Saturday 1 July 2017

So Long, A Line from Linda

It was six years ago this past May that I sat down and wrote my very first blog post at  I hoped to make a post once a week but it quickly turned into a daily affair.  Whereas most blogs are abandonned in the first year, and 60 to 80 % in the first month, my blog has endured.  From the start, I had three goals for my blog:

  • that it give me the self-discipline to write regularly
  • that it serve as a forum to showcase my writing
  • that it serve as a way to network with other writers

But A Line from Linda has served as so much more.  It has given me a voice.  It has given me the opportunity to research and write about topics that I knew nothing about like art (; topics that are near and dear to my heart like adoption (; topics that I have researched for my books like East Prussia circa WWII (; and Victorian Britain circa 1900 (; trips that I have taken (http://a); new picture books that I have discovered (; how old books came to be published like And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (; and people whom I love (, ( and (

I am sad to say goodbye to A Line from Linda.  However, this summer I start a new chapter in my life.  Because I have been accepted in the French Masters Program at McMaster University, I have to turn my attention to my thesis, "L'Exode".  I will be spending the summer reading the letters written by French men and women fleeing Paris, the Nazis at their heels, in June of 1940.

To my blog followers, I say thank you.  Thank you for taking the time to read my posts.  Thank you for sharing a small part of my life.  So long!

Friday 30 June 2017

Living Room

She is the subject of many of Alex Colville's paintings:  To Prince Edward Island, Woman at Clothesline, Woman on Ramp, Stove, Nude and Dummy, Family and Rainstorm, Departure and Woman Carrying Canoe, to name a few.  Rhoda Wright was the love of Alex Colville's life.  They were married for 70 years and raised four children.

It is appropriate then that I end a month of blogging about Alex Colville with another painting featuring his wife, Living Room.  The ease of their relationship is evident in Alex's artwork.  In Living Room, the couple sits side by side, Alex in his chair, Rhoda at the piano, the dog in between them.  It is like there is no need for words.  They know each other's thoughts.  Rhoda passed away in 2012 and Alex followed only six months later, united forever.

Thursday 29 June 2017

Prince Henry Refueling in Corsica

"I felt my job was simply to report.  I tried very hard to do the best stuff I could do as a war artist.  I thought at least because no one was shooting at me, I could try and do reasonably good work." 
(Alex Colville)

A sailor trains his telescope on the Canadian ship Prince Henry, stationed in the Mediterranean off the coast of Corsica.  Azure waters fill the foreground; partially bare foothills fill the background.

In 1942, artist Alex Colville enlisted in the Canadian Army and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. Two years later, he accepted an appointment as an official war artist, travelling to Yorkshire, the Netherlands, northern Germany and the Mediterranean.  It was while stationed at the latter that he painted the Canadian ship Prince Henry, in the process of refueling at the French island of Corsica.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Tragic Landscape

Tragic Landscape circa 1945 courtesy

Alex Colville's Tragic Landscape features a German soldier lying dead in a farmer's field.  A cow, indifferent to his plight, is walking away.  A farmhouse sits in the background.  Menacing clouds hover overhead.  Tragic Landscape contrasts the terror of war and the peace of nature.  

Alex Colville was an official war artist for Canada during the Second World War.  Stationed in Deventer, Holland, he came upon a German paratrooper of lying face up in a farmer's field.  "He was about twenty," explained the Canadian painter.  "They [the Germans] would fight right to the very end.  They had put up a tremendous fight until they were all killed."  Tragic Landscape hangs in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

German soldier from the Luftwaffe in Holland courtesy

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Low Tide

A lady reclines on the deck of a boat, a hat covering her face to block out the sun.  Her husband, knee deep in water, appears to be adjusting the anchor.  In the background stretches a peninsula of sand, partially covered in reeds.  Low Tide, painted in 1987 by Alex Colville, is somewhere in Nova Scotia, where he lived much of his life.  The painting features a woman who is most likely his wife, Rhoda.  The scene is one of ease:  the tide eases in and out.  The husband and wife demonstrate a sense of ease with their relationship.  There is no sense of urgency.  They could stay there forever.

Monday 26 June 2017

French Cross

"French Cross is a sombre reminder of past animosity between French and English in Canada, and of the sufferings of ordinary people who happen to be caught in national or international power plays."(Alan Reynolds)

Alex Colville's painting French Cross is both peaceful and menacing.  The Christian cross represents the hope of Jesusand His resurrection while the grey clouds might indicate a coming storm.  Grand Pre, or Grand Prairie, is where the Acadians erected dykes to prevent the sea from encroaching on their farmlands.

French Cross features a monument erected in 1924 at Grand Pre, Nova Scotia to honour the Acadians (French population) deported to the Thirteen Colonies by the British, known as Le Grand Derangement.     In 1755, the army of King George II gathered the men of the area together at a church, burned their houses and barns, and forced them onto ships heading south. (  The British population was more established in the Thirteen Colonies at the time and therefore the King reasoned that the French would pose less of a threat there then in Nova Scotia.  The expulsion ejected the French from their land, some of whom had been there since 1604 when Acadia was founded.

"French Cross is a sombre reminder of past animosity between French and English in Canada, and of the sufferings of ordinary people who happen to be caught in national or international power plays."  But at the same time, the Cross reminds us that the future brings hope. While the Acadians were persecuted, their history and culture survive.  While most of us are familiar with the Acadians (Cajuns) of New Orleans, not all of the Acadians got on the ships heading south. Some hid in the forests of New Brunswick.  That is why today, New Brunswick retains a significant French population (about a third) and is officially bilingual.  "In spite of their struggles, they are not 'separatist'."(  The Acadians remain an integral part of Canada's culture, honoured by both Alex Colville's painting and Henry Wadworth Longfellow's poem, Evangeline.

Sunday 25 June 2017

The River Spree

While living in Berlin, Germany, Alex Colville partiicpated in the Kunstlerprogramm, a one year grant offered to artists in film, literature or the visual arts which started in 1963.  Alex Colville received the grant in 1971, at which time he painted at least two works, Berlin Bus ( and The River Spree.  The Spree is the river on which the original Berlin centre was built.  Spanning 400 kilometres, it runs through Saxony, Brandenburg, Berlin and the Czech Republic.  Tourists taking cruises on the River Spree might pass by the Berlin Cathedral, the Reichstag and the Schloss Charlottenburg.  Museum Island, which includes a collection of five museums, is located in the middle of the Spree.

Bode Museum on Museum Island in the River Spree courtesy

Saturday 24 June 2017


A skater glides across the ice, her muscled leg outstretched parallel to the ice, her hands tucked behind her back.  Her other skate is planted firmly on the ice which already has many lines carved into its surface.  In the background appears to be a cliff with a small, frozen waterfall.

