The Veiled Lady by Agatha Christie, 1925
The magic trick:
Throwing the reader off the scent with some confused, unreliable narration from Hastings
While yesterday’s Poirot feature, “The Cheap Flat,” drew on the Sherlock story “The Red-Headed League” for its too-good-to-be-true premise, today’s story, “The Veiled Lady,” is a play on Sherlock in “Scandal In Bohemia.” If you’re expecting a plot twist with the elegance of the Irene Adler narrative, you’ll be disappointed. This one devolves into a sticky, plotty web of pulp. Eh. But who cares? It’s fun.
This story is a great example of the power of Hastings’ narration. Earnest as ever, he grows emotional and worried that the veiled lady is being mistreated and that Poirot is not working hard enough to make things right. The astute Poirot reader will see these sections as red flags that perhaps all in this story is not exactly as it seems. Hastings, with the best of intentions, is often an unreliable narrator – at least in terms of sussing out the story as the story develops. He’s great at accurately reporting the conclusions. He struggles with the journey at times – to the reader’s confusion and delight. And that’s quite a trick on Christie’s part.
My face flushed, and I took a step forward, but Lavington had wheeled out of the room as he finished his sentence.
“My God!” I cried. “Something has got to be done. You seem to be taking this lying down, Poirot.”
“You have an excellent heart, my friend – but your gray cells in a deplorable condition. I have no wish to impress Mr. Lavington with my capabilities. The more pusillanimous he thinks me, the better.”
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