legendary Hercule Poirot with some success, Catchpool was starting to worry that the great detective didn’t like him very much. It was true that Catchpool was not a terribly jolly type of chap and would rather spend his time in the company of crosswords than people. It was also fair to say that Catchpool could only be described at best as barely competent in his role as a detective. This was due partly to his propensity to faint at the first sight of blood but was mainly due to him being a bit slow on the uptake. Catchpool reflected with glum realisation that he had been of no help to Poirot whatsoever and worse – the Belgian sleuth’s almost paranormal powers of deduction seemed to be failing him. How many more actors must die before the killer is brought to justice?
Making his way to his office at Scotland Yard, Catchpool passed Chief Inspector Japp’s door, which had been left ajar. An excitable feminine giggle escaped from within. No doubt it belonged to Japp’s secretary, Miss Wandsworth, a woman who seemed to spend an unusual amount of time and dedication on Japp’s dictations. Catchpool did not approve of giggling in the workplace and he had made his feelings on the subject quite clear to the Chief Inspector, but it made little difference. If anything, the giggling had intensified in recent weeks.
Catchpool unlocked the door to his office and made himself as comfortable as was possible at his desk, which was crowded with papers and notes and crime scene photographs tucked away in manilla folders. He knew he should be with Poirot at the home of the unfortunate Maurice Kelly, investigating the scene first hand. The problem was that these Marble Murders were all incredibly messy. Of the now three murders, Catchpool had spent precisely thirty four seconds present at crime scenes during the entire investigation. These illustrious moments had occurred during the period it took him to walk from the front door to the study of American actor and socialite, Randy Beavis – the first victim of what have become known as the Marble Murders. What remained of Beavis had been artfully divided into many pieces and scattered across the floor of said study, the whole bloody scene decorated with a seemingly randomly-placed assortment of rare and unusual marbles – all glass, and all filled with flakes of precious metals.
Catchpool knew nothing further of this crime scene, nor any of that of another star of the London stage – Margot Askwith. The ageing musical hall star had been performing the lead role in a low-budget farce – Oh, Crikey! – when she was found in her drawing room, resembling a kind of meaty jigsaw and surrounded by spangly marbles. When he was passed the initial details, Catchpool dare not even attend the scene and Poirot had found him plenty of inconsequential tasks away from the action to convince him that he was best put to use in having a bit of a think and not getting in the way of all the real work.
Even so, these were interesting murders and there were many points of note to consider. Grabbing a notebook and pen, Catchpool sat down to consider the facts.