Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
This article contains spoilers.
“It would have been equally impossible for [Golden Age detective novelists] to have created a policeman who beat up suspects, although this was a time when American newspapers wrote about the Third Degree. Acknowledging that such things happened, they would have thought it undesirable to write about them, because the police were the representatives of established society, and so ought not to be shown behaving badly.”
—Julian Symons, author of Bloody Murder
“Blore...was a bad hat!”
—Sir Thomas Legge, Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard
|Blore in 1987's Desyat Negrityat|
But who was James Stephen Landor? When queried about this after Mr. Owen has made his phonograph charges against his guests, the following exchange occurs:
Lombard said:“What about yourself, Mr. Blore?”“What about me?”“Your name was included in the list.”Blore went purple.“Landor, you mean?” That was the bank robbery—London and Commercial.”Mr. Justice Wargrave stirred. He said:“I remember. It didn’t come before me, but I remember the case. Landor was convicted on your evidence. You were the police officer in charge of the case?”Blore said:“I was.”“Landor got penal servitude for life and died in Dartmoor a year later. He was a delicate man.”Blore said:“He was a crook. It was he who knocked out the night watchman. The case was quite clear against him.”Wargrace said slowly:“You were complimented, I think, on your able handling of the case.”“I got my promotion.”He added in a thick voice:“I was only doing my duty.”Lombard laughed—a sudden ringing laugh. He said:“What a duty-loving, law-abiding lot we all seem to be!”
Of course the cynical Lombard is correct. Everyone on Indian Island is hiding something, most certainly including Blore. Blore is an individual unthinkable in the Golden Age mystery, according to Julian Symons: the crooked English cop.
To be sure, such characters are exceptions in Golden Age English mystery, where English writers were far more comfortable admitting police corruption in the United States (“We’ll have none of your American third-degree here, my good man!”). In And Then There Were None, righteous spinster Miss Brent reflects this view when she pronounces that Mr. Owen’s accusations against a judge (Wargrave) and an ex-Scotland Yard man (Blore) of course are “far fetched and ridiculous.” To Miss Brent’s tidy and complacent mind the idea that Wargrave and Blore, representatives of the state, could be guilty of murder (and in their official capacities, no less) is outrageous.
However, contrary to Julian Symons, bad cops do appear now and then in Golden Age English mystery (besides Blore, other notable instances that come to my mind are found in the fine works of Henry Wade).
|Blore in the 1974 film|
“Oh well, here goes, Landor was innocent right enough. The gang had got me squared and between us we got him put away for a stretch. Mind you, I wouldn’t admit this—““If there were any witnesses,” finished Lombard with a grin. “It’s just between you and me. Well, I hope you made a tidy bit out of it.”“Didn’t make what I should have done. Mean crowd, the Purcell gang. I got my promotion, though.”“And Landor got penal servitude and died in prison.”“I couldn’t know he was going to die, could I?”
This is a nice exchange, because it neatly reveals the extremely narrow limits of Blore’s moral conscience. Blore perhaps feels a little guilt over the fact that Landor actually died as the result of his, Blore’s, dishonest actions, but the idea of Landor serving life in prison because of them doesn’t seem to bother him at all.
Blore is nicely limned by Christie throughout the book. She effectively captures his essential thuggery and his lack of gentlemanly status though his language and her description. Blore’s idiom definitely marks him off from the other guests (the Rogers excepted, though Blore doesn’t drop his h’s under pressure like Mr. Rogers does):
“I’ll knock your ruddy block off.”
Unlike Miss Brent, say, Blore isn’t well-schooled in hiding his emotions. At various pressure points in And Then There Were None he turns purple/red with emotion and he sweats copiously, having to mop his face with his handkerchief. Not used to swanky social functions, he has trouble tying a tie. Yet he also helps in the kitchen after both Mr. and Mrs. Rogers have expired, telling Vera that he’s a “domestic sort of man.” One gathers Blore is not married (an interesting thought: outside of the Rogers, none of the Indian Island guests are) and has to do for himself to a great extent.
Until Mr. Owen “does for him,” that is.
I must add here that this is one case where I’m dubious about Mr. Owen’s murder scheme:
I watched them from the windows of the house. When Blore came up alone I had the big marble clock poised ready. Exit Blore....
The pair of surviving Indians finds Blore “spread-eagled on the stone terrace on the east side, his head crushed and mangled by a great block of white marble.”
By the by, credit the wily Christie with informing readers early on that the marble clock was shaped rather like a bear. How many people ever spot that?
Ah, but it all sounds so simple when Owen tells it, doesn’t it? Me, I don’t know. Admittedly (and I do want to stress this), I don’t have any experience in trying to kill people with big marble clocks poised on upper story windows, but this particular murder method strikes me as pretty chancy. Of course, as we will see further when discussing the final two deaths on Indian Island, luck truly was with our murderer....
Patrick: Well, Curt, you’ve said nearly everything I wanted to say about Blore, and I’m sure I couldn’t do it any better!
I remember being puzzled at Symons’ assertion that the cops are never crooked in Golden Age mysteries. Putting aside Henry Wade, you will find crooked cops in many other authors’ works (though, as you say, they are the minority!). Agatha Christie herself has, on occasion, made the investigating police officer the murderer. John Dickson Carr also did this at least once. And in one of these books (which I will quote without crediting the author or the title), the following exchange occurs:
“My best man! What’s the police coming to?”[The detective] said:“Even policemen have private lives! [The murderer] was a very proud man.”
And that, of course, is a very interesting point. Very often, in reading Golden Age mysteries, both author and reader can forget that the investigating police officer is a person with his own thoughts and feelings. In the particularly subpar stories, the officer exists only to tear at his slowly-receding hair and shout at Poirot (or whoever is investigating) “Heavens, man! Are you mad? What possible significance could the burnt-down candles and the wilted daisies have?”
This is what can make the police-officer-as-murderer a surprising twist, but here, Christie aims higher than just giving a shock-ending to the proceedings. As Sir Thomas Legge so aptly puts it, Blore was a bad hat— a thoroughly nasty sort. Corruption, for him, is not that big of a deal so long as you’re not caught— even when being stalked to the death by Mr. Owen for his crime, he takes the time to grumble about how he should have been paid more for his perjury! The only thing that remotely bothers him here is the victim’s death— but that isn’t his fault, surely?
|A big bear hugged one...|
BLORE. I say, Captain Lombard, what about a nice bottle of beer?LOMBARD. Do stop thinking about your stomach, Blore. This craving for food and drink will be your undoing.BLORE. But there’s plenty of beer in the kitchen.LOMBARD. Yes, and if anyone wanted to get rid of you, the first place they’d think of putting a lethal dose would be in a nice bottle of beer.
|Blore's laughable death in the 1989 adaptation|