Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will

It’s New Year’s Eve, and a gathering of middle-aged friends is counting down the last few seconds to 1926. They toast the New Year as three children—two boys and a girl—watch secretly from above. The host—Andrew—thanks his friends for being there and reveals he’s pretty darn rich, thanks to his incredible luck of having happened to buy a farm on top of a copper seam. His lawyer takes the moment to announce that Andrew’s drawn up a will that heavily favors a local medical foundation of which another guest—Dr. Pritchard—is chairman. Pritchard promises to use the money well. Two bequests are left to the young boys upstairs—Robert Siddaway and Peter Baker. Their mothers thank Andrew, but another guest points out that Andrew’s left nothing to his ward, young Violet. Andrew shrugs that she’s a girl, so she’ll get married and doesn’t need money. Yes, marriages come cheap, you know. His lady guest is disgusted.

Ten years later, we’re at Cambridge, where young men in academic gowns are taking their seats in a lecture hall as Poirot and Hastings drive up in Hastings’s zippy little car. The students are called to order so they can debate a truly important point: Can women ever be accorded an equal status with men? They’re taking the odious position of no right out of the gate. Andrew is there, and he’s called forward to introduce the motion, to rapturous applause.

Outside, Violet, now grown into a lovely young woman, paces as Poirot and Hastings pull up. Poirot apologizes for being so late and introduces Hastings. Violet shows them inside, where Andrew’s making a case for the importance of keeping people in their designated spaces. As they go in, Violet and guests run into Miss Campion, president of her college, the very guest who was so aghast at Violet’s being kept out of the will. They take their seats just as Andrew’s finishing up. Robert Siddaway is then called forward to oppose the motion, and Violet claps quite enthusiastically for him. Robert references current events, predicting that war is just around the corner and it’s hardly fair to treat women as second class citizens and expect them to make their munitions and keep the behind-the-scenes war machine running. The other students jeer him, and finally Violet leaps to her feet and puts in her two cents. The men shout at her, but she won’t be cowed, and Andrew smiles proudly at her.

Afterwards, Violet compliments Robert on a job well done, even though he lost the debate. Well, the odds were pretty much stacked against you, Robert, I wouldn’t take it too hard. He generously says that Andrew spoke well, as Andrew joins them and good-naturedly teases Violet about her heckling. He greets Poirot, who’s apparently an old friend of his, and then everyone heads to Violet’s office or something like that for a post-debate drink. Andrew wheezes on the stairs—apparently he’s got a dodgy heart.

In the office, we learn that Violet runs a magazine called New Prospects that she hopes to expand after she graduates. She bluntly asks Poirot if he has money to invest, because Andrew doesn’t want to back her, and neither do the banks, because she’s a girl and all and will probably just blow the money on shoes. Andrew changes the subject by inviting Hastings and Poirot to stay at his place for a few days.

They take him up on the offer and motor over in time for lunch the next day. There’s quite a crowd there, including Miss Campion and the lawyer, whom Andrew wants to meet with. Andrew then turns to Pritchard and tells him he’s changing his will. Pritchard doesn’t seem to care. Robert’s ears perk up and he immediately asks if Violet will actually figure into this one. Robert tells him to button it and they start their lunch. Robert’s mother, Phyllida, tries to smooth things over, but that just annoys Andrew even more, and Robert gets up and stomps off in a snit. Violet goes running after him and he apologizes but says he doesn’t think it’s fair how Andrew behaves towards her.

A ramshackle truck pulls up near the house and a young man in uniform jumps down and heads toward the house, whistling cheerfully.

Inside, Pritchard asks to give Andrew a quick checkup. The young man comes in like this is his home, and it turns out it kind of is, because he’s Peter, and his mother, by the way, seems to be the cook here. She greets him like she hasn’t seen him in years.