"All is grace, serenity and composure," says Helen Dow, who wrote the book The Magic Realism of Alex Colville.  She adds:  "This is a picture of a human being who has come to grips with reality." Yet, the skater is skating away from the viewer, not towards the viewer.

Completed in 1964, Colville's painting depicts a typical Canadian pastime, ice skating.  The painter's wife, who served often as his subject, was an avid cyclist, swimmer and skater.

Friday 23 June 2017

Dog and Groom

"Our life has consisted a procession of pets.  He had an especially close relationship with his dogs.  Walking and grooming his dog were parts of Colville's daily routine."

Alex Colville kneels in front of the fireplace as he painstakingly grooms his dog, perhaps removing a flea from his fur.  The painter and his pug appear to have known each other forever.  As the dog waits patiently, he looks away from his owner with innocent eyes. Colville had "a peculiar idea of dogs.   They are sentient but incapable of evil." (Andrew Hunter, Ontario Art Gallery Curator)  That innocence must have been refreshing to Colville who witnessed (and sketched as a war artist) the horror of Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp.  As Colville's only daughter Anne Kitz said:  "He was a pragmatist and not inclined to think that people were inherently good.  He believed evil existed."

Thursday 22 June 2017


When I googled "heron" it said that the species most prevalent in Canada is the Great Blue Heron, which can be found from Nova Scotia to Alberta, with a large concentration in Prince Edward Island, the great blue heron capital of North America.  It stands anywhere from 3.2 to 4.5 feet tall and its wings span spreads anywhere from 5.5 to 6.6 feet.  The great blue heron, a colonial nester, builds stick nests, 1 metre in diameter, in the treetops.  The largest known colony of nests in P.E.I. was recorded at 507 in 1997.  The large bird arrives in Canada in the late March and departs in the late fall.  Great blue herons are expert fishers, swallowing their prey whole.  They live on average 15 years.

Alex Colville's Heron circa 1977 courtesy

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Moon and Cow

Hey diddle, diddle
The cat and fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed 
To see such sport.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
(The Cow Jumped over the Moon)

Moon and Cow — painting by Alex Colville

Moon and Cow, with the moonlit night and the resting cow, evokes a feeling of peacefulness.  I think of the nursery rhyme, The Cow Jumped Over the Moon.  I think of the steady rhythm of the poem and the innocence of a young child.

On the other hand, in 1963, when Alex Colville completed the painting, the world was in the throes of the Cold War.  Children hovered under their desks during atomic bomb drills.  The hands of the superpower leaders hovered over the nuclear "button".  Mercifully, President John F. Kennedy had recently averted disaster with the diplomacy he displayed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Only two years before however, President Kennedy had promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  And while the world sat on the precipice of World War III, which would have put us back into the stone age, the two superpowers were working feverishly behind the scenes to forge ahead and put a man on the moon.  The Space Race refocussed their attention.  It would be only six years later that 600 million spectators would watch in hushed silence as Neil Armstrong placed his boot on the moon's dusty surface and declared:  "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Three Horses

Unlike Alex Colville's Horse and Train (1954) or Church and Horse (1964), which evoke a sense of urgency and unease, Three Horses (1946), evokes a feeling of peace and tranquility.  Three horses, one brown, one rust-coloured and one grey, gather in a field of hay.  A barn sits in the background.  White clouds fill the sky.  It seems like all is well with the world.

Three Horses comes on the tail end of the Second World War.  Perhaps Alex Colville, after coming off the battlefield where he sketched scenes of horror and devastation, is content to just sit in a farmer's field and sketch horses.  He surrounded himself with animals all of his life, a source of companionship.  "Colville viewed animals as essentially innocent -- incapable of malice unless conditioned so by humans." (

Monday 19 June 2017

Ocean Limited

Alex Colville's Ocean Limited, circa 1962, features a train that runs between Montreal and Halifax through Sackville.  While Colville's famous 1953 painting includes a horse facing a train, this piece includes a man facing a train, only this time the two are not on a direct collision course.  The man, dressed in a trench coat and hat, appears to be deep in thought.

Colville's painting harkens back to a bygone era when trains were part of Canada's landscape.  Rather than driving, most people rode the train for long distance trips.  Before transport trucks, everything was shipped by rail.  Even hobos rode the rails during the Great Depression.  By the 1960's, passenger rail travel was in decline due to the increase in automobile and air traffic.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Stop for Cows

Alex Colville's Stop for Cows, circa 1967, features a young woman in shorts and a sleeveless top ushering a herd of jersey cows along the road.  Farmland stretches on either side.  In the background is a string of mountains, likely the Appalachians of Nova Scotia.  The cows are not in a hurry; it harkens back to a slower pace of life.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie Leap Year in which Amy Adams character ushers a handful of cattle off the road in order that her and her chauffeur may continue on their journey to Dublin.  All seems well with the world until Amy looks down at her designer shoe and discovers it's covered in manure.

Artwork Stop for Cows by Alex Colville

Saturday 17 June 2017

Woman Carrying Canoe

A woman rests a canoe casually on her shoulders.  The ankle deep water is calm and serene.  A narrow beach sits to the right and a cliff fills the background.  The woman is likely Alex Colville's wife and the beach is likely one in Nova Scotia where they lived.

The canoe is an integral part of Canadian history.  Derived from the Carib word "kenu" or dugout, the canoe was used by the Natives in North America.  The French fur traders who arrived in Canada in the 1600's used the canoe to cross streams and rivers as they portaged the country.  There are two types of canoes, the K-boat or kayak, intended for one passenger, and the C-boat or Canadian, intended for two passengers.  The C-boat is about 17 feet long and each passenger uses a paddle with a single blade to move the canoe.

Friday 16 June 2017


Alex Colville's Stove, circa 1988, shows a woman stooping over her cook stove while her dog watches.  This painting harkens back to the days of the old cook stoves.  They took a long time to heat up but once they were hot, they were piping hot.  As a little girl my aunt mistakenly leaned up against the back of her mother's stove and got second degree burns.

The old cookstove had many compartments.  In Colville's painting the woman has opened the top right compartment.  Was that the oven used for baking bread?  I remember when my sister first got married she and her husband bought a house circa 1962 with all of the original appliances and furniture.  The cook stove also had many compartments.  One of the compartments was for the wood or coal used to heat the stove (my sister's, however, was electric).

Thursday 15 June 2017

Couple on Beach

Alex Colville's Couple on Beach is likely a painting of him and his wife sun bathing in Nova Scotia. The wife lays on her side, her hat covering her face.  The husband, squatting next to her, appears to be looking out towards the horizon.  The rippled surface of the water meets the blue sky, scudded with puffy white clouds.

While this scene likely takes place in Nova Scotia in 1957, because we can't see the faces, this could be any couple.  It could be my husband and I on our honeymoon in British Columbia in 1992.  We packed a picnic lunch and headed to Okanagan Lake where we sunbathed.  We took a dip in the lake. In our newlywed frame of mind, we were oblivious of everyone else.  We didn't realize that Ogopogo was lurking in the lake's depths.  It was only later that Rob discovered his ring was missing. But we refused to let it spoil our glorious day.  

