The Market Basing Mystery is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in The Sketch in October 1923 in the U.K. The story was published in the U.S. in The Blue Book Magazine in May 1925. 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.
Japp persuades Poirot and Hastings to spend a weekend in the country town of Market Basing. "Nobody knows us, and we know nobody," says Japp. "That's the idea." But even there, as Poirot tells them, "Le crime, il est partout (Crime is everywhere)."
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Poirot and Hastings, at the suggestion of Japp, have gone to stay with him for the weekend in the small countryside town of Market Basing. Sitting and enjoying Sunday breakfast, the three are interrupted when the local constable requests Japp's help with a problem. Walter Protheroe, the reclusive owner of a local large mansion, has been found dead inside his locked room.
The three go to Leigh House as requested and meet Dr Giles. Miss Clegg, the housekeeper, had called the doctor when she was unable to raise her master in his bedroom. Constable Pollard also arrived at the same moment and he and the doctor broke down the oak door. Inside they found Protheroe, shot through the head and his pistol clasped in his right hand. The problem is that the bullet wound is behind the left ear, and such a wound would have been impossible to inflict with a gun held in the right hand. As they examine the room Hastings is puzzled as to why Poirot sniffs the air so keenly and also why he examines so carefully a handkerchief lodged up Protheroe's right sleeve. Hastings can smell nothing in the air, nor can he see anything on the handkerchief.
The key is missing from the lock of the door and Japp supposes that this is the murderer's one big error in trying to make a murder look like suicide. Staying in the house are a couple called Parker who according to Miss Clegg have not stayed in the house before and whose arrival did not seem to please Protheroe. She knew that he kept a pistol, although she has not seen it for some time, but she cannot state why the windows of the room were locked and bolted when they were usually open at night.
The inquest takes place two days later and a tramp comes forward who states that he heard Protheroe and Parker rowing about money at midnight on the night of the death. It comes to light that Protheroe's true surname was Wendover; he had been involved with the treacherous sinking of a naval vessel some years earlier and Parker was blackmailing him over this. On the suspicion of killing Wendover and making it look like suicide, Parker is arrested.
At the inn, Poirot receives Miss Clegg who was summoned there by him. He has guessed that Wendover did in fact kill himself – but with his left hand holding the gun – and that Miss Clegg found him in the morning. In love with her employer and knowing Parker to be the cause, she changed the pistol to his right hand to throw suspicion on the blackmailer in an effort to bring him to some sort of justice; however, she neglected the change the handkerchief up the right sleeve over to the left sleeve as well. She locked and bolted the windows to prevent it looking like a potential murderer escaped by that method, therefore indicating that the murderer was someone in the house, but as the fireplace grate was full of smoked cigarettes, the air should not have been as fresh as it was, and Poirot deduced the windows of the room must have been open that night, otherwise the air would have smelled smoky and the tramp could not have overheard the conversation he did.
This short story was later expanded into the novella-length story Murder in the Mews. This longer locked room mystery features a very similar "suicide-made-to-look-like-murder" plot intended to frame the suicide victim's blackmailer with murder by the avenging framer knowingly placing the gun in the right hand of the left-handed corpse. The longer story takes place in London on Guy Fawkes night rather than in a country setting, and utilizes different clues to indicate the true left-handedness of the suicide victim.
- The beginning of the story has a detailed description of Japp's hobby as a botanist.
- This story is likely the first mention of the town of Market Basing which occurs on several other occasions, not always in the Poirot stories.
Agatha Christie published a novella Murder in the Mews in 1936. This used the same plot device about the death as in The Market Basing Mystery but with changes to the setting and characters. Murder in the Mews was adapted as a television film with David Suchet as Poirot as episode 2 of Series 1 of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 15 January 1989. As such, Market Basing was not adapted as the plot would have been too similar.
- 1923: The Sketch, Issue 1603 (London), 17 October 1923
- 1925: The Blue Book Magazine, Vol. 41 No. 1 (Chicago), May 1925
- 1951: The Under Dog 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
- 1973: Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, vol. 62 no. 5, whole no. 360, Nov 1973.