Elephants Can Remember
By Agatha Christie
Ulverscroft Large Print, 1992
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - August 29, 2005
Elephants are said to never forget, and memories are at the center of Elephants Can Remember, a clever and thrilling mystery by Agatha Christie. Technically a Hercule Poirot mystery, Elephants Can Remember finds Poirot working side by side with Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, an intelligent, talkative, and emotional woman and who readily speaks her mind. It is hard to picture Oliver without seeing slight shades of Miss Marple, although they have totally different personalities. Oliver is a career woman who makes her living as a mystery writer who specialized in crime cases. Poirot and Oliver worked together on several cases. However, Elephants Can Remember was the last book in which Christie paired this odd duo, and the last Poirot book that she wrote, although it was not the last one to be published.
In this intriguing case, Poirot and Oliver investigate the supposed double suicide of a husband and wife that occurred twelve years ago. According to the British constabulary, the case was closed, although never solved. The case is quickly reopened when Mrs. Burton-Cox, whose son is planning to marry Celia Ravenscroft, the daughter of the suicides. Oliver asks a simple question. "Did her mother kill her father or was it the father who killed the mother?" As chance should happen, Celia is Oliver's goddaughter, and this single question starts Oliver on a quest to uncover the truth. Did Sir and Lady Ravenscroft committed suicide, did one kill the other, or where they both murdered? After all, both had been shot, and no hard evidence existed as to who did the shooting and no motive existed for them to kill themselves, so it is plausible that a third party was involved. And, if they were murdered, who did it, and why? When Oliver descends upon Poirot for a visit she quickly wins Poirot over to her cause and the two set out to discover the truth, for Celia sake and to set to rest the spirits of her parents.
This is a unique story in several ways. You have the investigation of an extremely old case, you have the unlikely duo of Poirot and Oliver working on it, and as it turns out, it is a case wrought with danger for the detectives. To solve the case, the two interview as many witness to the crime that they can find, and well as anyone who might have information related to the crime, or the Ravenscrofts. Some have useful information, but all too many have memories that have faded over time and can offer little in the way of concrete evidence. Working from these interviews and aided by Oliver's insights, Poirot painstakingly reconstructs the events leading up to the deaths, and eventually discovers the truth about the Ravenscroft's deaths.
Elephants Can Remember makes for a fine light read. The story does ramble in spots, but that is to be expected in a story that relies primarily on faded memories to deliver all the clues necessary to solve the case. While Poirot should get most of the credit for solving this case, although at times he does despair that the case is unsolvable, it is to Oliver that the story gets its spark and humor. This is a story rich in atmosphere, and one that shows that even in her later days (this book was written when she was around 85), Christie was still a masterful writer who was able to craft an intriguing story that will delight fans of all ages.
Elephants Can Remember can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft.
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