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Finessing the King/The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Sketch in October 1924. It was the 3rd of a series of stories for the Sketch under the banner "Tommy and Tuppence" which formed a loosely contiguous story arc. This story was subsequently compiled as part of the collection Partners in Crime which came out in both the U.K. and the U.S. in 1929. The stories in the story arc are resequenced in the collection. In U.K. editions, this story is split in two as chapters 5 and 6 (the 4th story). In U.S. editions, this story is chapters 7 and 8.

In Partners in Crime, the story is preceded by The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger and followed by The Case of the Missing Lady. "Finessing the King" was the original title in magazines. When the story was split into two for compilation, the second chapter was given the title "The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper".


Tuppence persuades Tommy to attend a fancy dress dance at a night club and they come across a woman who had been stabbed with a jewelled knife.

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Tuppence is bored and, reading the 'Daily Leader' newspaper, decides that she wants to go dancing. A reluctant Tommy tries to distract her attention by pointing out to her the interesting fact that dots in the masthead of the newspaper indicate the different days on which the paper was produced but his tenacious wife has spotted an advert in the personal column which reads, "I should go three hearts. 12 tricks. Ace of Spades. Necessary to finesse the King." She deduces that this refers to the Three Arts Ball which is to take place tomorrow night, "12 tricks" means twelve o'clock midnight and the "Ace of Spades" refers to a somewhat decadent nightclub-cum-eating place in Chelsea where it is fashionable to go to after events like the Three Arts Ball. Wondering what is meant by "Necessary to finesse the King" and feeling that they need to hone their detective skills, she decides that she and Tommy will go the following night to investigate in both their ball costumes and in their detective roles of Tommy McCarty and Dennis Riordan.

At the 'Ace of Spades', Tommy and Tuppence sit in one of the private booths and peer through the door at the various other costumed and masked patrons. The booth next door is soon taken by a woman dressed as Alice's Queen of Hearts and a man outfitted as the gentleman dressed in newspaper. After a while, they hear a cry from the woman followed by the man laughing and then see him leaving. After a few minutes, suspicious, Tuppence makes Tommy follow her into the booth and they find the woman stabbed through the heart. She whispers, "Bingo did it" before she dies...

The next day, Inspector Marriot brings Sir Arthur Merivale, the husband of the dead woman, Lady Vere Merivale, round to the Beresford's flat. "Bingo" Hale is known to both of them and he is stunned that his best friend could have killed his wife. Hale had been staying with them and was arrested that morning for murder. Merivale is perplexed as to what the motive could have been and is incensed at the suggestion from Marriot that the two were lovers and that Vere was threatening Hale who was paying attention to a rich American woman. Tuppence shows Sir Arthur the advert from the "Daily Leader" and the way the two communicated with each other using this device. Before she died, Vere tore off a piece of Bingo's newspaper costume and the police intend to match this up with the discarded costume.

Marriot returns to the Beresford's later on with photographs of the fragment and the section of the costume it came from – he has the last link to convict Hale but Tuppence senses that he is far from satisfied with the conclusion to the case. When he has gone, she spots that the dots in the masthead of the two pieces don't match. They invite Sir Arthur back round and confront him with the evidence. Tuppence puts it to him that he too was at the 'Ace of Spades' dressed in a near identical masked costume. Hale alleges that he was slipped a note asking him not to approach Vere and he complied. Sir Arthur took his place and killed his own wife. The man laughs at this suggestion and Tuppence recognises it as the same laugh she heard from the booth. Marriot is hidden in their flat listening in but Sir Arthur throws himself out of the window and falls to his death before he can be taken. Marriot tells them that the motive wasn't jealously but money. Vere Merivale was the one in the marriage with the money and if she'd left her husband he would have been destitute.


Parody of a fictional detective

This two part story is a spoof of the nowadays almost forgotten Isabel Ostrander, with parallels to the story The Clue in the Air (1917) and the detectives Tommy McCarty (an ex-policeman) and Denis Riordan (a fireman).

References or Allusions

References to other works

  • The reference regarding the Gentleman dressed in Newspaper character as being from the Lewis Carroll Alice books is mistaken in that the character who appears in chapter three of Through the Looking-Glass is described as being dressed in white paper only. However John Tenniel's illustration (right) in the book of the character reminded many contemporary readers of Benjamin Disraeli and there has been speculation if this was a comment upon his constant presence in newspaper columns. William Empson in his 1935 book Some Versions of Pastoral referred to "Disraeli dressed in Newspapers".


Partners in Crime (BBC 1953 radio series)

BBC adapted the story for radio as episode 11 in its series Partners in Crime, first broadcast on 29 June 1953 and starring Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim. Both actors appeared in the stage play The Mousetrap at the time.

Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime

The story was adapted as episode 2 in the LWT series Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, first broadcast on 30 October 1983 with Francesca Annis and James Warwick in the lead roles.

Publication history