Note:  While Rob and I are about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this summer, Alex and Rhoda Colville were happily married for 70 years!

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Seven Crows

"One crow, sorrow
Two crows joy
Three crows a letter
Four crows a boy
Five crows silver
Six crows gold
Seven crows a story never to be told."
(William Butler Yeats)

Alex Colville based his 1980 painting Seven Crows on the Yeats poem.  In literature, crows can act as a harbinger of death.  Seven crows lurk over a field by the water as clouds hover overhead.  The birds hang in the air as the unspoken tension hangs in the picture.  Something is about to happen.  Perhaps it's a thunderstorm, perhaps much more.  It's "a story never to be told".  

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Church and Horse

"More than any other artist in Canada, Colville's images permeate both our psyche and our everyday life." (Toronto Star)

Alex Colville's Church and Horse contrasts a peaceful white-clapboard church with a spooked black horse.  The sanctuary of the church is contrasted with the dangers of the outside world.  A foreboding sky hovers over the church and horse.  The gate remains open, ready for the horse to bolt right through it.

Painted in 1964, "JFK's funeral is the subtext for Church and Horse, a painting that I never understood until this encounter.  We watch that big black riderless horse in the funeral procession...then meet him again, galloping madly through Colville's painting." (

No one will forget the image of little John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin; of the veiled widow Jacqueline, clasping each of her child's hands; of Caroline Kennedy sneaking a hand under the American flag, as if to touch her father one last time; of the riderless horse clip clopping behind the slain President's coffin as it made its way to Arlington Cemetery.  Colville's horse conveys some of the public's unease felt in the turbulent months after JFK's assassination (

Monday 12 June 2017

Dog and Priest

Alex Colville's painting Dog and Priest shows a dog looking out for his master.  Both dog and priest have dark coats.  Both dog and master have collars, although the priest's is obscured by the dog's.  The priest is reclining while the dog is sitting up, on the alert.  Priests are known for the faith in God while dogs demonstrate faith in their masters.

Dog and Priest, painted in 1978, represents a bygone era.  At one time, Roman Catholic priests would have been commonplace in Canada, especially the Maritimes with its large ethnic Irish population.  However, today, the number of priests is steadily declining.  The slower pace of life, something much of Canada has lost, is indicative of the Maritimes.

Sunday 11 June 2017


A woman in a white dress stands in a telephone booth on a jetty as a cargo ship pulls out to sea.  Ripples cover the water; clouds dot the sky.  Departure, circa 1962, is yet another example of Alex Colville's preoccupation with the ordinary.

Just like the soldier saying goodbye to his girlfriend/wife, this may be a scene where a couple is about to endure a long separation.  During the Second World War, this scene would have played itself out many times.  For someone living in Nova Scotia like Colville, where the army and navy often deployed, this would have been a common event.

Saturday 10 June 2017

To Prince Edward Island

A woman, facing the camera, holds a pair of binoculars as she heads To Prince Edward Island aboard a ferry.  A lifeboat hangs behind her.  Other than a string of puffy clouds above the horizon, the sky is a clear blue.

While many of Colville's paintings exhibit some degree of anxiety or tension, To Prince Edward Island has a serenity about it.  It is no surprise that the painting remains one of Colville's most loved works.  And Prince Edward Island remains one of the most popular destinations for both Canadians and foreigners.  Its red sand beaches, lobster dinners and friendly charm are irresistible.  A visit to Prince Edward Island, I imagine, takes one back to a simpler time.  The pace is slower and the people are friendlier.  Painted in 1965, on the heals of the Cuban Missile Crisis (perhaps the purpose of the binoculars trained on the viewer) such a painting would be a welcome respite from the Cold War angst.

Friday 9 June 2017

Family and Rainstorm

I'll never forget the summers of my childhood in Grand Bend, Ontario.  My Mom, my sisters (and later my brother) and I would spend the day at the beach.  Sometimes, in late afternoon, dark clouds would blow in and before we knew it, a thunderstorm would hit.  We would pack up our towels and head for cover. We would sit in our mobile home and watch the fireworks display.  There's nothing like a thunderstorm on the lake.  It was more magnificent than anything you would witness on land.

Alex Colville's Family and Rainstorm reminds me of those thunderstorms, only this time set in Nova Scotia rather than Southern Ontario.  Dark clouds hovering over the water threaten to burst open at any moment.  A mother holds the car door open for her son and daughter as they climb inside.   The children, likely drained from a day of sun and sand, are ready to collapse.  The mother is likely dreaming of a warm bath to clean off the sand that clings to her body.  I see visions of the car, only minutes later, driving down the road, its wipers working full speed, its occupants relieved to be inside.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Milk Truck

"Toronto passed a law in the 1950's banning milk delivery before 7 am to prevent the disturbance of Torontonian's sleep."

Alex Colville's painting Milk Truck, circa 1959, is a tribute to the small town Maritimes.  A Mercury truck filled with crates of milk (and a dog) and with a boy hanging off of it ready to deliver the goods, drives down the main street of a small town.  In the background is a Simpsons Catalogue Store (a small town wouldn't have merited a full department store).  At the end of the street and the edge of the picture is the water, presumably the Atlantic.

But the milk truck wasn't just a part of Maritime history, but Canadian history.  I remember the milk truck that came down our street every day in Hamilton, Ontario.  I remember the milk box that was built into the side of our bungalow.  I remember the plastic jugs that the milk came in. Our neighbour, Mrs. Pellizari, still ordered her milk in glass bottles.

The milk truck was not always the mode of transportation for milkmen in Canada.  According to The Globe and Mail, "Most Canadians had milk, cream, butter, eggs, bread and even meat delivered -- and all by horse drawn wagon, a vehicle that some Toronto milkmen used until the late 1950's."  My Mom, who grew up in Dunbarton, 18 miles east of Toronto, remembers the horse drawn milk carts.  The horses knew the routes so well that they could continue without instruction; at a dead end street they could be counted on to turn around.

By the early 1960's, electric trucks had replaced horsedrawn wagons, but they came with their own set of problems.  They struggled in the cold and needed a pick up truck to climb steep hills.  The vehicle's rooftop refrigeration system often leaked, raining down on the driver.  Its small oil stove did little to keep the milkman warm.

Modern gas trucks soon followed with a proper refrigeration unit.  You would think that the motorized trucks would be much louder than the wagons.  However, it wasn't the rumbling of the truck motor that got the milkmen into trouble but the clinking of the milk bottles.  Toronto passed a law in the 1950's banning milk delivery before 7 am to prevent the disturbance of Torontonian's sleep.  In 1944, Ella Mae Morse had a top ten hit titled Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.

