The Hollow is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1946 and in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in November of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition at eight shillings and sixpence (8/6). A paperback edition in the US by Dell books in 1954 changed the title to Murder After Hours.
The novel is a fine example of a "country house mystery" and was the first of her novels in four years to feature Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot—one of the longest gaps in the entire series. Christie, who often admitted that she did not like Poirot (a fact parodied by her recurring novelist character Ariadne Oliver), particularly disliked his appearance in this novel. His late arrival, jarring, given the established atmosphere, led Christie to claim in her Autobiography that she "ruined [her own novel] by the introduction of Poirot".
On the morning that he and his downtrodden wife, Gerda, are due to travel down to the country to weekend with friends, Dr John Christow, a successful physician and leading researcher, allows his little daughter to tell his fortune with cards. When the death card is drawn, he pays no attention, but the appearance of an old flame at The Hollow seems to be the final link in a chain of fatal circumstances.
The eccentric Lucy Angkatell has invited the Christows, along with a number of other members of her extended family, to her and Sir Richard's estate for a weekend. John Christow, a successful doctor and researcher, is already having an affair with Henrietta Savernake, a talented sculptor and, as is demonstrated by what follows, brilliant improviser. He has always remembered with nostalgia an early love, Veronica Cray, who suddenly appears in the house on Saturday night asking to borrow a box of matches. She is living at one of the two nearby cottages, the other of which is currently occupied by Hercule Poirot, who has been invited for lunch on Sunday. Veronica and John go off together, and he returns much too late: at 3 a.m. The next day, Poirot arrives at the house to witness a scene that seems strangely staged. Gerda Christow is standing with a gun in her hand above the body of John, who is bleeding into the swimming pool. Standing, seemingly transfixed, are Lucy, Henrietta, and Edward, a cousin of Lucy. John's last word, in a note of urgent appeal, is "Henrietta".
It seems cut and dried that Gerda is the murderess, but in taking the revolver from her hand Henrietta apparently fumbles and drops it into the swimming pool, destroying any evidence. Later, however, it is discovered that the pistol that Gerda had been holding was not the pistol with which John had been shot. None of the witnesses has actually seen Gerda shoot John, and it seems difficult to build a case against any of the other potential suspects. At first Lucy herself seems to be a strong suspect, when it is discovered that she had kept a pistol concealed in her basket of eggs, but the pistol seems to be of the wrong calibre. Henrietta is also implicated, not least by the leaving of an unusual doodle in the pavilion, apparently at the time that John had been killed. When the murder weapon turns up in Poirot's hedge, it has fingerprints on it that match none of the suspects.
These are all pieces of deliberate misdirection on the part of the family. They know in fact that Gerda is indeed the murderess, and are attempting to avoid her imprisonment. As it happens, the murder, with a motive of jealousy, was planned, in that she had taken with her two pistols, planning to be discovered with a pistol in her hands that would later be discovered to be the wrong weapon. Henrietta, who says that John asked her to help Gerda when he said her name, destroys the evidence of the first weapon instinctively, and later goes back and retrieves the second weapon. She hides it in a clay sculpture of a horse in her workshop, then gets it handled by a blind match-seller, and places it in Poirot's hedge.
There is a romantic subplot in the novel. Midge Hardcastle, a less affluent relative of the Angkatells who is also staying at the house, is in love with Edward, but Edward has always been in love with Henrietta and Henrietta had refused several times his marriage proposals. Besides, she is now deeply in love with John Christow. During the course of the novel, Edward realises that Henrietta is not anymore the Henrietta he used to love and begins to stop seeing Midge as "little Midge". Therefore, he asks her to marry him. During a walk to an area where Edward has walked with Henrietta, Midge believes that he is too deeply in love with Henrietta still, and she calls off the wedding. Edward who does not know that she loves him, misunderstands her decision and later that night, he attempts suicide by putting his head in a gas oven but he is saved by Midge. With this rather dramatic proof of his need for her, she relents and the wedding is on again.
With all the evidence apparently destroyed, the family believe that they have saved Gerda, but there is one final clue: the holster in which the murder weapon was kept. Gerda cut this up and placed it in her workbag. When Henrietta attempts to retrieve it to destroy the final means of proving Gerda's guilt, Poirot arrives and prevents her from drinking poisoned tea that the now cornered and untrusting Gerda brewed, apparently willing to kill Henrietta who knows her secret despite the latter's help, or perhaps out of anger for Henrietta's affair with John. Gerda herself accidentally drinks the poisoned tea, escaping earthly justice. Henrietta ends the story by visiting in hospital one of John's patients who now has little hope of a cure but still shows a resilient spirit. Leaving the hospital, she reflects that there is no happy end for her, but she resolves to embark on a sculpture of herself as "Grief".
Characters in The Hollow
- Hercule Poirot, renowned Belgian detective
- Inspector Grange, the investigating officer
- Sergeant Clark, a policeman in the case
- Dr John Christow, a Harley Street doctor. He is passionate about his work and dedicates himself to finding a cure for "Ridgeway's disease" - the aetiology of which bears a marked resemblance to multiple sclerosis. He is very self-confident, attractive, and has great charisma.
- Gerda Christow, John's wife. She is rather plain and stupid. She worries about everything. She idealises John, and blames herself for her problems, even when he is wrong. She inspired a sculpture by Henrietta called "The Worshipper", which is described as being frightening as it has no face.
