Five Little Pigs

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Five Little Pigs
Murder in Retrospect First Edition Cover 1942.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition with alternative title. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image with original title.
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United States
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date
May 1942
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 234 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN 0-00-616372-6
Preceded by The Body in the Library
Followed by The Moving Finger

Five Little Pigs is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in May 1942 under the title of Murder in Retrospect[1] and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in January 1943 although some sources state that publication occurred in November 1942.[2] The UK first edition carries a copyright date of 1942 and retailed at eight shillings[2] while the US edition was priced at $2.00.[1]

The book features Hercule Poirot. The novel is notable[according to whom?] as a rigorous attempt to demonstrate Poirot's repeatedly stated contention that it is possible to solve a mystery purely by reflecting upon the testimony of the participants, and without access to the scene of the crime. This was the last novel of an especially prolific phase of Christie's work on Poirot. She published thirteen Poirot novels between 1935 and 1942 out of a total of eighteen novels in that period. By contrast, she published only two Poirot novels in the next eight years, indicating the possibility that she was experiencing some frustration with her most popular character. Five Little Pigs is unusual in the way that the same events are retold from several standpoints.


Sixteen years after Caroline Crale has been convicted of the murder of her husband, Amyas Crale, her daughter, Carla Lemarchant, approaches Poirot to investigate the case, on the belief that her mother was innocent through a letter she received, and under the fear that the fact her mother was hanged for the murder will poison her fiance's love for her. Poirot embarks optimistically upon an unprecedented challenge, but soon fears that the case may be just as cut and dried as it had originally appeared.

Researching the case, he learns that on the day of the murder at the Crale's home, there were five others, each a possible suspect, and whom Poirot labels as "the five little pigs" - Meredith Blake, an amateur chemist; Phillip Blake, Meredith's brother; Angela Warren, Caroline's younger half-sister; Cecilia Williams, the Crale's governess; and Elsa Greer (now Lady Dittisham), a young model posing for Amyas' latest painting. The investigation into the murder by the police found that Amyas was poisoned by coniine, which had been put in a glass that he had drunk a cold beer from. The poison had been extracted by Meredith from poison hemlock and was subsequently stolen from his lab by Caroline, who confessed to its theft but claimed she did so with the intention of using it to commit suicide. Upon learning that Caroline had provided the glass and a bottle of cold beer, the police determined that she killed her husband over his relationship to his latest mistress, Elsa, who claimed that he planned to divorce his wife and marry her; this was a new development--although he frequently had mistresses, he had never shown signs of wanting to leave Caroline.

Meeting with each of the other five possible suspects, Poirot notes that none of the quintet has an obvious motive, but finds that their views have subtle differences in regards to the original case. Although Phillip is overtly hostile towards Caroline, Meredith mistrusts his brother's view and is more sympathetic in his opinion of her. Elsa, meanwhile, was left prematurely devoid of emotion after her original passion for Amyas, except for an overall hatred of Caroline, while Cecilia, who gives her insight on both her and her sister Angela, claims she has a definite reason for believing that Caroline was guilty of the murder. Finally, Angela believes that her sister is also innocent, though unlike Carla, she receives a letter from her that contains no protestation of innocence, which raises doubts for Poirot. Considering the accounts of all five suspects carefully, Poirot is able to establish the succession of events on the day of the murder, and notes that there are four small facts that are important to solving the puzzle - the degree of circumstantial evidence incriminating Angela; Caroline's frantic effort to wipe the fingerprints off the bottle of beer while she waited by Amyas' dead body, as witnessed by Cecilia; the conversation overheard between Caroline and Amyas, over the latter offering to oversee the packing of Angela's things for her return to school; and the heated argument overheard by Elsa between Caroline and Amyas, in which he swore he would divorce his wife, and Caroline had bitterly said "you and your women."

Assembling the suspects together along with Carla, Poirot makes his denouement about the murder. Although Phillip's hostility to Caroline was due to her rejection of his love for her, and Meredith's sympathy was due to his weariness for his long affection for her, leading him to form an attachment to Elsa that was unreciprocated, both brothers' emotions were merely red herrings. In putting together the case, he reveals that Caroline had been innocent, but did not defend herself in court, because she believed that Angela had committed the murder; the evidence Poirot had uncovered showed that her younger sister had been angry with Amyas and had put salt in his glass as a prank. She had the opportunity to steal the poison from Meredith on the morning of the crime, and was seen fiddling with the bottle of beer that Caroline would take down to him. However, Caroline did not wish her sister to be charged for the crime, having felt a deep guilt for injuring her sister in a fit of jealous rage many years ago, which had left Angela blinded in one eye and with a permanent scar on the left side of her face. Therefore, she took steps to take the blame for her crime in order to earn redemption, which explained why she did not claim she was innocent in the letter she sent Angela but believed Angela knew Caroline was. However, Poirot reveals that Caroline's actions had actually proved her innocence, as she had wiped the fingerprints off the bottle because she believed that the poison had been put in it rather than in the glass, and that she would have no need to remove her own--thus, she was removing those of a third party. Furthermore, he reveals that Angela was not the killer, as she had been at Meredith's lab in order to steal valerian from him in preparation for playing another prank on Amyas, but never carried out the act because of the murder, deducing this from the way that she spoke of the theft in the future tense to Poirot.

