By the Pricking of My Thumbs
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Kenneth Farnhill|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Endless Night|
|Followed by||Hallowe'en Party|
By The Pricking of My Thumbs is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in November 1968 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at twenty-one shillings (21/-) and the US edition at $4.95. It features her detectives Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.
Youthful in two Christie books written in the 1920s, middle-aged in a World-War II spy novel, and here elderly, Tommy and Tuppence were unusual in that they aged according to real time, unlike Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, whose age remained more or less the same from their first novels in the 1920s, to their last novels in the 1970s.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
The novel is divided into four books.
Tommy and Tuppence Beresford goes to an old age home called Sunny Ridge, where Tommy's aunt, Aunt Ada resides. While Tommy is busy talking with her old aunt, Tuppence sits with Mrs. Lancaster. Mrs. Lancaster unexpectedly says 'Was it your poor child? There behind the fireplace.'
Aunt Ada dies of natural causes.
Mrs. Lancaster is missing from the Sunny Ridge. Miss Packard tells them that a lady called Mrs. Johnson took her back. Tuppence is very interested in this and fears that Mrs. Lancaster has been kidnapped by someone.
Tommy and Tuppence go to Sunny Ridge for taking Aunt Ada's belongings. It includes a desk and a painting of a lovely house by a river. Tuppence sees the painting in Aunt Ada's room and claims that she had never seen the painting before, but has seen the house in the painting somewhere. A nurse tells them that the painting was gifted to Aunt Ada by Mrs. Lancaster.
Tommy has to go to a conference.
While he is in the conference, Tuppence realizes where she had seen the house and goes there. She learns that the house is in a village called the Sutton Chancellor. The house has been divided into two parts - one is rented to the Perries and the other is empty.
She meets with the people of Sutton Chancellor and talks with them.They are the vicar who is searching for a child's tombstone, Mrs. Copleigh who talks a lot and Miss Bleigh, a lady in the church.
She goes to the Square to see if someone is willing to sell the house in the painting but in vain. She calls Albert, her servant and says that she is returning tonight. While going back she promises the vicar that she'll help him searching the tombstone. She moves in the graveyard to find a stone with the name "lily waters", when she is hit hard on her head.
Meanwhile, Tommy returns from the conference and searches for Tuppence. He gets a call from the doctor of Sunny Ridge, who wants to meet him. He takes the painting with him to the Bond street to an art gallery, where his friend says that it has been done by a artist called Mr. Boscowan. He also advises him to meet his widow. Then he goes to have a talk with the doctor of Sunny Ridge. He says one of the fellow companion of Aunt Ada, Mrs. Moody, who loves cocoa (Tommy calls her Mrs. Cocoa) was killed by adding morphine to her cocoa. He then goes to Mrs. Boscowan, who finds something weird in the painting. She had never noticed the boat in the river.
Albert, meanwhile, finds a letter in a secret drawer of the desk, which says one of the fellow residents of Aunt Ada, Mrs. Cocoa has seen a murderer in Sunny Ridge. It was signed by Aunt Ada.
Tommy's daughter phoned Tommy to tell him that it had been in the newspaper about Tuppence, but she has given her maiden name. Tommy goes to the hospital and takes Tuppence back to her home.
Tuppence goes with Tommy back to the home. In the house of Perries, they have found a doll. When they tear open the doll they find many diamonds.
There was a party in Sutton Chancellor. Mrs. Copleigh had told Tuppence that Sir Phillip Starke is a rich resident who comes occasionally. A few years back there were a series of child murders. Mrs. Copliegh suspects Sir Phillip of these.
After the party, in the morning, Tuppence goes to the vicar to ask for the bible, because she wants to remember the lines written on the grave of Lily Waters. She waits there for a few minutes, when Miss Bleigh comes from behind with a heavy vase in her hand. Tuppence calls her "Mrs. Johnson", and Miss Bleigh is stunned by this.