The death of the milkman and the milk truck came with the advent of modern refrigerators and the proliference of automobiles.  People could keep their milk fresh much longer at home.  They could drive themselves to the store to buy more.  The milk truck, as its predecessor the horse, was put out to pasture.

Wednesday 7 June 2017


"Reproduced in magazines and books, on posters and postcards and television [Colville's paintings] have become icons of Canadianism, the visual expression of our spirit." (Fulford)

As Hellen Dow states:  "Alex Colville celebrates the ordinary."  In Canada, what could be more ordinary than a fishing trip?  My son Thomas and his friend Braden just came home from a fishing trip in French River.   My Grandad Stroud used to make an annual fishing trip to French River.  And what fishing trip would be complete without a photo of the prize fish?  Thomas caught a pike; not bad for his first time fishing.  Countless Canadians can reminisce about fishing trips taken as children.  

Colville's piece, Embarkation, appears to depict a husband and wife on a fishing trip.  Using an aerial view, Colville paints the woman descending the ladder to the fishing boat while her husband looks on.  The boat is devoid of fish so they must be just setting out (although not everyone who fishes comes back with any fish).  Colville grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia situated on the Cumberland Basin, an arm of the Bay of Fundy.  Fishing was an ideal sport for the locals who had access to islands, bays, rivers, points and shoals.  

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Berlin Bus

Related image

In 1971, Alex Colville worked in Berlin as a Visiting Artist for the Kunstlerprogramm.  Fascinated by the city's double decker busses, he sketched one.  In 1978, he produced a painting of the Berlin bus, this time with a girl running alongside it.

While Paris introduced the first motorized double decker "autobus" in 1906, the first one appeared in Berlin in 1923.  The double decker bus, while able to hold more passengers, was difficult to manoeuvre under bridges or up hills.  However, Berlin, being so flat, lent itself well to the double decker model.  Bus transportation was crucial in a city like Berlin, which today is nine times the size of Paris.  The double decker busses were a good way for people to commute to work.  In more recent years they have been used for tourists.

In 1973, the first female drivers were hired (  The same year saw the postal service issue a stamp commemorating the 1970 "doppeldeckautobus" (,_MiNr_449.jpg). Berlin's double decker bus fleet peaked in 1992 at 1000, but ten years later had fallen to 450.  At that time busses held 95 passengers.  The new busses can hold up to 128 passengers.

Monday 5 June 2017

The River Thames

Alex Colville's The River Thames, circa 1974, features a woman in a fur trimmed coat and umbrella gazing over the bridge at the River Thames.  The scene, with the calm water, the buildings reflected in its surface, is utterly tranquil.  It does not betray the river's past or future.

The River Thames has been at the centre of much of London's history.  It was in 1858 that pedestrians crossed over its waters, handkerchiefs over their noses, to block out The Great Stink, the sewage emanating from the river's depths.  Workers at the House of Commons, on the banks of the Thames, soaked the curtains in lime.  Londoners who imbibed the drinking water were dropping dead due to cholera, a water borne disease.  The problem was not resolved until Joseph Bazalgette introduced his sewer system in 1866.

It was in 1940 that pedestrians standing on the London Bridge over the Thames watched the sky light up as Hitlers bombs reigned down on the city.  While many Brits retreated to the Underground to seek refuge from the Blitz, 43,000 civilians still perished, about half of which were Londoners.  The River Thames' docks in the East End were a common target for the Luftwaffe.  While bombs peppered the city during a 57-consecutive night Blitz, the London Bridge remained intact, almost personifying Britain's fierce leader, who proclaimed:  "We shall never surrender!"

In 1945, the smoke cleared and London returned to peacetime.  However, the city lived for many years in the shadow of the Second World War.  It was a long time before tourists once again strolled across the London Bridge and watched as Londoners slowly rebuilt their city.  By the time the city was back on its feet in 1965, its fearless leader was laid to rest amid much pomp and circumstance. The 1960's also saw a rise in immigration and London, more than ever before, became a multicultural centre.

London's peacetime was not shattered until 2005 when terrorists targetted London's Underground, killing 56 people and injuring almost 800.  The date was referred to as 7/7 in the wake of 9/11.  Earlier this year, the London Bridge became the location for another terrorist attack when a vehicle ran over many pedestrians.  This past weekend, Londoners once again heard gunshots and bomb blasts as terrorists laid siege to London Bridge and Borough Market.

It seems fitting, today, that I blog about Alex Colville's 1974 painting The River Thames which hearkens back to a more innocent time.  I pray for peace for London.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Soldier & Girl at Station

A soldier and his girl share a long embrace at a train station.  Is he departing or arriving?  The picture does not say.  I get the impression that the soldier is departing as the scene looks quiet and sad rather than happy and exuberant.  They are the only two people on the platform, as if the rest of the world does not exist. It's likely a scene that Alex Colville witnessed dozens of times in his work as a war artist.  One blogger explains:  "It was the accompanying sketches that Colville drew, before going off to war, of the same scene, but crowded and bustling with other passengers."  The painting, completed in 1953, is both a testament to the blinding effect of love and the lonely effect of war.

Colville based the station on the Sackville Train Station in New Brunswick which precedes the Amherst, Nova Scotia Station, Colville's home as a boy.  While Soldier & Girl at Station disappeared for decades into private collections, it resurfaced in recent years and sold at auction for over $663,000.

Saturday 3 June 2017

Woman at Clothesline

In the 1950's, Alex Colville painted a series of paintings highlighting domestic life.  Woman at Clothesline depicts a housewife, modelled by his real life wife Rhoda, holding a laundry basket.  The painting was completed at Colville's house on York Street.

The beauty of the painting is in its simplicity:  the simple dress that the woman wears, the simple sheets hanging from the clothesline, the simple task that she performs.  As one essayist explains Alex Colville's work:  "It is uncluttered by period sentiment, aloof, complete and self explanatory:  such things travel well through time."

Alex Colville embraced magic realism, "a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy."  While Colville passed away in 2013, his style is alive and well in artists like Alan Bateman, son of the famous Robert Bateman.

Woman at Clothesline

Friday 2 June 2017

Horse & Train

"Against a regiment, I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train."

Canadian painter Alex Colville used to construct model trains as a little boy. He was a student of order. His father and grandfather owned horses.  It seemed the perfect mix, then, to paint an horse and a train in 1953.  But there was another source of inspiration for Colville's painting -- the poem A Dark Horse Against an Armoured Train published by South African writer Roy Campbell in 1949.  "Against a regiment, I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train."  The setting for the painting is Aular, near Sackville, New Brunswick where the elevated tracks cross the Tantramar Marshes.

