Lord Edgware Dies
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Thirteen Problems|
|Followed by||The Hound of Death|
Lord Edgware Dies is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in September 1933 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year under the title of Thirteen at Dinner. Before its book publication, the novel was serialised in six issues (March–August 1933) of The American Magazine as 13 For Dinner.
The novel features Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp. An American actress married to Lord Edgware asks Poirot to aid her in getting a divorce from her husband. Poirot agrees to help her, meeting her husband. That evening, the actress is seen at a dinner with thirteen guests, which has an associated superstition. By the next morning Lord Edgware and another American actress are found murdered, each at their own homes. Poirot investigates.
The novel was well received at publication, in both London and New York, noting the clue that came from the chance remark of a stranger, calling it ingenious. A later review called it clever and unusual.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Characters
- 3 Alternative title
- 4 Literary significance and reception
- 5 References to other works
- 6 References to actual history, geography and current science
- 7 Adaptations
- 8 Publication history
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The actress Jane Wilkinson asks Poirot to convince her husband Lord Edgware to agree to a divorce. When Poirot does so, Edgware says that he has already agreed to a divorce and written a letter to Jane informing her of the fact. When Poirot reports this to Jane, she denies having received the letter. That evening, two things happen. One, Lord Edgware is murdered in his study. Second, in the morning newspaper, it is reported that Wilkinson attended a prominent dinner party the previous evening. Inspector Japp informs Poirot of the murder at Regent Gate. He reports that Jane Wilkinson went to Regent Gate, announced herself to the butler, was seen from above by the secretary and entered her husband's study. He is not found until the next day. Jane is described as amoral by her fellow movie actor Bryan Martin, meaning she thinks and cares only about herself.
At the party, there were thirteen guests at the dinner table. One guest mentioned that thirteen people at table means bad luck for the first guest to rise from the table. Guest Donald Ross thought he was first to rise, but Jane Wilkinson was first, when she answered a telephone call. On the same morning Lord Edgware's murder is discovered, comedienne/actress Carlotta Adams, known for her uncanny impersonations, including one of Wilkinson herself, is found dead from an overdose of Veronal, a death Poirot hoped he could prevent. A gold case with her initials marked in rubies and filled with the sleeping powder is found among her possessions. The case bears an inscription reading: "C.A. from D, Paris, November 10th Sweet Dreams". Inspector Japp takes Lord Edgware's heir into custody; his nephew had needed money, which his cousin helped him raise by loaning her pearls to him when they both met at the opera the night Lord Edgware was murdered. The butler, who bore a striking resemblance to the actor Bryan Martin, disappeared from the house, as did money cashed in francs the last day of Lord Edgware's life. A few days later, Wilkinson attends another dinner party where several guests talk about Paris of Troy. Jane Wilkinson thinks that the guests refer to the French capital. Ross is confused because Jane was speaking knowledgeably about the Paris of Greek myth at the party on the night of the murder. Ross rings up Poirot about his concern, but before he can say what troubles him, he is stabbed to death at his home. Poirot is frustrated waiting on the line, realizing what is happening, wishing Hastings had taken Ross to their flat from the dinner. Poirot pursues a new line of thought when he hears a chance remark from a crowd leaving a theatre about asking Ellis; he interviews the Ellis in this mystery.
Poirot gathers the suspects and details the trajectory of the crimes (the three murders): With Carlotta Adams impersonating Wilkinson at dinner, the real Jane took a taxi to the Edgware house, where she murdered her husband. Later, Jane and Carlotta met to exchange clothing. Jane promised Carlotta a huge fee for this impersonation. Instead, Jane slipped a fatal amount of Veronal into Carlotta's drink. Jane found a letter Carlotta had written to her sister but not yet posted; Jane tore one page of the letter so it read "he" when Carlotta had written "she", putting blame for the scheme on the last man named in the letter. Jane then put the gold case in a visible spot to encourage the notion that Carlotta was addicted to the drug. Jane had ordered the gold case the week prior under a false name, and had her maid go to Paris to pick it up, which Poirot discovered. Poirot realised that the engraving in the case had no meaning. Carlotta had been knowledgeable about Greek mythology, so she talked about the subject easily with other guests at the first dinner party. Jane realised that Ross was a risk, as she watched him pursue Hastings, asking about Poirot at the end of the second dinner party. She heard Hastings say that Poirot would not be home until later. She killed Ross as he was on the telephone to Poirot. Her motive for killing Lord Edgware was this: the wealthy Duke of Merton is a Roman Catholic and would not marry a divorced woman; a widow is acceptable. From prison, she writes a letter to Poirot, remarkably devoid of remorse or anger that her scheme was foiled. She wonders why hangings are not done in public any more, as she perhaps preferred an audience.
