Technically, it is a long short story, or perhaps a short novel. There are no murders, poisonings or madness in this story (actually, yes, maybe some madness, as you will see, just a little bit, or maybe just romance). There are no abductions, imprisonments, forgeries. In fact, no crimes at all, just a mystery. Or rather “mystery”, with a happy ending, and a marriage- two, actually.
I am speaking, Gentle Reader, of The Listerdale Mystery. It is not, thank g., a Poirot or Marple story- I do not think either of these two pinnacles of humanity would have approved of the shenanigans going on in this book. It is the story of an “eccentric” English lord, who repents of his earlier dissolute days. To make amends, he decides to help the most deserving people he knows: the impoverished members of the British aristocracy, who once enjoyed rich, decadent lifestyles in big, beautiful homes, but because of The War, or “bad investments” or “Uncle Tom who gambled” lost all the their fortune and are reduced to living in “lodgings” in London.
Lord Listerdale targets such impoverished widows and daughters of the aristocracy, and has his agent contact them, offering them a lovely house to live very cheaply. Mrs St Vincent, one such widow, moves into a beautiful Queen Anne house (don’t ask). Lord Listerdale disguises himself as Quentin, the indispensable butler. With the help of Quentin, who runs the house, down to choosing which (expensive) flowers are used to decorate the living room, Mrs St Vincent succeeds in marrying off her daughter to her on-again, off-again love interest (cue a bunch of icky jokes from the daughter’s fiancé about how attractive and young and lovely Mrs St Vincent is, and how she should be the bride). Meanwhile, Mrs St Vincent’s son unmasks the “mystery”- Quentin is not a butler at all- he is actually Lord Listerdale and he gets his kicks out of “helping” poor widows and being their butler. Ha ha ha! Lord Listerdale proposes to the lovely charming youthful Mrs. St Vincent. Happily Every After.
When I first read this story -many years ago- I merely tossed it aside as a stupid story, and not one worthy of the oeuvre of the great dame Agatha. I picked up the French version a couple of weeks ago, and re-read it. Horror grew over me at the horrible, twisted values presented in light-hearted, gently humorous prose: oh-look-at-this-lovable-old-eccentric-peer-he-has-a-heart-of-gold! Look at him, buttling busily for the charming poor helpless Mrs St Vincent, and in the end revealing himself to be a bona fide lord! So it’s ok for him to lie and deceive and pretend to be an efficient useful butler, and plus they marry! True Love!
Ewwww ewww ewww ick ick ick. If Lord Listerdale was an example of a “good” member of the British aristocracy, no wonder the worst is known for causing historical misery and suffering around the world. Fuck off creepy Lord Listerdale, and take your fake creep butler act with you. Give me a good old honest murder any day.