Cat Among the Pigeons
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Not known|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|2 November 1959|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||Ordeal by Innocence|
|Followed by||The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding|
Cat Among the Pigeons is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 2 November 1959, and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1960 with a copyright date of 1959. The UK edition retailed at twelve shillings and sixpence (12/6), and the US edition at $2.95.
It features Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, who makes a very late appearance in the final third of the novel. The emphasis on espionage in the early part of the story relates it to Christie's international adventures (such as They Came to Baghdad) and to the Tommy and Tuppence stories.
A revolution takes place within Ramat, a fictional kingdom in the Middle East. Before their deaths, Prince Ali Yusuf entrusts his pilot, Bob Rawlinson, to smuggle a fortune in jewels out of the country. These are concealed in the luggage of his sister, Joan Sutcliffe, and her daughter Jennifer. Unbeknown to him, a mysterious woman watches him conceal them from the balcony of a neighbouring room. Three months later, Jennifer prepares for another term at Meadowbank School, a prestigious girls' prep school in England. Its staff includes Miss Bulstrode, the school's founder and headmistress; Miss Chadwick, a co-founder of the school; Miss Vansittart, a teacher for several years; Miss Rich, a teacher for eighteen months; Miss Johnson, the girl's matron; Angèle Blanche, the new French teacher; Grace Springer, the new gym teacher; Ann Shapland, Bulstrode's new secretary; and Adam Goodman, the new gardener. Bulstrode is nearing retirement, so she decides to seek a successor. As Chadwick is considered to be too old, Bulstrode is left to choose between Vansittart, whom many believe she will choose, and Rich, who is young and has lots of ideas.
One night, Springer is found shot dead in the Sports Pavilion by Johnson and Chadwick. When police arrive to investigate, Goodman reveals to Bulstrode that he works for British Intelligence - he is at Meadowbank to track down the gems Rawlinson smuggled out, while monitoring Princess Shaista, Ali Yusuf's cousin, who is attending the school for this term. During the investigation, Jennifer complains that her racquet feels unbalanced since being abroad, and switches it for that of her friend Julia Upjohn, while she awaits a new one. Later that day, a woman gives Jennifer a new racquet to replace her current one, claiming it is from her Aunt Gina. However, the sharper Julia suspects this is not the case as the two girls had swapped racquets, and Aunt Gina later writes to reveal that she had not sent her niece the new racquet. The following weekend, Shaista is kidnapped by someone posing as her uncle's chauffeur, while on the night of the kidnapping, Vansittart is murdered with a sandbag in the Sports Pavilion.
While many of the girls are sent home, Julia investigates Jennifer's racquet, and finds the smuggled jewels within a hollow in the handle. When someone attempts to enter her room during the night, she quickly flees the school to tell her story to Hercule Poirot. Arriving at Meadowbank to investigate the murders, he learns that Blanche had been recently murdered with a sandbag - the police suspect she knew the killer's identity and attempted to blackmail them. Interviewing Bulstrode, he learns that she believed Julia's mother Mrs Upjohn, who had served in military intelligence, had noticed someone at the school on Parent's Day whom she recalled seeing from fifteen years ago. Poirot eventually reveals to all that the Shaista who attended Meadowbank was an imposter; the real Shaista was kidnapped by a group seeking Ali Yusuf's jewels. When the imposter couldn't find them, the group extracted her before the police presence at the school exposed her. Poirot then explains that the motive for the murders was the missing gems, whereupon he denounces Ann Shapland as the killer - she had been in Ramat three months ago and was the woman who had witnessed Rawlinson concealing the gems in Jennifer's racquet.
Poirot reveals that Springer was killed because she caught Shapland searching for the racquet, while Blanche was killed for her attempted blackmail in regards to the Springer murder. Through Mrs Upjohn, Poirot identifies her as a ruthless espionage agent known as "Angelica". Before Shapland is arrested, she attempts to shoot Mrs Upjohn; Miss Bulstrode tries to shield her, but Chadwick steps in faster to shield both and is fatally wounded. Shapland is disarmed and taken away. Poirot reveals that the second murder was not Shapland's work. Although she had killed the would-be blackmailer Mlle Blanche in the same manner to make a link between the two, she had an airtight alibi for Vansittart's killing,.That was done by Chadwick, who was jealous of Vansittart as Bulstrode's chosen successor. Chadwick found her in the Sports Pavilion and struck her down in a fit of madness. Before dying, Chadwick confesses to Bulstrode. In the aftermath of the investigation, Bulstrode appoints Rich as her successor, with both focusing on rebuilding Meadowbank. Meanwhile, Poirot turns over the gems to be delivered to an English woman who had secretly married Ali Yusuf when he was a student, with Julia receiving one of them as a reward.
- Hercule Poirot, the famed Belgian detective
- Inspector Kelsey, the investigating officer
- “Adam Goodman”, an operative for Special Branch, working undercover at Meadowbank as a gardener
- Honoria Bulstrode, headmistress of Meadowbank School for Girls
- Ann Shapland, Miss Bulstrode's secretary
- Elspeth Johnson, the matron
- Miss Chadwick, a long-serving and senior teacher who helped found Meadowbank
- Eleanor Vansittart, a senior teacher, set to succeed Miss Bulstrode
- Grace Springer, a sports teacher
- Angèle Blanche, a French teacher
- Eileen Rich, a teacher
- Miss Blake, a teacher
- Miss Rowan, a teacher
- Princess Shaista, the cousin of the late Prince Ali Yusuf of Ramat
- Prince Ali Yusuf, hereditary Sheikh of Ramat
- Bob Rawlinson, the personal pilot of the Prince of Ramat (and the Prince's best friend)
- Jennifer Sutcliffe, niece of Bob Rawlinson and pupil at Meadowbank; daughter of Joan and Henry Sutcliffe
- Lady Veronica Carlton-Sandways, the disruptive and tipsy mother of twin daughters enrolled at the school
- Joan Sutcliffe, Bob Rawlinson's sister and Jennifer's mother
- Henry Sutcliffe, Joan's husband and Jennifer's father
- Julia Upjohn, pupil at Meadowbank and Jennifer's friend
- Mrs Upjohn, Julia Upjohn's mother, and a former British intelligence agent
- Colonel Ephraim Pikeaway, a senior figure in Special Branch
- John Edmundson, a member of the Foreign Office; third secretary in the British embassy in Ramat at the time of the revolution.
