The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd First Edition Cover 1926.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Ellen Edwards
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher William Collins, Sons
Publication date
June 1926
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 312 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN NA
Preceded by The Secret of Chimneys
Followed by The Big Four

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by William Collins, Sons in June 1926[1] and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company on the 19th of the same month.[2] It features Hercule Poirot as the lead detective. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)[1] and the US edition at $2.00.[2]

It is one of Christie's best known and most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending having a significant impact on the genre. The short biography of Christie which is included in the present UK printings of all of her books states that this novel is her masterpiece. Howard Haycraft, in his seminal 1941 work, Murder for Pleasure, included the novel in his "cornerstones" list of the most influential crime novels ever written.[3] The character of Caroline Sheppard was later acknowledged by Christie as a possible precursor to her famous detective Miss Marple.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

The book is set in the fictional village of King's Abbott in England. It is narrated by Dr James Sheppard, who becomes Poirot's assistant (a role filled by Captain Hastings in several other Poirot novels). The story begins with the death of Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy widow who is rumoured to have murdered her husband. Her death is initially believed to be an accident until Roger Ackroyd, a widower who had been expected to marry Mrs. Ferrars, reveals that she admitted to killing her husband and then committed suicide. Shortly after this he is found murdered. The suspects include Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, Roger's neurotic, hypochondriac sister-in-law who has accumulated personal debts through extravagant spending; her daughter Flora; Major Blunt, a big-game hunter; Geoffrey Raymond, Ackroyd's personal secretary; Ralph Paton, Ackroyd's stepson and another person with heavy debts; Parker, a snooping butler; and Ursula Bourne, a parlourmaid with an uncertain history who resigned her post the afternoon of the murder. Dr Sheppard's spinster sister Caroline is a favourite character among readers, and some say she is worthy to have appeared in another book.

The initial suspect is Ralph, who is engaged to Flora and stands to inherit his stepfather's fortune. Several critical pieces of evidence seem to point to Ralph. Poirot, who has just moved to the town, begins to investigate at Flora's behest.

The ending and the identity of the murderer[edit]

The book ends with an unprecedented plot twist. Poirot exonerates all of the original suspects. He then lays out a completely reasoned case that the murderer is in fact Dr Sheppard, who has not only been Poirot's assistant, but also the story's narrator. Dr Sheppard was Mrs Ferrars' blackmailer, and he murdered Ackroyd to stop him learning the truth from Mrs Ferrars. Poirot gives the doctor two choices: either he surrenders to the police; or, for the sake of his reputation and of his proud sister, he commits suicide. In the final chapter of Sheppard's narrative (a sort of epilogue), Sheppard admits his guilt, noting certain literary techniques he used to write the narrative truthfully without revealing his role in the crime or doing anything to suggest that he knew the truth. He reveals that he had hoped to be the one to write the account of Poirot's great failure: i.e., not solving the murder of Roger Ackroyd. Thus, the last chapter acts as both Sheppard's confession and his suicide note. The final revelation uses meta-fictional tropes. The ending also opens up the question as to whether narrators can be trusted. Christie uses an unreliable narrator again in 1967 novel Endless Night. Her earlier novel, The Man in the Brown Suit, is narrated by two people, one of whom is unreliable. Reader response to the ending varies from admiration of the unexpected end to a feeling of being cheated

Juxtaposition of two knowledge systems[edit]

In the novel, Christie has laid side by side two modes of gathering information and building an hypothesis. One is Poirot's use of ratiocination; the other is the gossiping practised by almost all of the inhabitants of King's Abbott, Caroline in particular. Although even Caroline is able to interpret certain situations correctly, Christie privileges the scientific mode of investigation by unveiling the murderer through Poirot.

Characters[edit]

  • Hercule Poirot – retired detective who investigates the central murder
  • Roger Ackroyd – country gentleman, distressed by the recent death of his paramour, Mrs Ferrars
  • Mrs Cecil Ackroyd – Mr Ackroyd's sister-in-law
  • Flora Ackroyd – Mr Ackroyd's niece and Mrs Cecil Ackroyd's daughter
  • Ralph Paton – Mr Ackroyd's stepson, often referred to as his "adopted" son
  • Ursula Bourne – Mr Ackroyd's parlourmaid, who has recently resigned
  • Major Hector Blunt – big game hunter, Roger Ackroyd's friend and house guest
  • Geoffrey Raymond – Mr Ackroyd's secretary
  • John Parker – Mr Ackroyd's butler
  • Elizabeth Russell – Mr Ackroyd's housekeeper
  • Charles Kent – Elizabeth Russell's son, and a drug addict
  • Dr James Sheppard – the doctor, Poirot's assistant, the story's narrator and a betrayer of Poirot, killing Roger Ackroyd.
  • Caroline Sheppard – Dr Sheppard's spinster sister
  • Dorothy Ferrars – who poisons herself at the very beginning of the book
  • Ashley Ferrars – late husband of Mrs Ferrars, who was poisoned by his wife
  • Inspector Raglan
  • Inspector Davis
  • Mr Hammond – Roger Ackroyd's lawyer

