The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman is a short story written by Agatha Christie, which was first published in The Sketch in October 1923 in the U.K. The story was published in the U.S. in The Blue Book Magazine in December 1924 as "The Italian Nobleman". In 1924 also, the story appeared as part of the anthology Poirot Investigates.
Poirot and Hastings are having dinner with a friend Dr Hawker when the doctor receives an urgent message from his housekeeper. Count Foscatini, a patient, has called asking for help. "They've killed me!" he had said.
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Poirot and Hastings are in their rooms enjoying the company of a near neighbour, Dr Hawker, when the medical man's housekeeper, Miss Rider, arrives with a message that a client, Count Foscatini, has rung him up crying out for help. Poirot and Hastings join the doctor as he rushes round to Foscatini's flat in Regent's Court. The lift attendant there is unaware of any problems, saying that Graves, the Count's man, left half an hour earlier with no indication of anything wrong.
The flat is locked but the manager of the building opens it for them. Inside, they find a table set for three people with the meals finished. The Count is alone and dead – his head crushed in by a small marble statue. Poirot is interested in what remains on the table. He then questions the kitchen staff at the top of the building who outline the meal served and what dirty plates were passed up to them. Poirot seems especially interested in the fact that little of the side dish and none of the dessert were eaten, while the main course was consumed entirely. He also points out that after crying out for help on the phone, the man seemed to replace the receiver.
The police arrive at the flat together with the return of the valet, Graves. He tells them how Foscatini was first visited by the two dinner guests on the previous day. They were both Italian; a man in his forties by the name of Count Ascanio and a man of about twenty-four years of age. Graves listened into their first conversation and heard threats uttered. The Count invited the two men to dinner the next evening and unexpectedly gave Graves the night off after dinner and the port had been served. Ascanio is quickly arrested but Poirot speaks of three points of interest: the coffee was very black, the side dish and dessert were relatively untouched, and the curtains were not drawn. The Italian ambassador provides an alibi for Ascanio which leads people to suspect a diplomatic cover-up and Ascanio himself denies knowing Foscatini.
Poirot invites Ascanio for a talk. He tells Ascanio that he knows Foscatini was a blackmailer and that Ascanio's morning appointment was to pay him off. Ascanio is confident as he has already been discharged, but Poirot threatens him not with the law but with publicity. Ascanio breaks down and admits Foscatini had been blackmailing a personage in Italy. Ascanio had come to see Foscatini accompanied by a junior embassy official. They paid him and retrieved the compromising documents. They did not come the next day at dinner time.
After Ascanio leaves, Poirot tells Hastings the solution: Graves was the killer. He overheard the monetary transaction and realised that Ascanio couldn't admit to the full relationship with Foscatini. The dead man had no dinner guests. Graves killed him when he was alone, then ordered dinner for three and ate as much of the food as he could; after consuming the three main courses, though, he could only eat a little of the side and no dessert. He even drank coffee and smoked cigars to carry out the illusion. Coffee was served for three (and supposedly drunk), but Foscatine's brilliant white teeth shows that he never drank such staining substances. Finally, the open curtains show that Graves left the flat before night fell and not after, which would not have happened if Graves' account were true. Poirot is proven right when Japp is told of the theory and investigates.
- Hercule Poirot
- Captain Hastings
- Inspector Japp
- Dr Hawker
- Miss Rider
- Count Foscatini
- Signor Paolo Ascanio
References to other works
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Poirot
A television film with David Suchet as Poirot was produced as episode 5 of Series 5 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 14 February 1993. The adaptation is fairly faithful to the original story.
- 1923 The Sketch, Issue 1600 (London), 26 September 1923
- 1924 Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 40 No. 2, December 1924 (as "The Italian Nobleman")
- 1924 Poirot Investigates, Bodley Head (London), 1924
- 1925 Poirot Investigates, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1925