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.
AuthorAgatha Christie
Cover artistNot known
CountryUnited States
GenreCrime novel
PublisherDodd, Mead and Company
Publication date
May 1942
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages234 (first edition, hardback)
Preceded byThe Body in the Library 
Followed byThe Moving Finger 

Five Little Pigs is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, 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 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 is convicted for the murder of her husband Amyas, Hercule Poirot finds himself approached by her daughter Carla Lemarchant. In the meeting, Carla claims her mother was innocent, revealing a letter she received from her before her death in prison. She fears that her fiancé will leave her if the truth behind the murder is not found. Poirot agrees to her request and begins researching the case. He learns that on the day of the murder, there were five other people at the Crale's home, whom he dubs 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 Crales' governess; and Elsa Greer, a young model posing for Amyas' latest painting, who now lives as Lady Dittisham. The police investigation found that Amyas was poisoned by coniine, found in a glass he had used to drink cold beer from. The poison had been stolen from Meredith's lab by Caroline, who confessed to stealing it but claimed she planned to use it to commit suicide.

As the police learned she had provided both the glass and a bottle of cold beer, they determined she was the murderer. Her motive was believed to be over claims that her husband planned to divorce her and marry Elsa, his latest mistress, despite the fact he frequently had mistresses before but never showed signs of leaving Caroline. Interviewing each of the five other suspects, Poirot notes that none of them have an obvious motive - the Blake brothers have differing views about Caroline; Elsa recalls overhearing an argument between Caroline and Amyas, in which he swore he would divorce his wife and she made a bitter remark of "you and your women" in response; Amyas was believed to have been planning to send Angela away, based on a remark he made on the day of the murder; Meredith recalled seeing Amyas give his painting a "malevolent glare"; Cecilia witnessed Caroline frantically wiping the beer bottle of fingerprints while waiting by Amayas' body. Angela is the only one to believe her sister is innocent but reveals she received a letter from Caroline that didn't contain any protestation of innocence.

Assembling the suspects together, along with Carla, Poirot reveals that Caroline was indeed innocent, yet chose not to defend herself in court because she believed Angela had committed the murder. Circumstantial evidence found by him showed that Angela had been angry with Amyas, had an opportunity to steal the poison, and had fiddled with the beer bottle before Caroline took it from her to bring to her husband. Caroline, out of guilt, sought to redeem herself for attacking her sister in a jealous rage that left her blind in one eye and scarred down the left side of her face and thus took the blame for the murder. But in doing so, her actions proved that she was not guilty—Caroline assumed the poison was in the bottle when this was not the case per the police's findings. Poirot then reveals that Angela was in Meredith's lab, simply to steal some valerian to use as part of a prank on Amyas, which she didn't carry out because of the murder.

Poirot reveals that the true murderer was Elsa Greer. When Amyas promised to divorce his wife and marry her, she had taken this seriously, unaware he lied to her in order to keep her from leaving until her portrait by him was done. Upon hearing Amyas reassure his wife this was not the case, due to her claims, Elsa felt betrayed and thus wanted him dead; her recollection of Caroline's bitter remark revealed she was in the same category as Amyas' previous mistresses. When Caroline met him again, the remark he was overheard making was towards his plans to send Elsa away when her painting was finished. After witnessing Caroline help herself to the coniine in Meredith's lab, Elsa stole some from her room under the pretence of fetching a cardigan, and then used it on a glass of warm beer she provided Amyas with; his remark of "everything tastes foul today", revealed to Poirot he must have drunk something before the cold beer Caroline brought, that had tasted foul. As he painted, Amyas did not know he had been poisoned until he began to grow weaker, at which point he knew by whom; Meredith's observation revealed that he knew that Elsa had poisoned him.

Poirot's explanation solves the case to the satisfaction of both Carla and, most importantly, her fiancé. However, Elsa forces him to admit that it cannot be proven, yet 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. In private, Elsa secretly confides the full measure of her defeat, as she felt that both Amyas and Caroline had escaped together, leaving her own life to be empty since.


  • Hercule Poirot, the Belgian Detective
  • Carla (Caroline) Lemarchant, the daughter of Caroline and Amyas 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, half-sister of Caroline Crale, 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 defense. 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.

Go Back For Murder was included in the 1978 Christie play collection, The Mousetrap and Other Plays.


  • 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 serialized in the US in Collier's Weekly in ten installments 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 (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. pp. 85, 193. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
  7. ^ Osborne, Charles (1982). The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie. London: Collins. p. 130. ISBN 0002164620.
  8. ^ "coniine".

External links[edit]