Mrs McGinty's Dead
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
|Cover artist||Not known|
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead and Company|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||243 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Under Dog and Other Stories|
|Followed by||They Do It with Mirrors|
Mrs McGinty's Dead is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1952 and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 3 March the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition nine shillings and sixpence (9/6). The Detective Book Club issued an edition, also in 1952, as Blood Will Tell.
The novel features the characters Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver. The story is a "village mystery", a subgenre of whodunit which Christie usually reserved for Miss Marple. The novel is notable for its wit and comic detail, something that had been little in evidence in the Poirot novels of the 1930s and 1940s. Poirot's misery in the run-down guesthouse, and Mrs Oliver's observations on the life of a detective novelist, provide considerable entertainment in the early part of the novel. The publication of Mrs McGinty's Dead may be considered as marking the start of Poirot's final phase, in which Ariadne Oliver plays a large part. Although she had appeared in Cards on the Table in 1936, Mrs Oliver's most significant appearances in Christie's work begin here. She appears in five of the last nine Christie novels featuring Poirot to be written, and appears on her own without Poirot at all in The Pale Horse (1961).
Poirot, disillusioned by the "senseless cruel brutality" of modern crime, pays no attention to the sad case of Mrs McGinty, an old woman apparently struck dead by her lodger for thirty pounds that she kept under a floorboard. When, however, he is asked by the investigating officer to take another look at the case to stop an innocent man going to the gallows, he realises that things may not be as simple as they first appear to be.
Superintendent Spence informs Hercule Poirot of the case of Mrs McGinty, an elderly charwoman, apparently killed by her lodger, James Bentley, for her savings of £30, which she kept under a floorboard. Bentley is convicted and to be executed for the crime, but Spence does not think he is guilty. Poirot agrees to go to the town of Broadhinny and investigate the murder further. Poirot finds that Mrs McGinty often worked as a cleaner at the houses of people in the village. No one wants to talk to Poirot, and most believe Bentley is the killer.
During a search among Mrs McGinty's possessions, Poirot finds a newspaper from which an article has been cut out. The newspaper is dated a few days before the murder. He later discovers that the missing article is about women connected with famous murder cases, and includes photographs of them. He also discovers that Mrs McGinty had purchased a bottle of ink in a local shop shortly before her murder. He concludes that she had recognised one of the women in the article, and had written to the paper in question. Someone must have found out about it and then killed her to prevent her from talking. Poirot and Spence, using the ages of people in the town, conclude that someone is either Lily Gamboll, who committed murder with a meat cleaver as a child, or Eva Kane, who had been the love interest who inspired a man to murder his wife and bury her in a cellar. Another possibility is that someone is Evelyn Hope, the daughter of Eva Kane. Shortly afterwards, Poirot discovers the murder weapon, a sugar hammer, left around in plain sight at his boarding house and accessible to all the suspects. In an attempt to flush out the murderer, Poirot claims to know more than he does and is nearly pushed under an oncoming train. Poirot decides to show most of the suspects the photos at a party. Mrs Upward claims to have seen the photo of Lily Gamboll, but does not say where.
The following day, Poirot is contacted by Maude Williams, who had approached him a few days earlier, telling him that she had known Bentley when they worked together briefly for the same estate agents. She told Poirot that she liked Bentley and did not believe he was guilty or even capable of murdering Mrs McGinty. She now offers to help Poirot who takes up her offer by getting her to pose as a maid in the house of Mrs Wetherby, a resident in the village for whom Mrs McGinty worked as housekeeper, and whose daughter, Deirdre, Poirot suspects may have some connection with the circumstances surrounding Mrs McGinty's murder. During the maid's night off, Mrs Upward's son Robin, a somewhat flamboyant theatre director, and Ariadne Oliver, a famed mystery novelist who has been working on a theatre adaptation with Robin, leave for an evening at the theatre, leaving Mrs Upward alone at the house. When they return, they find Mrs Upward strangled to death. She has evidently had coffee with her murderer, and the lipstick on a coffee cup and perfume in the air points to a woman having committed the crime. Mrs Upward had invited three people to her house that night: Eve Carpenter, Deirdre Henderson and Shelagh Rendell. Any of the three women could be someone from the photographs. Additionally, the postmistress's assistant, Edna, saw someone with blonde hair enter the house, which points to either Carpenter or Rendell, as Henderson is not blonde. Confusing matters even further is the fact that a book is discovered in the Upward house with Evelyn Hope's signature written on the flyleaf, suggesting Mrs Upward was actually Eva Kane. Poirot connects the final piece of the puzzle when he finds the photo Mrs McGinty saw at Maureen Summerhayes' house. It is of Eva Kane and has the inscription “my mother” on the back. Poirot gathers the suspects together and reveals the murderer – Robin Upward.
