After the Funeral is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1953 under the title of Funerals are Fatal and in UK by the Collins Crime Club on May 18 of the same year under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6).
A 1963 UK paperback issued by Fontana Books changed the title to Murder at the Gallop to tie in with the film version. It features her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
- 1 Plot Introduction
- 2 Plot summary
- 3 Characters - the Abernethie family tree
- 4 Other Characters
- 5 Themes
- 6 Literary significance and reception
- 7 References or Allusions
- 8 Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- 9 Publication history
- 10 International titles
The wealthy Richard Abernethie has no clear heir and so makes a will which divides his fortune among the surviving members of his extended family. Just after his funeral, Cora Lansquenet, his youngest sister, remarks that Richard has been murdered. The other family members are horrified by the suggestion. But the next day, Cora is herself murdered....
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
After the funeral of the wealthy Richard Abernethie, his remaining family assembles for the reading of the will at Enderby Hall. The death, though sudden, was not unexpected and natural causes have been given on his death certificate. Nevertheless, the tactless Cora says, "It's been fushed up very nicely ... but he was murdered, wasn't he?" The family lawyer, Mr. Entwhistle, begins to investigate. Before long there is no question that a murderer is at large.
The essentials of Richard's will were told to the gathered family by Mr. Entwhistle. Richard, 68 and a widower, had lost his only child Mortimer to polio (infantile paralysis) six months earlier. The son, about to be married, died with no issue, as the lawyer dryly puts it. Thus Richard was prodded to revise his will. He was the eldest of a family of seven, of which only he, a brother Timothy and a sister Cora, the youngest, still lived when he wrote the will. His favorite brother Leo was killed in the war, as was Gordon. Richard had a nephew and two nieces, the sum total of the next generation, children of siblings who had already died. Richard spent time with his nephew George, and his two nieces and their husbands, to know them better. He called his sister in law Helen for a visit to the family home. Richard visited his reclusive brother, then travelled to his sister at her home, first time in over 20 years. His decision was to split his wealth in six portions, for his five blood relations, and a sixth for the widow of one brother killed in the recent war. Four received the capital directly, while two received a life income from their share of the capital. The house was to be put up for sale.
At home the day after her brother's funeral, Cora Lansquenet is brutally murdered in her sleep by repeated blows with a hatchet. The motive for her murder was not obvious. It does not appear to be theft, nor is her own estate a likely motive. Cora's portion of the Abernethie bequest was a life income, which capital reverts to the estate of her brother, Richard, to be divided among the surviving heirs — not adding to her own estate. One possible motive is to suppress anything that Richard might have told Cora about his suspicions that he was being poisoned. These had been overheard by her paid companion, the timid Miss Gilchrist.
Entwhistle calls on his long-time friend, Hercule Poirot, to resolve any doubts about the death of Richard. Poirot employs an old friend, Mr. Goby, to investigate the family. Mr. Goby, a most resourceful man, rapidly turns up a number of reasons within the family for members of it to be desperate for the money in Richard Abernethie’s estate. Mr. Goby employs all sorts of clever methods to uncover the most private information, using agents who pose as actors, lawyers or even Catholic nuns. None of the family members can yet be cleared of suspicion. Poirot warns Entwhistle that Miss Gilchrist may herself be a target for the murderer.
Cora has been a keen artist and collector of paintings from local sales. Susan Banks, learning she inherited her Aunt Cora's property, went to her cottage to clear up the possessions, ready them for auction, on the day of Cora's inquest. She reviewed Cora’s own paintings as well as those Cora had purchased at local sales. She noticed that Cora has been copying postcards: one of her paintings, which Miss Gilchrist claims were all painted from life, features a pier that was destroyed in the war; however the painting was completed quite recently. The next day, after Cora's funeral, an old friend who is an art critic, Alexander Guthrie, arrives to look through Cora’s recent purchases. His visit had been arranged before Cora's murder. He looked at all her recent purchases, but finds nothing of any value there. That evening, Miss Gilchrist is nearly killed by arsenic poison in a slice of wedding cake apparently sent to her through the post. The only reason that she is not killed is that, following a superstition, she has saved the greater part of the slice of cake under her pillow. Mrs. Gray had declined an offer to share in the slice of cake.
