Thursday, 9 June 2016

Agatha Christie - The Scent Of Murder

Fragrance has always been regarded as one of the best triggers for our memories, but we sometimes forget just how much trouble it can get us into as well. Perfume on a collar, whisky on your breath, cigarette smoke in the air. One lady who put fragrance to full use was the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. In three of her books it is the scent, and even the lack of it, that helps Poirot's "little grey cells" to solve the mystery. With "scented" book suggestions by Agatha Christie expert John Curran, along with contributions from Nick Gilbert, Odette Toilette and Luca Turin, let's look at those stories and, alongside a perfume suggestion for each crime, we'll investigate the Scent of Murder!

We begin with MURDER IN THE MEWS, which first appeared in the Woman's Journal in December 1936. In this short story Mrs Barbara Allen's body is discovered in Bardsley Garden Mews, an apparent suicide. After unraveling a series of red herrings, discovering blackmail and deducing the mystery of the attaché-case, Poirot solves the crime. One of the plot twists includes a full ashtray of cigarettes, which includes aromatic Turkish ones, but no scent in the air. Now the ultimate "smokey" fragrance has got to be Habanita by Molinard. Created in 1921, it was originally produced to fragrance cigarettes before becoming a perfume in its own right in 1924. Nick Gilbert described it to me as "utilising the sweet yet smoky facets of both vetiver and vanilla to create a luxuriant, dense cloud of smoke, billowing its floralcy and sweetness into the air in wispy tendrils."

We move on to EVIL UNDER THE SUN, which was first published in the UK in June 1940. Arlena Marshall, a beautiful actress, is found strangled in Pixy Cove. Everyone seemingly has an alibi but Poirot begins to piece things together when he smells her perfume, Gabrielle No.8, in the cave. Why had the glamorous actress been hiding in there before she was murdered? Now, here we can do a little easy detective work of our own. Gabrielle was the real name of Coco Chanel, who launched Ernest Beaux’s famous perfume No.5, and so it’s not a big stretch to see that this was Agatha Christie’s thinly veiled joke. However, Poirot describes the scent as “delicious - it has a nuance - a delicate elusive charm”. Not quite the description of Chanel No.5, indeed Luca Turin observed that Agatha Christie must have been “suffering from chronic hyposmia or been sold a shop window factice filled with coloured liquid.” Nevertheless, we'll stick with No.5.

Our final destination with death is FIVE LITTLE PIGS which was first published in the US in May 1942. Set sixteen years after Caroline Crale has been convicted of the murder of her husband, Poirot revisits each suspect and listens to their five different accounts. Unsurprisingly, all contradict each other. The poison was hidden in a jasmine perfume bottle, but where did the original perfume go? When one of the suspects says that they remember standing in the room and smelling “jasmine through the open window” in September, Poirot notes that it flowers in “June and July”. So at least the location of the discarded perfume is finally found. To my mind one of the greatest jasmine fragrances is Joy by Jean Patou, which was created by Henri Almeras in 1930. Odette Toilette purred to me that it was "artful and faux naive. Loads of jasmine, and with a richness that almost evokes an acacia type scent of honey and almond milk."

Agatha Christie will always be the undisputed Queen of Crime and I think that the three perfumes that I’ve mentioned will always be classics. So the next time you read about murder, and the opportunity presents itself to you, try scenting it. Harper Collins have kindly given me the three books as competition prizes, so for your chance to win one just click the button below and tell me which fragrances you would have chosen. The closing date is midnight on 3rd July 2016. Good luck and happy sleuthing.

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