Lord Edgware Dies is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in September 1933 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year under the title of Thirteen at Dinner. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00. The novel features Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Characters
- 3 Literary significance and reception
- 4 References to other works
- 5 References to actual history, geography and current science
- 6 Adaptations
- 7 Publication history
- 8 International titles
Jane Wilkinson, an actress, is suspected of murdering her husband, the fourth Baron Edgware, so that she can marry the Duke of Merton. The plot begins with Jane asking Poirot to convince her husband to agree to a divorce. When Poirot reluctantly does so, Edgware says that he has already agreed to a divorce and written a letter to Jane informing her of the fact. When Poirot reports this to Jane, she denies ever having received such a letter. Lord Edgware is portrayed as a rather unsympathetic character. On the night of the murder, Wilkinson supposedly goes to the Edgware house, announces herself to the butler, and goes into her husband's study. The next day, Lord Edgware is found murdered and Chief Inspector Japp tells Poirot all about it. Numerous friends and acquaintances of Jane have described her as amoral, someone who only thinks of herself and would certainly commit a crime if it would help her get what she wants, without a care for others. But in that morning's newspaper, they discover an article about a dinner party that was held the previous evening, where Wilkinson was a guest.
At the party, there were thirteen guests at the dinner table. One guest mentioned that thirteen people at table means bad luck for the first guest to rise from the table (hence the alternative title of the book, Thirteen At Dinner) and Jane Wilkinson was the first to rise. Among the guests is an actor named Donald Ross, who spent a lot of the evening speaking with Jane. So the police are, at first, baffled with the case, as is Poirot. On the same morning Lord Edgware's murder is discovered, comedienne/actress Carlotta Adams, known for her uncanny impersonations, is found dead due to an overdose of Veronal. A mysterious gold case with the sleeping powder in it is found among her possessions. The case bears an inscription reading: "From D, Paris, November, 10th Sweet Dreams". Poirot tries to decode this and arranges the evidence.
A few days later, Jane makes an appearance at a luncheon party where the guests talk about Paris of Troy. However, Jane thinks that the guests, again including actor Donald Ross, are referring to the French capital. Ross goes to ring up Poirot about a clue that he had just thought of, but before he can say what he discovered, he is stabbed to death at his home. However, Poirot is on the verge of solving the case, anyway.
Poirot gathers the suspects and details the trajectory of the crimes (the three murders): While Carlotta Adams was impersonating her at the dinner party, Jane simply takes a taxi to the Edgware house, where she murders her husband. She is seen by her husband's secretary but the secretary's vision and impartiality were called into question at trial. Later, Jane (in the person of "Mrs Van Dusen", an elderly American widow) and Carlotta meet up in a hotel where they toast Carlotta's successful "performance", ostensibly so Jane can pay Carlotta. However, Jane slips Veronal into Carlotta's drink, and she dies in her sleep that night. Jane discovers a letter Carlotta has written to her sister and is panicked by how Carlotta talks openly in the letter about their arrangement. Rather than destroying the letter, Jane sees a way she can use the letter to her advantage. At the top left hand corner of the second page is the word "she" (referring to Jane). She tears off the "s", leaving the word "he", making it seem like a man had hired Carlotta. Jane then puts the remaining Veronal inside the gold case to make it seem like Carlotta was a Veronal addict. Jane had ordered the gold case the week prior (as "Lady Constance Ackerly"), which Poirot discovers when he questions the engravers. Poirot also realises that "November" was engraved on the case specifically to throw him off.
Unbeknownst to Jane, Carlotta had been knowledgeable about Greek mythology, so she talked a lot about the subject with Donald Ross. At the luncheon party, when Jane confused Paris of Troy with the French capital, he had realized that she couldn't have been the same woman at the party on the night of the murder. Jane realizes she's made a potentially very serious mistake about Paris, leaves the party and heads to Ross's home to kill him before he can tell Poirot. Her motive for killing Lord Edgware was that the Duke of Merton was a staunch Anglo-Catholic and would not marry a divorced woman. He would, however, have married a widow. In the last chapter, she writes a letter to Poirot, remarkably devoid of any animosity, which ends with her wondering why hangings are not done in public anymore.
- Hercule Poirot - The famed Belgian detective. Drawn into the case, after being asked by Wilkinson to aid her in getting a divorce from her husband.
- Captain Hastings - Poirot's friend and assistant on the case. He is the narrator of the story.
- Inspector Japp - The investigating officer for the case.
- Lord Edgware - The first victim of the case. A wealthy English peer with a harsh personality, who is a noted collector of art objects. His full title is George Alfred St Vincent Marsh, fourth Baron Edgware.
- Carlotta Adams - The second victim of the case. An American impersonator conducting a tour in London and Paris. Hired to impersonate Edgware's wife by an unknown employer.
- Donald Ross - The third victim of the case. A young actor who attends the dinner party Wilkinson joins.
