Dead Man's Folly is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in October 1956 and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on November 5 of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.95 and the UK edition at twelve shillings and sixpence (12/6). It features Hercule Poirot, her famous Belgian detective, and Ariadne Oliver. The house where the story is set was based on Christie's Devon home, Greenway House on the Greenway Estate.
When Ariadne Oliver, the mystery novelist, summons Poirot to join her at a country house in Devon, he is respectful enough of her “intuition” to do so. When she tells him, however, that she is at Nasse House to stage a Murder Hunt at a fête, he is at first peeved that she is wasting his time. But it is not long before he realises that Mrs Oliver's fears are fully justified.
En route to Nasse House, Poirot gives a lift to two female hitch-hikers – one Dutch and one Italian – who are staying at the youth hostel adjoining the Nasse House grounds. When he arrives, Mrs Oliver explains that she feels that her plans for the Murder Hunt have been, almost imperceptibly, influenced by the advice that she has been given by people in the house, until it is almost as though she is being pushed into staging a real murder.
The owner of Nasse House is George Stubbs, a wealthy man who has seemingly adopted an unearned title of "Sir" in order to confirm his position in the local community. His much younger wife is the seemingly simple and impressionable Hattie, a young woman who has apparently been introduced to him by Amy Folliat, the surviving member of the family that once owned the house. Now that her sons have been supposedly killed during the War, she is living out her days in the Lodge House. Other visitors at Nasse House include an architect, Michael Weyman, who criticises the siting some years earlier of a folly in an inappropriate area of the grounds.
On the day of the fête, Hattie learns that a cousin, Etienne de Sousa, is about to visit, and she seems upset by this, referring to him as a killer. At the fete, a local Girl Guide, Marlene Tucker, is to play the part of the victim, and she waits in the boathouse to play her role when someone approaches her. Poirot observes the movements of some of the visitors to the house. Later, in the company of Mrs Oliver, he discovers the corpse of Marlene in the boathouse. Moreover, Hattie is discovered to have gone missing. Both the police and Poirot himself are initially baffled.
The investigation focuses on Etienne de Sousa, a wealthy young man who shows no apparent concern at Hattie’s disappearance and has arrived in perfect time to have committed the murder. Another suspect is Amanda Brewis, George's secretary, who appears to be in love with Sir George and claims to have been sent down to the boathouse by Hattie with refreshments for Marlene at around the time that the girl was killed. This sounds very out of character for Hattie. Further confusion is added by the behaviour of the Legges, who appear to have some sort of shady connection with a young man in a turtle shirt who has been seen in the grounds. (It later comes to light that this red herring is connected with Legge's career as a nuclear physicist.)
Poirot’s attention is directed to Amy Folliat, who seems to know more than she is saying. After the boatman Merdell dies, Poirot discovers that he was Marlene’s grandfather. Now he puts together several stray clues: Marlene had said that her grandfather had seen someone burying a woman in the woods; Marlene was the type to blackmail, and had in fact received small sums of money prior to her murder; Merdell had commented significantly to Poirot that there would "always be Folliats at Nasse House".
In the denouement Poirot reveals that "Sir" George Stubbs is none other than Amy Folliat's younger son, James, who had deserted during WWI. Instead, Amy had paired him with the impressionable, but very wealthy, Hattie, hoping they would make a good couple. However, he fleeced her of her money and established his new identity, buying the family house and ensuring the continuity of Folliat possession. Unbeknownst to his mother, however, George/James was already married, and as soon as he had possession of Nasse he killed Hattie, and substituted his legal, first wife, a young Italian woman, in her place. The real Hattie was buried on the grounds where the Folly was built.
Marlene Tucker had guessed the secret from hints dropped by her grandfather, and George and his real wife decided it would be safer to kill her than continue giving her hush money. The day before the day of the murder, "Hattie" began to establish another identity as an Italian hitch-hiker. On the day of the murder, she switched between the two roles, killing Marlene and leaving the grounds as the hitch-hiker, with Hattie's clothes in her rucksack. The day of the murder had been selected to cast suspicion upon Etienne, who had actually notified them some weeks earlier of his visit, of whom the fake Hattie pretends to be afraid. As Hattie's cousin, Etienne would not have been deceived and would have realized that the fake Hattie was not his cousin.
The arrests of the culprits is not referenced in the novel, the end of which focuses on the despair of Amy Folliat, who does not appear to be facing legal charges, although that is never quite spelled out, in her allocution to Poirot.
