Appointment with Death

Appointment with Death

Infobox Book |
name = Appointment with Death
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
author = Agatha Christie
illustrator =
cover_artist = Robin Macartney
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Crime novel
publisher = Collins Crime Club
release_date = May 2 1938
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 256 pp (first edition, hardback)
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Death on the Nile
followed_by = Hercule Poirot's Christmas

"Appointment with Death" is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on May 2, 1938 ["The Observer" May 1, 1938 (Page 6)] and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year [John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. "Detective Fiction - the collector's guide": Second Edition (Pages 82 and 86) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8] [ American Tribute to Agatha Christie] ] . The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. "Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions". Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)] and the US edition at $2.00.

The book features the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot and reflects Christie's experiences travelling in the Middle East with her husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan.

Plot introduction

Holidaying in Jerusalem, Poirot overhears Raymond Boynton telling his sister: "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Their mother, Mrs. Boynton, is a sadistic tyrant who dominates all the younger members of her family, and who attracts the strong dislike of a group of people outside the immediate family. But when she is found dead, there are only twenty-four hours for Hercule Poirot to solve the case and he has no way of even proving whether it was murder.

Plot summary

The first part of the novel (a little over a third) is an effective psychological thriller as the family and the victim are introduced, principally through the perspective of Sarah King and Dr. Gerard, who discuss the behaviour of the family. Mrs. Boynton is sadistic and domineering, traits that (it is suggested) may have influenced her choice of original profession: prison warden.

Sarah is attracted to Raymond Boynton, while Jefferson Cope admits to wanting to take Nadine Boynton away from her husband, Lennox Boynton, and the influence of her mother-in-law. Having been thwarted in her desire to free the young Boyntons, Sarah confronts Mrs. Boynton whose apparent reply is a strange threat: “I’ve never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face.” When the party reaches Petra, Mrs. Boynton uncharacteristically sends her family away from her for a period. Later, she is found dead with a needle puncture in her wrist.

Poirot claims that he can solve the mystery within twenty-four hours simply by interviewing the suspects. During these interviews he establishes a timeline that seems impossible: Sarah King places the time of death considerably before the times at which various of the family members claim last to have seen the victim alive. Attention is focused on a hypodermic syringe that has seemingly been stolen from Dr. Gerard’s tent and later replaced. The poison administered to the victim is believed to be digitoxin: something that she already took medicinally.

During a protracted denouement, Poirot explains how each member of the family has, in turn, discovered Mrs. Boynton to be dead and, suspecting another family member, failed to report the fact. In reality, none of the family would have needed to murder the victim with a hypodermic, since an overdose could much more effectively have been administered in her medicine. This places the suspicion on one of the outsiders.

The murderer is revealed to be Lady Westholme who, previous to her marriage, had been incarcerated in the prison in which the victim was once a warden. It was to Lady Westholme, and not to Sarah, that Mrs. Boynton had addressed that peculiar threat; the temptation to acquire a new subject to torture had been too great for her to resist. Disguised as an Arab servant she had committed the murder and then relied upon the suggestibility of Miss Pierce to lay two pieces of misdirection that had concealed her role in the murder.

Lady Westholme, eavesdropping in an adjoining room, overhears that her criminal history is about to be revealed to the world and commits suicide. The family, free at last, take up happier lives: Sarah marries Raymond; Carol marries Jefferson; and Ginevra takes up a successful career as a stage actress.

Characters in “Appointment with Death”

* Hercule Poirot, the Belgian Detective
* Colonel Carbury, senior figure in Transjordania
* Lord Greville Boynton, victim's husband
* Mrs. Boynton, the victim
* Raymond Boynton, the victim’s stepson
* Carol Boynton, the victim’s stepdaughter
* Lennox Boynton, the victim’s stepson
* Nadine Boynton, Lennox's wife
* Jefferson Cope, an American
* Ginevra Boynton, the victim’s daughter
* Dr. Gerard, a French psychologist
* Sarah King, a young doctor
* Lady Westholme, a member of Parliament
* Miss Anabel Pierce, a former nursery governess

Literary significance and reception

Simon Nowell-Smith's review in the "Times Literary Supplement" of May 7, 1938 concluded, "Poirot, if the mellowing influence of time has softened many of his mannerisms, has lost none of his skill. His examination of the family, the psychologists and the few others in the party, his sifting of truth from half-truth and contradiction, his playing off one suspect against another and gradual elimination of each in turn are in Mrs. Christie's most brilliant style. Only the solution appears a trifle tame and disappointing." ["The Times Literary Supplement" May 7, 1938 (Page 318)]

In "The New York Times Book Review" for September 11, 1938, Kay Irvin said, "Even a lesser Agatha Christie story holds its readers' attention with its skillful management of suspense. "Appointment with Death" is decidedly of the lesser ranks: indeed, it comes close to being the least solid and satisfactory of all the Poirot mystery tales. Its presentation of a family harried and tortured by a sadistic matriarch is shot full of psychological conversation and almost entirely deficient in plot. And yet, when the evil-hearted old tyrant has been murdered at last and Poirot considers the suspects, one follows with genuine interest the unraveling of even unexciting clues." ["The New York Times Book Review" September 11, 1938 (Page 26)]

