After the Funeral

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After the Funeral
After the Funeral US First Edition Cover 1953.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first)
Author Agatha Christie
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date
March 1953
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 244 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN NA
Preceded by A Daughter's a Daughter
Followed by A Pocket Full of Rye

After the Funeral is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1953 under the title of Funerals are Fatal[1] and in UK by the Collins Crime Club on 18 May of the same year under Christie's original title.[2] The US edition retailed at $2.50[1] and the UK edition at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6).[2]

A 1963 UK paperback issued by Fontana Books changed the title to Murder at the Gallop to tie in with the film version. The book features the author's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, but the Murder at the Gallop film adaptation instead featured her amateur sleuth, Miss Marple.

Plot summary[edit]

After the funeral of the wealthy Richard Abernethie, his remaining family assembles for the reading of the will at Enderby Hall. The death, though sudden, was not unexpected and natural causes have been given on his death certificate. Nevertheless, one of the attendees, Mrs Cora Lansquenet, says, "It's been hushed up very nicely ... but he was murdered, wasn't he?" The family lawyer, Mr Entwhistle, begins to investigate. Before long there is no question that a murderer is at large.

The essentials of Richard Abernethie's last will and testament were told to the gathered family by Mr Entwhistle. 68 years old and a widower, Richard was predeceased by his only child, Mortimer, who died without issue. Thus Richard was prodded to revise his will. He was the eldest of a family of seven, of whom only he, a brother Timothy and a sister Cora (Mrs Lansquenet), the youngest, were still alive when he wrote the will. His favourite brother Leo was killed in the war, as was another brother, Gordon. Richard had a nephew and two nieces, the sum total of the next generation. He spent time with his nephew George, and his two nieces and their husbands, to get to know them better. He called his sister in law Helen for a visit to the family home. Richard visited his reclusive brother, then travelled to his sister at her home, for the first time in more than two decades. He decided to split his wealth in six portions, for his five blood relations, and a sixth for the widow of one brother killed in the recent war. Four received the capital directly, while two received a life income from their share of the capital. Enderby Hall was to be sold.

The day after her brother's funeral, Cora Lansquenet is brutally murdered in her sleep at her home by repeated blows with a hatchet. The motive for her murder was not obvious. It does not appear to be theft, nor is her own estate a likely motive. Her portion of the Abernethie bequest was a life income, which capital reverts to the estate of her brother, Richard, to be divided among the surviving heirs – not adding to her own estate. One possible motive is to suppress anything that Richard might have told Cora about his suspicions that he was being poisoned. These had been overheard by her paid companion, the timid Miss Gilchrist, who had lived with Cora for a few years, and was not always a lady's companion, but had previously owned a teashop, "the essence of gentility", but it failed during the war due to food shortages, and she had to seek other employment. Miss Gilchrist is an unlikely suspect, as she would have gained nothing from Cora's death except a few of Cora's own paintings.

Entwhistle calls on his long-time friend, Hercule Poirot, to resolve any doubts about the death of Richard. Poirot employs an old friend, Mr Goby, to investigate the family. Goby, a most resourceful man, rapidly turns up a number of reasons within the family for members of it to be desperate for the money in Richard's estate. Goby employs all sorts of clever methods to uncover the most private information, using agents who pose as actors, lawyers or even Catholic nuns. None of the family members can yet be cleared of suspicion. Poirot warns Entwhistle that Miss Gilchrist may herself be a target for the murderer.

Cora Lansquenet was a keen artist and collector of paintings from local sales. Susan Banks, learning she has inherited Mrs Lansquenet's property, went to her cottage to clear up the possessions and prepare them for auction, on the day of the inquest into Lansquenet's murder. She reviewed her employer's own paintings as well as those purchased at local sales. She noticed that Lansquenet had been copying postcards: one of her paintings, which Miss Gilchrist claims were all painted from life, features a pier that was destroyed in the war; however the painting was completed quite recently. The next day, after the funeral, an old friend who is an art critic, Alexander Guthrie, arrives to look through Mrs Lansquenet's recent purchases. His visit had been arranged before Mrs Lansquenet's murder. He looked at all her recent purchases, but finds nothing of any value there. That evening, Miss Gilchrist is nearly killed by arsenic poison in a slice of wedding cake apparently sent to her through the post. The only reason that she is not killed is that, following a superstition, she saved the greater part of the slice of cake under her pillow. Susan had declined an offer to share in the slice of cake. Inspector Morton investigates the Lansquenet murder. He recognised Poirot at the inquest, so makes a point of finding him in London to learn why. The two share information as they investigate. Morton focuses on people in the area of Cora's rented cottage.