Inspector Morton investigates Cora's murder. He recognized Poirot at the inquest, so makes a point of finding him in London to learn why. The two share information as they investigate. Morton focuses on people in the area of Cora's rented cottage.
Poirot focuses on the Abernethie family, and a number of red herrings come to light. Rosamund Shane, one of the nieces, is a beautiful but determined woman who seems to have something to hide (which turns out to be her husband’s infidelity and her own pregnancy). Susan’s husband, Gregory, is a dispensing chemist who had been responsible for deliberately administering a nonlethal overdose to an awkward customer. In a surprising twist, he confesses to the murder of Richard Abernethie near the close of the novel. He is discovered to have a punishment complex. Timothy Abernethie, an unpleasant man preoccupied with his own health perhaps to gain attention, might have been able to commit the murder of Cora, as might his country-tweed, strong, healthy wife, Maude. Even the genteel Helen Abernethie left Enderby to fetch her things from her London flat upon agreeing to stay longer at Enderby. In short, all the family had been alone on the day Cora was murdered, for enough time to reach the rented cottage and do the deed. Did any of them do it? Perhaps identifying the murderer may depend on finding a nun whom Miss Gilchrist claims to have noticed twice? But what can all this have to do with a bouquet of wax flowers under glass to which Poirot pays attention?
Poirot calls all those involved together to observe them directly, his habitual method, via Entwhistle. They gather to look over and select items of interest before the estate auction. This lures even the reclusive Timothy from his home, back to the family mansion of Enderby, bringing his wife Maude and Miss Gilchrist, who is now assisting them. Poirot briefly poses as Monsieur Pontalier of UNARCO, a group that has purchased the estate to house refugees. He is at the house on that same weekend. His guise is uncovered by Rosamund the first evening.
After playing games in mirrors, Helen Abernethie telephones Entwhistle early the next morning with the news that she has realized what struck her odd the day of the funeral. Before she can say who it concerns, she is savagely struck on the head. Mr. Entwhistle is left speaking out over a telephone where no one is listening.
SPOILER ALERT! DON'T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!
Poirot’s explanation in the denouement is a startling one. He gathered those at Enderby Hall, in his own identity as a detective the next evening. Helen is safely away to recover from her concussion. Added to the group is Inspector Morton, whose own investigations lead him out of his home county of Berkshire to Enderby Hall, increasing the tensions for the family. Inspector Morton spent the afternoon asking each member of the family to account for themselves on the day of Cora's murder.
Cora had never come to the funeral at all. It was Miss Gilchrist, who disguised herself as Cora as part of a complicated plot for her own gain, leaving Cora home asleep from a sedative in her tea. She wished to plant the idea that Richard’s death had been murder. Therefore when Cora herself was murdered, it would seem that the alleged murderer had struck again. None of the family had seen Cora for over 20 years, from the ill feeling at the time of her marriage. Miss Gilchrist had successfully copied her mannerisms, well enough to fool those who had known her as adults. The flaw in her portrayal of Cora was spotted by Helen Abernethie. Miss Gilchrist had rehearsed a characteristic turn of the head in a mirror, where the reflection is a reverse of reality. When she came to the house after the funeral, she turned her head to the left, not the right. Helen had had the feeling that something was wrong when Cora had made her startling statement, but took some days and a timely conversation among the young cousins to realize precisely what it was. Miss Gilchrist had further given herself away to Poirot, by referring to the wax flowers on the green malachite table the first day the relatives gathered to select objects before the auction. These were on display on the day of the reading of Richard's will but had been put out of sight by the time Miss Gilchrist, as herself, visited Enderby Hall.
She had deliberately poisoned herself with the arsenic-laced wedding cake to avoid suspicion; ironically this only aroused Poirot's and Inspector Morton's misgivings.