In "The Observer"'s issue of May 1, 1938, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) said, "I have to confess I have just been beaten again by Agatha Christie. There was no excuse. I was feeling in particularly good form; and the worst of it is that she handicapped herself in the latest game with what in anyone else would be insolent severity. "Murder on the Nile" (sic) was entirely brilliant; "Appointment with Death", while lacking the single stroke of murderer's genius which provided the alibi in the former story, must be counted mathematically nearly twice as brilliant, since the number of suspects is reduced by nearly half. Indeed, though we begin out story in Jerusalem and meet our murder in Petra, the Red Rose City, we might as well be in a snowbound vicarage as far as the limitation of suspicion is concerned. And it is in this respect that Agatha Christie repeats her "Cards on the Table" triumph and beats Steinitz with a single row of pawns." ["The Observer" May 1, 1938 (Page 7)]

"The Scotsman" of May 9, 1938 said, "As usual, Miss Christie plays fair with her readers. While the solution comes with a shock of surprise, it is logical enough: the clues are there, one could fasten upon them and assess their importance. Perhaps it is another case of the reader being unable to see the wood for the trees; but there are so many trees. Not this author's best crime novel, "Appointment with Death" is yet clever enough and convincing enough to stand head and shoulders above the average work of the kind." ["The Scotsman" May 9, 1938 (Page 15)]

E.R. Punshon of "The Guardian" in his review of May 27, 1938 summarised by saying, "For ingenuity of plot and construction, unexpectedness of dénouement, subtlety of characterisation, and picturesqueness of background, "Appointment with Death" may take rank among the best of Mrs. Christie's tales." ["The Guardian" May 27, 1938 (Page 6)]

Mary Dell in the "Daily Mirror" of May 19, 1938 said, "This is not a book I should recommend you to read last thing at night. The malignant eye of Mrs. Boynton might haunt your sleep and make a nightmare of your dreams. It's a pretty eerily bloodcurdling tale. A grand book." ["Daily Mirror" May 19, 1938 (Page 26)]

Robert Barnard: "Notable example of the classic-era Christie, with excellent Near East setting, and the repulsive matriarch as victim. The family tensions around her are conveyed more involvingly than usual. The detection, with its emphasis on who-was-where-and-when, is a little too like Ngaio Marsh of the period, and there is some vagueness in the motivation, but this is as taut and atmospheric as any she wrote." [Barnard, Robert. "A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie" - Revised edition (Page 188). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743]

References to other works

The novel mentions several other Poirot investigations: the detective is seen to retell to Colonel Carbury the story of "Cards on the Table" and Nadine Boynton actually confronts Poirot with his own actions in the conclusion of "Murder on the Orient Express" although it is not explained how she knew of this. Miss Pierce also comments on "The A.B.C. Murders" when she recognises Poirot for the great detective he is.

Film, TV or theatrical versions

1945 Stage Production

Christie adapted the book as a play of the same name in 1945. It is notable for being one of the most radical reworkings of a novel Christie ever did, not only eliminating Hercule Poirot from the story, but changing the identity of the killer. In the play, the ill Mrs Boynton committed suicide and dropped several red herrings that pointed to her family members as possible suspects, hoping that they would suspect each other and therefore continue to live in her shadow even after her death.

1988 Film

It was later adapted into the third of six films to star Peter Ustinov was Poirot and released in 1988. The film did not incorporate the changes of the play, retaining the plot of the book.

Agatha Christie's Poirot

The novel was adapted for the eleventh season of the series "Agatha Christie's Poirot" starring David Suchet as Poirot. The screenplay was written by Guy Andrews and it was filmed in Morocco in May 2008. It will air later this year on ITV.

Publication history

* 1938, Collins Crime Club (London), May 2, 1938, Hardback, 256 pp
* 1938, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1938, Hardback, 301 pp
* 1946, Dell Books, Paperback, (Dell number 105 [Mapback| [mapback] ), 192 pp
* 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 682), 206 pp
* 1957, Pan Books, Paperback, 159 pp (Pan number 419)
* 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 159 pp
* 1975, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 334 pp ISBN 0-85-456366-0

The first true publication of "Appointment with Death" occurred in the US with a nine-part serialisation in "Collier's Weekly" from August 28 (Volume 100, Number 9) to October 23, 1937 (Volume 100, Number 17) with illustrations by Mario Cooper.

The UK serialisation was in twenty-eight parts in the "Daily Mail" from Wednesday, January 19 to Saturday, February 19, 1938 under the title of "A Date with Death". Fifteen of the instalments contained illustrations by J. Abbey (Joseph van Abbé, brother of Salomon van Abbé). This version did not contain any chapter divisions and omitted various small paragraphs such as the quote in Part I, Chapter twelve from Dr. Gerard which is taken from Book IV of "Ecclesiastes". The political argument between Lady Westholme and Dr. Gerard in chapter ten about the League of Nations was also deleted. Finally, the epilogue did not appear in the serialisation.

Four days before the first instalment appeared, in the edition dated Saturday, January 15, a piece specially written by Christie as an introduction to the serialisation appeared in the "Daily Mail" in which she charted the creation of Poirot and expressed her feelings about him in the famous quote, "There have been moments when I have felt: 'Why-why-why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature!' " ["Daily Mail". January 15, 1938. Page 8. "Hercule Poirot - Fiction's greatest detective".]


External links

* [ "Appointment with Death"] at the official Agatha Christie website
*imdb title|id= 0094669|title=Appointment with Death (1988)

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