Poirot focuses on the Abernethie family, and a number of red herrings come to light. Rosamund Shane, one of the nieces, is a beautiful but determined woman who seems to have something to hide (which turns out to be her husband's infidelity and her own pregnancy). Susan's husband, Gregory, is a dispensing chemist who had been responsible for deliberately administering a nonlethal overdose to an awkward customer. [clarification needed] In a surprising twist, Gregory confesses to the murder of Richard near the close of the novel. He is discovered to have a punishment complex. Timothy Abernethie, an unpleasant man preoccupied with his own health perhaps to gain attention, might have been able to commit the murder of Cora, as might his country-tweed, strong, healthy wife, Maude. Even the genteel Helen Abernethie left Enderby to fetch her things from her London flat after upon agreeing to remain longer at Enderby. In short, all the family had been alone on the day Cora was murdered, for enough time to reach the rented cottage and do the deed. Did any of them do it? Perhaps identifying the murderer may depend on finding a nun whom Miss Gilchrist claims to have noticed twice? But what can all this have to do with a bouquet of wax flowers under glass to which Poirot pays attention?

Poirot calls all those involved together to observe them directly, his habitual method, via Entwhistle. They gather to look over and select items of interest before the estate auction. This lures even the reclusive Timothy from his home, back to the family mansion of Enderby, bringing his wife Maude, as well as Miss Gilchrist, who is now assisting them. Poirot briefly poses as Monsieur Pontalier of UNARCO, a group that has purchased the estate to house refugees. He is at the house on that same weekend. His guise is uncovered by Rosamund the first evening. After playing games in mirrors, Helen Abernethie telephones Entwhistle early the next morning with the news that she has realised what struck her odd the day of the funeral. Before she can say more, she is savagely struck on the head. Mr Entwhistle is left speaking out over a telephone where no one is listening.

Poirot's explanation in the denouement is a startling one. Helen is safely away to recover from her concussion. Added to the group is Inspector Morton, whose own investigations lead him out of his home county of Berkshire to Enderby Hall, increasing the tensions for the family. Inspector Morton spent the afternoon asking each member of the family to account for themselves on the day of Cora Lansquenet's murder.

Cora had never come to the funeral at all. It was Miss Gilchrist in disguise, as part of a complicated plot for her own gain, leaving the other woman at her home asleep from a sedative in her tea. Miss Gilchrist wanted to plant the idea that Richard Abernethie's death had been, in fact, a murder. When Cora herself was murdered, it would seem that the alleged murderer had struck again. None of the family had seen Cora for more than two decades, due to the ill feeling at the time of her marriage. Miss Gilchrist successfully copied her mannerisms and the only flaw in her portrayal was spotted by Helen Abernethie. Miss Gilchrist had rehearsed a characteristic turn of the head in a mirror, where the reflection is a reverse of reality. When she came to the house after the funeral, she turned her head to the left, not the right. Helen had had the feeling that something was wrong when Cora had made her startling statement, but took some days and a timely conversation among the young cousins to realise precisely what it was. Miss Gilchrist had further given herself away to Poirot, by referring to the wax flowers on the green malachite table the first day the relatives gathered to select objects before the auction. These were on display on the day of the reading of Richard Abernethie's will but removed by the time Miss Gilchrist, as herself, visited Enderby Hall. She had deliberately poisoned herself with the arsenic-laced wedding cake to evade suspicion and appear yet another potential victim; ironically this only aroused Poirot's and Inspector Morton's misgivings.

Miss Gilchrist saw what Cora had missed among the paintings that Mrs Lansquenet had bought at the local sales. Miss Gilchrist recognised a painting by Vermeer, yet Mrs Lansquenet had no idea how valuable the artwork was. Thus, Miss Gilchrist's plot was born. The painting's value would likely have been revealed to Mrs Lansquenet by Mr Guthrie, thus precipitating the murder. Miss Gilchrist covered the Vermeer with her own painting depicting the destroyed pier copied from the postcard, to disguise it among others done by Cora. The scent of the oils lingered when Mr Entwhistle visited the cottage the day after the murder. Cora's will confirmed that Miss Gilchrist inherited all of the paintings. Miss Gilchrist loathed her employer; she loathed life as a dependent even more. Her dream was to sell the Vermeer to escape her dreary life with the capital to rebuild her beloved teashop. Poirot deduced the key role of the painting. He had Mr Entwhistle take it from the Timothy Abernethie home where Miss Gilchrist had left it. The art critic was found to be authentic by Inspector Morton, so Poirot asked Entwhistle to bring the painting to him. That same day, Mr Guthrie sent a wire to Poirot that said tersely, "definitely a Vermeer, Guthrie."