The order that Colville thrived on as a little boy was upset by the images he saw and sketched during the Second World War, particularly the massive piles of bodies in the concentration camp, Bergen Belsen.  When Colville returned to Canada after the war, he tried to make sense out of the disorder in the world through existentialism.  He sought to embrace existence and to find meaning in his life.  The Horse and Train painting symbolizes the freedom of both the horse and the engineer:  while on a collision course, the horse could change direction at any time and the engineer could apply the brakes.  At the same time, as one columnist pointed out:  "Everything in an Alex Colville painting has an air of inevitability."

Horse and Train, arguably Colville's most famous piece, was acquired by the Hamilton ARt Gallery in 1957 where it remains to this day.


Thursday 1 June 2017

Alex Colville: Canada's Norman Rockwell

Last October, I blogged every day about one of Norman Rockwell's paintings (  Today, I googled Canada's Norman Rockwell and came up with the name Alex Colville.  In fact, Colville "traces his initial inspiration to become an artist to the hours he spent as a boy pouring over the Saturday Evening Post", a magazine filled with Rockwell's illustrations (

The famous Canadian painter was born in Toronto and grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia.  He first used his painting skills when he served in the Canadian Army during World War II.  When he returned from overseas, he married and started teaching art at Nova Scotia's Mount Allison University.  His artwork featured "tranquil compositions which focussed on routine moments of family life and featured landscapes, animals and the sea."

"To Prince Edward Island", "Nude and Dummy" and "Horse and Train" are three of his more prominent pieces.  Colville's work was viewed by millions of Canadians via art galleries, magazines, book covers, postcards, posters, television, coins and a record album (Bruce Cockburn).

Embracing abstract and impressionist art, and with a focus on the ordinary, Colville has been called "Canada's Norman Rockwell".  The painter's technique involved "a painstaking process of multiple drawings, precise geometry and carefully applied blots of paint."  By the 1950's, Colville came to be associated with the regionalist school of painting demonstrated by the American Precisionists of the 1930's.  While Colville's career began in Canada, it was not until he pariticpated in exhibitions in Hanover, German and London England in 1969 that he found commercial success here at home.

Colville served as visiting professor at the University of California in 1967 and as visiting artist at the university of Berlin in 1971.  He was named Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967.  From 1981 to 1991, he was chancellor of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  Colville's 1953 painting, "Man on Verandah" sold for $1.29 million in 2010, setting a record for a piece by a living Canadian artist.

Man on Verandah — painting by Alex Colville

Wednesday 31 May 2017

The Hollow

Lucy Angkatell invites Hercule Poirot to her estate for a party.  As a lark, she stages a mock murder for the detective.  By the end  of the evening, everyone is surprised to discover a dead body in the pool.

Doctor John Cristow, husband of Gerda, is having an affair with sculptress Henrietta Savernake.  The beautiful Veronica Cray, a former flame of John's staying at a nearby cottage, appears at the party looking for matches.  John walks Veronica back to her cottage and returns at 3 am.  The next day, Gerda Cristow stands at the edge of the pool next to her husband's bleeding body, a gun in her hand.  Lucy, Henrietta and Edward, a cousin of Lucy's are also present at the scene of the crime.  After uttering one word "Henrietta", John dies.

It would seem obvious that Gerda is the murderer.  However, no one actually saw her pull the trigger.  Henrietta takes the gun away from Gerda and it falls into the swimming pool, destroying the evidence.  Lucy kept a pistol in her basket of eggs, but it is of a different calibre than the one used to kill John.  Henrietta looks suspicious after a strange doodle is found in her sketchbook.  The murder weapon turns up in Poirot's hedge, but with fingerprints not matching any of the suspects.

It turns out Gerda had two pistols, one to shoot John and the other to use as a decoy.  Henrietta assumes that john's appeal to her is to help Gerda.  She takes the pistol out of Gerda's hand and later hides it in the hedge.

Midge Hardcastle is in love with Edward.  However, Edward is in love with Henrietta who has rejected his countless marriage proposals.  Realizing Henrietta has changed, and realizing that Midge is no longer "little Midge", he proposes to the latter.  However, still believing Edward is in love with Henrietta, she turns him down.  Distraught, Edward attempts suicide, but is saved by Midge.  Realizing he really loves her, she agrees to marry him.

Gerda and Henrietta are about to sit down for tea when Poirot arrives.  The detective, concerned that once Gerda is cornered she will murder Henrietta, switches the tea cups.  Gerda drinks from Henrietta's cup and dies.  Distraught, Henrietta visits one of John's former patients for closure.  She decides to make a new sculpture named "Grief".

Tuesday 30 May 2017

The Moving Finger

Jerry is injured in a plane crash after which he and his sister, Joanna, take up residence in Mrs. Burton's country house in Lymstock.  They receive an anonymous letter accusing them of being lovers while they are simply siblings.  It turns out many people in town are receiving poison letters.  Mrs. Symmington receives a poison letter claiming that her husband is not the father of her second son; later she is found dead.  Beside her body is a glass containing potassium cyanide and a note stating:  "I can't go on."

Her 20 year old daughter, Megan, stays with the Burton's for awhile.  The Burton's maid receives a call from the distraught maid of the Symmington's.  They plan to meet, but the former never shows up.  The next day her body is found in the cupboard under the stairs by Megan.

An investigator from Scotland Yard concludes that the poison letter writer/murderer is a middle aged, prominent Lymstock resident.  The vicar's wife calls her own expert, Miss Marple.  Elsie Holland, governess to the Symmington boys, receives a poison letter. The police catch Aimee Griffith typing on the same typewriter used by the murderer and arrest her.

Jerry heads to London to see the doctor and takes Megan along.  They stop at the dressmaker to get Megan some clothes.  Jerry realizes he has fallen in love with her and proposes, but she turns him down.  Jerry then asks Mr. Symmington if he can woo Megan.  Megan blackmails her stepfather by saying she has proof that he murdered her mother.  Mr. Symmington pays her off, but does not admit his guilt.  After giving Megan a sleeping drug, he tries to murder her, but Jerry and the police are waiting for him.  Jerry rescues Megan and Mr. Symmington is arrested.

Miss Marple explains that the letters served as a diversion.  Mr. Symmington, in love with Elsie Holland, wanted to get rid of his wife.  He modelled the letters on a case that he worked on as a solicitor.  Miss Marple, knowing that it would be hard to prove his guilt, had Megan lure him into a trap.

Megan realizes she is in love with Jerry who buys Miss Barton's house for them.  His sister Joanna marries a doctor from Lymstock.  Emily and Aimee go on a cruise together.

The Moving Finger

The Moving Finger, published in 1942, courtesy 

Monday 29 May 2017

The Body in the Library

There's a dead body in the library at Gussington Hall.  The woman is flashily dressed and heavily made up.  The owners, Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife, Dolly, do not recognize the woman.  Colonel Bantry phones the police while his wife calls Miss Marple.

