Lord Edgware Dies
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Thirteen Problems|
|Followed by||The Hound of Death|
Lord Edgware Dies is a work of detective fiction by British writer 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.
Attending a performance by impressionist Carlotta Adams, Hercule Poirot is approached by actress Jane Wilkinson. She requests his help in asking her husband Lord Edgware to divorce her. Poirot agrees, but is surprised to find that Edgware has already agreed to a divorce and sent a letter to his wife confirming this; Wilkinson denies receiving it. The following morning, Inspector Japp informs Poirot and his friend Arthur Hastings that Edgware was murdered at his home in Regent Gates the previous evening, stabbed in the neck. While Wilkinson was witnessed by Edgware's butler and his secretary visiting her husband that night, a morning newspaper reveals she attended a dinner party that evening, whose guests confirm this. Poirot soon becomes concerned for Adams' safety, recalling she could impersonate Wilkinson. She is found dead that same morning, from an overdose of Veronal.
Seeking answers, Poirot makes note of a few facts: Bryan Martin, a former lover of Wilkinson before she met the wealthy Duke of Merton, bitterly describes her as an amoral person; Donald Ross, a guest at the party, witnessed her take a telephone call from someone that night; Adams possessed a pair of pince-nez, along with a gold case that contained the drug, which has a puzzling inscription in it; Edgware's nephew, Ronald Marsh, had been cut off from his allowance by his uncle three months earlier; a sum of francs in Edgware's possession has disappeared, along with the butler. Learning Adams had sent a letter to her sister in America before her death, Poirot makes a request for it. A copy is sent via telegram, from which it reveals that Adams was offered $10,000 to help with a small bet; Poirot suspects she was hired to impersonate Wilkinson.
Japp soon arrests Marsh, based on this letter. Marsh denies hiring Adams or killing his uncle, but states that he and his cousin Geraldine went to Regent Gates on the night of the murder, where he spotted Martin entering the house while she was getting something for him. Poirot later receives the original letter in the post, and notes some oddities with it. Hastings attends a luncheon party along with Wilkinson and Ross, in which the guests talk about Paris of Troy. Wilkinson presumes they are talking of the French capital. Ross, puzzled by this, confides his concerns to Hastings. He later telephones Poirot, but is fatally stabbed before he can explain in detail. Seeking a theory, Poirot overhears a chance remark from a crowd leaving a theatre, which leads him to talk with Wilkinson's maid Ellis.
Gathering the suspects together, Poirot reveals to all that the killer in all three murders is Jane Wilkinson. Her motive in killing Lord Edgware is that the Duke of Merton was an Anglo-Catholic and would not marry a divorced woman. She recruited Adams to impersonate her at the dinner party, while she killed her husband, and then killed Adams afterwards with a fatal dose of Veronal. The women met at a hotel to exchange clothing before and after the party. While waiting for Adams to return from the party, Wilkinson discovers a letter among Adams's belongings that had yet to be posted and tampered with it, to implicate the last man it mentions for the murders. Ross was killed because he realised that Wilkinson did not attend the dinner party; her ignorance on Greek mythology gave her away, as Adams had been knowledgeable on the subject and thus talked about it while impersonating her.
Poirot reveals what led him to his theory: Wilkinson lied about receiving her husband's letter and used Poirot to prove she had no motive for his murder; the telephone call to Adams was to confirm if their deception had yet to be exposed; the pince-nez belong to Ellis, used in a disguise that she and Wilkinson wore to keep their hotel meetings secret; the gold case was created a week prior to the murder, not nine months as its inscription implied - Wilkinson had it made under a false name and then sent Ellis to collect it; a corner of a page in Adams' letter was torn by Wilkinson, changing the word "she" to "he", to falsely imply that Adams was hired by a man. He reveals that the butler stole the missing money, whom Marsh had witnessed entering Regent Gates to hide it elsewhere; his disappearance was because he panicked when the police sought another suspect. Wilkinson is arrested, and while in prison, writes to Poirot about wishing an audience for her hanging, having no anger or remorse at being foiled by him.
- Hercule Poirot - The famed Belgian detective. Drawn into the case, after being asked by Wilkinson to aid her in getting a divorce from her husband.
- Captain Hastings - Poirot's friend and assistant on the case. He is the narrator of the story.
- Inspector Japp - The investigating officer for the case.
- Lord Edgware - The first victim of the case. A wealthy English peer with a harsh personality, who is a noted collector of art objects. His full title is George Alfred St Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware.
- Carlotta Adams - The second victim of the case. An American impersonator conducting a tour in London and Paris. Hired to impersonate Edgware's wife by an unknown employer.
- Donald Ross - The third victim of the case. A young actor who attends the dinner party Wilkinson joins.