That night, Poirot selects a book for some pre-bedtime reading, but before he can settle in, Andrew comes in for a chat. Andrew rather quickly admits that he’s on his way to the great debate room in the sky. He then goes on to detail the decade-old will, which included bequests to Miss Campion (which she immediately pledged to her college), the lawyer, Mr. Siddaway; and the other bequests we know about. Andrew tells Poirot he plans to write a new will the following day that leaves everything to Violet, because he’s so proud of all her achievements over the past few years, and he wants Poirot to be executor. Poirot agrees but wants to know what the rush is. Didn’t you hear him earlier, Poirot? He’s dying!

The phone rings and Andrew bids Poirot good night, then goes out to answer it. Whoever is on the other end gets him to agree to meet them in some shadowy folly out in the garden. Not fishy at all!

The next morning, Violet takes Hastings out for a pre-breakfast ride that takes them out to the folly, where Hastings notices Andrew sitting. They go closer and Hastings dismounts to see what the deal is. Andrew’s quite dead. Hastings calmly turns around and tells Violet to return to the house and fetch the local sergeant.

Poirot watches the body being loaded into an ambulance, then asks the sergeant—Peter’s dad, Sergeant Baker—if he can have a look around. Baker says his men have already looked around, and then Pritchard shows up to tell them that a post-mortem won’t be necessary, because Andrew died about eight hours ago of heart failure. Poirot says that heart failure is a pretty useless diagnosis, since pretty much every dead person’s heart has failed. Hastings pipes up that it’s a little strange for Andrew to have been wandering around outside in the middle of the night. A tearful Violet tells him that Andrew often had a late-night stroll, because it helped him sleep. Pritchard hands the death certificate off to Baker and everyone scatters, leaving Poirot and Hastings alone in the folly. Poirot tells Hastings about the new will that was planned and guesses this is no coincidence.

Poirot and Hastings join the family at the reading of the will. Poirot seats himself beside Miss Campion, who says this should be pretty straightforward, but the trouble is, the will seems to have gone missing. Poirot angrily observes that it seems everyone just wants to let Andrew’s death go completely unquestioned, and now they’ve got a missing will, and Baker’s just sitting on his ass. Baker at least has the grace to look a little ashamed. Poirot then goes ahead and spills the beans about the new will Andrew intended to write. Everyone seems shocked by that. Poirot announces his intention to get to the bottom of Andrew’s death, then takes off, trailed by Hastings.

Outside, Poirot rails against the small, close-knit community they’re now going to have to infiltrate. Hastings, proving he does have a functional brain when he wants to, points out that the missing will means Andrew died intestate. Poirot snippily makes it clear he knows that, but it won’t matter, because what Andrew told Poirot was in confidence and included no witnesses. As they go to get in the car, Pritchard comes running over and asks to have a word with Poirot. Poirot agrees to go for a drink with the doctor.

At the pub, Pritchard admits that he was the major beneficiary of the now missing will, but he certainly didn’t kill Andrew over it. He oh-so-casually asks if Andrew happened to mention anyone else getting money, aside from Violet, and Poirot says he didn’t, why do you ask? Pritchard says he’s believed for a while that Andrew has a secret son, based on an off-hand comment Andrew made some years before that may or may not pertain to Peter. Poirot thanks him for that helpful tidbit.

Walking through the countryside, Poirot surmises that once they find this son, they also find the murderer. He’s off to question Peter’s mother, Margaret. They find her in her garden with Peter and her husband and Poirot asks, as delicately as he can, if there was anything between Margaret and Andrew. Sergeant Baker’s pissed to hear his wife accused in such a way, but Peter’s pretty perky to hear he might have a claim to a fortune. Margaret indignantly denies there was ever anything improper between herself and her employer. Poirot moves the conversation along to the fact that Margaret was a nanny to Violet when she was young. Margaret confirms that was true, though others tried to help out. They were crap at it, though, even Mrs. Siddaway, who used to be a children’s nurse. Poirot thanks her and goes to leave, but first he gets a faceful of pissed off Sergeant Baker, who asks what gives Poirot the right to go casting aspersions about. Poirot calmly informs the man that he has the right because Baker refuses to investigate a murder, which just means Poirot has to go over the guy’s head.