- Jane Wilkinson - The killer of the case. A beautiful American actress and Edgware's estranged wife. She seeks to marry the Duke of Merton. Initially suspected of her husband's murder; her alibi is later revealed to have been concocted as part of her plan.
- Geraldine Marsh - Edgware's daughter from his first marriage. Staying at home having recently finished a term of school.
- Captain Ronald Marsh - Edgware's nephew and heir to his title. Initially suffering from money troubles until his uncle's death.
- Genevieve "Jenny" Driver - Adams' friend in London. She specialises in the creation of fashionable hats.
- Bryan Martin - A successful actor who worked with Wilkinson and was recently in love with her. He is now fond of Driver, and grew up with Adams.
- Miss Carroll - Edgware's secretary. Present at his home on the night of the murder, and claims Wilkinson visited him.
- Alton - Edgware's butler, who disappears after police begin looking for another suspect.
- Ellis - Wilkinson's personal maid at her new accommodations.
- Duke of Merton - A devout Anglo-Catholic, and the current love of Jane Wilkinson, whom he plans to marry.
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of 21 September 1933 reviewed the book positively, commenting on the fact that "it was the chance remark of a stranger in the street that put him on the right track. Three such murders, however, are enough to tax the powers of the most superhuman sleuth, and we do not grudge him one stroke of good fortune."
Isaac Anderson concluded his review in the 24 September 1933 issue of The New York Times Book Review by saying, "This story presents a most ingenious crime puzzle and a still more ingenious solution, all set forth with the consummate skill of which Agatha Christie is mistress."
Robert Barnard: "Deals with a social/artistic milieu rather off Christie's usual beat: aristocrats, actresses, socialites, rich Jews. The anti-Semitism is more muted than in the early thrillers, but still leaves a nasty taste (this is the last book in which it obtrudes). Otherwise clever and unusual, with the Hastings/Poirot relationship done less crudely than usual."
References to other works
In chapter 7, Poirot mentions that once he found a clue, but since it was four feet long instead of four centimetres nobody would believe in it. This is probably a reference to a situation which occurred in The Murder on the Links, where Poirot found a piece of lead-piping which he concluded will be used to disfigure the victim's face so that it would be unrecognizable. Nevertheless, the artifact was described in that novel as a piece of two feet long lead-piping, not a piece of four feet.
In chapter 25, Hastings tells Donald Ross that Poirot has left for an appointment relating to his investigation of another case, "the strange disappearance of an Ambassador's boots". When Poirot returns from the appointment, he tells Hastings that it was a case of cocaine smuggling, and that he had spent the last hour in a ladies' beauty parlor. This case sounds identical to the one in the Tommy and Tuppence story, "The Ambassador's Boots" from Partners in Crime (1929), except that Poirot mentions a girl with red hair (Hastings is often described by Poirot as partial to redheads), while the girl in "The Ambassador's Boots" has blonde hair, or black hair when in disguise.
References to actual history, geography and current science
The character of Carlotta Adams was based on the American dramatist Ruth Draper (1884–1956). In her Autobiography, Christie says, “I thought how clever she was and how good her impersonations were; the wonderful way she could transform herself from a nagging wife to a peasant girl kneeling in a cathedral. Thinking about her led me to the book Lord Edgware Dies.” In writing this, Christie forgot that she had previously used the Draper idea in the short story The Dead Harlequin, published in The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1930), where the character was called Aspasia Glen and was the murderer’s accomplice, rather than the victim.
In Chapter 7, Chief Inspector Japp mentions the Elizabeth Canning case which was a real kidnapping case occurred in London in 1753. Such case created a lot of sensation in its time due to the inconsistencies of the victim's declarations and the alibis of the perpetrators. Japp mentions this case due to the particular fact that the suspect was seen at two places at the same time. In the novel Lady Edgware was seen at a dinner party at the time that she was also seen visiting the victim; whereas in the Canning case the suspect, Mary Squires, was seen traveling during the time that Elizabeth Canning said she had her imprisoned.
Lord Edgware Dies (1934)
The novel was first adapted in 1934 as an eighty-minute film directed by Henry Edwards for Real Art Productions. The film was the third to star Austin Trevor in the role of Poirot after his appearances in Alibi and Black Coffee, both in 1931.
Thirteen at Dinner (1985)
The novel was then adapted for an eighty-seven minute TV movie in 1985 starring Peter Ustinov in one of his six appearances as Poirot. The production was made under the US book title of Thirteen at Dinner and co-starred Faye Dunaway in the dual role of Jane Wilkinson and Carlotta Adams. The story was updated to be set in contemporary times and not in the 1930s. David Suchet played Chief Inspector Japp; Suchet would later play Poirot himself on the long-running ITV series.
Agatha Christie's Poirot (2000)
The book was adapted by Carnival Films as a one-hundred-and-twenty minute drama and transmitted on ITV in the UK on Saturday, 19 February 2000 as a special episode in their series Agatha Christie's Poirot. This version is extremely faithful to the novel, only deviating by including series regular Miss Felicity Lemon, who was not in the original mystery.
