Ordeal by Innocence

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Ordeal by Innocence
Ordeal by Innocence First Edition Cover 1958.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Collins Crime Club
Publication date
3 November 1958
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)
Pages 256 (first edition, hardcover)
Preceded by 4.50 From Paddington
Followed by Cat Among the Pigeons

Ordeal by Innocence is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 3 November 1958[1] and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year.[2][3] The UK edition retailed at twelve shillings and sixpence (12/6)[1] and the US edition at $2.95.[3] It is regarded by critics as one of the best of her later works, and was also one of Christie's two favourites of her own novels, the other being Crooked House.

Plot summary[edit]

Jacko Argyle dies in prison while serving a sentence for killing his adoptive mother Rachel Argyle. His own widow, Maureen, believed him to have been responsible. Two years later, Jacko's alibi suddenly appears and the family must come to terms not only with the fact that Jacko was actually innocent, but that one of them is the real murderer, and now suspicion falls upon each of them.

The witness, Arthur Calgary, was unaware of the trial and thus failed to come forward. He believes the Argyle family will be grateful when he clears their son's name but fails to realise the full implications of the information he provides. However, once he does so, he is determined to protect the innocent by finding the murderer.

Calgary visits retired local doctor, Dr MacMaster, to ask him about Jacko. MacMaster notes that he was surprised when Jacko was convicted for killing Rachel, not because murder was outside Jacko's 'moral range', but because he thought Jacko would be too cowardly to kill somebody; that, if he wanted to murder somebody, he would hire an accomplice. While two outsiders attempt to find the murderer, it is insider Philip Durrant whose efforts uncover the truth and force the killer to kill again. Durrant is found murdered.

It is revealed that the murderer was indeed acting under the influence of Jacko Argyle. Jacko's carefully planned alibi failed when police could not find Calgary.

The killer is revealed to be Kirsten Lindstrom, the Argyles' middle-aged housekeeper. Jacko had persuaded the plain Kirsten that he was in love with her, and persuaded her to murder his adoptive mother under cover of a "foolproof" alibi to steal some much needed money. But once Kirsten learned that Jacko was secretly married, she decided not to cover for Jacko, abandoning him to his fate.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Philip John Stead concluded his review in the Times Literary Supplement of 12 December 1958, with, "The solution of Ordeal By Innocence is certainly not below the level of Mrs Christie's customary ingenuity, but the book lacks other qualities which her readers have come to expect. What has become of the blitheness, the invigorating good spirits with which the game of detection is played in so many of her stories? Ordeal By Innocence slips out of that cheerful arena into something much too like an attempt at psychological fiction. It is too much of a conversation piece and too many people are talking – people in whom it is hard to take the necessary amount of interest because there is not enough space to establish them. The kind of workmanship which has been lavished on this tale is not a kind in which the author excels and the reader feels that Miss Marple and Poirot would thoroughly disapprove of the whole business."[4]

Sarah Russell of The Guardian gave a short review to the novel in the 9 December 1958 issue when she said, "In this solving of a two-year-old family murder sympathy is, unusually with Miss Christie, evoked for too many people to leave enough suspects; but the unravelling is sound and the story well told."[5]

Maurice Richardson of The Observer of 2 November 1958 said, "The veteran Norn has nodded over this one. There is ingenuity, of course, but it lacks a central focus. The characters are stodgy and there is little of that so readable, almost crunchable dialogue, like burnt sugar." He concluded, "The serious socio-psychological approach doesn't suit A.C. somehow. Only at the end with the big surprise do you feel home and dry."[6]

Robert Barnard: "One of the best of 'fifties Christies, and one of her own favourites (though she named different titles at different times). The Five Little Pigs pattern of murder-in-the-past, the convicted murderer having died in prison, innocent. [sic] Short on detection, but fairly dense in social observation. Understanding in treatment of adopted children, but not altogether tactful on the colour question: 'Tina's always the dark horse…Perhaps it's the half of her that isn't white.'"[7]

In other media[edit]


Ordeal by Innocence (1985)[edit]

A film adaptation was made in 1985, starring Donald Sutherland, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Plummer and Sarah Miles. Its musical score (by Dave Brubeck) was strongly criticised as totally inappropriate for this style of mystery.[8]

Brubeck had taken over from Pino Donaggio, who had already composed many pieces for the project, but was too busy to work on the project when various film edits needed re-scoring. His original score had swirling strings, lush melodies and tension-filled passages – perhaps more suited to a Christie film.[9]


Agatha Christie's Marple (2007)[edit]

The novel was adapted for the third series of the ITV television series Marple featuring Geraldine McEwan first broadcast in 2007 even though Miss Marple was not in the original novel. This version changed considerably from the novel. Jacko is executed by hanging, rather than dying in prison of natural causes.

Gwenda Vaughan takes Philip Durrant's place as the household member who fatefully decides to investigate and comes too close to the truth, and is subsequently murdered (stabbed at the base of the brain) by the killer, Kirsten. Omitted completely is Kirsten's attempt to silence Tina and Michael by stabbing Tina. There is also the addition of another adopted child, Bobby, the twin brother of Jacko; Bobby commits suicide after financial ruin. Kirsten is shown being arrested at the end, unlike in the original novel in which her arrest was not explicitly included in the actual text.