Time to bring in Japp, who once again is investigating a crime way out of his jurisdiction. Poirot shows him the site of Andrew’s death and Japp pokes around for all of three seconds before he notices a small glass vial stuffed into a crack in one of the rocks. Poirot looks confused, because even he conducted a search of the area, and didn’t see any medicine bottle lying about. Japp asks Baker if any local doctors have reported medicine missing, and Baker offers to ask Dr. Pritchard. The name seems to ring a bell with Japp, but he doesn’t say anything about that, just asks Poirot to keep his presence in the town quiet for the time being.

Robert and Violet intercept Miss Campion and Robert, in a roundabout way, says he thinks Andrew might have been his father. Miss Campion blows them both off, telling them to talk to Poirot about it.

So, they do. He meets with Poirot and Japp in his father’s law office and tells them his mother broke the news the night before. Hastings observes that this doesn’t seem to have upset him, which is a little odd. Robert rubs Violet’s shoulder and says he doesn’t think it makes any difference, at the end of the day. Poirot tells him that it does make quite a difference, because if he can prove he’s Andrew’s son, he’ll inherit a huge fortune.

Poirot and Hastings head out, agreeing not to reveal this news just ahead of Andrew’s funeral.

A large crowd has gathered for the funeral, and it includes Japp, who in a rather unseemly moment calls Pritchard aside as he’s walking in procession out of the church. Pritchard obviously knows Japp, and Japp invites him to fill the others in on how they know each other. Pritchard clams up, so Japp tells them Pritchard was suspected of giving former patients the Kevorkian treatment, years ago. They investigated but couldn’t prove anything. All they knew was that he was giving patients overdoses of insulin, such as that found in the vial at the crime scene. Japp figures Pritchard’s been up to his old tricks again, since the post-mortem found needle marks on Andrew’s upper arm. Pritchard is placed under arrest.

Poirot’s finally back at Whitehaven Mansions, entertaining Japp with tea and informing him that it makes no damn sense for Pritchard to go and steal a will that favored him so much. He asks if Japp or Baker bothered to question any other suspects and Japp irritably tells him there weren’t any other suspects to question. Hastings brings up the late-night telephone call Andrew got and Japp just figures it was Pritchard. Any further debate’s put on hold by the arrival of Violet and Robert, who’ve come to inform Poirot that they intend to run off to America, for some reason, skipping Robert’s last year at Cambridge. Poirot shuts them up and Japp asks what the hell the big rush is all about. Violet, proving that she hasn’t thought this through at all, indignantly says there’s nothing left for them to stay for, and anyway, women are treated as equals in America. Come again? That’s total BS, Violet. No they weren’t. Not in 1936. Not any more than they were in England. And are you not aware that the United States was in a crippling depression at the time? How’re you going to get your career off the ground facing down those odds?

Poirot puts on his dad persona and tells her that Andrew wouldn’t have wanted her to miss her graduation ceremony. He asks her to give him just a little more time to investigate.

Miss Campion, meanwhile, has gotten wind of this scheme and goes right to Lawyer Siddaway to ask him to intervene. She asks him how one goes about proving their an heir anyway and he tells her it’s stupidly easy—all you have to do is swear an oath that you are who you say you are. Seriously? I find that really hard to believe. What’s to keep just anyone from coming along and claiming to be an heir whenever some rich person dies? As Robert listens from an adjoining room, she reveals that she’s heading up to London to see Poirot. Ok, she’s dead, right? Anytime someone says they’re going to see the investigating detective, they’re either dead or in some way incapacitated.

In London, Miss Campion heads into Liverpool Street underground station, running into a man in a trenchcoat on the way. He excuses himself and she goes inside, taking the slow escalator down. As she stands there, someone in a trenchcoat gets behind her and gives her a good shove, sending her rolling down the suddenly empty escalator.

Poirot, Japp, Hastings, and, for some reason, Miss Lemon head to the hospital, Poirot chattering that Pritchard obviously couldn’t be behind this, because he’s still in custody. They stand around in the waiting room until the doctor shows up and fills them all in on Miss Campion’s condition, even though they’re not family or anything. Guess medical privacy laws didn’t exist in the ‘30’s. She’s got a concussion and broken legs, but she’ll recover. Miss Lemon fulfils her only purpose in this scene by picking up on the doctor’s referring to Phyllida as “Mrs.” Campion. Poirot asks if the doctor did it out of habit or for some other reason. The doctor, looking a bit uncomfortable, tells them he assumed she was married, because she’d had a baby by C-section at some point. Poirot tells Miss Lemon he’s got a job for her.

