The Listerdale Mystery is a short story, written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the Grand Magazine in December 1925. In the U.K. the story was subsequently collected and published as part of the anthology The Listerdale Mystery which came out in 1934. In the U.S. the story was not published in any collection until 1971 when it came out as part of The Golden Ball and Other Stories.
Mrs St Vincent, a genteel lady in reduced circumstances, lives out her life with her two children in a boarding house. Then one day she spots a newspaper advertisement for a luxurious town house going for a nominal rent. Her son is suspicious. There must be a mystery behind this. Perhaps someone was murdered there?
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Mrs St. Vincent is a genteel lady living in reduced circumstances with her son and daughter, Rupert and Barbara. After her husband's financial speculations went wrong, he died and they were forced to vacate the house, which had been in their family for generations. They now live in rooms in a boarding house, which has seen better times and, due to these surroundings, are unable to entertain people of similar class and upbringing. Rupert has just started a job in the city with excellent prospects but at this moment in time, only a small income. Barbara had enjoyed a trip to Egypt the previous winter with, and paid for by, her richer cousin where she met a young man called Jim Masterson who is interested in courting her but who would be put off if he saw their circumstances. Looking through the Morning Post, Mrs St. Vincent sees an advert for a house for rent in Westminster, furnished and with a nominal rent. Although she thinks she has little chance of being able to afford the house she goes to see the house agents and then the house itself and is instantly taken with it and pleasantly surprised at its very low rent. The agents offer her the house for a six-month rental. Barbara is delighted but Rupert is suspicious – the house belonged to Lord Listerdale who disappeared eighteen months previously and supposedly turned up in East Africa, supplying his cousin, Colonel Carfax with power of attorney. They take the house and are looked after in style by Quentin, the butler, whose wages are paid for by Lord Listerdale's estate, as are the wages of the two other servants. Delicious food regularly turns up on the table, which has been sent up regularly from his Lordship's country seat of King's Cheviot – an old custom.
After three month's Mrs St. Vincent is very happy in the house and Jim has proposed to Barbara. Rupert still entertains his suspicions and is somewhat convinced that Listerdale is not in Africa but has perhaps been murdered and his body is hidden in the house. Rupert also suspects Quentin of being part of whatever plot has occurred. Rupert goes on a motorcycling holiday, which takes him near to King's Cheviot. Spotting someone like Quentin, he questions the man who tells him he is really called Quentin, was butler to Lord Listerdale but retired on a pension to an estate cottage some time before. Rupert brings the real butler to London and confronts the fake. The real butler tells an astonished St. Vincent family that the fake is in fact Lord Listerdale himself. His Lordship tells them that ashamed with his selfish life to date, he faked his relocation to Africa and he since spent his time helping people like the St. Vincents who have been reduced to something akin to begging in their life. Over the past few months, he has grown in love with Mrs St. Vincent and now proposes marriage to the delighted lady.
- Mrs St. Vincent
- Rupert St. Vincent
- Barbara St. Vincent
- Jim Masterson
- Lord Listerdale
- Colonel Maurice Carfax
- Samuel Lowe
Film, TV, theatrical or other media adaptations
The short story has never been adapted for media.
- 1925: The Grand Magazine, issue 250, December 1925 as "The Benevolent Butler".
- 1934: The Listerdale Mystery, William Collins and Sons (London), June 1934.
- 1953: MacKill's Mystery Magazine, vol. 2 no. 5, Jul 1953.
- 1953: MacKill's Mystery Magazine (US), vol. 2 no. 5, Sep 1953.
- 1971: The Golden Ball and Other Stories, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1971