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The Times Literary Supplement's review of 10 June 1926, began with "This is a well-written detective story of which the only criticism might perhaps be that there are too many curious incidents not really connected with the crime which have to be elucidated before the true criminal can be discovered". The review then gave a brief synopsis before concluding with "It is all very puzzling, but the great Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian detective, solves the mystery. It may safely be asserted that very few readers will do so."[5]

A long review in The New York Times Book Review of 18 July 1926, read in part:

There are doubtless many detective stories more exciting and blood-curdling than The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but this reviewer has recently read very few which provide greater analytical stimulation. This story, though it is inferior to them at their best, is in the tradition of Poe's analytical tales and the Sherlock Holmes stories. The author does not devote her talents to the creation of thrills and shocks, but to the orderly solution of a single murder, conventional at that, instead.[6]
...
Miss Christie is not only an expert technician and a remarkably good story-teller, but she knows, as well, just the right number of hints to offer as to the real murderer. In the present case his identity is made all the more baffling through the author's technical cleverness in selecting the part he is to play in the story; and yet her non-committal characterization of him makes it a perfectly fair procedure. The experienced reader will probably spot him, but it is safe to say that he will often have his doubts as the story unfolds itself.[6]

The Observer of 30 May 1926, said,

No one is more adroit than Miss Christie in the manipulation of false clues and irrelevances and red herrings; and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd makes breathless reading from first to the unexpected last. It is unfortunate that in two important points – the nature of the solution and the use of the telephone – Miss Christie has been anticipated by another recent novel: the truth is that this particular field is getting so well ploughed that it is hard to find a virgin patch anywhere. But Miss Christie's story is distinguished from most of its class by its coherence, its reasonableness, and the fact that the characters live and move and have their being: the gossip-loving Caroline would be an acquisition to any novel.[7]

The Scotsman of 22 July 1926, said,

When in the last dozen pages of Miss Christie's detective novel, the answer comes to the question, "Who killed Roger Ackroyd?" the reader will feel that he has been fairly, or unfairly, sold up. Up till then he has been kept balancing in his mind from chapter to chapter the probabilities for or against the eight or nine persons at whom suspicion points. ... Everybody in the story appears to have a secret of his or her own hidden up the sleeve, the production of which is imperative in fitting into place the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle; and in the end it turns out that the Doctor himself is responsible for the largest bit of reticence. The tale may be recommended as one of the cleverest and most original of its kind.[8]

Robert Barnard, in A Talent to Deceive: An appreciation of Agatha Christie, writes:

Apart — and it is an enormous "apart" — from the sensational solution, this is a fairly conventional Christie. ... A classic, but there are some better Christies.[9]

Laura Thompson, Christie's biographer, wrote:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the supreme, the ultimate detective novel. It rests upon the most elegant of all twists, the narrator who is revealed to be the murderer. This twist is not merely a function of plot: it puts the whole concept of detective fiction on an armature and sculpts it into a dazzling new shape. It was not an entirely new idea ... nor was it entirely her own idea ... but here, she realised, was an idea worth having. And only she could have pulled it off so completely. Only she had the requisite control, the willingness to absent herself from the authorial scene and let her plot shine clear.[10]

In 1944–1946, the noted American literary critic Edmund Wilson attacked the entire mystery genre in a set of three columns in The New Yorker. The second, in the 20 January 1945 issue, was titled "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?"[11]

Pierre Bayard, literature professor and author, in Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd? (Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?), re-investigates Agatha Christie's Ackroyd, proposing an alternative solution. He argues in favour of a different murderer – Sheppard's sister, Caroline – and says Christie subconsciously knew who the real culprit is.[12]

Adaptations[edit]

Alibi (Play)[edit]

The book formed the basis of the earliest adaptation of any work of Christie's when the play, Alibi, adapted by Michael Morton, opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London on 15 May 1928. It ran for 250 performances with Charles Laughton in the role of Poirot. Laughton also starred in the Broadway run of the play which was retitled The Fatal Alibi and opened at the Booth Theatre on 8 February 1932. The American production was not as successful as the British had been and closed after just 24 performances.