Poirot reveals that the true murderer had been Elsa, who had become disillusioned and betrayed when she overheard Amyas reassure his wife that he had no intention of leaving her; he had made the promise to Elsa of doing so, merely to keep her from leaving so that he could complete his portrait of her, unaware that his model had taken his promise quite seriously. Although she falsely recalled the gist of this conversation, the mention of Caroline saying to Amyas, "you and your women", showed to Poirot that Elsa was in the same category as all of Amyas' other, discarded mistresses, despite having been too young to realise this at the time, while he further notes that the remark made by Amyas of "see to her packing" was in regards to his intention to send Elsa packing once he was finished with his painting, and not about Angela; Caroline was distressed by his cruelty to Elsa despite his reassurances, and remonstrated with him on a second occasion about this. After overhearing their conversation, Elsa recalled seeing Caroline help herself to the coniine the day before, and stole some under the pretence of fetching a cardigan, which she then used on a glass of warm beer she provided Amyas; Poirot noted that his exclamation of "everything tastes foul today," meant that he must have drunk something already, before the cold beer that Caroline had provided, that had tasted foul as well. Amyas did not know he was poisoned until he began to become gradually weaker while Elsa was posing for his artwork, and that he knew by who by the "malevolent glare" he gave to the painting that Meredith had seen. Poirot notes the unusual vitality in the face of the portrait and says, "It is a very remarkable picture. It is the picture of a murderess painted by her victim – it is the picture of a girl watching her lover die."

Poirot's explanation solves the case to the satisfaction of Carla and, most importantly, her fiancé. But, as Elsa forces him to admit, it cannot be proven. Poirot states that, although his chances of getting a conviction are slim, he does not intend to simply leave her to her rich, privileged life. Privately, however, she confides the full measure of her defeat. Caroline, having earned redemption, went uncomplainingly to prison, where she died soon after. Elsa has always felt that the husband and wife escaped together, and her own life has been empty since. The last paragraph of the novel underlines this defeat: "The chauffeur held open the door of the car. Lady Dittisham got in and the chauffeur wrapped the fur rug around her knees."


  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian Detective
  • Carla (Caroline) Lemarchant, the daughter of Caroline Crale
  • Sir Montague Depleach, Counsel for the Defence in the original trial
  • Quentin Fogg, K.C., Junior for the Prosecution in the original trial
  • George Mayhew, son of Caroline's solicitor in the original trial
  • Edmunds, managing clerk in Mayhew's firm
  • Caleb Johnathan, family solicitor for the Crales
  • Superintendent Hale, investigating officer in the original case

The "Five Little Pigs":

  • Phillip Blake, a stockbroker ("went to market")
  • Meredith Blake, Philip's brother, a reclusive former amateur herbalist ("stayed at home")
  • Elsa Greer (Lady Dittisham), a spoiled society lady ("had roast beef")
  • Cecilia Williams, the devoted governess ("had none")
  • Angela Warren, a disfigured archaeologist ("cried 'wee wee wee' all the way home")

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Maurice Willson Disher's review in The Times Literary Supplement of 16 January 1943 concluded, "No crime enthusiast will object that the story of how the painter died has to be told many times, for this, even if it creates an interest which is more problem than plot, demonstrates the author's uncanny skill. The answer to the riddle is brilliant."[3]

Maurice Richardson reviewed the novel in the 10 January 1943 issue of The Observer, writing: "Despite only five suspects, Mrs. Christie, as usual, puts a ring through the reader's nose and leads him to one of her smashing last-minute showdowns. This is well up to the standard of her middle Poirot period. No more need be said."[4]

J.D. Beresford in The Guardian's 20 January 1943 review, wrote: "...Christie never fails us, and her Five Little Pigs presents a very pretty problem for the ingenious reader". He concluded that the clue as to who had committed the crime was "completely satisfying".[5]

Robert Barnard: "The-murder-in-the-past plot on its first and best appearance – accept no later substitutes. Presentation more intricate than usual, characterization more subtle."[6] "All in all, it is a beautifully tailored book, rich and satisfying. The present writer would be willing to chance his arm and say that this is the best Christie of all."[6]

Charles Osborne: "The solution of the mystery in Five Little Pigs is not only immediately convincing but satisfying as well, and even moving in its inevitability and its bleakness."[7]

References and allusions[edit]

Like One, Two, Buckle My Shoe before it and Hickory Dickory Dock after it, the novel is named after a nursery rhyme, usually referred to as This Little Piggy, that is used by Poirot to organise his thoughts regarding the investigation.

Hercule Poirot mentions the celebrated case of Hawley Harvey Crippen as an example of a crime reinterpreted to satisfy the public enthusiasm for psychology.

