Hickory Dickory Dock is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 31 October 1955 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in November of the same year under the title of Hickory Dickory Death. The UK edition retailed at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6) and the US edition at $3.00. It features her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The novel is notable for featuring Poirot’s efficient secretary, Miss Felicity Lemon, who had previously only appeared in the Poirot short stories.
An outbreak of apparent kleptomania at a student hostel is not normally the sort of crime that arouses Hercule Poirot's interest. But when he sees the bizarre list of stolen and vandalized items - including a stethoscope, some lightbulbs, some old flannel trousers, a box of chocolates, a slashed rucksack, some boracic powder and a diamond ring later found in a bowl of a soup - he congratulates the warden, Mrs Hubbard, on a 'unique and beautiful problem'. It is nevertheless not long before the crime of theft is the least of Poirot’s concerns.
Explanation of the novel's title
The title is taken, as are other of Christie's titles, from a nursery rhyme: Hickory Dickory Dock. This is nevertheless one of her most tenuous links to the original nursery rhyme, consisting of little more than the name of a road.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Poirot’s solution of the petty thefts is unsubtle but effective: once he has threatened to call in the police, Celia Austin quickly confesses to the pettier incidents. She denies, however, the following: stealing Nigel Chapman's green ink and using it to deface Elizabeth Johnston's work; taking the stethoscope, the light bulbs and boracic powder; and cutting up and concealing a rucksack. She appears to have committed the lesser thefts to attract the attention of Colin McNabb, a psychology student who regarded her as an interesting case study, but then almost immediately becomes engaged to her. She makes restitution for the crimes and is seemingly reconciled with her victims. The more important incidents which Celia denied committing remain unsolved. Celia is discovered dead the following morning from an overdose of morphine. It doesn't take investigators long to see through attempts to make her death seem like suicide. The more important incidents which Celia denied committing remain unsolved.
Inspector Sharpe solves the mystery of the stolen stethoscope during his interviews with the inhabitants of the hostel. Nigel Chapman admits to having stolen the stethoscope in order to pose as a doctor and steal some morphine tartrate from the hospital dispensary as part of a bet to acquire three deadly poisons (the other two being digitalin and hyoscine). He claims the poisons were carefully disposed of, but cannot be sure that the morphine was not stolen from him while it was in his possession. Poirot turns his attention to the reappearance of the diamond ring, and confronts Valerie Hobhouse, in whose soup the ring was found. It seems that the diamond had been replaced with a zircon and, given the fact that it was difficult for anyone but Valerie to have put the ring into the soup, Poirot accuses her of having stolen the diamond. She admits to having done so, saying that she needed the money to pay off gambling debts. She also admits to having planted in Celia Austin's mind the entire idea of the thefts.
Mrs Nicoletis has been behaving very nervously, as if she were losing her nerve. One night someone kills her by poisoning her brandy. Poirot focuses his attention now on the cutting up of the rucksack. By comparing an example of the rucksack type destroyed with others, he identifies an unusual corrugated base, and suggests to the police that the rucksack may have been part of an international smuggling operation. The rucksacks were sold to innocent students, and then exchanged as a means of transporting drugs and gems. Mrs Nicoletis had been bankrolling the organisation, but was not the brain behind it. When the police visited Hickory Road on an unconnected issue, the murderer had cut up the rucksack to avoid its being found and removed light bulbs to avoid being recognised.
Patricia Lane comes to Nigel and admits that, in an effort to keep a dangerous poison safe, she has taken the morphine from the bottle in his drawer and substituted for it bicarbonate of soda. Now, however, the bottle of bicarbonate of soda has been taken from her own drawer. While they are searching for this bottle she mentions that she is intending to write to his father in order to reconcile the two. Nigel tells her that the reason for his estrangement from his father is that he discovered that his father had poisoned his mother with Medinal, a trade name for barbitone sodium. This is why he changed his name and carries two passports. Nigel goes to Inspector Sharpe and tells him about the missing morphine, but while he is there, Patricia telephones to say that she has discovered something further. By the time that Nigel and Sharpe get to the house, she is found dead, killed by a blow to the head. Akibombo comes to Sharpe and says that he had taken Patricia's bicarbonate to ease a stomach complaint; when he took a teaspoonful of the bicarbonate, however, he had stomach pains and later discovered that the white powder was in fact the boracic powder. By the time Patricia had substituted the bicarbonate, the morphine had already been substituted by the stolen boracic powder. Poirot, whose suspicions about Valerie Hobhouse's role in the smuggling operation have been proved correct by a police raid on her beauty shop, now closes the case.
The murderer is Nigel Chapman, who was known to have the morphine in his possession. He killed Celia because she knew about his dual identity and also knew that Valerie travelled abroad on a false passport. He killed Mrs Nicoletis because she was sure to give the smuggling operation away under pressure, and killed Patricia because she was likely to draw to his father's attention the recent events.
When Poirot outlines to Nigel's father's solicitor the case against Nigel, the solicitor provides final proof. Nigel's mother had been poisoned, not by his father, but by Nigel. When the father discovered this (medinal is a poison slow to act, and the mother had occasion to explain the method of her imminent death) he forced him to write a confession and left it with his solicitor together with a letter explaining that it should be presented to the authorities in case of any further wrongdoing by Nigel. Valerie confirms Poirot's solution further. She placed the call to the police station, which had apparently come from Patricia, to establish an alibi for Nigel who had already bludgeoned Patricia. The green ink was a double-bluff intended to divert suspicion away from him. Valerie is willing to incriminate Nigel fully because Mrs Nicoletis was actually her mother.