Suspicion is cast on the neighbour who makes movie props and whom the Colonel dislikes.  Blake has been dating another platinum blonde, but his girlfriend is still alive.  The autopsy reveals the woman was drugged, died between 10 pm and 12 midnight.  Despite her appearance, she was still a virgin.  She is identified as Ruby Keene, a dancer at the Majestic Hotel.  A fellow dancer, Josie, and had had Ruby fill in for her as an exhibition dancer with Raymond Starr, the hotel's tennis star and dance instructor.  However, when Ruby went missing Josie still had to perform, despite her ankle.

Conway Jefferson, a hotel guest who had become fond of Ruby, phoned the police when she went missing.  Several years before, Conway had lost his wife, son and daughter in an airplane crash in which he had also lost his legs.  He is now accompanied by his daughter's widower, Mark, and his son's widow, Adelaide, who are now his heirs.  Conway planned to adopt Ruby and leave her as sole heir to his fortune, which would leave Mark and Adelaide with nothing.  However, they were accounted for, playing bridge in the hotel ballroom with Conway and Josie.  George Bartlett was Ruby's last dance partner that night.

The police suspect that Ruby sneaked off to meet someone who strangled her.  Bartlett's car is found with the corpse of another girl, Pamela.  She had been approached by a director offering her a screen test when she disappeared.  Basil confesses that after quarreling with Dinah, he went home and found the body and dumped it in the Bantry's library.  Conway plans to change his will and leave his money to a dance hostel.  At 3 am an intruder tries to murder Conway in his bedroom.

Miss Marple discovers that Mark was married to Josie.  They murdered Ruby so that she would not inherit Conway's money.  The two were also responsible for Pamela's murder.

Sunday 28 May 2017

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

As Hercule Poirot leaves the dentist's office, a woman arrives.  He returns to her the buckle that has fallen off her shoe.  Later he learns from Inspector Japp that his dentist has died from a single gunshot wound.  Between his appointment and the dentist's death, there were only three appointments:  Alistair Blunt, a banker; Mabelle Seale the woman who lost her shoe buckle; and a Greek secret agent named Amberiotis.

Amberiotis later dies of an anathesia overdose, thought to be the result of his dentist's visit.  Some believe that the dentist, Dr. Morley, killed himself over the guilt from the overdose he gave his patient.  But Poirot remains unconvinced.  He investigates the dentist's partner, but he lacks a motive.  Dr. Morley's secretary has been called away by a fake telegram.  The secretary's boyfriend might be motivated by the fact that Dr. Morley tried to discourage her from seeing him.  Also present at the dental surgery was Howard Raikes, a hardnosed American left wing activist, who was opposed to Blunt but who liked Blunt's niece, Jane.  Poirot talks to another patient of the day, Mr. Barnes, who suspects that Blunt was the target of the murder.

In the meantime, Mabelle Seale goes missing and her body is found in the apartment of Mrs. Chapman, who is also missing.  Poirot examines the body and notices the buckled shoes.  He dispels the theory that Mrs. Chapman killed Mabelle and fled.  Once the dental records are uncovered, it appears the body is that of Mrs. Chapman, not Mabelle.  Mr. Barnes may be right when two attempts are made on Blunt's life.  The smoking gun is found in the hands of Frank Carter who has taken a job as a gardener at Blunt's house.

Dr. Morley's maid says she saw Frank Carter on the stairs of the dentist's apartment.  He is also found with a smoking gun.  Poirot gets him to admit that not one but two people were scene entering dr. Morley's office and that when he entered. Morley was already dead.  The real Mabelle had known Blunt and his first wife, Gerda.  Blunt attended his dental appointment, shot Morley and left.  He pretended to leave the building as the fake Mabelle was showing up for her appointmentl.l  He gave the fatal overdose to Amberiotis, a new patient who had never met Morley.  As soon as Amberiotis left, Blunt moved the dead dentist's body back into the chair to make it a appear like a murder/suicide.  Frank Carter saw both Blunt and Amberiotis leave only to be shocked by the dead body of the dentist.

Saturday 27 May 2017

Evil Under the Sun

Hercule Poirot is holidaying in Devon.  Also at the hotel is a beautiful actress named Arlena, a known flirt.  She is vacationing with her husband, Kenneth, and teenage stepdaughter, Linda, who hates her stepmother.  Arlena flirts with the handsome Patrick Redfern, angering his wife, Christine, a former schoolteacher.  Other guests at the hotel include Sir Horace Blatt, a braggart, Major Barry, an Anglo-Indian military officer, Rosamund Darnley, a dressmaker and former girlfriend of Kenneth, Carrie Gardener, an American tourist, and her husband Odell, Reverend Stephen Lane and Emily Brewster, a quiet spinster.

Arlena, known for sunbathing, is found face down in the sun, dead.  Poirot collects alibis.  Linda drops a parcel of candles when Christine asks her to Gull Cove.  Arlena paddles to Pixy Cove for a rendezvous.  Both Kenneth and Patrick look for her.  Patrick asks Emily to join her daily row.  He finds a Arlena's limp body lying face down, arms outstretched.  He stays with the body while Emily fetches the doctor who concludes it is death by strangulation, likely a male.

Police questions the suspects.  Kenneth was heard typing letters responding to figures in previous mail.  Linda lies and says she was fond of her stepmother.  She and Christine went to Gull Cove at 10:30  and didn't return until 11:45.  The Gardeners were with Poirot the entire time.  Emily and Patrick saw Rosamund reading at Sunny Edge.  Reverend Lane and Major Barry went out.  Sir Horace Blatt spent the morning sailing.  Christine Rosamund, Kenneth and Mr. Gardener went to play tennis at noon.  Earlier in the day, Miss Brewster narrowly missed being hit on the head with a bottle tossed from a window.  Someone ran a bath at noon but no one is admitting to it.

At Pixy Cove, Poirot finds a new pair of scissors, a pipe fragment and heroin.  Poirot also smells a perfume only used by Arlena and Rosamund.  Poirot invites everyone on a picnic to test their vertigo:  Christine, who claims she has vertigo, easily traverses the bridge.  Linda overdoses on six sleeping pills, and almost dies.  Linda admits to the murder, but Poirot finds her library book and realizes she thinks that piercing a voodoo doll qualifies as murder.  Christine made her sleeping pills availabe and Linda took them.

Poirot investigates any local strangulations and discovers that Alice Corrigan was strangled.  Her husband, Edward, was too far away to have committed the crime.  Police identify Patrick Redfern as Edward Corrigan.  They identify the deceased as Christine Redfern, then known as Christine Deverill, Patrick's true love.  Patrick simply used Arlena for her money.  While Arlena did not suspect anything, if her husband discovered she emptied their bank account, he would be suspicious.  Patrick and Christine decided to get rid of her.

