Motive v. Opportunity is a short story written by Agatha Christie and first published in The Royal Magazine in April 1928 in the UK. In the U.S., the story was first published in Detective Story Magazine in June 1928. It is the fifth short story of the Tuesday Night Club story arc.
In 1932, the story was gathered and published as the fifth story of the short story collection The Thirteen Problems. It is preceded by The Blood-Stained Pavement and followed by The Thumb Mark of St. Peter.
At the fifth meeting of the Tuesday Night Club, Mr Petherick presents a mystery involving a tampered will. The persons who had the opportunity to do the deed did not have the motive as the will favoured them. On the other hand, the people with the motive did not have the opportunity.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Mr Petherick tells his story which has a legal background. A client of his, who he calls Simon Clode, was a wealthy man who had one son who was killed in the First World War and left an orphaned granddaughter who in turn died when she was a child, leaving the old man bereft and grief-stricken. A brother of his had also recently died and his three children, Grace, Mary and George – all grown-up by the time of the story - came to live with Simon. His will left his estate to these three in equal shares. Grace married but lived nearby with her husband, Philip. George found employment in a bank while Mary stayed behind to care for Simon. The old man still pined for his granddaughter and found himself under the influence of an American spiritualist, Mrs Eurydice Spragg, and her husband, Absalom. Mrs Spragg conducted many séances which resulted in Simon Clode 'contacting' his granddaughter and the Spraggs were virtually resident in the house.
Alarmed by this, Mr Petherick visited his client and then suggested to Grace's husband, Philip, that a noted professor on the subject of spiritualism be invited to the house and be witness to several of the séances. This happened with the results that the professor stated that the Spraggs were frauds. At hearing this, Simon Clode threw Philip out of the house in a fit of anger. The old man then fell ill and was obviously near death. He instructed Petherick to attend him to draw up a new will leaving five thousand pounds to each of his nieces and nephews and the greater part to the Spraggs. As the old man lay in his bed, Petherick tried to dissuade Clode against the terms of the new will but to no avail. Two servants were summoned, instructed to fetch a pen and witness the will which Clode wrote out himself and then gave to Petherick for safekeeping.
After this part of the business had been concluded, Petherick went downstairs for tea and to help George Clode with some matters to do with the estate. During this period, Petherick left his overcoat where only Mrs Spragg could have gained access to the envelope with the will in it. Petherick took it to his office where he was soon visited by Mr Spragg who was left alone with the will for a few moments.
Two months later, Clode died. When the will was opened, the sheet was blank. Petherick's problem was that Mrs Spraggs had the opportunity to change the will, but the will was already in her favour. So she had the opportunity but no motive. Whereas George had the motive but no opportunity, as when he had access to the will Mr. Petherick was present there. So he had motive but no opportunity. Miss Marple again guesses the solution when she compares the actions to those of Tommy Symonds – a local mischievous boy. The pen that was used to write out the will contained a solution of starch in water with a few drops of iodine in it (disappearing ink). Petherick confirms that Philip confessed as much in a guarded conversation he had with him a month later. The house servants were told which pen to fetch for Simon Clode if it looked like he was going to be signing a legal form and they complied with the instructions. The three children gained their rightful inheritance.
- Jane Marple
- Raymond West
- Joyce Lemprière
- Henry Clithering
- Dr Pender
- Mr Petherick
- Simon Clode
- Christobel Clode
- Grace Garrod
- Mary Clode
- George Clode
- Philip Garrod
- Mrs Eurydice Spragg
- Absalom Spragg
- Tommy Symmonds
- Professor Longman
Tropes and themes
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple
NHK produced an anime adaptation of the story as episode 27 of their Japanese anime series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple with the same title: Motive v. Opportunity. The episode was broadcast in 2004 and features Miss Marple and her great niece Mabel West.
- 1928: The Royal Magazine (London), issue 354 April 1928 - with illustrations by Gilbert Wilkinson
- 1928: Detective Story Magazine (New York), Volume 102 Number 3, 30 June 1928 - as "Where's the Catch?"
- 1931: Hush, vol. 2 no. 10, Mar 1931.
- 1932: The Thirteen Problems/The Tuesday Club Murders
- 1932: Collins Crime Club (London), June 1932, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1933: Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1933, Hardcover, 253 pp
- 1943: Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 8)
- 1953: Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 929), 224 pp (under slightly revised title of Miss Marple and the Thirteen Problems)
- 1958: Avon Books (New York), Paperback (Avon number T245)
- 1961: Pan Books, Paperback (Great Pan G472), 186 pp
- 1963: Dell Books (New York), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1965: Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1968: Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 207 pp ISBN 0-85456-475-6
- 1972: Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 222 pp
- 1973: Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 222 pp
- 2005: Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1932 UK first edition), September 12, 2005, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-720843-X
- 1966: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 47 no. 3, whole no. 268, Mar 1966.