Characters in "Dead Man's Folly"
- Hercule Poirot, the Belgian private detective
- Ariadne Oliver, the celebrated author
- Inspector Bland, the investigating officer
- Sergeant Frank Cottrell, a policeman in the case
- Constable Bob Hoskins, a policeman in the case
- Sir George Stubbs, owner of Nasse House
- Hattie, Lady Stubbs, George’s wife
- Etienne de Sousa, Lady Stubbs’s cousin
- Amanda Brewis, George’s secretary
- Amy Folliat, whose family previously owned Nasse House
- Mr Masterton, member of Parliament
- Mrs Masterton, his wife
- Captain Jim Warburton, agent for Mr Masterton
- Michael Weyman, an architect
- Alec Legge, an atomic physicist
- Sally Legge, his wife
- Marlene Tucker, a Girl Guide
- Marilyn Tucker, Marlene's younger sister
- Mr and Mrs Tucker, Marlene and Marilyn's parents
- Old Merdell, the boatman
- Hendon, the butler
- A female Italian hitch-hiker
- A female Dutch hitch-hiker
- A young man in a shirt with turtles on it
The Folliat family
People at the fête
- Pamela and Edward from Tiverton
- Dorothy and her husband
- Mr Knapper, Mrs Knapper and Lucy Knapper
- Muriel and Reggie
- Roger, the son of Edward
Literary significance and reception
Anthony Quinton began his review column in the Times Literary Supplement of 21 December 1956, writing, "Miss Agatha Christie's new Poirot story comes first in this review because of this author's reputation and not on its own merits, which are disappointingly slight. They consist almost wholly in the appearance yet once more of certain profoundly familiar persons, scenes and devices. Poirot is on hand with his superb English, based, one supposes, on the middle line in the French lessons in the Children's Encyclopaedia, but the little grey cells are rather subdued." He set up the basics of the plot and then continued, "The solution is of the colossal ingenuity we have been conditioned to expect but a number of the necessary red herrings are either unexplained or a little too grossly ad hoc. People are never candid about their vices so there is no need to take seriously the protestations of detective addicts about their concern with the sheer logic of their favourite reading. What should be the real appeal of Dead Man's Folly, however, is not much better than its logic. The scene is really excessively commonplace, there are too many characters and they are very, very flat."
The anonymous review in The Times of 15 November 1956, was also somewhat damning; "Dead Man's Folly is not Miss Agatha Christie at her best. The murder and the solution of it are ingenious, but then, with Miss Christie, they always are, and it is pleasant to watch M. Hercule Poirot at work again. The character drawing is flat and facile, however, and the dialogue, always Miss Christie's weak point, disastrous."
Maurice Richardson of The Observer (18 November 1956) pointed out the similarity between the house portrayed in the book and Christie's own and summed up, "Stunning but not unguessable solution. Nowhere near a vintage Christie but quite a pleasing table-read."
Robert Barnard: "Highly traditional recipe, but not done with the same conviction as in the thirties. Nobody much is what they seem, and old sins cast long shadows. Mrs Oliver looms large here, as she was frequently to do from now on, both in Poirot books and in others."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
First adapted to film with Peter Ustinov and Jean Stapleton starring as Poirot and Oliver in a 1986 adaptation set in the present-day. It was shot largely on location at West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire.
The novel was adapted in 2013 with David Suchet as Poirot, as part of the final series of Agatha Christie's Poirot. Filming took place on Christie's summer estate, Greenway. In this version as the Police dig up the Folly to find Hatti's Body, Poirot spells out the case against them to Mrs Folliat and her son; after he leaves them he hears two gunshots [Murder-Suicide]. His last word is "Bon" [Good]
Video game adaptation
On 15 October 2009, I-play released a downloadable hidden object game based on Dead Man's Folly (see the external links).
- 1956, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), October 1956, Hardback, 216 pp
- 1956, Collins Crime Club (London), 5 November 1956, Hardback, 256 pp
- 1957, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 178 pp
- 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1966, Pan Books, Paperback, 189 pp
- 1967, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 205 pp
The novel was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in three abridged instalments from 20 July (Volume 138, Number 2) to 17 August 1956 (Volume 138, Number 4) with illustrations by Robert Fawcett.
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in six abridged instalments from 11 August (Volume 100, Number 2615) to 15 September 1956 (Volume 100, Number 2620) with illustrations by "Fancett".
- Czech: Hra na vraždu (Game of Murder)
- Dutch: Zoek de moordenaar (Seek the murderer)
- German: Wiedersehen mit Mrs. Oliver (Mrs. Oliver revisited)
- Hungarian: Gloriett a hullának (Folly for the Dead Body), Gyilkosvadászat (Murderer Hunting)
- Italian: La sagra del delitto (The Crime Party)
- Russian: Причуда (=Prichuda, A Folly), Причуда мертвеца (=Prichuda mertvetsa, Dead Man's Folly), Конец человеческой глупости (=Konets chelovecheskoy gluposti, End of Human Foolishness)
- Spanish: El Templete de Nasse House (The Pavilion of Nasse House)
- French: Poirot joue le jeu (Poirot plays the game)
- Indonesian: Kubur Berkubah (Domed Tomb)
- Turkish: Sonuncu Kurban (The last victim)