Hastings drives Miss Lemon to a country-house looking hospital and she’s ushered in to a room marked “Patient Records.” Yep, definitely no privacy laws yet. Also, there’s a pretty glaring continuity error here: she gets out of the car wearing a red dress, and then inside she’s wearing blue with white polka dots. Oops! She gets the info she needs.

Miss Campion is wheeled into the graduation ceremony, conscious once again, but with her leg in a cast. She gets a standing ovation for her pluck. Once everyone’s seated, she gives a speech about how proud she is, and how this is very informal because the university doesn’t care about its female students yet. But she cares, and she gets a cheer from Robert for it. Poirot smiles and claps as the degrees are handed out to the ladies, who include Violet, so I guess the trip to America’s been postponed.

Afterward, everyone gathers at Andrew’s, including Hastings and Miss Lemon. Poirot leads a toast to Andrew’s memory, which Miss Campion takes a moment to join into. Poirot tells Violet Andrew would have been very proud of her, but sadly, he wasn’t there to enjoy it, because someone in that very room went and killed him. Ahh, it’s clearly J’accuse time.’

Poirot tells them about the new will Andrew intended to write, and how he thinks the old will was stolen and destroyed so Andrew would die intestate. So Poirot sees his job as twofold: find the murderer, and deliver the estate to Violet as Andrew wished.

Poirot goes all the way back to the night of the murder, and in flashback we see Andrew answer the phone, go out to the folly, and get injected twice with an insulin overdose by an unseen assailant. Nice.

Back in the present, Poirot figures the insulin vial that was found at the murder scene was planted later by someone who wanted to frame Pritchard. Pritchard’s there, by the way, so I guess Japp just let him out of jail so he could enjoy a nice party with his friends.

Poirot next brings up this alleged son of Andrew’s, focusing on Robert, because after all, his mom did apparently have an affair with Andrew. Violet quickly cuts in to say that Robert was with her the night of the murder, so he couldn’t have done the deed. Poirot brings up Miss Campion’s accident and wonders if Robert had been trying to shut her up, because Miss Campion had been asking some odd questions about whether a mother’s identity needed to be revealed for a child to come forward and claim to be Andrew’s heir. Because, you see, Miss Campion had a baby many years ago, and Miss Lemon helpfully has the baby’s birth certificate handy. Andrew’s child wasn’t a son, as everyone thought, but a daughter: Violet. Violet’s gobsmacked. Lawyer Siddaway asks Poirot if he really needed to call Phyllida out like that when it’s Andrew they’re all interested in. Poirot kind of ignores him as Violet tries to absorb what she’s just learned. Poirot moves along to loudly accusing Robert of killing Andrew, and before long his mother’s yelling that he didn’t do anything wrong.

Of course not, because she’s the real killer. She, the former nurse, knew how to handle a syringe and knew how powerful insulin could be. She also told her son he was Andrew’s, and she followed Miss Campion to London and pushed her down the stairs because she was afraid Phyllida would reveal that Violet was the real heir.

Mrs. Siddaway stiffly asks her husband to help her, but he tells her there’s nothing he can do. Phyllida asks how she knew about Violet and Mrs. Siddaway confesses she had a friend who worked at the clinic and told her everything. She didn’t like the paltry inheritance Andrew was going to leave her son—she wanted him to have everything. Theft is always a good excuse for murder. Japp arrests her. Robert, curiously, has almost no reaction to this at all.

Later, Poirot’s getting ready to leave and runs into Violet and Miss Campion out for a stroll in the garden. Violet announces that she’s using her inheritance to start a publishing company. Of course she is. Poirot bids them fairwell and good luck, and Violet thanks him. Off he and Hastings and Miss Lemon go, back to London for the next adventure.