Robin is Eva Kane's son, Evelyn, which in England can be a man's name as well as a woman's. Mrs Upward had not known who was the mother of her adopted son, but he realised that any scandal would be to his detriment. Mrs McGinty saw the photo of Eva Kane while working at the Upward house and assumed the photo was of Mrs Upward as a young woman. Robin killed her to prevent her from telling anyone who might recognise the photo, and framed Bentley by stealing the £30, correctly assuming Bentley would incriminate himself by panicking. Mrs Upward thought Kane's photograph to be similar to a photo Robin had shown her of his mother, whose back story he made up. She wanted to confront Robin by herself, so she pointed to the wrong photo (that of Lily Gamboll) to put Poirot off the scent.
Robin, however, sensed the truth and killed her before leaving for the play. Then he planted the evidence and made the three calls to make it appear that a woman had committed the crime. At this point he still had the photo, but rather than destroy it, he kept it and planted it at Mrs Summerhayes' house to incriminate her. But Poirot had gone through the drawer earlier and did not see the photo, so he knew it had been planted subsequently. Further revelations are also made. Eve Carpenter wanted to conceal her past for reasons of her own, which was why she didn't co-operate in the investigation. Poirot discovers that Dr Rendell may have killed his first wife, which led Mrs Rendell to talk about anonymous letters she'd received warning her of the fact. Poirot now suspects it was Dr Rendell, convinced that Poirot was in Broadhinny to investigate the death of his first wife, and not that of Mrs McGinty, who tried to push him under the oncoming train, not Robin. Maude Williams turns out to be the daughter of Eva Kane's lover, and has always believed that her mother was murdered by Eva and that her father took the blame. She came to see Mrs Upward, who she thought was Eva Kane, intending to confront her, but found her dead and left quietly. She admits this to Poirot, who agrees to keep it a secret and wishes her good luck in her life.
Characters in Mrs McGinty’s Dead
- Hercule Poirot
- Ariadne Oliver
- Superintendent Albert "Bert" Spence
- District Judge
- James Gordon Bentley
- Mr Scuttle
- Maude Williams
- Maureen Summerhayes
- Major Johnnie Summerhayes
- Guy Carpenter
- Eve Carpenter
- Robin Upward
- Laura Upward
- Dr Rendell
- Sheelagh Rendell
- Mr Roger Wetherby
- Mrs Edith Wetherby
- Deirdre Henderson
- Mrs Sweetiman
- Bessie Burch
- Joe Burch
- Lily Gamboll
- Abigail McGinty
- Pamela Horsfall
- Michael West
- Mrs Elliott
Explanation of the title
The novel is named after a children's game – a sort of follow-the-leader type of verse somewhat like the Hokey-Cokey — that is explained in the course of the novel.
Literary significance and reception
No review of this book appeared in the Times Literary Supplement.
Maurice Richardson of The Observer of 23 March 1952 thought that Poirot was, "slightly subdued" and summed up "Not one of A.C's best-constructed jobs, yet far more readable than most other people's."
Robert Barnard: "This village murder begins among the rural proletariat (cf. Death by Drowning in The Thirteen Problems and the excellent London working-class woman in The Hollow), but after a time it moves toward the better-spoken classes. Poirot suffers in a vividly awful country guesthouse in order to get in with the community and rescue a rather unsatisfactory young man from the gallows. Highly ingenious – at this point she is still able to vary the tricks she plays, not repeat them."