Miss Gilchrist saw what Cora had missed among the paintings that Cora had bought at the local sales. Miss Gilchrist felt sure one was a painting by Vermeer, yet Cora had no idea how valuable the artwork was, and thus Miss Gilchrist began her desperate plot. The painting's value would likely have been revealed to Cora when her friend the art critic visited, explaining in part the timing of the murder. Miss Gilchrist covered the Vermeer with her own painting depicting the destroyed pier copied from the postcard, to disguise it amongst others done by Cora. The scent of the oils lingered when Mr. Entwhistle visited the cottage the day after Cora's murder. She hoped to inherit some of Cora's paintings; the will confirmed she inherited all of them. Miss Gilchrist loathed Cora; even more, she loathed life as a dependent. Her dream was to sell the Vermeer to escape her dreary life with the capital to rebuild her beloved teashop, "the essence of gentility", lost during the war to food shortages.
Poirot deduced the key role of the painting. He had Mr. Entwhistle take it from the Timothy Abernethie home where Miss Gilchrist had left it. The art critic was found to be authentic by Inspector Morton, so Poirot asked Entwhistle to bring the painting to him. In that same day, Mr. Guthrie sent a wire to Poirot that said tersely, definitely a Vermeer, Guthrie.
Inspector Morton added that two nuns had called at Cora's cottage the day of Richard's funeral. No one answered, yet they heard noises from a person. Added to Poirot's explanation, these nuns became witness to the real Cora's presence in her own home as Miss Gilchrist was impersonating her at Enderby Hall. There is a motif of nuns in this mystery, appearing at each house where Miss Gilchrist stayed.
Miss Gilchrist had invented what she overheard about Richard's fear of poisoning, for the furtherance of her plot. She told her lie to Mrs. Banks first. With revisions implicating Mrs. Banks, she repeated it to Poirot and Inspector Morton, very shortly before Poirot revealed her plot to all present at Enderby Hall. Once accused, Miss Gilchrist broke down in a flood of complaints of the unbearable hardships of her life, her convoluted justification for the murder of an innocent woman. She went quietly with Inspector Morton.
Cora's was the only murder. There was no evidence that Richard Abernethie died any but a natural death in his sleep, from the disease his doctor had diagnosed. Thus Poirot answered the question Mr. Entwhistle hired him to resolve, as well as untangled, by deduction, the mystery of Cora's death.
Miss Gilchrist is found guilty as the murderer of Cora at the Assizes. In her time in prison during legal proceedings, she was quickly becoming insane, planning one tea shop after another. Mr. Entwhistle and Hercule Poirot suspect her punishment might be served in Broadmoor, but have no doubt she had plotted and carried out the cold blooded murder in full possession of her faculties — this ladylike murderer.
Characters - the Abernethie family tree
- Cornelius Abernethie (d) - Coralie Abernethie (née Bessington) (d)
- Richard Abernethie - Richard's wife (name not given)
- Leo Abernethie (d) - Helen Abernethie
- Laura Crossfield (née Abernethie) (d) - Rex Crossfield (d)
- Timothy Abernethie - Maude Abernethie
- Gordon Abernethie (d) - Pamela Abernethie (née Johns) (d)
- Geraldine Carson (née Abernethie) (d) - Anthony Carson (d)
- Cora Lansquenet (née Abernethie) - Pierre Lansquenet (d)
- Hercule Poirot
- Mr Entwhistle
- Miss Entwhistle
- Inspector Morton
- Mr Goby, a private investigator
- Miss Gilchrist, Cora’s paid companion
- Lanscombe, butler at Enderby Hall
- Mrs Jacks
- Mrs Jones
- Dr Barton
- James Parrott
- Dr Larraby
- Mrs Panter
- Alexander Guthrie
- Sorrel Dainton
- Superintendent Parwell
- Oscar Lewis
- Mr Rosenheim
- Dr Proctor
Unlike Taken at the Flood, in which there is a strong sense of post-war English society reforming along the lines of the status quo ante, After the Funeral is deeply pessimistic about the social impact of war. The village post office no longer handles the local post. Mr. Goby blames the government for the poor standard of investigators that he is able to employ. The family mansion must be sold, and the butler Lanscombe, who had expected to be able to retire to the North Lodge, is forced to leave the estate. A pier from a postcard view has been bombed and not yet rebuilt, which desolate fact is pivotal to the plot. Richard Abernethie is very sad as his only son died abruptly from polio, a common and devastating epidemic of that time. The son was fit, healthy, about to marry, and suddenly gone. Richard sees no other single heir worthy of succeeding to his estate entire. The Abernethie drive and talent for business are found in his niece Susan, but he cannot consider her as sole heir because she is female. Rather he reacts to her by being disappointed in her husband. Not finding any one person to take over his fortune and his business, he divided his fortune among family members who seem likely to waste it on gambling and theatre ventures.