Patrick told Arlena to meet him that fateful day at a cave.  Christine set Linda's watch ahead by 20 minutes to give her an alibi.  Christine put on some tan makeup and pretended to be Arlena.  Emily was fooled by her.  Christine returned to her hotle room to wash off the suntan makeup, the bath that no one had admitted to.  She threw the empty bottle out the window, the one that narrowly missed Miss Brewster.  Meanwhile, Patrick called the unsuspecting Arlena out of the cave and strangled her.

Rosamund gives up her career to marry Kenneth and Linda ends up with a loving stepmother.

Friday 26 May 2017

Sad Cypress

Elinor and Roddy are engaged to be married when they receive an anonymous letter saying that someon is sucking up to their wealthy aunt, Laura Welman, from whom they expect to inherit a fortune.  Elinor is niece to Mrs. Welman while Roddy is nephew to the late Mr. Welman.  Elinor suspects Mary Gerrard, the lodgekeeper's daughter, as the subject of the letter.  Not knowing who wrote the letter, they burn it.

Elinor visits her aunt who complains about the fact that she is partially paralyzed from a stroke.  She wants to end her life but her doctor will not hear of it.  In the meantime, Roddy falls in love with Mary, prompting Elinor to end their engagement.  After a second stroke, Mrs. Welma asks Elinor to make provision for Mary.  However, before the will can be changed, she dies and her estate goes directly to Elinor.

Elinor sells the house she inherited and gives two thousand pounds to Mary.  The latter dies of poisoning during a lunch at Hunterbury.  Everyone at the house has access to the poison.  Elinor is arrested.  Later, everyone learns that Mrs. Welman also died of poisoning.  Peter Lord, in love with Elinor, brings Hercule Poirot into the case.  Poirot soons discovers the author of the letter.  Was the poison in the sandwiches made by Elinor or in the tea prepared by Nurse Hopkins?  Also, what is the secret of Mary's birth?  What is the significance of the scratch made by a rose thorn on Hopkins' wrist?

It turns out Nurse Hopkins is the murderer.  The thorn scratch on Nurse Hopkin's wrist is really an injfection mark from the needle full of emetic she injected herself with causing her to vomit up the poison in the tea.  She went to wash the dishes so that no one would see her vomit.   Mrs. Welman, and Sir Lewis Rycroft, had an illegitimate daughter and she is Mary.  If this infomration had been learned sooner, Mary would have inherited some of the estate.  When someone encourages Mary to write a will, she names her aunt, Mary Riley, from Australia as beneficiary.  Mary Riley's married name is Draper.  It turns out Mary Draper is really Nurse Hopkins, who is bent on getting her hands on the money.

Elinor is acquitted and she married Peter Lord.

Sad Cypress

Sad Cypress, published in 1939, courtesy

Thursday 25 May 2017

The Incredible Theft

Lord Mayfield, a rising politician and a millionaire, hosts a house party.  In attendance are Air Marshal, Lord Carrington, his wife Lady Julia, his son Reggie, Mrs. Vanderlyn, a beautiful American woman, and Mrs. Macatta, a forthright MP.  Joining them for dinner is Mr. Carlile, Lord Carrington's secretary.

All the guests leave the table except Lord Mayfield and Sir George, to discuss a new aircraft that will give Britain supremacy over the skies.  Lord Mayfield invites Mrs. Vanderlyn, a spy, to tempt her with the plans for the new fighter jet.  Everyone goes to bed except Lord Mayfield and Sir George.  Mr. Carlile heads to the safe to retrieve plans for the new aircraft where he collides with Mrs. Vanderlyn searching for her handbag.  Lord Mayfield spots a figure leaving the study by the French window.  In the study, Lord Mayfield quickly discovers that the plans for the fighter jet are missing.  Mr. Carlile says he definitely left the plans on the table.  However, he was distracted by a scream which turned out to be Mrs. Vanderlyn's maid, claiming she saw a ghost.

Poirot is called in the middle of the night.  He examines the grass outside the study but finds not footprints.  Therefore he concludes that the theft of the plans was done by someone inside the house.  He questions everyone and discovers that the maid did not see a ghost; she was startled by Reggie who snuck up on her to steal a kiss.  Lady Julia believes her son stole the plans as he is short on money and was unaccounted for at one point in the day.  She promises Poirot that the plan swill be returned in 12 hours if no further action is taken.

Poirot explains that Mrs. Macatta was snoring in her room, Mrs. Vanderlyn called for the maid from upstairs and Sir George was with Lord Mayfield on the terrace.  But what about Mr. Carlile and Lord Mayfield?  Mr. Carlile had access to the safe and therefore could have taken a sketch of the drawings at any time.  Poirot is convinced Lord Mayfield pocketed the drawings.  Lord Mayfield, not wanting to reveal that he was involved with a belligerent foreign power a few years before, was blackmailed into handing the plans over to Mrs. Vanderlyn.

The Incredible Theft

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Appointment with Death

On vacation in Jerusalem, Poirot overhears a brother and sister conversing about their evil stepmother:  "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed," Raymond Boynton tells his sister.  On a trip to Petra, the stepmother is found dead, a needle puncture in her wrist.  Poirot offers to solve her murder in 24 hours.

Sarah King, who relays the tale along with Dr. Gerard, is attracted to Raymond Boynton.  Jefferson Cope wants to take Nadine Boynton away from her husband, Lennox Boynton, and the influence of her mother in law.  Confronted with her strategy to take the young Boynton's away from their mother in law, Sarah confronts Mrs. Boynton who replies:  "I;ve never forgotten anything -- not an action, not a name, not a face."

Poirot sets out to interview all the suspects.  He establishes a timeline which seems impossible.  Sarah King places the time of death well before various suspects claim to have seen the deceased alive.  A hypodermic needle was seemingly stolen from Dr. Gerard's tent.  The poison administered to the victim, digitoxin, was something she already took medicinally.  Poirot calls a meeting explaining how each member of the family discovered Mrs. Boynton's victim, but in turn didn't report the crime, suspecting another member of the family as the murderer.  No one in the immediate family would have needed a needle to commit the crime; they simply would have given her a bigger dose of the medicine already prescribed.  Therefore, Poirot suspects an outsider.

Lady Westholme is revealed as the murderer.  A former inmate at the prison where Mrs. Boynton was a warden, she had it in for the woman.  It was to Lady Westholme, not Sarah, that Mrs. Boynton had addressed her threat.  Disguised as an Arab, she had administered the hypodermic needle.  Eavesdropping in an adjoining room, and not wanting her criminal history to be revealed, Lady Westholme commits suicide.

Happier times ensue for the family as Sarah marries Raymond, Carol marries Jefferson and Ginevra marries Dr. Gerard.