- Derek O'Connor, a member of the Foreign Office
- "Mr Robinson", a shadowy figure, of importance in international affairs
- Denis Rathbone, Ann Shapland's boyfriend
- Briggs, the gardener
Literary significance and reception
Maurice Richardson of The Observer of 8 November 1959 said, "Some nice school scenes with bogus sheikhs sweeping up in lilac Cadillacs to deposit highly scented and busted houris for education, and backwoods peers shoving hockey-stick-toting daughters out of battered Austins. It's far from vintage Christie, but you'll want to know who."
Robert Barnard: "Girls' school background surprisingly well done, with humour and some liberality of outlook. Some elements are reminiscent of Tey's Miss Pym Disposes. Marred by the international dimension and the spy element, which do not jell with the traditional detective side. Fairly typical example of her looser, more relaxed style."
References or allusions
References to other works
In Chapter 17, III, of the novel, Julia tells Poirot that she has been told of him by Maureen Summerhayes, at whose rather dilapidated guest house he had been forced to stay during the case related in Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Also, Miss Bulstrode is mentioned in a later Poirot novel with a strong school-girl plot, Hallowe'en Party.
References to actual history, geography and current science
In Chapter 13, II, of the novel, mention is made of popular British comedy actress Joyce Grenfell. In 1957, Grenfell had appeared in Blue Murder at St Trinian's, a comedy set in a girls' school with a plot that includes a jewel thief and a foreign prince.
The location of the fictional Sheikdom of Ramat is not revealed in the novel, but by some hints (proximity to Aden and mountains) it is likely that Ramat was one of numerous principalities of south Yemen which still existed at the time when the book was finished. Sheik Ali Yusuf of Ramat was a graduate of an unnamed English public school. Agatha Christie spent considerable time in Iraq, whose last King, Feisal II, was a graduate of Harrow.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
An adaptation of the novel was made for the series Agatha Christie's Poirot on 28 September 2008, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. The cast included Dame Harriet Walter as Miss Bulstrode, Natasha Little as Ann Shapland, Claire Skinner as Miss Rich, Susan Wooldridge as Miss Chadwick, Miranda Raison as Mlle Blanche, Elizabeth Berrington as Miss Springer, Katie Leung as Hsui Tai Wan, Raji James as Prince Ali Yusuf, and Adam Croasdell as Adam Goodman. Written by Mark Gatiss, the adaptation featured a change in setting to the 1930s, matching that for the TV series, which meant that many of the novel's scenes set in Egypt and the Middle East, as well as those related to the British secret service had to be rewritten or eliminated. As such, the adaptation features a significant number of plot changes:
- The characters of Miss Vansittart, Henry Sutcliffe, Colonel Ephraim Pikeaway, John Edmundson, Derek O'Connor, "Mr Robinson", Denis Rathbone, and Miss Rowan are omitted from the story.
- Poirot is an old friend of Miss Bulstrode and visiting the school as a guest speaker for an award ceremony. After the ceremony, he agrees to remain to help Bulstrode determine who should succeed her when she retires. He is thus present when the murder of Springer occurs, while Julia comes to his room when she finds the smuggled gems.
- Both Rawlinson and Ali Yusuf are killed in a shootout during the revolution as opposed to a plane crash triggered by sabotage. The jewels that are smuggled out are all rubies.
- Grace Springer's character is more sadistic and bullying, with a habit for blackmail. She is murdered by Shapland with a javelin. Miss Blake is revealed to be one of her victims from a previous school.
- Jennifer Sutcliffe's parents have their house burgled before the school's new term begins. Jennifer herself is more observant and interested, while her racquet is swapped before Springer's murder and the replacement stolen after it.
- Miss Rich returns to the school following a leave of absence, in which she gave birth to a child that was stillborn. Chadwick becomes jealous of her when she learns of Bulstrode's search for a successor, and so attacks her in the Sport Pavilion in a psychotic break, when she finds her searching for evidence about Shaista's "abduction". Rich is concussed but survives.
- Goodman is forced to reveal himself to both Poirot and the police when he is brought before the pair for questioning. He becomes attracted to Shapland, and is with her when Rich is attacked.
- After the case is finished, Poirot takes charge of the jewels to return them to the Foreign Office and the real Princess Shaista. However, he secretly leaves one for Julia within a bag of gobstoppers before he departs.
- 1959, Collins Crime Club (London), 2 November 1959, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1960, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), March 1960, Hardcover, 224 pp
- 1961, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 216 pp
- 1962, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 187 pp
- 1964, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 255 pp
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in six abridged instalments from 26 September (Volume 106, Number 2771) to 31 October 1959 (Volume 106, Number 2776) with illustrations by Gerry Fancett. In the US a condensed version of the novel appeared in the November 1959 (Volume LXXVI, Number 11) issue of the Ladies Home Journal with an illustration by Joe DeMers.
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie; Foord, Peter; Williams, Richard (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1871122138.
- Marcus, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Golden Years: 1953 - 1967". Retrieved 3 August 2018.
- The Observer, 8 November 1959 (p. 23)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 190). Fontana Books, 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.