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Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in Colliers the National Weekly in the U.S. in Nov 1940. In the U.K. it was first published in the Strand Magazine in 1941. The story was later gathered and published in the U.S. in the anthology Three Blind Mice and Other Stories in 1950 and then in the U.K. in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and a Selection of Entrées in 1960.

The name of the short story comes from a line from the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence.

Synopsis

A man deviates from his usual eating habits. Weeks later he is dead. Poirot is curious and decides to investigate.

Plot Summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Poirot is eating out with a friend, Henry Bonnington, and the conversation turns to people's habits. Bonnington eats regularly in the restaurant that they are in and he points out a white-bearded man as evidence of his theories.

This man eats the same meal there on Tuesdays and Thursdays and always orders much the same items as part of his three-course meal. The waitress, Molly, brings their meals and confirms Bonnington's view of the man – except that the previous week he also came in on Monday and ordered things he'd never ordered before. Poirot's curiosity is piqued.

Three weeks later, Poirot and Bonnington meet by chance on a tube train, Bonnington mentions that the bearded man has not been seen for a week. Perhaps he has died and his change of habits on the Monday in question was as a result of being told bad news by his doctor? Poirot is not certain and starts to investigate.

Poirot easily finds the man's name from a list of recent deaths – Henry Gascoigne. Poirot calls on one of the dead man's neighbours, Dr MacAndrew, and also on the district coroner to get background information. Henry Gascoigne lived alone and died after an accidental fall downstairs at his house. He was found a few days later after his milk bottles started to pile up on the doorstep. He died at approximately 10.00 p.m. on the third and had eaten a meal a couple of hours before, at the same restaurant. He had a letter in the pocket of his dressing gown that was postmarked the third and was part of the evening's delivery. This helped pin the time of death to the evening. In response to the question of relatives, Poirot is told that Henry had a twin brother, Anthony, who, by coincidence, had died on the afternoon of the same day after a long illness. Their only surviving relative is a nephew, George Lorrimer. Poirot is interested in the dead man's teeth and it is confirmed that they were very white for their age.... After several calls of investigation, Poirot meets Lorrimer and accuses him of murder. Lorrimer's response proves the accusation has hit home.

Meeting Henry again, Poirot explains: Anthony left a large fortune to his dead, but estranged, brother. Lorrimer would eventually inherit but was impatient for the money. He actually murdered his uncle in the afternoon of the third upon hearing of the death of the twin and again, in disguise, impersonated his uncle at the restaurant (the previous occasion on the Monday being a practice run). However, he forgot to impersonate his uncle's eating habits and ordered different foods to those usually chosen, including blackberry tart for dessert. His uncle didn't eat food which stained the teeth whereas Lorrimer's teeth are stained. He further amended the postmark on the letter he had sent on the second to give a false time of death and then joined a bridge party in Wimbledon immediately after eating at the restaurant to give himself an alibi. There is a reference to the cricket match played in 1934, England vs Australia.

Characters

Film, TV, or theatrical versions

Agatha Christie's Poirot

A television film with David Suchet as Poirot was produced as episode 4 in Season 1 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 29 January 1989.

Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple

The novel was adapted as an anime film for television as episode 34 of the NHK anime series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple and broadcast 10 April 2005.

Publication history

References

  1. An entry before this: <1926: The Mystery Magazine, 1926 as "Poirot and the Regular Customer"> has been removed to this footnote because it cannot be confirmed. It also seems unlikely that there is such a big gap between first publication in the U.S. in 1926 and then first publication in the U.K. in 1941.
  2. See the listing at Galactic Central
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