- Hercule Poirot: the famous Belgian detective.
- Captain Hastings: young friend of Poirot, back to England from his home in the Argentine.
- Jane Wilkinson: Beautiful American actress, married to Lord Edgware but estranged from him.
- Lord Edgware: Wealthy English baron, of a harsh personality, a collector of art objects; George Alfred St Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware.
- Miss Geraldine Marsh: Daughter of Lord Edgware from his first marriage, at home now she has finished her schooling.
- Captain Ronald Marsh: Nephew of Lord Edgware and heir to the title.
- Carlotta Adams: American actress and impersonator who is on tour in London and Paris.
- Genevieve Driver: Friend of Carlotta in London; she makes fashionable hats, also called Jenny.
- Bryan Martin: Handsome and successful actor who has worked with Jane, and grew up with Carlotta, and likes Miss Driver.
- Donald Ross: Young actor invited to both dinners.
- Inspector Japp: Inspector from Scotland Yard assigned to the case.
- Miss Carroll: Housekeeper for Lord Edgware.
- Alton: Butler to Lord Edgware.
- Ellis: Maid to Jane Wilkinson
Lord Edgware Dies is alternatively titled Thirteen at Dinner. This second title, used on American editions, arises from a superstition that sitting down thirteen to dinner means bad luck to the person who first leaves the table. The dinner at which Carlotta successfully impersonated Jane Wilkinson had an unexpected missing guest, leaving them thirteen instead of the invited fourteen. The superstition weighs heavily on young actor Donald Ross, but plays out for both him and Jane Wilkinson, and her impersonator.
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of 21 September 1933 reviewed the book positively, commenting on the fact that "it was the chance remark of a stranger in the street that put him on the right track. Three such murders, however, are enough to tax the powers of the most superhuman sleuth, and we do not grudge him one stroke of good fortune."
Isaac Anderson concluded his review in the 24 September 1933 issue of The New York Times Book Review by saying, "This story presents a most ingenious crime puzzle and a still more ingenious solution, all set forth with the consummate skill of which Agatha Christie is mistress."
Robert Barnard: "Deals with a social/artistic milieu rather off Christie's usual beat: aristocrats, actresses, socialites, rich Jews. The anti-Semitism is more muted than in the early thrillers, but still leaves a nasty taste (this is the last book in which it obtrudes). Otherwise clever and unusual, with the Hastings/Poirot relationship done less crudely than usual."
References to other works
In chapter 7, Poirot mentions that he once found a clue, but since it was four feet long instead of four centimetres, nobody would believe in it. This is probably a reference to a situation which occurred in The Murder on the Links, where Poirot found a piece of lead-piping which he concluded was used to disfigure the victim's face so that it would be unrecognisable. Nevertheless, the artefact was described in that novel as a piece of lead-piping only two feet long.
In chapter 25, Hastings tells Donald Ross that Poirot has left for an appointment relating to his investigation of another case, "the strange disappearance of an Ambassador's boots". When Poirot returns from the appointment, he tells Hastings that it was a case of cocaine smuggling, and that he had spent the last hour in a ladies' beauty parlor. This case sounds identical to the one in the Tommy and Tuppence story, "The Ambassador's Boots" from Partners in Crime (1929), except that Poirot mentions a girl with red hair (Hastings is often described by Poirot as partial to redheads), while the girl in "The Ambassador's Boots" has blonde hair, or black hair when in disguise.