Inspector Morton added that two nuns had called at Cora's cottage the day of Richard Abernethie's funeral. No one answered, yet they heard noises from a person. Added to Poirot's explanation, these nuns became witness to the real Cora Lansquenet's presence in her own home as Miss Gilchrist was impersonating her at Enderby Hall. There is a motif of nuns in this mystery, appearing at each house where Miss Gilchrist stayed. [clarification needed]

Miss Gilchrist had invented what she overheard about Richard's fear of poisoning, for the furtherance of her plot. She told her lie to Mrs Banks first. With revisions implicating Mrs Banks, she repeated it to Poirot and Inspector Morton, very shortly before Poirot revealed her plot to all present at Enderby Hall. Once accused, Miss Gilchrist broke down in a flood of complaints of the unbearable hardships of her life and fantasies about a new rebuilt teashop, perhaps in Rye or Chichester, but destined never to be, and went quietly with Inspector Morton. There is no evidence Richard Abernethie died anything but a natural death in his sleep, from the disease his doctor had diagnosed. Thus Poirot answered the question Mr Entwhistle hired him to resolve, as well as untangled, by deduction, the mystery of Cora's death. Miss Gilchrist is found guilty at trial. In her time in prison during legal proceedings, she was quickly becoming insane, planning one tea shop after another. Mr Entwhistle and Hercule Poirot suspect her punishment might be served in Broadmoor, but have no doubt she had plotted and carried out the cold blooded murder in full possession of her faculties – this ladylike murderer.

Characters[edit]

  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
  • Mr Entwhistle, the Abernethie family solicitor
  • Inspector Morton, Berkshire County Police, investigating officer of the murder of Cora
  • Mr Goby, a private investigator
  • Richard Abernethie, wealthy man, eldest of a large family who took to the family business at a young age when his younger siblings were orphaned by the death of both parents, 68 years old, widowed, grieved by the sudden death of his only son
  • Mrs Cora Lansquenet, widowed youngest sister of Richard, an amateur painter and Abernethie heiress
  • Miss Gilchrist, Mrs Lansquenet's paid companion
  • Susan Banks, niece of Richard Abernethie, a woman with drive, and an Abernethie heiress
  • Gregory Banks, a chemist and Susan's husband
  • George Crossfield, supposedly the nephew to Richard Abernethie but actually the son, solicitor in a stock broker's office, and an Abernethie heir
  • Rosamund Shane, an actress, niece to Richard Abernethie, and Abernethie heiress
  • Michael Shane, an aspiring actor, husband of Rosamund
  • Helen Abernethie, widow of Leo Abernethie and an Abernethie heiress
  • Timothy Abernethie, only surviving brother of Richard, a grumpy invalid, and an Abernethie heir
  • Maude Abernethie, Timothy's wife
  • Lancscombe, butler at Enderby Hall

Themes[edit]

Unlike Taken at the Flood, in which there is a strong sense of post-war English society reforming along the lines of the "status quo ante", After the Funeral is deeply pessimistic about the social impact of war. The village post office no longer handles the local post. Mr Goby blames the government for the poor standard of investigators that he is able to employ. The family mansion must be sold, and the butler Lanscombe, who had expected to be able to retire to the North Lodge, is forced to leave the estate. A pier on a postcard has been bombed and not yet rebuilt, which desolate fact is pivotal to the plot. Richard Abernethie is devastated that his only son died abruptly from polio, an epidemic of that time. The son was fit, healthy, about to marry, and then gone. Richard sees no other single heir worthy of succeeding to his estate entire. The Abernethie drive and talent for business are found in his niece Susan, but he cannot consider her as sole heir because she is female. Rather, he reacts to her by being disappointed in her husband. Not finding any one person to take over his fortune and business, he divides the money among family members who seem likely to waste it on gambling and theatrical ventures.

