Please do not look at the following if you haven't read Peril at End House, in case of spoilers!
After reading this book, I had the following questions. I would feel very grateful if anyone can share the opinion to any of the questions below.
How did Poirot know Mrs Rice was not at Tavistock?
How did Poirot know that Nick was engaged with Michael Seton (It turns out that Maggie, rather than Nick, was engaged to Seton, though)? Was it just a pure guess? I don’t see there’s a direct connection between Nick and Seton.
Why did Freddie’s husband want to kill her? It did not make sense that the man tried to kill someone when there were many people around. He should have attempted murder when Freddie was alone. Also, I feel that Freddie’s husband was an unnecessary character in this book. Without him, this story still ran well.
When Nick told some lies that she had some narrow escapes at the beginning of the book, did she have the whole plans already? There was no way she could know that Seton would die at that time, right?
In my opinion, one bad aspect about this book is that the story required too many coincidences. I would appreciate if you can provide your disagreement!
Nick and Maggie needed to have the same full name.
Both Matthew Seton and Michael Seton needed to die.
Poirot needed to ask Nick to send a friend to accompany her.
Nick needed to have access to Maggie’s love letters and needed to quickly sort out some letters that didn’t contain Maggie’s names. She also needed to hide the rest of the letters properly. Otherwise, she would have let the cat out of the bag.
Nick needed to isolate herself and Maggie from others, and the firework should be loud enough to cover the sound of the gun.
Nick's friends could not be able to give an alibi to each other. Otherwise, the possibility of the murderer would be narrowed down quickly.
He deduced it from the way she avoided answering his questions:
‘I wonder, Madame, what were the names of the friends with whom you were staying.’
She raised her eyebrows.
‘Is there any reason why I should tell you that?’ she asked coldly. Poirot was immediately all innocent surprise.
‘A thousand pardons, Madame. I was most maladroit. But I myself, having friends at Tavistock, fancied that you might have met them there… Buchanan—that is the name of my friends.’
Mrs Rice shook her head.
‘I don’t remember them. I don’t think I can have met them.’ Her tone now was quite cordial. ‘Don’t let us talk about boring people. Go on about Nick. Who shot at her? Why?’
Agatha Christie (1932). Peril at End House, chapter 5.
It was a guess based on the following observations:
‘Tell me, Hastings, the answer to these three questions. Why has Mademoiselle Nick been sleeping badly lately? Why did she buy a black evening dress—she never wears black? Why did she say last night, “I have nothing to live for—now”?’
The only explanation we get is that given by Mrs Rice:
‘He was—completely debased. He was a drug fiend. He taught me to take drugs. I have been fighting the habit ever since I left him. I think—at last—I am nearly cured. But it has been difficult. Oh! so horribly difficult. Nobody knows how difficult!
‘I could never escape from him. He used to turn up and demand money—with threats. A kind of blackmail. If I did not give him money he would shoot himself. That was always his threat. Then he took to threatening to shoot me. He was not responsible. He was mad—crazy…’
The role of Mr Rice is to heighten the dramatic effect of the real solution. The reader will recognize that they are in the last chapter of the novel and so the solution must be close at hand. But if Mr Rice were the murderer of Maggie Buckley, for no motive but madness, how unsatisfying a solution that would be! And yet something like it has been trailed since chapter 9, where Poirot hypothesized that the murderer might be an unknown, “J”, and wrote:
The existence of J. would explain (1) Ellen’s lack of surprise at crime and her pleasurable satisfaction. (But that might be due to natural pleasurable excitement of her class over deaths.) (2) The reason for Croft and his wife coming to live in lodge. (3) Might supply motive for F. R.’s fear of secret being revealed or for jealousy.
So this false solution has a certain amount of plausibility, meaning that some readers will be sorely disappointed at how poor a solution it is. For these readers the surprise and astonishment when the true solution is revealed will be enhanced by the contrast.
