The Beresfords receive a professional visit from a smartly dressed young woman who introduces herself as Lois Hargreaves of Thurnly Grange, a house in the country. One week before, her household received a box of chocolates anonymously through the post. Not liking chocolates, she was the only one in the house who didn't sample the unexpected gift and consequently, she was the only one who wasn't taken ill afterwards. It has since been proven that the cause was arsenic poisoning and that this is the third occurrence in the area of such a gift and its after-effects. What perturbs Miss Hargreaves is that the paper in which the chocolates were wrapped was re-used from a previous parcel sent to the Grange, evidenced by a small doodle of three intertwined fish that she drew on it in a moment of abstraction after it had been used to wrap a parcel of silk stockings sent from London. The poisoner is therefore someone in her own home.
Miss Hargreaves is a rich heiress. She inherited her fortune from her aunt, a Lady Radclyffe, who post-deceased her husband, a self-made man. Lois lived with her aunt in her widowhood but she always made it clear to her niece that she intended to leave the bulk of her estate to Dennis Radclyffe, her late husband's nephew. However, when she had a violent quarrel with the young man she changed her will in favour of Lois who, in turn, has made a will leaving her money to Dennis. He lives at the Grange with her, as does Miss Logan, an old lady who is a distant cousin of Dennis and a former companion to Lady Radclyffe. The final member of the house, servants aside, is Mary Chilcott, an old schoolfriend of Lois. The servants are a cook and kitchenmaid, a parlourmaid called Esther and an elderly maid called Hannah.
The next day, by agreement with Lois, Tommy and Tuppence plan to travel down to the Grange but before they go they receive a shock – Lois is dead, killed by some unknown poison which also affected Dennis and Miss Logan who are both seriously ill. The cause is supposed to be fig paste in some sandwiches eaten by the three but not by Mary Chilcott who is unaffected. They meet Dr. Burton who is looking after the patients and who tells them that Dennis has now died as well but that he has not yet identified the poison used this time, however it was not arsenic. Investigating the matter, they discover that Dennis was out when the sandwiches were eaten for tea and it is supposed that he ate one on his return to the house. Tommy, however, finds that he was seen to drink a cocktail by one of the maids and manages to get hold of the glass before it is washed.
In speaking with everyone in the house, they meet Hannah, who appears to have undergone a religious mania, quoting scripture and bringing fire and brimstone on all concerned. She has in her possession a strange item – an old book by a man called Edward Logan on medicines and poisons which appears to have belonged to Miss Logan's father, a pioneer of serum therapeutics. They confirm this from the ill old lady, noting how she has a mass of small pinpricks on her arm.
They call at Dr. Burtons and find out that the poison has been identified as ricin and, from the entry in Edward Logan's old book, deduce that Miss Logan is the murderer. The pinpricks on her arm are from injections of small amounts of the poison she has been giving herself to build up immunity. As Dennis' next of kin she would inherit once he and Lois were dead. The near-mad Hannah, having previously suspected Miss Logan when she saw her reading the book and smiling to herself, hears this accusation and bursts into Miss Logan's room and attacks her, starting a fire in the process. Tommy stifles the flames but the shock of this event causes Miss Logan to die of a heart attack. Dr. Burton confirms that the cocktail glass also contained traces of Ricin.
- Tommy Beresford
- Tuppence Beresford
- Lois Hargreaves
- Lady Lucy Radclyffe
- Dennis Radclyffe
- Miss Logan
- Mary Chilcott
- Mrs Holloway, the cook
- Rose, the kitchen maid
- Esther Quant, a parlourmaid
- Hannah, a maid
- Dr Burton
- Edward Logan
For this case the Beresfords adopt the methods of Inspector Gabriel Hanaud, the great detective of the French Surete. Hanaud, who first appeared in a book in 1910, is the creation of Alfred Edward Woodley Mason (1865-1948). Hanaud’s style tends toward straightforward police detection. Tuppence’s role is to be his sidekick. In Mason’s novels the sidekick is Ricardo who is characteristically left in the dark until the last moment as to the solution of a case.
References or Allusions
References to other works
- In The House of Lurking Death, Hannah quotes a series of religious and personal threats. Direct quotes from the Bible and their sources are:
- • From Psalm 18: " I will follow upon mine enemies and overtake them, neither will I turn again till I have destroyed them"
- • From the Gospel of John, 3:8 " The wind bloweth where it listeth"
- • From Psalm 1: " The ungodly shall perish"
- • From Psalm 37: " But the wicked shall perish"
"The fire of the Lord shall consume them" is not a direct quote but resembles numerous lines throughout the Bible.
- Tommy's final line to Tuppence at the end of The House of Lurking Death ("'It is a great advantage to be intelligent and not to look it") is a quote from A. E. W. Mason's story At the Villa Rose (In the Christie story, Tommy assumes the roles of Mason's detective, M. Hanaud).
References to actual history, geography and current science
- In The House of Lurking Death, Lois Hargreaves admits to a habit of doodling a design of three intertwined fish. This design was used on the set of the collected works of Christie begun by William Collins in 1967 (but never completed) and this was approved by Christie in the spring of 1966 in discussions with the publishers. Although stated by some that the doodle was also a habit shared by Christie, it was apparently spotted by her in the bazaars of Baalbek when she visited there in the 1930s. The same design was used in the title sequence of the television series' Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime (see below) and Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1980).
This story was published by Collins in the collection Partners in Crime, 1929. It was adapted for radio in 1953, starring Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim. Both actors appeared in the stage play The Mousetrap at the time.