Alibi is especially notable as it inspired Christie to write her first stage play, Black Coffee. Christie, along with her dog Peter, attended the rehearsals of Alibi and found its "novelty" enjoyable.[13] However, "she was sufficiently irritated by the changes to the original to want to write a play of her own."[13]

Alibi (1931 film)[edit]

The play was turned into the first sound film to be based on a Christie work. Running 75 minutes, it was released on 28 April 1931, by Twickenham Film Studios and produced by Julius S. Hagan. Austin Trevor played Poirot, a role he reprised later that year in the film adaptation of Christie's 1930 play, Black Coffee.

Adapter: H. Fowler Mear
Director: Leslie Hiscott

Austin Trevor as Hercule Poirot
Franklin Dyall as Sir Roger Ackroyd
Elizabeth Allan as Ursula Browne
J.H. Roberts as Dr. Sheppard
John Deverell as Lord Halliford
Ronald Ward as Ralph Ackroyd
Mary Jerrold as Mrs. Ackroyd
Mercia Swinburne as Caryll Sheppard
Harvey Braban as Inspector Davis
With Clare Greet, Diana Beaumont and Earl Grey

"Campbell Playhouse" radio adaptation[edit]

Orson Welles adapted the novel as a one-hour radio play for the 12 November 1939, episode of the Campbell Playhouse. Welles himself played both Dr. Sheppard and Hercule Poirot.

Adapter: Howard Koch and Wyllis Cooper
Producer: John Houseman
Director: Orson Welles

Cast:
Orson Welles as Hercule Poirot and Dr. Sheppard
Edna May Oliver as Caroline Sheppard
Alan Napier as Roger Ackroyd
Brenda Forbes as Mrs. Ackroyd
Mary Taylor as Flora
George Coulouris as Inspector Hamstead
Ray Collins as Mr. Raymond
Everett Sloane as Parker

BBC Radio 4 adaptation[edit]

The novel was adapted as a 1½-hour radio play for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast on 24 December 1987. John Moffatt made the first of his many performances as Poirot. The adaptation was broadcast at 7.45pm and was recorded on 2 November of the same year.

Adaptor: Michael Bakewell
Producer: Enyd Williams

Cast:
John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot
John Woodvine as Doctor Sheppard
Laurence Payne as Roger Ackroyd
Diana Olsson as Caroline Sheppard
Eva Stuart as Miss Russell
Peter Gilmore as Raymond
Zelah Clarke as Flora
Simon Cuff as Inspector Davis
Deryck Guyler as Parker
With Richard Tate, Alan Dudley, Joan Matheson, David Goodland, Peter Craze, Karen Archer and Paul Sirr

Agatha Christie's Poirot[edit]

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was adapted as a 103-minute drama transmitted in the UK on ITV Sunday 2 January 2000, as a special episode in their series, Agatha Christie's Poirot. In this adaptation Japp – not Sheppard – is Poirot's assistant, leaving Sheppard as just another suspect. However, the device of Dr Sheppard's journal is retained as the supposed source of Poirot's voice-over narration and forms an integral part of the dénouement. The plot strays considerably from the book, including having Sheppard run over Parker numerous times with his car and commit suicide with his gun after a chase through a factory. Ackroyd was changed to a more elderly, stingy man, disliked by many, who owns a factory. Mrs Ackroyd is also not as zany as in the book version.

Adaptor: Clive Exton
Director: Andrew Grieve

Cast:
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp
Oliver Ford Davies as Dr. Sheppard
Selina Cadell as Caroline Sheppard
Roger Frost as Parker
Malcolm Terris as Roger Ackroyd
Nigel Cooke as Geoffrey Raymond
Daisy Beaumont as Ursula Bourne
Flora Montgomery as Flora Ackroyd
Vivien Heilbron as Mrs. Ackroyd
Gregor Truter as Inspector Davis
Jamie Bamber as Ralph Paton
Charles Early as Constable Jones
Rosalind Bailey as Mrs. Ferrars
Charles Simon as Hammond
Graham Chinn as Landlord
Clive Brunt as Naval petty officer
Alice Hart as Mary
Philip Wrigley as Postman
Phil Atkinson as Ted
Elizabeth Kettle as Mrs. Folliott

Russian adaptation[edit]

In 2002, the story was made into a Russian film titled Неудача Пуаро ("Neudacha Puaro" = "Poirot's Failure"). This film version was overall quite faithful to the original story.

Cast:
Konstantin Rajkin as Hercule Poirot
Sergei Makovetsky as Dr. Sheppard
Lika Nifontova as Caroline Sheppard
Olga Krasko as Flora

Graphic novel adaptation[edit]

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 20 August 2007, adapted and illustrated by Bruno Lachard (ISBN 0-00-725061-4). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2004 under the title, Le Meurtre de Roger Ackroyd.