References to actual history, geography and current science
The character of Carlotta Adams was based on the American dramatist Ruth Draper (1884–1956). In her Autobiography, Christie says, "I thought how clever she was and how good her impersonations were; the wonderful way she could transform herself from a nagging wife to a peasant girl kneeling in a cathedral. Thinking about her led me to the book Lord Edgware Dies.”:437 Draper was also the inspiration for a character in the short story The Dead Harlequin, published in The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930), where the character was called Aspasia Glen and was the murderer's accomplice, rather than the victim.
In Chapter 7, Chief Inspector Japp mentions the Elizabeth Canning case which was a real kidnapping case that occurred in London in 1753. The case created a sensation at the time due to the inconsistencies in the victim's declarations and the alibis of the perpetrators. Japp mentions this case due to the peculiar fact that the suspect was seen at two places at the same time. In the novel Lady Edgware was seen at a dinner party at the same time that she was also seen visiting the victim. Similarly, in the Canning case the suspect, Mary Squires, was seen travelling at the time that Elizabeth Canning said that she had been imprisoned by her.
John Moffatt starred as Poirot in a five-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation by Michael Blakewell directed by Enyd Williams and also starring Simon Williams as Captain Hastings and Nicola Pagett as Jane Wilkinson.
The novel was first adapted in 1934 as an eighty-minute film directed by Henry Edwards for Real Art Productions. The film was the third to star Austin Trevor in the role of Poirot after his appearances in Alibi and Black Coffee, both in 1931.
The novel was adapted for an eighty-seven-minute TV movie in 1985 starring Peter Ustinov in one of his six appearances as Poirot. The production was made under the US book title of Thirteen at Dinner and co-starred Faye Dunaway in the dual role of Jane Wilkinson and Carlotta Adams. The story was updated to be set in contemporary times and not in the 1930s. David Suchet played Chief Inspector Japp; Suchet would later play Poirot himself on the long-running ITV series.
The novel was adapted under the title Lord Edgware Dies in 2000 by Carnival Films as a one-hundred-and-twenty minute drama and transmitted on ITV in the UK on Saturday, 19 February 2000 as a special episode in their series Agatha Christie's Poirot. The adaptation remains faithful to the plot and story of the novel, yet some minor changes were made such as:
- The character of Miss Felicity Lemon was added into the story.
- The story is set after the events of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which Poirot returns to his apartment.
- The wife of the host of the first dinner party mentions the superstition about setting a table for 13. The information about the dinner party being attended by Wilkinson is learnt from speaking with her, and not from a newspaper.
- The inscription of the box was edited - the D was replaced with P, and no mention of Paris is included in it. It also was not collected by the maid, but by Wilkinson in disguise.
- The name of Jenny Driver was changed to Penny Driver.
- Poirot's important clue near the end, comes from Hastings, and not from a chance remark overheard at a theatre.
- The scene of Wilkinson writing to Poirot from jail is not included.
Adaptor: Anthony Horowitz
Director: Brian Farnham
- David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
- Hugh Fraser as Captain Arthur Hastings
- Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp
- Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon
- Helen Grace as Jane Wilkinson/Lady Edgware
- John Castle as Lord Edgware
- Fiona Allen as Carlotta Adams
- Dominic Guard as Bryan Martin
- Fenella Woolgar as Ellis
- Deborah Cornelius as Penny Driver
- Hannah Yelland as Geraldine Marsh
- Tim Steed as Ronald Marsh
- Lesley Nightingale as Miss Carroll
- Christopher Guard as Alton
- Iain Fraser as Donald Ross
- Virginia Denham as Alice
- 1933, The American Magazine, serialised in six issues (March–August 1933) as 13 For Dinner
- Illustrations by Weldon Trench
- 1933, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1933, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1933, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1933, Hardcover, 305 pp
- The US edition retailed at $2.00.