Romeo and Juliet is a constant theme in the book, starting with Jonathan reading from the play "If that thy bent of love...".

Jonathan also quotes from The Death of Chatterton, by William Holman Hunt: "Rose white youth, passionate, pale".

Coniine (in the story, specifically coniine hydrobromide, derived from poison hemlock) was indeed the poison with which Socrates took his own life, as described by Phaedo, and has indeed been used to treat whooping cough and asthma.[8] The "poisons act" referred to is the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933, and "Schedule 1" is part 1 of the associated Poisons List. Christie's professional background in poisons often shows in her works.

The painting that is hung upon the wall of Cecilia Williams' room, described as a "blind girl sitting on an orange", is by George Frederic Watts and is called "Hope". In it, a blind girl is featured with a harp which, though it has only one string left, she doesn't give up playing. The description is by Oswald Bastable, a character in E. Nesbit's children's book The New Treasure Seekers. The other identifiable prints are Dante and Beatrice on a bridge, and Primavera by Botticelli.

Amyas has two paintings in the Tate. Miss Williams remarks disparagingly that "So is one of Mr. Epstein's statues."

When Poirot approaches Meredith Blake, he introduces himself as a friend of Lady Mary Lytton-Gore, a character known from Three Act Tragedy. This case is later referred to by Poirot many years later, in Elephants Can Remember (published in 1972).

"Take what you want and pay for it, says God" is referred to as an "old Spanish proverb" by Elsa. The same proverb is cited in Hercule Poirot's Christmas. The proverb is mentioned in South Riding (1936), by Winifred Holtby, and in Windfall's Eye (1929), by Edward Verrall Lucas.

The "interesting tombs in the Fayum" refers to the Fayum Basin south of Cairo, famous for Fayum mummy portraits.

Angela Warren refers to Shakespeare and quotes John Milton's Comus: "Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave".


1960 play[edit]

In 1960, Christie adapted the book into a play, Go Back For Murder, but edited Poirot out of the story. His function in the story is filled by a young lawyer, Justin Fogg, son of the lawyer who led Caroline Crale's defence. During the course of the play, it is revealed that Carla's fiancé is an obnoxious American who is strongly against her revisiting the case, and in the end, she leaves him for Fogg.


  • 2003: Five Little Pigs - Episode 1, Season 9, of Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet as Poirot. There were many changes to the story. Caroline was executed, instead of being sentenced to life in prison and then dying a year later. Philip has a romantic infatuation with Amyas, rather than Caroline, the root of his dislike for Caroline. Carla's name was changed to Lucy, and she has no fiancé. She does not fear she has hereditary criminal tendencies; she merely wishes to prove her mother innocent. After Poirot exposes Elsa, Lucy threatens her with a pistol; Elsa dares her to shoot, but Poirot persuades her to leave Elsa to face justice.
The cast of the 2003 version includes Rachael Stirling as Caroline, Julie Cox as Elsa, Toby Stephens as Philip, Aidan Gillen as Amyas, Sophie Winkleman as adult Angela, Talulah Riley as young Angela, Aimee Mullins as Lucy, Marc Warren as Meredith, Patrick Malahide as Sir Montague Depleach, and Gemma Jones as Miss Williams.
  • 2009: Cinq petits cochons - Episode 7, Season 1, of Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie, a French television series. The scene is changed to France, Poirot is omitted, and the case is solved by Émile Lampion (Marius Colucci), a police detective turned private investigator, and his former boss, Chief Inspector Larosière (Antoine Duléry). The character of Philip Blake is omitted. Caroline is alive, and exonerated at the end. The identification of the "five little pigs" with the suspects is omitted, but the rhyme appears in the Carla character's childhood memories of her father.


Five Little Pigs was adapted for radio by BBC Radio 4 in 1994, featuring John Moffatt as Poirot.

Publication history[edit]

Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)
  • 1942, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), May 1942, Hardback, 234 pp
  • 1943, Collins Crime Club (London), January 1943, Hardback, 192 pp
  • 1944, Alfred Scherz Publishers (Berne), Paperback, 239 pp
  • 1948, Dell Books, Paperback, 192 pp (Dell number 257 [mapback])
  • 1953, Pan Books, Paperback, 189 pp (Pan number 264)
  • 1959, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1982, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 334 pp; ISBN 0-7089-0814-4
  • 2008, Agatha Christie Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1943 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 1 April 2008, Hardback; ISBN 0-00-727456-4

The novel was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in ten instalments from 20 September (Volume 108, Number 12) to 22 November 1941 (Volume 108, Number 21) as Murder in Retrospect with illustrations by Mario Cooper.


  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. ^ The Times Literary Supplement, 16 January 1943 (p. 29)
  4. ^ The Observer, 10 January 1943 (p. 3)
  5. ^ The Guardian, 20 January 1943 (p. 3)
  6. ^ a b Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (pp. 85, 193). Fontana Books, 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3
  7. ^ Osborne, Charles (1982): The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie, Collins (London), p. 130
  8. ^ "coniine". 

External links[edit]