Ordeal by Innocence (2018)[edit]

In July 2017, BBC One announced a three-episode serial based on Ordeal by Innocence. It was filmed in Inverkip, Scotland, and stars Bill Nighy as Leo Argyle, Anna Chancellor as Rachel Argyle,[10] Eleanor Tomlinson as Mary Argyle, Matthew Goode as Phillip Durrant, Alice Eve as Gwenda Vaughan, and Anthony Boyle as Jack Argyle. The script was written by Sarah Phelps, who adapted two other Christie mini-series for the BBC: And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution.

On 10 November 2017, the BBC announced that the serial would not be broadcast until allegations against Ed Westwick, who appears in the show, had been resolved.[11] In January 2018, the production team returned to Scotland to commence re-shooting, replacing Westwick with Christian Cooke.[12][13]

A trailer for the serial was released on 25 March 2018.[14][15] The serial was first broadcast on 1 April 2018 on BBC1.[16][17]

The ending of the 2018 serial was changed from that of the original novel, with husband and father Leo being the murderer rather than the housekeeper Kirsten.[18]


The novel was also adapted into a stage play by Mary Jane Hansen [19] performed for the first time by the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, New York. The original run lasted from 4 to 17 February 2007, and included 14 performances.[citation needed]


Ordeal by Innocence was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 1 July 2008, adapted and illustrated by "Chandre" (ISBN 0-00-727531-5). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2006 under the title of Témoin indésirable.


The BBC produced a radio adaptation by Joy Wilkinson, starring Mark Umbers as Arthur Calgary and Jacqueline Defferary as Gwenda. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 over three weeks beginning 17 March 2014.

Publication history[edit]

  • 1958, Collins Crime Club (London), 3 November 1958, Hardcover, 256 pp
  • 1959, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1959, Hardcover, 247 pp
  • 1960, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 211 pp
  • 1961, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1964, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 256 pp

In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in two abridged instalments from 20 September (Volume 104, Number 2725) to 27 September 1958 (Volume 104, Number 2726) with illustrations by "Fancett".[20]

In the US, the first publication was in the Chicago Tribune in thirty-six parts from Sunday, 1 February to Saturday, 14 March 1959 under the title of The Innocent.

An abridged version of the novel was also published in the 21 February 1959 issue of the Star Weekly Complete Novel, a Toronto newspaper supplement, with a cover illustration by Russell Maebus.

International titles[edit]

  • Arabic: محنة البريء
  • Czech: Zkouška neviny (Ordeal by Innocence)
  • Dutch: Doem der verdenking (Burden of Suspicion)
  • Finnish: Syyttömyyden taakka (Burden of Innocence)
  • German: Tödlicher Irrtum (Fatal Error)
  • German: Feuerprobe der Unschuld (Trial By Fire for Innocence)
  • Hungarian: Az alibi (The Alibi)
  • Italian: Le due verità (The Two Truths)
  • Norwegian: Døde spor (Dead traces)
  • Persian:مصیبت بی گناهی (Tragedy of innocence)
  • Portuguese (Brazil): Punição para a Inocência (Punishment for Innocence)
  • Portuguese (Portugal): O Cabo da Víbora (Viper's Point)
  • Russian: Горе невинным (Woe to Innocents)
  • Spanish: Inocencia trágica (Tragic Innocence)
  • Swedish: Prövad Oskuld (Proven Innocence)
  • Turkish: İçimizden Biri (One of us) also Şahidin Gözleri (Eyes of the Witness)


  1. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of the First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
  2. ^ John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press (1994); ISBN 0-85967-991-8
  3. ^ a b "The Golden Years: 1953 - 1967". An American Tribute to Agatha Christie. 
  4. ^ The Times Literary Supplement 12 December 1958 (Page 726)
  5. ^ The Guardian. 9 December 1958 (Page 4).
  6. ^ The Observer, 2 November 1958 (p. 22)
  7. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie, revised edition (p. 201). Fontana Books (1990); ISBN 0-00-637474-3
  8. ^ "Film Review: "Ordeal by Innocence" (1985)". 16 August 2011. wordpress.com. Retrieved 1 April 2018. 
  9. ^ "Ordeal By Innocence - Pino Donaggio". Retrieved 1 April 2018. 
  10. ^ "Anna Chancellor". AgathaChristie.com. Retrieved 29 January 2018. 
  11. ^ "Ed Westwick: BBC shelves drama after rape allegations against actor". BBC News. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2017. 
  12. ^ "Film crew returns north as rape claims force reshoots on Agatha Christie drama". Daily Express. 5 January 2018. Retrieved 5 January 2018. 
  13. ^ "How Ordeal by Innocence was re-shot". 20 March 2018 – via www.bbc.com. 
  14. ^ "Ordeal By Innocence: Trailer - BBC One". YouTube. Retrieved 26 March 2018. 
  15. ^ "Ordeal By Innocence: New three-part Agatha Christie thriller coming to BBC One". BBC Media Centre. Retrieved 26 March 2018. 
  16. ^ "BBC One - Ordeal By Innocence". BBC Programmes. Retrieved 26 March 2018. 
  17. ^ "Ordeal By Innocence: Episode 1". BBC Media Centre. Retrieved 26 March 2018. 
  18. ^ "how is that ordeal by innocence ending different from the agatha christie novel". Radio Times. 15 April 2018. Retrieved 15 April 2018. 
  19. ^ "Mary Jane Hansen writer resume". maryjanehansen.com. Retrieved 2 April 2018. 
  20. ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.

External links[edit]