Publication history[edit]

Background[edit]

Christie revealed in her 1977 autobiography that the basic idea of the novel was first given to her by her brother-in-law, James Watts of Abney Hall, who in a conversation one day suggested a novel in which the criminal would be a Dr. Watson character: i.e., the narrator of the story. Christie considered it to be a "remarkably original thought".[14]

In March 1924, Christie also received an unsolicited letter from Lord Mountbatten. He had been impressed with her previous works and had written to her, courtesy of The Sketch magazine (publishers of many of her short stories at that time) with an idea and notes for a story whose basic premise mirrored the Watts suggestion.[15] Christie acknowledged the letter and after some thought and planning began to write the book but kept firmly to a plotline of her invention.

In December 1969, Mountbatten wrote to Christie for a second time after having seen a performance of The Mousetrap. He mentioned his letter of the 1920s, and Christie replied, acknowledging the part he played in the conception of the book.[16]

Publication[edit]

  • 1926, William Collins and Sons (London), June 1926, Hardback, 312 pp
  • 1926, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 19 June 1926, Hardback, 306 pp
  • 1927, William Collins and Sons (Popular Edition), March 1927, Hardback (Three Shillings and sixpence)
  • 1928, William Collins and Sons (Cheap Edition), February 1928 (One shilling)
  • 1932, William Collins and Sons, February 1932 (in the Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime along with The Mystery of the Blue Train, The Seven Dials Mystery, and The Sittaford Mystery), Hardback (Seven shillings and sixpence)
  • 1939, Canterbury Classics (William Collins and Sons), Illustrated hardback, 336 pp
  • 1939, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback (Pocket number 5), 212 pp
  • 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback (Penguin 684), 250 pp
  • 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 254 pp
  • 1964, Modern Author series (William Collins and Sons), Hardback, 254 pp
  • 1967, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins and Sons/Dodd Mead), Hardback, 288 pp
  • 1972, Ulvercroft Large-print Edition, Hardback, 414pp ISBN 0-85456-144-7
  • 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1926 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 4 September 2006, Hardback ISBN 0-00-723437-6

The novel received its first true publication as a fifty-four part serialisation in the London Evening News from Thursday, 16 July, to Wednesday, 16 September 1925, under the title, Who Killed Ackroyd? Like that paper's serialisation of The Man in the Brown Suit, there were minor amendments to the text, mostly to make sense of the openings of an instalment (e.g., changing "He then..." to "Poirot then..."). The main change was in the chapter division: the published book has twenty-seven chapters whereas the serialisation has only twenty-four. Chapter Seven of the serialisation is named The Secrets of the Study whereas in the book it is Chapter Eight and named Inspector Raglan is Confident.

In the US, the novel was serialised in four parts in Flynn's Detective Weekly from 19 June (Volume 16, Number 2) to 10 July 1926 (Volume 16, Number 5). The text was heavily abridged and each instalment carried an uncredited illustration.

The Collins first edition of 1926 was Christie's first work placed with that publisher. "The first book that Agatha wrote for Collins was the one that changed her reputation forever; no doubt she knew, as through 1925 she turned the idea over in her mind, that here she had a winner."[17] To this day, HarperCollins, the modern successor firm to W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., remains the UK publishers of Christie's oeuvre.

As stated in The Times of 27 January 1936, Ackroyd became one of the very first talking books for the blind. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was listed as one of eight books available through the Royal National Institute for the Blind.[verification needed]

Book dedication[edit]

Christie's dedication in the book reads:

To Punkie, who likes an orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on every one in turn!

"Punkie" was the family nickname of Christie's sister and eldest sibling, Margaret ("Madge") Frary Watts (1879–1950). There was an eleven-year age gap between the two sisters but they remained close throughout their lives. Christie's mother first suggested to her that she should alleviate the boredom of an illness by writing a story. But soon after, when the sisters had been discussing the recently-published classic detective story by Gaston Leroux, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908), Christie said she would like to try writing such a story. Margaret challenged her, saying that she wouldn't be able to.[18] In 1916, eight years later, Christie remembered this conversation and was inspired to write her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.[19]

Margaret Watts herself attempted a career as a writer. She wrote a play, The Claimant, based on the Tichborne Case. The Claimant enjoyed a short run in the West End at the Queen's Theatre from 11 September to 18 October 1924, two years before the book publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.[20]

Dustjacket blurb[edit]

The dustjacket blurb read as follows:

