The Idol House of Astarte is a short story written by Agatha Christie and first published in The Royal Magazine in January 1928 in the UK. In the U.S., the story was first published in Detective Story Magazine in June 1928. It is the second short story of the Tuesday Night Club story arc.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
The second meeting of the Tuesday Night Club is the following week and it is the turn of Dr Pender to tell his story. His tale is one where a man was struck down by "no human agency" and took place at a house on the edge of Dartmoor called "Silent Grove" which was newly purchased by Sir Richard Haydon, an old college friend of his. Dr Pender was invited to a house party there where they were joined by seven other people including a striking society beauty called Diana Ashley. Sir Richard was much attracted to her, as were most of the other men in the party and she bewitched them all in turn. On the moor outside the house were several relics of the stone age and within the grounds of the house was a grove of trees which Sir Richard fancied was an authentic grove of Astarte, in the centre of which he had built a rough temple in the form of a stone summerhouse. Diana Ashley was enthused enough by the grove and the structure it contained to wildly suggest a moonlit orgy to the goddess of the Moon, a suggestion which, unsurprisingly, was vetoed by Dr Pender and some of the others, part of their objection being a feeling of evil that the setting provoked in their imaginations.
Toned down to a fancy dress party, Diana's suggestion was accepted by the others to take place that night and preparations happily took place. Diana's shapeless dress, titled 'the unknown' disappointed the group for its lack of imagination and during the party she disappeared, last being seen heading towards the grove. The others followed and found her in her true costume, magnificently adorned in the moonlight as a priestess of Astarte. She warned the others not to approach but Sir Richard did and promptly collapsed on the ground. Upon being examined by his cousin, Elliot and then Dr. Symonds, they found that he was dead, killed by a stab to the heart but no one was seen to approach him and no one weapon was on the grassy floor. They take the body into the house and the police were called. Not satisfied, Elliot went back alone to the grove to investigate further and later the others found him struck down in the same spot with a knife wound in his shoulder and the knife in his hand. His story was one of seeing an illusion of the goddess and then being struck down himself. The knife was identified as one dug up from a barrow on the moor which was kept in Sir Richard's house. The police suspected Diana but had no proof or explanation as to how she committed the crime.
The members of the Tuesday Club debate possible solutions between them and it is Miss Marple who hits on the correct one: although she does not know what caused Sir Richard to stumble – possibly a trip over a tree root – it was his cousin Elliot, who quickly stabbed him in the pretence of examining him and the knife was hidden as part of his fancy dress costume. Dr Pender confirms that five years later, Elliot wrote to him on the eve of an expedition to the South Pole admitting the crime and the torment he has suffered since. His motive was love for Diana Ashley and by killing his cousin he both removed a rival and inherited his riches. He hoped to atone for his guilt by dying honourably and the clergyman confirms that he did so in the end. Although Dr Pender has disguised the names, Sir Henry has recognized the case and the persons involved.
- Miss Jane Marple
- Dr Pender
- Joyce Lemprière
- Henry Clithering
- Mr Petherick
- Raymond West
- Old Mr Smithers
- Johnny Carslake
- Mrs Carslake
- Mr Burden
- Sir Richard Haydon
- Elliot Haydon
- Lady Mannering
- Violet Mannering
- Captain Rogers
- Mrs Rogers
- Dr Symonds
- Diana Ashley
- Lady Sharpley
- Jack Baynes
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
- 1928: The Royal Magazine (London), issue 351 January 1928 - with illustrations by Gilbert Wilkinson.
- 1928: Detective Story Magazine (New York), Vol. 101 Number 6, 9 June 1928 - as "The Solving Six and the Evil Hour"
- 1930: Hush, vol. 1 no. 6, Nov 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
- 1933: Great Detective, vol. 2 no. 3, Sep 1933.
- 1965: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 46 no. 3, whole no. 262, Sep 1965, as "The 'Supernatural Murder'".