She goes to the house of Perries where she finds someone she never expected. There stood Mrs. Lancaster opening the door. She told her a secret. She and Tuppence went to a secret part of the house called "The priest's hole" Mrs. Lancaster tells her story. She was very fond of dancing. She was of seventeen when she got pregnant and her child was aborted against her will. She married, but cannot have a child. She developed her thinking that if her child did not live, no other child should live. Then she killed many children, of which was Tuppence's own child. That is what she hinted when saying - was that your poor child? There behind the fireplace. She had to kill Mrs. Moody, as she was a dresser of dancers, who knows her and the secrets of Mrs. Lancaster. Now as Tuppence knows Mrs. Lancaster, she has to die. Mrs. Lancaster insisted that she has to drink poisoned milk, or else she would cut her throat with a blade. She tries to get out of the priest's whole, but in vain. She then faints.
As she gets up, she sees Sir Phillip Starke there, who tells her that he is the husband of Mrs. Yorke - the real name of Mrs. Lancaster. She had herself consumed the poison. He reveals that Mrs. Yorke had commit child murders. She has written the name of one of those children in the painting of Boscowan. So he had to paint a boat to conceal that.
Mrs. Beresford and Mr. Beresford return back home. Tommy advises Tuppence not to muddle up in a mystery again, but he knows well that she will.
Literary significance and reception
The novel is dedicated "to the many readers in this and other countries who write to me asking: 'What has happened to Tommy and Tuppence? What are they doing now?'"
Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) in The Guardian's issue of 13 December 1968 admitted that, "This is a thriller, not a detective story, and needless to say an ingenious and exciting one; but anyone can write a thriller (well, almost anyone), whereas a genuine Agatha Christie could be written by one person only."
Robert Barnard: "Begins rather well, with a vicious old aunt of Tommy's in a genteel old people's home, but declines rapidly into a welter of half-realised plots and a plethora of those conversations, all too familiar in late Christie, which meander on through irrelevancies, repetitions and inconsequentialities to end nowhere (as if she had sat at the feet of Samuel Beckett). Makes one appreciate the economy of dialogue – all point, or at least possible point, in early Christie."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The novel was adapted into a television movie in 2006 as part of the Marple series starring Geraldine McEwan even though Christie did not write Marple into the original story. The plot was altered with Tommy away on military intelligence business abroad, and Tommy's part of the story was re-written for Miss Marple. Tommy was portrayed as a self-important strong male, while Tuppence was portrayed as a maudlin alcoholic who carried a hip flask and who was resentful of her husband's success; she too was going to be signed-up by MI6 but who had then not been able to fulfil this ambition as she was pregnant with their first child. Tommy and Tuppence were played by Anthony Andrews and Greta Scacchi. The time in which this adaption is set is somewhere between the late 1940s and the early 1950s, but unclear and slightly inconsistent: a US B-17 (which left the UK soon after the war and was out of US service by 1949) overflies the village, yet US airmen wear the blue USAF uniform introduced in 1949, and there is also a 1951 Festival of Britain poster in the village shop.
- 1968, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1968, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1968, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1968, Hardcover, 275 pp
- 1969, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 208 pp
- 1971, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1987, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-1571-X
- 2000, Signet (New York), Paperback, ISBN 0-451-20052-7
- Czech: Dům u kanálu (The Canal House)
- Dutch: De pop in de schoorsteen (The Doll in the Chimney)
- French: Mon Petit Doigt m'a dit (My little finger told me, a French expression equivalent to the English title)
- German: Lauter reizende alte Damen (Lots of charming old ladies)
- Hungarian: Bal hüvelykem bizsereg (My thumb is pricking)
- Norwegian: Gammel dame forsvinner (The old Lady Vanishes)
- Polish: Dom nad Kanałem: (The House above the Canal)
- Portuguese (Brazil): Um Pressentimento Funesto (Foreboding)
- Portuguese (Portugal): Caminho para a Morte (Road to Death)
- Spanish: El Cuadro (The Painting)
- Italian: "Sento i pollici che prudono" (By the Pricking of my thumbs)
- Bulgarian: "Злото е на път" [Zloto e na pat] (Something wicked this way comes ("Macbeth", Skakespeare))
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The Guardian, 13 December 1968 (p. 10).
- The Observer, 17 November 1968 (p. 28)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 189). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- Mon petit doigt m'a dit... (2005) at the Internet Movie Database
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs at the official Agatha Christie website
- Mon petit doigt m'a dit... (2005) at the Internet Movie Database
- Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006) at the Internet Movie Database