Characters in "Hickory Dickory Dock"
26 Hickory Road
- Mrs Christina Nicoletis
- Mrs Hubbard
- Ahmed Ali
- Celia Austin
- Leonard "Len" Bateson
- Nigel Chapman
- Sally Finch
- René Halle
- Valerie Hobhouse
- Elizabeth Johnston
- Chandra Lal
- Patricia Lane
- Geneviève Maricaud
- Colin McNabb
- Gopal Ram
- Jean Tomlinson
- Miss Reinjeer
- Geronimo and wife Maria, cooks
- Mrs Biggs
- In addition, there were other lodgers: two Turkish, a Dutch and an Iraqi, all unnamed.
- Superintendent Wilding
- Inspector Sharpe
- Sergeant Cobb
- Sergeant Bell
- Detective-Constable McCrae
- Police Constable Nye
- Miss Baltrout
- Mr Hicks
- Montague Jones
- Alice Combe
- William Robinson
- Mrs Lucas
- Mr Endicott
- Hercule Poirot
- Miss Felicity Lemon
- Sir Arthur Stanley
Literary significance and reception
Philip John Stead's review in the Times Literary Supplement of 23 December 1955 began: "Poirot's return to the happy hunting grounds of detective fiction is something of an event. He is called upon to solve the mystery of a series of apparently trivial thefts at a student's hostel but soon finds himself partnering the police in investigating murder. Mrs. Christie rapidly establishes her favourite atmosphere by her skilful mixture of cheerfulness and suspense." After summarising the plot he concluded, "The amount of mischief going on in the hostel imposes some strain on the reader's patience as well as on Poirot's ingenuity; the author has been a little too liberal with the red herrings. Yet the thumb-nail sketches of the characters are as good as ever and in spite of the over-elaborate nature of the puzzle there is plenty of entertainment."
Robert Barnard: "A significant falling-off in standards in this mid-'fifties story. A highly perfunctory going-through-the-paces: the rhyme has no meaning within the story; the plot (drugs smuggled in imported haversacks) is unlikely in the extreme; and the attempt to widen the range of character types (Africans, Indians, students of Freud etc.) is far from successful. Evelyn Waugh's diary records that it 'began well' but deteriorated 'a third of the way through into twaddle' – a judgment which, unusually for him, erred on the side of charity."
References or Allusions
References to other works
When the students are attempting to place Hercule Poirot, during Chapter 4, one of them mentions the case retold in Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952). When Poirot comes to lecture to the students about his cases in the same chapter, he retells the story of The Nemean Lion, published in book form in The Labours of Hercules (1947). In chapter 5 Poirot also remembers Count Vera Rossakoff’s "exotic splendour...even in decay", something that he has only observed in The Capture of Cerberus, also from The Labours of Hercules. In Chapter 21, Poirot visits a solicitor by the name of Mr. Endicott to confirm his suspicions of Nigel Chapman. Endicott says to Poirot, "...I'm deeply in your debt. You cleared up that nasty Abernethy business for me." This may be a reference to the events in After the Funeral (1953), though Abernethie is mistakenly spelt "Abernethy" and not "Abernethie" as it is in After the Funeral. Furthermore, the catalyst to Poirot's direct involvement to the events in After the Funeral is a solicitor named Entwhistle, not Endicott
References to actual history, geography and current science
In Chapter 11, Elizabeth Johnston refers to anti-Communist “witch hunts” in America. The term was first used in its metaphorical sense in 1938, but its specific connection with McCarthyism dates from the first performance of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, in 1953. This implies that the setting of the novel is at most two years before its publication.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
A musical version of Hickory Dickory Dock, Death Beat, was planned in the early 1960s but never finished.
Agatha Christie's Poirot
Les Petits Meurtes d'Agatha
- 1955, Collins Crime Club (London), October 31, 1955, Hardcover, 192 pp
- 1955, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), November 1955, Hardcover, 241 pp
- 1956, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 222 pp
- 1958, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1967, Pan Books, Paperback, 189 pp
- 1987, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-1637-6
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in six abridged instalments from May 28 (Volume 97, Number 2552) to July 2, 1955 (Volume 98, Number 2557) with illustrations by "Fancett".
The novel was first serialised in the US in Collier's Weekly in three abridged instalments from October 14 (Volume 136, Number 8) to November 11, 1955 (Volume 136, Number 10) under the title Hickory Dickory Death with illustrations by Robert Fawcett.
- Chinese (Simplified): 外国学生宿舍谋杀案 (Murder in the Foreign Students' Hostel)
- Czech: Zlatá brána otevřená (The Pearly Gates are Open)
- Dutch: Moord in het studentenhuis (Murder in the students' house)
- German: Die Kleptomanin (The Kleptomaniac)
- Finnish: Neiti Lemon erehtyy (Miss Lemon's Mistake)
- French: Pension Vanilos (Vanilos Boarding House—changed the name of Mrs Nicoletis to Vanilos)
- Hungarian: Gyilkosság a diákszállóban (Murder in the Dormitory) – for the Poirot film: A kisegér mindent lát (The Little Mouse Can See Everything)
- Indonesian: Pembunuhan di Pondokan Mahasiswa (Murder in the Students' House)
- Italian: Poirot si annoia (Poirot is Bored)
- Japanese: Hickory Road no Satsujin (Murder on Hickory Road)
- Norwegian: Huset i Hickory Road (The house in Hickory Road)
- Polish: Entliczek pentliczek (Hickory Dickory Dock)
- Portuguese: Os Erros da Dactilógrafa (The Typewritist Errors), Crime em Hickory Road (Crime in Hickory Road)
- Spanish: Asesinato en la calle Hickory (Murder on Hickory Road)
- Swedish: Mord klockan fem? (Murder at Five o’clock?)