The Four Suspects is a short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in issue 276 (April 1930) of The Story-Teller magazine in the UK. In the U.S., the story was first published in Pictorial Review in January 1930. It is the ninth short story of the Tuesday Night Club story arc.

In 1932, the story was gathered and published as part of the short story collection The Thirteen Problems.

Synopsis

At the dinner party hosted by Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife everybody takes turns to present a mystery. The third mystery is narrated by Sir Henry Clithering. It involves an unsolved murder with four suspects. It demonstrates that innocence is more important than guilt as three of the suspects have had to live under a shadow of unjustified suspicion.

Plot summary

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Sir Henry Clithering tells his story but it is one where he does not have the solution, only a puzzle where there are four suspects, three of who are therefore as much victims as the real victim in that they are under constant suspicion. It concerns a German secret society, the Schwartze Hand, started after the war and who were similar in their methods and objectives to the Camorra. A Dr Rosen, prominent in secret service work, penetrated the organisation and managed to bring about its downfall. Despite this success, he was a marked man and came to England, living in a cottage in Somerset fully expecting to be murdered one day. His household consisted of his niece Greta, an old servant called Gertrude, a local gardener called Dobbs and Dr Rosen's secretary, Charles Templeton, who Clithering reveals was one of his men, put in the house to keep an eye on things but now even he was not totally above suspicion.

The tragedy occurred when Dr Rosen was found at the bottom of the stairs, possibly having fallen down, possibly having been pushed. The doors of the house had been locked. All four suspects were out. They each had their own keys but none could produce an alibi for the time of the death. In addition, no strangers were seen in the vicinity where they would easily have stood out and been spotted, therefore one of the four must be guilty. One puzzle is how the killer received their instructions. The only people to come to the house that day were the butcher, the grocer's assistant and the postman. The latter brought several letters for various members of the house including a gardening catalogue and a letter for Charles Templeton which appeared to have been sent from relatives in Germany and which he soon ripped up and threw away. Of the letters that the police were able to examine, the strangest was one addressed to Dr Rosen himself which was addressed by someone called Georgine and speaks of several people who Dr Rosen had never heard of. Sir Henry shows the group the letter and Miss Marple wonders why the word "Honesty" which appears in the middle of a sentence is spelt with a capital letter.

Three months after the death of her uncle, Greta Rosen went back to Germany but not before seeing Sir Henry and asking him to confirm that Charles was above suspicion. They were attracted to each other but now there was a cloud of suspicion between them. Regrettably, Sir Henry was unable to do so.

Miss Marple, with Mrs Bantry's help, come to the solution quite quickly. It was something that Sir Henry, not being a gardener, would not have noticed. The letter to Dr Rosen mentioned several names: Dr Helmut Spath, Edgar Jackson, Amos Perry, Tsingtau. Finally, the word "Honesty" in a sentence had been spelled with an upper case "H". Mrs Bantry recognised these as all names of types of Dahlias. And the first letter of each name when put together spelt out "DEATH". This was the instruction from the secret society to kill Dr Rosen. Very cleverly, it was sent to Dr Rosen himself. After getting a letter from someone he didn't know, he would naturally give it to the other people at the breakfast table to read, one being Charles, the secretary but also his niece. Miss Marple ruled out Templeton--if he was the guilty one, he would never have kept the letter. The killer was Greta. Her visit to Sir Henry to try and clear Charles' name was all along intended to have the opposite effect--to make him suspect Templeton. Sir Henry admitted that his suspicions about the secretary started from then.

Miss Marple also remembered that her German governess from her childhood had taught her the language of flowers. "Georgine" is German for dahlia and that dahlias are symbolic for "Treachery and Misrepresentation". In conclusion, Miss Marple asks Sir Henry to write to the servant Gertrude to tell her that her innocence had been established beyond dispute. Of all the suspects, she would have suffered the most as old people became embittered very easily, especially after having served Dr Rosen faithfully for so many years and now having to live under suspicion. As for Greta, Miss Marple predicts that she will come to a miserable end.

Characters

Locations

Research notes

  • Miss Marple mentions here that she had a sister.

Film, TV, or theatrical versions

Publication history

  • 1930 The Story-Teller Magazine (London), issue 276 April 1930
  • 1930 Pictorial Review (New York), Vol. 31 No. 4, January 1930, illustrated by De Alton Valentine
  • 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
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