Elephants Can Remember was one of the final entries in the legendary Agatha Christie’s long-running Hercule Poirot series.
Poirot and his friend Ariadne Oliver found themselves drawn into the ambiguity of the death of a married couple from more than a dozen years earlier. By all accounts a happy marriage, the couple’s ambiguous end was uneasily classified a double suicide, but Ariadne’s personal connection to the family leads her and Poirot to reconsider the case. As they collect bits and pieces of information from the not-always reliable memories of a variety of people connected to the family, the outline of an inevitable tragedy begins to take shape.
For modern readers, Poirot was so steeped in the Europe of the inter-war years that these later stories (this one was from the early ’70s) can almost seem an atmospheric mismatch. And labeling Elephants Can Remember “A Hercule Poirot Mystery” feels slightly amiss, since Oliver (the author’s own stand-in) takes up at least as much of the narrative real estate as Christie’s more famous creation.
But in other ways, Elephants Can Remember bears many of Christie’s trademarks: the crucial observation of domestic minutiae; the amalgamation of facts that Poirot weaves together in some unexpected ways; and the detective’s well-known personality tics. Christie made some feints toward the modern setting of the story, but the plot very much relied on an old school conception of British society, even as the world around her characters was changing rapidly.
Even reduced to co-lead, Poirot remained a compelling presence. Ariadne Oliver may have been a Christie doppelganger, but was still a well-founded creation. Christie crafted a strong guest cast with an admirable economy, firmly establishing characters with a few smart details. If the resolution was a bit easier to spot than in the author’s earlier works, it was still a compelling enough puzzle to hold a reader’s attention, with an ending that worked some surprising moral ambiguity.
Elephants Can Remember is by no means an apt introduction to Poirot for new readers. But for fans who have consumed most of Christie’s earlier stories about her most famous character, it’s worth taking in.