- 1944, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 60 [mapback]), 224 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 685), 251 pp
- 1954, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1969, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover
- 1970, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 255 pp
- 1970, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 380 pp; ISBN 0-85456-479-9
- 2007, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1933 UK first edition), 5 February 2007, Hardcover, 256 pp; ISBN 0-00-724022-8
The dedication of the book reads:
To Dr. and Mrs. Campbell Thompson
Reginald Campbell Thompson (21 August 1876 – 23 May 1941), married to Barbara, was an eminent British archaeologist and the second expedition leader to employ Christie's husband Max Mallowan to work on one of his digs. The offer of work came in 1930 when Mallowan's employer, Leonard Woolley, was proving difficult over his proposed marriage to Agatha and their wish that she should join her husband on the dig at Ur although the real opposition came from Leonard Woolley's difficult wife, Katharine (see the dedication to The Thirteen Problems). Thompson's dig was at Nineveh and Max joined the team there in September 1931 followed the next month by Agatha. The invitation was only confirmed after the Mallowans had joined Thompson for a weekend in the country near Oxford where they were subjected to a cross-country scramble on "the wettest day possible over rough country" followed by another test to ensure that neither Agatha nor Max were fussy eaters. These were to ensure that both could withstand the rigours of a season in the wilds of Iraq. Used to walking over Dartmoor and having a very healthy appetite, Agatha passed the tests with flying colours.:451–52
The relationship between the Mallowans and the Thompsons was far more relaxed than it had been with the Woolleys. The only source of contention was that Thompson was notoriously frugal with money and questioned every expense. Horses were a vital part of the expedition but Thompson only bought poor, badly-trained animals. He nevertheless insisted that Max ride them with skill as to fall off one would mean that "not a single workman will have a scrap of respect for you".:454 Christie's clash with Thompson in regards to this facet of his character was over her insistence on purchasing a solid table to place her typewriter on in order that she could complete her next book. Not seeing why she couldn't use orange boxes, Thompson was aghast at her personal expenditure of ten pounds on a table at a local bazaar (although Max's recollection in his own memoir was that three pounds was the sum.) and he took some two weeks to recover his temper over this 'extravagance'. After this though, he made frequent polite enquiries over the progress of the book, Lord Edgware Dies, which was dedicated to him and his wife. A skeleton found on the dig was named 'Lord Edgware'.:454–55 A singular honour that Christie bestowed on the Thompsons was to read aloud the manuscript of the book to them, something that she normally only ever did to her family:460 (See External Links below).
The blurb on the inside flap of the dustjacket of the first edition (which is also repeated opposite the title page) reads: "Supper at the Savoy! Hercule Poirot, the famous little detective, was enjoying a pleasant little supper party there as the guest of Lady Edgware, formerly Jane Wilkinson, a beautiful young American actress. During the conversation Lady Edgware speaks of the desirability of getting rid of her husband. Lord Edgware, since he refuses to divorce her, and she wants to marry the Duke of Merton. M. Poirot jocularly replies that getting rid of husbands is not his speciality. Within twenty-four hours, however, Lord Edgware dies. This amazing story once more reveals Agatha Christie as the perfect teller of Detective stories. It will be difficult indeed to lay down the book until one learns the true solution of the mystery."
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 14.
- Cooper, John; Pyke, B.A. (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (Second ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 86. ISBN 0-85967-991-8.
- "An American Tribute to Agatha Christie". The Classic Years 1930-1934. May 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
- "Review". The Times Literary Supplement. 21 September 1933. p. 633.
- "Review". The New York Times Book Review. 24 September 1933. p. 25.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 196. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- Christie, Agatha (1977). An Autobiography. Collins. ISBN 0-00-216012-9.
- Morgan, Janet (1984). Agatha Christie, A Biography. Collins. p. 201. ISBN 0-00-216330-6.
- Lord Edgware Dies at the official Agatha Christie website
- Lord Edgware Dies (1934) at the Internet Movie Database
- Thirteen at Dinner (1985) at the Internet Movie Database
- Lord Edgware Dies (2000) at the Internet Movie Database
- British Museum webpage on the Mallowans' work with Dr and Mrs Campbell Thompson