One person he valued was his sister-in-law, now widowed by the war. She had a child in a war time affair. She never told Richard of the child, aware of his Victorian views, telling others she has a nephew she helps. She is grateful for his kindness in including her in his will, as she can now raise her son on faraway Cyprus with a proper education. The child is loved, but his mother feels he cannot be accepted in post war England. The last name chosen for Cora's husband, the much disliked painter with some claim to being French, is Lansquenet. It is unusual as a last name, as mentioned in the story. The word is the name of a card game, but mainly it is the term for a German mercenary, a foot soldier with a lance, from the 15th and 16th centuries.[3]

Food rationing in England came to an end in the year of publication, but its effect is still felt in the egg shortages that are mentioned in the novel. Throughout, there is a strong sense of the hardships of the post-war period, including the conniving Miss Gilchrist's heartache at losing her cherished teashop due to food shortages, and being forced into a life of dependence, in which she is regarded as little more than a servant. There are also comments on the increased burden of taxation associated with Clement Attlee's government.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Robert Barnard: "A subject of perennial appeal – unhappy families: lots of scattered siblings, lots of Victorian money (made from corn plasters). Be sure you are investigating the right murder, and watch for mirrors (always interesting in Christie). Contains Christie's last major butler: the 'fifties and 'sixties were not good times for butlers."[4]

References or Allusions[edit]

References to other works[edit]

In chapter 12, Poirot mentions the case handled in Lord Edgware Dies as being one in which he was "nearly defeated".

In Chapter 13, Poirot's valet is referred to in the narrative as Georges. His actual name is George, but Poirot always addresses him directly as Georges. This is the first (and only?) time that he is referred to by the French version in narration.

References to actual history, geography and current science[edit]

This is the first of the Poirot novels in which lesbianism (between a woman and her companion) is discussed as a possible motive. [clarification needed] The references are veiled and euphemistic: Inspector Morton calls it "feverish female friendship" in chapter 13.

Adaptations[edit]

Film[edit]

In 1963, a film adaptation entitled Murder at the Gallop was released by MGM. However, this version replaced Poirot with the character of Miss Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford.

Main article: Murder at the Gallop

Television[edit]

On 26 March 2006, an adaptation of the novel was broadcast on ITV with David Suchet as Poirot in the series Agatha Christie's Poirot. There were a couple of changes, Cora was married to an Italian husband whose surname is Galaccio and is still alive, instead of being married to a French husband whose surname is Lansquenet and has recently died. The painting at the end is a Rembrandt, not a Vermeer. Timothy's ability to walk is only shown at the end, but in the book it is well known from the start that he is not an invalid. George is Helen's son. Susan does not have a husband, but on the day after the funeral she and George, who are in love with each other, were in Lytchett St Mary and were having a secret affair. The cast for the 2006 version includes Michael Fassbender as George, Lucy Punch as Susan, Robert Bathurst as Gilbert Entwhistle, Anna Calder-Marshall as Maude, Fiona Glascott as Rosamund and Monica Dolan as Miss Gilchrist.

Radio[edit]

BBC Radio 4 adapted After the Funeral for radio, featuring John Moffatt as Poirot.

Publication history[edit]

Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)
  • 1953, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), March 1953, Hardback, 243 pp
  • 1953, Collins Crime Club (London), 18 May 1953, Hardback, 192 pp
  • 1954, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 224 pp
  • 1956, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
  • 1968, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 237 pp
  • 1978, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 422 pp ISBN 0-7089-0186-7

The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in forty-seven parts from Tuesday, 20 January to Saturday, 14 March 1953. In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in seven abridged instalments from 21 March (Volume 93, Number 2438) to 2 May 1953 (Volume 93, Number 2444) with illustrations by William Little.[5]

International titles[edit]

  • Czech: Po pohřbu (After the Funeral)
  • Dutch: Na de begrafenis (After the Funeral)
  • Finnish: Hautajaisten jälkeen (After the Funeral)
  • French: Les Indiscrétions d'Hercule Poirot (Indiscretions of Hercule Poirot)
  • German: Der Wachsblumenstrauß (The Bouquet of Wax Flowers)
  • Hungarian: Temetni veszélyes (Funerals are Dangerous)
  • Indonesian: Setelah Pemakaman (After the Funeral)
  • Italian: Dopo le esequie (After the Funeral)
  • Norwegian: Etter begravelsen (After the Funeral)
  • Polish: Po pogrzebie (After the Funeral)
  • Portuguese (Brazil): Depois do Funeral (After the Funeral)
  • Portuguese (Portugal): Os Abutres (The Vultures)
  • Romanian: Dupa înmormântare (After the Funeral)
  • Slovenian: Po pogrebu (After the Funeral)
  • Spanish: Después del Funeral (After the Funeral)
  • Swedish: Begravningar är Farliga (Funerals are Dangerous)
  • Turkish: Cenazeden sonra (After the Funeral)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  2. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
  3. ^ Genealogy of the surname "Lansquenet"
  4. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 188). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
  5. ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.

External links[edit]