Hercule Poirot joins forces with three other detectives to solve a daring murder in Cards on the Table, a brilliant novel by Dame Agatha Christie.
Poirot made his debut in Agatha Christie's first published novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was written in 1916 but didn't see print until 1920. A former Belgian policeman with a reputation for his crime-solving abilities, Poirot emigrated to England during World War I as a war refugee. He established a private detective business and would spend the next few decades solving crimes around the world across 33 novels and over 50 short stories, Cards on the Table being the 20th Poirot novel. His final literary appearance (sorta) was in the novel Curtain (1975), in which the great detective passed away. The New York Times went so far as to write an obituary for Poirot, the only fictional character they've ever done this for. (Sophie Hannah has written a new Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders, which was released just a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't read it yet.)
Naturally, Poirot's cases have been adapted for film as early as 1931. One of the most notable of Poirot's big-screen cases is Murder on the Orient Express (1974), faithfully adapted from the novel of the same name. Albert Finney played Poirot (earning himself an Oscar nomination in the process), and the supporting cast included Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, and Anthony Perkins. Peter Ustinov played Poirot in a series of three theatrical films and three made-for-television movies, much to the displeasure of Christie's daughter who felt Ustinov's depiction was nothing like the Poirot from the novels. Poirot even has himself an anime adaptation, along with Miss Marple, another Christie creation. (I haven't seen any of it, but supposedly the anime is quite faithful to the original Poirot and Miss Marple stories.)
Our story opens with Poirot enjoying an outing at a local museum, where he runs into an old acquaintance - the eccentric millionaire Mr. Shaitana, who takes bizarre pleasure in making people afraid of him. Their conversation turns to crime, where Shaitana tells Poirot about a collection of his - murderers who have gotten away with their crimes. He invites Poirot to dine at his home to meet his "exhibits," which a curious Poirot accepts. Poirot isn't the only detective to be invited - joining him at Shaitana's is Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, Colonel Race of the British Secret Service, and crime novelist Ariadne Oliver, none of whom know why they particularly have been invited. Also joining them are four other guests: the cheerful Dr. Roberts, the stoic explorer Major Despard, the elegant Mrs. Lorrimer, and the young and delicate Miss Meredith.
After a mostly pleasant dinner, Shaitana encourages his guests to play a game of bridge, the detectives playing in one room, the other guests in the parlor with Shaitana sitting by watching. By the time the game is over, however, Mr. Shaitana is found dead, stabbed to death. The murder weapon has no fingerprints, and nobody else entered or left the room. One of the four guests is the murderer, and Poirot and the other detectives are on the case. And that's as much as I'm willing to tell you about the plot, because the investigation that follows is so well done, I don't want to spoil any of it.
When it was published in 1936, Cards on the Table drew rave reviews from critics, and was adapted as a radio play (I don't know the year) and as an on-stage production in 1981 (without the character of Poirot, since Christie didn't think anyone could play him convincingly at the time). I already mentioned the David Suchet adaptation for TV, which I suppose I should go into briefly. Unfortunately, while I'm a huge fan of the Poirot series, I didn't like this particular episode all that much. It lacked the sense of intrigue and fun I enjoyed in the novel, and some of the changes from the source material were distractingly unnecessary. I did, however, like Alexander Siddig's performance as the ill-fated Mr. Shaitana.