The Yellow Jasmine Mystery is a short story by Agatha Christie which was first published in issue 1619 of The Sketch on 6 February 1924. It was the sixth of a series of connected stories to be published in the magazine under the series title "The Man who was Number Four: Further Adventures of M. Poirot". In January 1927, the stories in the series were woven together with minor changes and some additional connecting paragraphs and then published in novel form as The Big Four. Later the same year, in August 1927, the story was published in The Blue Book Magazine.
The short story formed the basis for chapters 9 and 10 of The Big Four ("The Yellow Jasmine Mystery" and "We investigate at Croftlands").
Poirot helps Japp investigate the death of one Mr Paynter. At first it looks like Poirot's first case for a long time that is unrelated to "The Big Four", until they learn that Paynter had been writing a book The Hidden Hand in China. Near his body was a piece of newspaper where Paynter had scrawled the words "yellow jasmine" and two lines which look like the beginning of a figure "4".
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
A month after the events in In the House of the Enemy, Inspector Japp tells Poirot he might be interested in the death of one Mr Paynter. Paynter was a globetrotter who was seldom in England but had recently settled in the town of Market Handford, Worcestershire with his nephew Gerald Paynter. He maintained a large household with six servants as well as a Chinese personal servant Ah Ling.
One evening, Paynter felt ill after a meal and a Doctor Quentin was called. Quentin was new to the area, being a locum for the regular Dr Bolitho. He gave Paynter a hypodermic injection and then left. According to housekeeper, Quentin had asked many strange questions about the servants, who they were and where they came from. Next morning, Paynter was found the next morning in the living room locked from the inside, dead. It seemed that he had fallen off his chair and into the gas fire and his face was badly burned. Near the body was a newspaper. Paynter had dipped his finger in ink and written "yellow jasmine" on it, and had drawn two lines at right angles under the words, a sign similar to the beginning of the number 4. The key was found near the door and the window was unlatched.
At the inquest, there was some opinions that Dr Quentin's carelessness was to blame. However he also had something startling to reveal. Paynter was not feeling ill at all but had felt that his curry at dinner tasted strange. He had poured the curry into a bowl and then passed it to the doctor for testing. Paynter's anxiety had affected his heart so Quentin gave him an injection not of a narcotic but of what he claimed was strychnine (in reality it was an alkaloid called gelsemine). The curry was later tested and found to contain a deadly amount of opium.
For Japp the main suspect is Ah Ling, since he had cooked the curry but his motive was a mystery. As for "yellow jasmine", Japp thinks Paynter was "barmy" or hallucinating, since there are many yellow jasmines growing around the house. Significantly, Japp says Paynter was writing a book on "The Hidden Hand in China". Japp had searched for the manuscript but it is missing. Poirot interviews Ah Ling who doesn't say much that is new. However Poirot then traces the number "4" on the table and Ah Ling's face suddenly fills with terror.
Poirot tells Hastings the case is quite clear to him but there remains the puzzle of "yellow jasmine". Then he has an idea and goes into a bookshop and buys a book. From this he gets the answer. Yellow jasmine is the name of a powerful alkaloid which can kill by paralysing the respiratory system. Poirot does not consider Ah Ling as a plausible killer. If he is a Big Four operative, he would not have been terrified when Poirot traced the number 4 on the table. The real killer is Dr Quentin. He had injected yellow jasmine into Paynter and then left after unlatching the window. He returned later through the window to steal the manuscript of Paynter's book. He then shoved the face into the gas fire. Which the body so badly burnt, no one would search more deeply for a more obscure cause of death. Poirot believes Quentin is number 4. Japp looks for him but the doctor has already disappeared.
- Hercule Poirot
- Captain Hastings
- Inspector Japp
- Mr Paynter
- Gerald Paynter
- Ah Ling
- Dr Quentin
- Dr Bolitho
- Croftlands, Market Handford, Worcestershire
Tropes and themes
Comparison between the original story and the version in the novel
- The beginning of Chapter 9 has several additional paragraphs which describe how in the days after In the House of the Enemy, Poirot becomes increasingly absorbed with his hunt for the Big Four. He gave up his private practice almost entirely, turning down cases which he deemed not relevant to his obsession.
- The text of Chapter 10 is the same as that in the original story.