- Jane Wilkinson - The killer of the case. A beautiful American actress and Edgware's estranged wife. She seeks to marry the Duke of Merton. Initially suspected of her husband's murder; her alibi is later revealed to have been concocted as part of her plan.
- Geraldine Marsh - Edgware's daughter from his first marriage. Staying at home having recently finished a term of school.
- Captain Ronald Marsh - Edgware's nephew and heir to his title. Initially suffering from money troubles until his uncle's death.
- Genevieve "Jenny" Driver - Adams' friend in London. She specialises in the creation of fashionable hats.
- Bryan Martin - A successful actor who worked with Wilkinson and was recently in love with her. He is now fond of Driver, and grew up with Adams.
- Miss Carroll - Edgware's housekeeper. Present at his home on the night of the murder, and claims Wilkinson visited him.
- Alton - Edgware's butler, who disappears after police begin looking for another suspect.
- Ellis - Wilkinson's personal maid at her new accommodations.
- Duke of Merton - A devout Anglo-Catholic, and the current love of Jane Wilkinson, whom he plans to marry.
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 19, the Duchess of Merton tells Poirot that Lady Yardly had told her about him. Lady Yardly had previously appeared in the short story, "The Adventure of the Western Star" from the Poirot Investigates collection.
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 Bakewell 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.
- 1985 adaptation
The novel was first adapted for television as an eighty-seven-minute film in 1985, under the American version's title Thirteen at Dinner. It starred Peter Ustinov in one of his six appearances as Hercule Poirot, David Suchet as Chief Inspector Japp, and co-starred Faye Dunaway in the dual role of Jane Wilkinson and Carlotta Adams. The adaptation updated the setting of the story to contemporary times, rather than within the 1930s.
- 2000 adaptation
A second television adaptation of Lord Edgware Dies was created in 2000, as an episode for the series Agatha Christie's Poirot on 19 February 2000. It starred David Suchet in the role of Hercule Poirot, and was produced by Carnival Films. While remaining faithful to most of the plot of the novel, it featured a number of changes:
- The investigation takes place after Poirot comes out of his retirement, following the events in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Hastings has recently returned from Argentina to find a new place for himself and his wife, following a financial mistake he made.
- The adaptation adds Miss Lemon to the story, who assists Poirot in his investigation towards the end. In addition, Jenny Driver's first name is changed to Penny.
- Poirot learns about Wilkinson attending the dinner party when she is interviewed by both himself and Japp.
- Alton dies in an accident, when police attempt arrest him for the theft of the stolen money.
- Donald Ross is a playwright instead of an actor. During the dinner party, he discusses at length about The Judgement of Paris, mainly because he plans to write a play on The Fall of Troy. Wilkinson knew of the discussion from Adams, but not the subject itself (Paris the character versus Paris the city), which trips her up when Ross talks about it at a luncheon meal with those involved in the case. His murder happens while talking to Poirot, who is visiting a hotel.
- Four clues received significant changes in the adaptation:
- The gold case is made within London, and collected by Wilkinson in disguise. The inscription makes no mention of a location, while the initial is changed to "P".
- The pince-nez belong to Ellis, and were taken by Wilkinson so she could disguise herself as an old woman to conceal her meeting with Adams. They are mislaid when the women change clothes after the murder.
- Poirot is given Adams' letter in its entirety from her sister, and not a copy beforehand, after he meets her shortly after she arrives and learns Adams is dead
- The important clue that solves the case comes from Hastings, when he is correcting himself over who left the luncheon meal first.
- Wilkinson remarks, before she is arrested after the denouement, on how she believes her crime will make her famous and likely lead to her receiving a waxworks at Madame Tussauds.
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
- 2012 French television adaptation
A third television adaption of the novel was made as an episode for the French series Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie ("The Little Murders of Agatha Christie") on 14 September 2012, under the title "Le couteau sur la nuque" ("The Knife on the Neck"). The adaptation changed the setting to a theatre in the city of Amiens, France, in the 1950s, made changes in a number of characters – Christie's detectives were replaced by Commissaire Larosière (Antoine Duléry) and his clumsy assistant, Inspecteur Lampion (Marius Colluci), while the killer is glamorous actress Sarah Morlant (Maruschka Detmers), and the victim is Morlant's inconvenient husband is fellow actor Pierre Fougère (Jean-Marie Winling) – and featured an additional murder subplot involving the theatre's concierge.
- 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.
- "Le couteau sur la nuque". Les petits meurtres d'Agatha Christie. 14 September 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2017.
- Morgan, Janet (1984). Agatha Christie, A Biography. Collins. p. 201. ISBN 0-00-216330-6.