- Sir Henry Angkatell, the owner of The Hollow.
- Edward Angkatell, a distant cousin of Henry and entailee of the family's beloved house, Ainswick. He has charm but is overshadowed by Christow's dominant personality. He lives in the past and has been devoted to Henrietta for many years. He despises himself, thinking he is good for nothing.
- Lucy, Lady Angkatell, Henry's wife, whose sociable, charismatic veneer hides a dark side to her personality, occasionally glimpsed by her family.
- Midge Hardcastle, Lucy's young cousin. Only partly related to the Angkatell family, she refuses financial aid from them and works in a dressmaker's shop.
- David Angkatell, a student. Bookish, anti-social, and possessor of "modern" ideas regarding the working class. He tries to express an air of superiority.
- Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor. She always knows the right words to say to make someone feel comfortable, albeit sometimes at the expense of the truth. Her art is the core of her being, which, at times, conflicts with her second important characteristic. She loves John Christow more than life itself yet abets his killer because she thinks he would have wanted her to do so, under the circumstances.
- Veronica Cray, an actress. She is very beautiful and abnormally egotistical. She wanted Christow to abandon everything to follow her to Hollywood, but he rejected her; she found this unbearable. However, Christow is still attracted to her and, it is implied, had a one-night stand with her, which triggered Gerda's jealousy.
- Gudgeon, the butler.
- Beryl Collins, John's secretary.
- Mrs Crabtree, a patient of John's, a victim of Ridgeway's Disease.
- Terence, John and Gerda's twelve-year-old son; perceptive, observant, analytical, curious and lonely.
- Zena, John and Gerda's nine-year-old daughter.
- The Careys, aqcuaintances of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy. They were invited to lucnh, but that had to be posponed due to the murder of Dr Christow.
Literary significance and reception
Maurice Richardson, in the 1 December 1946 issue of The Observer wrote: "Agatha Christie has staged, against her smartest, most hyperemotional background so far, the shooting of a philandering doctor. Solution by a rather subdued Poirot. Good double-bluff surprise."
Robert Barnard: "Notable specimen, with more complex characterization than usual, and occasionally rising to wit (especially on the subject of cooking). Illustrates vividly one dilemma of the detective writer: if you establish characters of some psychological complexity, how do you prevent the routine detection stuff coming as an anticlimax? Christie records that her daughter protested against her decision to dramatize the book, and the instinct was probably right: most of the interest here, unusually, is internal, and difficult to present via Christie's rather old-fashioned stage techniques. Definitely among the top ten, in spite of the falling-off in the second half."
Modern French novelist Michel Houellebecq, an admirer of the book, described it in his 2001 novel Platform as "a strange, poignant book; these are deep waters [she writes about], with powerful undercurrents."
References or Allusions
References to other works
Lady Angkatell quotes a line from the poem Discontent by the American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919):
- If apes had been content with tails.
Henrietta Savernake quotes a line from the poem Creature Comforts by the English poet Harry Graham (1874-1936):
- The days passed slowly one by one.
- I fed the ducks, reproved my wife,
- played Händels Largo on the fife,
- And took the dog a run.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Christie adapted the book into a highly successful stage play in 1951 but omitted Poirot from the narrative.
In 2004, the novel was broadcast as a television movie featuring David Suchet as Poirot, Sarah Miles as Lady Angkatell, Megan Dodds as Henrietta Savernake, Jonathan Cake as John Christow, Lysette Anthony as Veronica Cray and Edward Fox as Gudgeon, as part of the series Agatha Christie's Poirot.
The character of David Angkateel and some details are omitted; for example, the drawing of the card representing death. Others -- such as the dénouement involving poisoned tea -- are altered (Gerda instead deliberately commits suicide by injecting herself with potassium cyanide), and John Christow is made so unsympathetic that one feels complete sympathy for Gerda. But overall this adaptation is much more faithful to the book on which it is based than are some of the later episodes in the series.
- 1946, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1946, Hardback, 279 pp
- 1946, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1946, Hardback, 256 pp
- 1948, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback (Pocket number 485)
- 1950, Pan Books, Paperback, 239 pp (Pan number 119)
- 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
- 1974, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 431 pp ISBN 0-85456-301-6
The US serialisation of this story was a four-part shortened version in Collier's Weekly between 4 May (Volume 117, Number 18) and 25 May 1946 (Volume 117, Number 21) under the title of The Outraged Heart with illustrations by Mario Cooper.
- Czech: Poslední víkend (The Last Weekend)
- Dutch: De Laagte (The Hollow)
- French: Le Vallon (The Small Valley)
- German: Das Eulenhaus (The Owl House)
- Hungarian: Hétvégi gyilkosság (Weekend Murder)
- Italian: Poirot e la salma (Poirot and the Dead Body)
- Japanese: ホロー荘の殺人 (Murder in The Hollow)
- Polish: Niedziela na wsi (Sunday in the Countryside)
- Portuguese (Brazil): A Mansão Hollow (The Hollow Mansion)
- Portuguese (Portugal): Poirot, o Teatro e a Morte (Poirot, Theatre and Death)
- Spanish: Sangre en la Piscina (Blood in the Swimming Pool)