References to other works
- When Superintendent Spence arrives to see Poirot, the detective reacts to him as though it has been many years since the case on which they worked. The case in question was, however, the one retold in Taken at the Flood, which is the previous novel in the series, and was explicitly set in 1946. At most, it can only have been six years since they last worked together. Of course, chronologies are difficult to construct, especially with Poirot's career.
- Poirot refers in the first chapter to a case in which the resemblance between his client and a soap manufacturer proved significant. This is the case of "The Nemean Lion", first published in the Strand Magazine in November 1939 and later collected in The Labours of Hercules (1947).
- Mrs Oliver, who is a very amiable caricature of Dame Agatha herself, remarks about her gaffes in her books. In chapter 12, she mentions one of her novels (actually a thinly veiled reference to Christie's own Death in the Clouds) in which she had made a blowpipe one foot long, instead of six.
- "Evelyn Hope” is the name of a poem by Robert Browning that is quoted in the course of the novel. In Taken at the Flood Christie had made a character take the alias of "Enoch Arden", which is a poem by Tennyson.
The novel was adapted by MGM in 1964 as the film Murder Most Foul. However, in an unusual move, the character of Poirot was replaced with Christie's other most famous detective Miss Marple (portrayed by Margaret Rutherford), who comes onto the case when she is a juror in the trial of the lodger who is accused of the murder. As she is the only juror to believe the lodger is innocent and will not join with the others to vote guilty the jury foreman says to the judge that they cannot make up their minds. The judge rules for a mistrial and arranges for a retrial for a week's time, giving Miss Marple seven days to solve the case.
A television program was produced in 2007 with David Suchet as Poirot in the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 14 September 2008. It was directed by Ashley Pearce, who also directed Appointment with Death and Three Act Tragedy for the ITV series. It also starred Zoë Wanamaker returning as Ariadne Oliver (who first appeared in Cards on the Table) and Richard Hope as Superintendent Spence (who first appeared in Taken at the Flood), respectively. The adaptation is very faithful to the novel, despite the deletion of a few characters and omitting two of the women from the newspaper article – only focusing on Lily Gamboll and Eva Kane. The characters of Deirdre Henderson and Maude Wiliams are merged in the film. As such it is Maude Williams, the estate agents' secretary (with dark hair instead of blonde), who is in love with Bentley and helps Poirot throughout his investigation. Maude and Bentley are reunited by Poirot in the final scene. Also, Dr. Rendall's secret is not that he is suspected of killing his first wife, but of mercy killing terminally ill paitents. It is Mrs. Rendall, rather than her husband, who makes an attempt on Poirot's life.
Mrs McGinty's Dead was adapted for radio by BBC Radio 4, featuring John Moffatt as Poirot.
- 1952, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1952, Hardback, 243 pp
- 1952, Collins Crime Club (London), 3 March 1952, Hardback, 192 pp
- 1952, Walter J. Black (Detection Book Club), 180 pp (Dated 1951)
- 1953, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 181 pp
- 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 188 pp
- 1970, Pan Books, Paperback, 191 pp
- 1988, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-1771-2
- 2008, HarperCollins; Facsimile edition, Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-00-728053-7
In the US, the novel was serialised in the Chicago Tribune in its Sunday edition in thirteen parts from 7 October to 30 December 1951 under the title of Blood Will Tell.
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- The Observer 4 March 1951 (p. 7)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 197). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
- At the PBS website for viewing the entire episode, or its various chapters, is the following description of the last scene of the film (Chapter 10: "Secrets of the Past"): "While Poirot and Bentley's colleague Maude Williams wait for Bentley, Poirot reveals her secrets." [Emphasis added.] " Secrets of the Past”, Mrs McGinty's Dead. Chapter 10, Hercule Poirot Series IX. PBS. Available only from 29 June 2009 to 12 July 2009; retrieved 29 June 2009