The Herb of Death is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in issue 275 (March 1930) of The Story-Teller magazine in the UK. It is the eleventh 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.
At the dinner party hosted by Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife everybody takes turns to present a mystery. It's Mrs Bantry's turn. In her mystery everyone at a dinner party falls sick when foxglove is mixed into sage leaves used in the stuffing of a duck. Only one person dies. How was this arranged?
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
A reluctant Mrs Bantry is prevailed upon to take her turn. She relates how she and her husband were guests at of Sir Ambrose Bercy at his house at Clodderham Court. Sage leaves were picked from the garden for dinner that night but unfortunately foxglove was growing among the sage and they too were included in the stuffing for the meal of duck. All of the people at dinner were ill but one of them – Sir Ambrose’s ward, Sylvia Keene – died. The inquest heard that death was due to poisoning by digitalis.
Among the party was a young man called Jerry Lorimer who was engaged to Sylvia, to the opposition of Sir Ambrose but after a year of the engagement he had given in. Also there was Maud Wye, supposedly a friend of Jerry’s but Mrs Bantry had seen Jerry kissing her one evening. Six months after Sylvia’s death, the two were married.
Dr. Lloyd is puzzled as a fatal poisoning by the use of foxglove leaves – if it was an accident – is difficult to achieve; the alkaloid has to be extracted with great care and Sir Henry latches onto the main problem of the case, that being how do you ensure that only your victim dies if you poison everyone, including yourself (assuming the murderer to be one of the house party)?
It was Sylvia herself who picked the foxglove leaves and Dr Lloyd wonders if the intended victim was Sir Ambrose who was prescribed drugs for his heart condition. Miss Marple latches onto this clue and finds the solution – Sir Ambrose’s drug was digitalin. He planted the foxglove seed among the sage a long time before and mild poisoning ensued at the dinner party but somehow he fed his ward further doses at the same from his own drug thereby killing her but making it look like an accident. The motive was jealousy – he was in love with his ward and determined that she wouldn’t marry Lorimer. Mrs Bantry confirms that she received a letter from Sir Ambrose after he died, to be posted onto her in the event of his death, in which he confessed the crime.
- Jane Marple
- Dolly Bantry
- Arthur Bantry
- Dr. Lloyd
- Sir Ambrose Bercy
- Sylvia Keene
- Jerry Lorimer
- Maud Wye
- Mr Curle
- Mrs Adelaide Carpenter
- Mrs MacArthur
- Mrs Troomie
- Martin Bercy
- Mr Badger
- St Mary Mead
- Clodderham Court
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
- 1930 The Story-Teller Magazine (London), issue 275 March 1930
- 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