The King of Clubs is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Sketch in March 1923 in the U.K. The story was published in the U.S. in The Blue Book Magazine in November 1923. In 1951, the story appeared as part of the anthology The Underdog and Other Stories published in the U.S. In the U.K., the story was anthologized and published as part of Poirot's Early Cases in 1974.
Poirot and Hastings investigate the death of an impresario Henry Reedburn at the request of a foreign prince.
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Hercule Poirot and Hastings discuss a report of a death that appears in a newspaper. The Oglander family was playing bridge in the drawing room of their house in Streatham the previous night when the French windows burst open and a woman staggered in, blood on her dress. She managed to say, "Murder!" and then fell to the floor. The family fetched both a doctor and the police who called at the next-door villa and found the body of Henry Reedburn, the theatrical impresario, dead in the library with his skull split open by some unknown weapon. The woman has since been identified as the famous dancer, Valerie Saintclair.
In connection with the newspaper story, Poirot receives a visit from Prince Paul of Maurania, who hoped that the dancer would be his wife. In doing so he would be going against the snobbery and wishes of his imperial family but he has heard various stories of her origin, one of which is that her mother was a Russian grand duchess which Valerie has told Prince Paul happens to be true. Reedburn was in love with Valerie although his feelings were definitely not reciprocated. Prince Paul and Valerie saw a clairvoyant the previous week who turned over the king of clubs in her pack of cards and saw a man who threatened danger to her. The prince is afraid that Valerie interpreted this to mean Reedburn and attacked him.
Poirot and Hastings go to Streatham and first visit the scene of the crime. The library is on the ground floor and runs the length of one side of the house. At either end are curtained recesses with French windows, one to the garden and the other to the drive. It was in the recess facing the garden that Reedburn was found. The dead man had a female visitor that night that he let into the house himself but the servants didn't see who it was. Poirot sees a marble seat in the recess whose arm-ends are carved in the form of lions' heads and wonders if they could have caused the wound to Reedburn's head however the angle at which the body was lying and the lack of blood on the seat works against this theory.
From the French window, the Oglander home can be seen and the two visit there next, going by the garden path that was used by Miss Saintclair. In the drawing room, its walls covered with family portraits, the table with the cards for the interrupted bridge game is still in place. Miss Saintclair is still in the house, ill in bed. They are permitted to see her and she tells them that Reedburn held a secret of hers and threatened her but she did not kill him. She went to his house by prior appointment and was pleading with him when a man dressed like a tramp attacked him from behind the curtained recess. She fled from the house through the window and garden towards the lights of the Oglander house. Returning to the drawing room Poirot suddenly realises that the king of clubs is missing from the pack of cards on the bridge table and realises the mistake he made in drawing his own conclusion to the case. They return to Reedburn's house and in the curtained recess that leads to the drive they find a twin of the marble seat, again with lion's head arms but this one has a faint bloodstain on it. Poirot sees that Reedburn was killed at this end of the room and his body dragged to the recess facing the garden. He also has the missing king of clubs – it is in his pocket, he having taken it from the card box before he left the Oglander house. He returns there and assures Mrs. Oglander that the police will not find out what happened and he returns the playing card to her, telling her it was their only slip-up.
On the way back to their flat he reveals to Hastings what happened: no bridge game was taking place and this was hurriedly set up after the event as an alibi for the four members of the family but by mistake one card was left in the box. The son of the family killed Reedburn when he went with Valerie to plead with the blackmailer, presumably when things escalated into violence. The reason for this support is that she is the estranged daughter of the Oglander family, the resemblance being obvious from the portraits in the drawing room. Despite the breach in the relationship, she turned to them in her moment of need and they assisted. Her story of the tramp will stand and she is free to marry Prince Paul. It is one of the few cases (aside from Murder on the Orient Express) in which Poirot allows a guilty party to avoid punishment, particularly when there is a dead body involved.
- Hercule Poirot
- Captain Hastings
- Henry Reedburn
- Valerie Saintclair
- Prince Paul of Maurania
- Dr Ryan
- John Oglander Sr.
- John Oglander Jr.
- Mrs Oglander
- Miss Oglander
References in other works
- Prince Paul and his new wife are mentioned in Chapter 11 of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
Agatha Christie's Poirot
A television film with David Suchet as Poirot was produced as episode 9 of Series 1 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 12 March 1989. The adaptation is faithful to the premise of the original story but with some embellishments.
- 1923 The Sketch, Issue 1573 (London), 21 March 1923 (as The Adventure of the King of Clubs)
- 1923 The Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 38 No. 1 (Chicago), November 1923
- 1951 The Underdog and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1951, Hardback, 248 pp
- 1974, Poirot's Early Cases, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1974, Hardcover, 256 pp; ISBN 0-00-231312-X