- 1933, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1933, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1933, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1933, Hardcover, 305 pp
- 1944, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 60 mapback), 224 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 685), 251 pp
- 1954, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1969, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover
- 1970, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 255 pp
- 1970, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 380 pp; ISBN 0-85456-479-9
- 2007, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1933 UK first edition), February 5, 2007, Hardcover, 256 pp; ISBN 0-00-724022-8
The book was first serialised in the U.S. in The American Magazine in six installments from March (Volume CXV, Number 3) to August 1933 (Volume CXVI, Number 2) as 13 for Dinner with illustrations by Weldon Trench.
The dedication of the book reads:
To Dr. and Mrs. Campbell Thompson
Reginald Campbell Thompson (21 August 1876 – 23 May 1941), married to Barbara, was an eminent British archaeologist and the second expedition leader to employ Christie's husband Max Mallowan to work on one of his digs. The offer of work came in 1930 when Mallowan's employer, Leonard Woolley, was proving difficult over his proposed marriage to Agatha and their wish that she should join her husband on the dig at Ur although the real opposition came from Leonard Woolley's difficult wife, Katharine (see the dedication to The Thirteen Problems).
Thompson's dig was at Nineveh and Max joined the team there in September 1931 followed the next month by Agatha. The invitation was only confirmed after the Mallowans had joined Thompson for a weekend in the country near Oxford where they were subjected to a cross-country scramble on "the wettest day possible over rough country" followed by another test to ensure that neither Agatha nor Max were fussy eaters. These were to ensure that both could withstand the rigours of a season in the wilds of Iraq. Used to walking over Dartmoor and having a very healthy appetite, Agatha passed the tests with flying colours.
The relationship between the Mallowans and the Thompsons was far more relaxed than it had been with the Woolleys. The only source of contention was that Thompson was notoriously frugal with money and questioned every expense. Horses were a vital part of the expedition but Thompson only bought poor, badly-trained animals. He nevertheless insisted that Max ride them with skill as to fall off one would mean that "not a single workman will have a scrap of respect for you". Christie's clash with Thompson in regards to this facet of his character was over her insistence on purchasing a solid table to place her typewriter on in order that she could complete her next book. Not seeing why she couldn't use orange boxes, Thompson was aghast at her personal expenditure of ten pounds on a table at a local bazaar (although Max's recollection in his own memoir was that three pounds was the sum) and he took some two weeks to recover his temper over this 'extravagance'. After this though, he made frequent polite enquiries over the progress of the book, Lord Edgware Dies, which was dedicated to him and his wife. A skeleton found on the dig was named 'Lord Edgware'. A singular honour that Christie bestowed on the Thompsons was to read aloud the manuscript of the book to them, something that she normally only ever did to her family.
The blurb on the inside flap of the dustjacket of the first edition (which is also repeated opposite the title page) reads: "Supper at the Savoy! Hercule Poirot, the famous little detective, was enjoying a pleasant little supper party there as the guest of Lady Edgware, formerly Jane Wilkinson, a beautiful young American actress. During the conversation Lady Edgware speaks of the desirability of getting rid of her husband. Lord Edgware, since he refuses to divorce her, and she wants to marry the Duke of Merton. M. Poirot jocularly replies that getting rid of husbands is not his speciality. Within twenty-four hours, however, Lord Edgware dies. This amazing story once more reveals Agatha Christie as the perfect teller of Detective stories. It will be difficult indeed to lay down the book until one learns the true solution of the mystery."
- Czech: Smrt lorda Edgwarea (The Death of Lord Edgware)
- Dutch: Lord Edgware sterft (Lord Edgware Dies)
- German: Dreizehn bei Tisch (Thirteen at the Table)
- Hungarian: Az áruló szemüveg (The Glasses That Tell), Lord Edgware rejtélyes halála (The Mysterious Death of Lord Edgware), Lord Edgware meghal (Lord Edgware Dies)
- Italian: Se morisse mio marito (If My Husband Died)
- Russian: Смерть лорда Эджвера (=Smert' lorda Ejvera, Lord Edgware's Death), Смерть лорда Эдвера (=Smert' lorda Edvera, Lord Edware's Death)
- Spanish: La Muerte de Lord Edgware (The Death of Lord Edgware)
- French: Le couteau sur la nuque (The Knife on the Nape of the Neck)
- Indonesian: Matinya Lord Edgware (The Death of Lord Edgware)
- Romanian: 13 la cină (13 at Dinner)
- Finnish: Lordin kuolema (Death of the lord)
- Swedish: 13 vid bordet (Thirteen at the Table)
- Turkish: Lord Edgware'i kim öldürdü (Who killed Lord Edgware)
- Polish: Śmierć lorda Edgware'a (The Death of Lord Edgware)
- Japanese: エッジウェア卿の死 (The Death of Lord Edgware)