Appointment With Death

Appointment with Death, published in 1937, courtesy

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Death on the Nile

Almost everyone on the cruise down the Nile River has a reason to hate heiress Linnet Ridgway.  Mrs. Van Schuyler wants her jewels.  Linnet's maid is upset because she won't give her a promised dowry.  Writer Salome Otterbourne faces a lawsuit launched by Linnet.   Salome's daughter, Rosalie, wishes to protect her mother.  American Andrew Pennington has been embezzling from the Ridgway's.  Former friend Jacqueline Bellefort is outraged that Linnet stole her former fiance, Simon.  It is not long before Linnet Ridgway is murdered.  When all is said and down, 5 out of the 13 main characters have died.  It falls to Hercule Poirot, who is also aboard the S. S. Sudan, to unravel the mystery.

Old photos from the S. S. Sudan courtesy

The 1930's were the golden age of Nile River cruising.  Diplomats, businessmen and archeologists paid to ride on boats like the S. S. Sudan.  In 1933, Author Agatha Christie, along with her archeologist husband, took this boat.  Refined ladies with parasols and gentlemen with pipes would stroll its decks.  Fine Egyptian cuisine was served in the charming dining room.  The wooden panelling, gilded and copper bed frames and parquet floors in the cabins kept the passengers coming back. The five day cruise aboard the S. S. Sudan, still running today, follows the Nile River from Luxor in the north, to Aswan in the south.  Highlights include the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx.  The ship boasts 15 cabins and 8 suites, including the Agatha Christie Suite and Hercule Poirot Suite. It was here that the bestselling novelist penned her famous book Death on the Nile.

Death On The Nile

Death on the Nile, published in 1937, courtesy 

Monday 22 May 2017

Dumb Witness

Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot complaining that someone is trying to kill her.  She fell down the stairs, an accident attributed to her fox terrier's rubber ball.  However, by the time Poirot receives her letter, she is dead.

Emily's doctor says she died of chronic liver problems.  Emily's companion, Minnie Lawson inherits the deceased's house and fortune.  In a previous will, the inheritors would have been Emily's nephew, Charles, and nieces, Theresa and Bella.  Upon investigation, Poirot discovers a nail with varnish and a string attached to it at the top of the stairs.  "" had been the message that Emily had given before her death.  Poirot concludes that Bob the dog, who was outside that night, did not leave the ball on the stairs and that Emily was tripped by the string.

Emily's nephew and nieces talk about contesting the will, but it is not pursued.  The gardener reveals that the nephew, Charles, talked to him about his arsenic based week killer.  The bottle is almost empty.  Minnie Lawson says that on the night of Emily's death she saw someone through her bedroom window wearing a broach with the initials T.A. (possibly Theresa Arundell, Emily's niece).

IN the meantime, Bella reveals her husband Jacob is bullying her and she moves with her children to a hotel, with the help of Minnie.  However, for more security Poirot recommends she moves to another hotel.  The next day Bella is found dead due to an overdose of chloral, a sleep aid.

Poirot reveals his theory on the murders.  Theresa stole the arsenic but could not bring herself to use it.  She and her brother suspected each other.  Emily, fearing that Charles might be trying to kill her, revealed that she had revised her will.  He was satisfied with just stealing some of her money.  The brooch which Minnie had seen was really Bella's.  The initials TA, reversed in the mirror, stood for Arabella Tanios.  She hated her husband and wanted to separate from him and keep the children, but she had no means to do so.  Her first attempt with the ball and string failed.  Her second attempt involved inserting elemental phosphorous in one of Emily's liver capsules, which succeeded.

Emily was unaware that her aunt had revised her will.  When Poirot explained the murder, she took her own life and her children went back to their father.  Emily's husband is upset as he did love his wife.  However, he finds out she obtained the chloral to kill him.  Minnie decides to share her wealth with Charles, Theresa and Bella's children.  Theresa marries Dr. Donaldson,  Charles squanders his wealth.  The terrier goes to live with Poirot but he prefers Captain Hastings.

Dumb Witness

Dumb Witness, published in 1937, courtesy

Sunday 21 May 2017

Cards on the Table

Mr. Shaitana hosts a dinner party and invites four sleuths and four people he thinks could have committed murder.  In a veiled accusation, he lists the way the guests might have committed murder based on their occupations.  After dinner, he seats the fours sleuths at one bridge table and the four other people at another table. When the sleuths finish their game, Hercule Poirot, one of them, discovers his host dead in his chair, a weapon from his own collection in his chest.

Poirot speaks with Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race and Mrs. Olivers while the other four guests wait in another room.  Battle questions each one.  Dr. Roberts Mrs. Lorrimer and Anne Meredith and Major Dethspar all deny any involvement in the murder.  Poirot collects the score sheets from the bridge game to mark the passage of time as well as to give clues to the character of each suspect.

As the investigation proceeds, each sleuth discovers a murder.  Battle finds out that a client of Dr. Roberts, along with the client's spouse, died separately, one of anthrax, the other of blood poisoning. Colonel Race reveals that Despard led botanist Luxmore through the Amazon jungle where the latter died of fever, with rumours he was shot.  Mrs. Oliver learns that a woman who employed Anne as a companion died of accidental poisoning.  Poirot uncovers the fact that Mrs. Lorrimer poisoned her husband.  Colonel Race leaves the country for his work in the Secret Service.  The reactions of the guests vary:  Anne is afraid, Despard engages a lawyer and Dr. Roberts carries on as usual.

Mrs. Lorrimer, who admits she killed her husband, says she has a fatal health condition and that she is the one who killed the host.  However, she is not believed; it appears she is trying to spare Anne.  Anne comes to visit Mrs. Lorrimer and the following morning the latter is found dead of a sleeping drug overdose.  However, when Poirot comes upon the scene he sees a hypodermic needle mark on Mrs. Lorrimer's arm.

Anne takes her flatmate Rhoda out in a boat on the nearby rivers as they await a visit from Despard.  Poirot and Battle race to Anne's cottage where they see Anne deliberately tip Rhoda out of the boat, but the latter pulls the former into the water as well, and neither can swim.  Despard saves Rhoda and then Anne.  Rhoda survives but Anne dies.

At Poirot's apartment he presents his theory on the murders.  The sleuth presents a window washer who saw Dr. Roberts inject Mrs. Lorrimer.  The police ruled she died of an anesthesia overdose.  Dr. Roberts killed Mr. Shaitana as well.  He waited until he was a "dummy" in the bridge game and excused himself to get a glass of water.  Furthermore, Doctor Roberts had killed Mr. Craddock, the husband of one of his patients, by putting anthrax on his shaving brush during a house call.  Then he injected Mrs. Craddock with her required anti typhoid injection before her trip to Egypt but added a germ which led to her fatal blood infection.  Roberts at first protests but eventually admits he is guilty.  The window washer was actually an actor used to solicit the confession from the doctor.

Major Despard is exonerated when it is proven that the botanist died from an accident shooting wound.  Despard ends up courting Rhoda, Anne's flatmate.

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table published in 1936 courtesy