One person he valued was his sister-in-law, now widowed by the war. She had a child in a war time affair. She never told Richard of the child, aware of his Victorian views, telling others she has a nephew she helps. She is grateful for his kindness in including her in his will, as she can now raise her son on faraway Cyprus with a proper education. The child is loved, but his mother feels he cannot be accepted in post war England.
The last name chosen for Cora's husband, the much disliked painter with some claim to being French, is Lansquenet. It is unusual as a last name, as mentioned in the story. The word is the name of a card game, but mainly it is the term for a German mercenary, a foot soldier with a lance, from the XV and XVI centuries. Food rationing in England came to an end in the year of publication, but its effect is still felt in the egg shortages that are mentioned in the novel. Throughout, there is a strong sense of the hardships of the post-war period, including comments on the increased burden of taxation associated with the government of Clement Attlee. Taking all of these elements into account, it is not difficult or fanciful to see in these plot details Christie's disquiet with post-war Britain.
Literary significance and reception
Robert Barnard: "A subject of perennial appeal – unhappy families: lots of scattered siblings, lots of Victorian money (made from corn plasters). Be sure you are investigating the right murder, and watch for mirrors (always interesting in Christie). Contains Christie's last major butler: the 'fifties and 'sixties were not good times for butlers."
References or Allusions
References to other works
In chapter 12, Poirot mentions the case handled in Lord Edgware Dies as being one in which he was “nearly defeated”.
In Chapter 13, Poirot's valet is referred to in the narrative as Georges. The valet's actual name is George, but Poirot always addresses him as Georges in direct speech. This is the first (and only?) time that he is referred to by the French version of his name in the third person narration itself.
References to actual history, geography and current science
This is the first of the Poirot novels in which lesbianism (between a woman and her companion) is discussed as a possible motive. The references to lesbianism are veiled and euphemistic: Inspector Morton refers to it as "feverish female friendship" in chapter 13.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Agatha Christie's Poirot
A television film was produced with David Suchet as Poirot in the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 26 March 2006. It was directed by Maurice Phillips, with screenplay by Philomena McDonagh. There were a number of significant changes especially to the backstories of the various characters although the main premise of the story is retained.
- 1953, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), March 1953, Hardback, 243 pp
- 1953, Collins Crime Club (London), May 18, 1953, Hardback, 192 pp
- 1954, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 224 pp
- 1956, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1968, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 237 pp
- 1978, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 422 pp ISBN 0-7089-0186-7
The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in forty-seven parts from Tuesday, January 20 to Saturday, March 14, 1953.
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in seven abridged instalments from March 21 (Volume 93, Number 2438) to May 2, 1953 (Volume 93, Number 2444) with illustrations by William Little.
- Czech: Po pohřbu (After the Funeral)
- Dutch: Na de begrafenis (After the Funeral)
- Finnish: Hautajaisten jälkeen (After the Funeral)
- French: Les Indiscrétions d'Hercule Poirot (Indiscretions of Hercule Poirot)
- German: Der Wachsblumenstrauß (The Bouquet of Wax Flowers)
- Hungarian: Temetni veszélyes (Funerals are Dangerous)
- Italian: Dopo le esequie (After the Funeral)
- Polish: Po pogrzebie (After the Funeral)
- Spanish: Después del Funeral (After the Funeral)
- Swedish: Begravningar är Farliga (Funerals are Dangerous)
- Turkish: Cenazeden sonra (After the Funeral)