M. Poirot, the hero of The Mysterious Affair at Stiles [sic] and other brilliant pieces of detective deduction, comes out of his temporary retirement like a giant refreshed, to undertake the investigation of a peculiarly brutal and mysterious murder. Geniuses like Sherlock Holmes often find a use for faithful mediocrities like Dr. Watson, and by a coincidence it is the local doctor who follows Poirot round, and himself tells the story. Furthermore, as seldom happens in these cases, he is instrumental in giving Poirot one of the most valuable clues to the mystery.[21]

The dustjacket blurb is repeated inside the book on the page immediately preceding and facing, the title page.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

International titles[edit]

  • Czech: Vražda Rogera Ackroyda (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • Dutch: De Moord op Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • Estonian: Roger Ackroydi mõrvamine (The Murdering of Roger Ackroyd)
  • French: Le Meurtre de Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • German: Alibi (Alibi) (since 1937), first edition in 1928: Roger Ackroyd und sein Mörder (Roger Ackroyd and his Murderer)
  • Greek: Ποιος Σκότωσε τον Άκροϋντ (Who Killed Ackroyd)
  • Hungarian: Az Ackroyd-gyilkosság (The Ackroyd Murder)
  • Icelandic: Poirot og læknirinn (Poirot and the Doctor)
  • Italian: L'assassinio di Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), Dalle nove alle dieci (From Nine Until Ten)
  • Japanese: アクロイド殺し (The Death of Ackroyd)
  • Norwegian: Doktoren mister en pasient (The Doctor Loses a Patient)
  • Persian: Ghatle Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • Portuguese: O Assassinato de Roger Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • Romanian: Cine l-a ucis pe Roger Ackroyd? (Who killed Roger Akroyd?)
  • Russian: Убийство Роджера Экройда (i.e. Ubiystvo Rojera Ekroyda, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
  • Spanish: El Asesinato de Rogelio Ackroyd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, with Roger translated as "Rogelio")
  • Swedish: Dolken från Tunis (The Dagger from Tunis)
  • Turkish: Ölümün Sıcak Eli (Warm Hand of Death)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b The English Catalogue of Books: 317
  2. ^ a b Marcum
  3. ^ Collins
  4. ^ Christie 1977: 433
  5. ^ The Times Literary Supplement: 397
  6. ^ a b The New York Times Book Review: 18
  7. ^ The Observer: 10
  8. ^ The Scotsman: 2
  9. ^ Barnard 1990: 199
  10. ^ Thompson 2007: 155–156
  11. ^ Wilson, Edmund (1944,1945), WHY DO PEOPLE READ DETECTIVE STORIES?, retrieved 19 October 2012 
  12. ^ Bayard, Pierre. Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd?. Minuit, 1998. Republished, Reprise, 2002. Published in English as, Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, Fourth Estate, 2000.
  13. ^ a b Thompson 2007: 277
  14. ^ Christie 1977: 342
  15. ^ Thompson 2007: 500
  16. ^ Morgan 1984: 120–121
  17. ^ Thompson 2007: 155
  18. ^ Thompson 2007: 102
  19. ^ Morgan 1984: 77
  20. ^ Morgan 1984: 113–115
  21. ^ a b Christie 1926
  22. ^ Adair, Gilbert (11 November 2006). "Unusual suspect: Gilbert Adair discovers the real secret of Agatha Christie's success". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 

References[edit]

  • Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive: An appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. ISBN 0-00-637474-3. 
  • Christie, Agatha (1977). An Autobiography. Collins. ISBN 0-00-216012-9. 
  • The English Catalogue of Books. XII, A-L. Kraus Reprint Corporation. 1979. 
  • Christie, Agatha (1926). The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. William Collins and Sons. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/[none]|[none]]] Check |isbn= value (help). 
  • Collins, R.D. "Haycraft Queen Cornerstones: Complete Checklist". Classic Crime Fiction. Retrieved 1 April 2009. 
  • Marcum, J.S. "An American Tribute to Agatha Christie". Retrieved 1 April 2009. 
  • Morgan, Janet (1984). Agatha Christie, A Biography. Collins. ISBN 0-00-216330-6. 
  • "Review". The New York Times Book Review. 18 July 1926. 
  • "Review". The Observer. 30 May 1926. 
  • "Review". The Scotsman. 22 July 1926. 
  • "Review". The Times Literary Supplement. 10 June 1926. 
  • Rowland, Susan (2001). From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell: British women writers in detective and crime fiction. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-67450-2. 
  • Thompson, Laura (2007). Agatha Christie, An English Mystery. Headline. ISBN 978-0-7553-1487-4. 

External links[edit]