The disappearance of Michael Seton has already appeared in the newspapers when the novel begins:
I picked up the morning paper which had fallen from my hand and resumed my perusal of the morning’s news. […] ‘Still no news of that flying fellow, Seton, in his round-the-world flight. Pretty plucky, these fellows. That amphibian machine of his, the Albatross, must be a great invention. Too bad if he’s gone west. Not that they’ve given up hope yet. He may have made one of the Pacific islands.’
Note Hastings’ phrasing, “still no news”, which implies that this is a story that has been running for some time.
When Nick recounts her three “escapes from death” in chapter 2, she doesn’t give any dates, and only in the third case (the problem with the brakes on her car) is there any possibility of corroboration from independent witnesses (“You can go and ask them at Mott’s Garage”). So the following sequence of events seems to be indicated: (1) Nick learns of Matthew Seton’s death (in chapter 7 he is said to have “died about a week ago”); (2) Nick learns of Michael Seton’s disappearance, suspects that he is dead, and prepares her plan; (3) Nick starts telling unverifiable stories of “escapes from death” that she backdates to before the news of Seton’s disappearance; (4) She deliberately detaches her car’s brakes and crashes it into the hedge; (5) Poirot and Hastings arrive at St Loo; (6) on the night of the party, Nick listens to the nine o’clock news and hears that Michael Seton’s death has been confirmed; (7) Nick kills Maggie.
The problem with coincidence is that it is not realistic, and so it is not appropriate to include in a realistic novel. (I wrote more about this in this answer.)
But Golden Age detective stories are not realistic! They are artificial puzzles, offering a combination of intellectual challenge and dramatic effect. The solution needs to be possible but does not need to be realistic, provided that the unrealistic elements have all been satisfactorily clued. Coincidence is one of the techniques by which Golden Age authors made the solution surprising, knowing that readers are likely to ignore or discard theories that seem to be too far fetched, even if the coincidence is clued.
In the case of Peril at End House:
The coincidence of names was of course already known to Nick, and she built her plan around it. It is clued in chapter 2: “There have been lots of Magdalas in the Buckley family” and chapter 18: “‘There aren’t many abbreviations of Frederica,’ I said. ‘It’s not like Margaret where you can have half a dozen—Maggie, Margot, Madge, Peggie—’”.
The death of the Setons prompted Nick to make the plan, as discussed above.
Nick’s plan didn’t rely on Poirot suggesting that she send for a friend: it was natural that she should have invited her cousin to the party. In fact, Nick’s being too keen to make use of this piece of luck was what set Poirot on the right track:
‘For Maggie Buckley wrote a letter home immediately on arrival, and in it she used one innocent phrase that puzzled me: “I don’t see why Nick should have telegraphed for me the way she did. Tuesday would have done just as well.” What did that mention of Tuesday mean? It could only mean one thing. Maggie had been coming to stay on Tuesday anyway. But in that case Mademoiselle Nick had lied—or had at any rate suppressed the truth.’
Poirot suggests in chapter 20 that “Doubtless she [Maggie] reads to her cousin parts of her fiancé’s letters”. Certainly it was a weakness in Nick’s plan that if Maggie did not bring the letters with her, then they might be discovered at a later date by Maggie’s parents and cast doubt on Nick’s claim to have been engaged to Michael Seton. But possibly Nick had asked Maggie to bring them, or possibly she had a backup plan: as Maggie’s cousin and friend, it would have been natural for her to offer to assist Maggie’s parents in handling her papers and possessions.
The coincidence of there being fireworks on the night of the party was already known to Nick. It is clued in chapter 3: “It’s Regatta week, you know” and chapter 12, where it is clear from Ellen’s evidence that Nick has a party every year during Regatta week to watch the fireworks.
The lack of alibis was lucky for Nick, but she could afford to take the chance that alibis, if they existed, would not be convincing to the police. Her own defence was strong, as she apparently had no time to dispose of the gun between shooting Maggie and appearing at the window.