Mrs McGinty's Dead

Mrs McGinty's Dead
Mrs. McGinty’s Dead  
Mrs McGinty's Dead US First Edition Cover 1952.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
Author(s) Agatha Christie
Cover artist Not known
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company
Publication date February 1952
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 243 pp (first edition, hardback)
Preceded by The Under Dog and Other Stories
Followed by They Do It with Mirrors

Mrs. McGinty's Dead is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1952[1] and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on March 3 of the same year[2]. The US edition retailed at $2.50[1] and the UK edition nine shillings and sixpence (9/6)[2]. The Detective Book Club issued an edition, also in 1952, as Blood Will Tell.

The novel features the characters Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver. The story is a “village mystery”, a sub-genre of whodunit which Christie usually reserved for Miss Marple. The novel is notable for its wit and comic detail, something that had been little in evidence in the Poirot novels of the thirties and forties. Poirot's misery in the run-down guesthouse, and Mrs. Oliver's observations on the life of a detective novelist, provide considerable entertainment in the early part of the novel.

The publication of Mrs. McGinty’s Dead may be considered as marking the start of Poirot's final phase, in which Ariadne Oliver plays a large part. Although she had appeared in Cards on the Table in 1936, Mrs. Oliver's most significant appearances in Christie's work begin here. She appears in five of the last nine Christie novels featuring Poirot to be written, and appears on her own without Poirot at all in The Pale Horse (1961).


Plot introduction

Poirot, disillusioned by the “senseless cruel brutality” of modern crime, pays no attention to the sad case of Mrs. McGinty, an old woman apparently struck dead by her lodger for thirty pounds that she kept under a floorboard. When, however, he is asked by the investigating officer to take another look at the case in order to stop an innocent man going to the gallows, he realises that things may not be as simple as they first appear to be.

Explanation of the novel's title

The novel is named after a children's game — a sort of follow-the-leader type of verse somewhat like the Hokey-Cokey — that is explained in the course of the novel.

Plot summary

Superintendent Spence informs Belgian detective Hercule Poirot of the case of Mrs. McGinty, an elderly lady who was apparently killed by her lodger, James Bentley, for thirty pounds that she kept under a floorboard. Bentley is soon to be executed for the crime, but Spence does not think he is guilty. Poirot agrees to go to the town of Broadhinny and investigate the murder further. Poirot finds that Mrs. McGinty often worked as a cleaner at the houses of people in the village. No one wants to talk to Poirot, and most agree Bentley is the killer.

During a search among Mrs McGinty's possessions, Poirot finds a newspaper article which speculates about the current whereabouts of people connected with famous murder cases, that also includes photographs of them. On the basis of a bottle of ink he discovers that Mrs McGinty had purchased in a local shop just a few days before her death together with a photo she had torn out of a regional newspaper, Poirot concludes Mrs. McGinty must have recognized someone in one of the photos in someone's house and written to the paper in question. Someone must have found out about it and then killed her to keep their identity concealed. Poirot and Spence, using the ages of people in the town, conclude that someone is either Lily Gamboll, who committed murder with a meat cleaver as a child, or Eva Kane, who had been the love interest who inspired a man to murder his wife and bury her in the cellar. Another possibility is that someone is Evelyn Hope, the daughter of Eva Kane.

Shortly after, Poirot discovers the murder weapon, a sugar hammer, left around in plain sight at his boarding house and accessible to all the suspects. In an attempt to flush out the murderer, Poirot claims to know more than he does, but he is almost pushed under a train. Poirot then decides to show most of the suspects the photos at a party. Mrs. Upward claims to have seen the photo of Lily Gamboll, but does not say where.

The following day, Poirot is contacted by a woman called Maude Williams, who had approached him a few days earlier, telling him that she had got to know James Bentley when they both worked together briefly for the same estate agents. She told Poirot that she liked Bentley and did not believe he was guilty or even capable of murdering Mrs McGinty. She now offers to help Poirot who takes up her offer by getting her to pose as a maid in the house of Mrs Wetherby, a resident in the village who Mrs McGinty used to clean for, and whose daughter, Deirdre, Poirot suspects may have some connection with the circumstances surrounding Mrs McGinty’s murder.

During the maid's night off, Mrs. Upward's son Robin, a theatre director and Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, a famed mystery novelist who has been working on a theatre adaptation with Robin, leave for an evening at the theatre, leaving Mrs. Upward alone at the house. When they return, they find Mrs. Upward strangled to death. She has evidently had coffee with her murderer, and the evidence of lipstick on a coffee cup and perfume in the air points to a woman having committed the crime. Mrs. Upward had invited three people to her house that night: Eve Carpenter, Deirdre Henderson and Shelagh Rendell. Any of the three women could be someone from the photographs. Additionally, the postmistress's assistant, Edna, sees someone with blonde hair enter the house, which points to either Carpenter or Rendell, as Henderson is not blonde. Confusing matters even further is the fact that a book is discovered in Mrs. Upward's house with Evelyn Hope's signature written on the flyleaf, which suggests that Mrs. Upward is actually Eva Kane. Poirot connects the final piece of the puzzle when he finds the photo Mrs. McGinty saw at Maureen Summerhayes' house. It is of Eva Kane and has the inscription “my mother” on the back. Now, with the whole story complete, Poirot gathers all the suspects together and reveals to them the murderer: Robin Upward.

Robin is Eva Kane's son, Evelyn; the child was a boy, not a girl. Mrs. Upward had not known who Robin's mother was and he knew that any scandal would be to his detriment. Mrs. McGinty saw the photo while working at the Upward house and assumed the photo was of Mrs. Upward as a young woman. Robin killed her to prevent her from telling anyone who might recognize the photo of Eva Kane. Mrs. Upward thought the photo of Eva Kane to be similar to a photo Robin showed her of his mother, whose back story he made up. She wanted to confront Robin by herself, so she pointed to the wrong photo to put Poirot off the scent. Robin, however, sensed the truth and killed her before leaving for the play. Then he planted the evidence and made the three calls to make it appear that a woman had committed the crime. At this point Robin still had the photo, but rather than destroy it, he kept it and planted it at Mrs. Summerhayes' house in order to incriminate her. But Poirot had gone through the drawer earlier and did not see the photo, so he knew it had been planted subsequently. Robin is then taken away and imprisoned.

Further revelations are also made. Eve Carpenter wanted to conceal her past for reasons of her own, which was why she didn't cooperate in the investigation. Poirot discovers that Dr. Rendell may have killed his first wife, which led Mrs. Rendell to talk about anonymous letters she'd received warning her of the fact. Also, Poirot now suspects that it was Dr. Rendell, convinced that Poirot was actually in Broadhinny to investigate the potential murder (by him) of his first wife, and not the murder of an unimportant charwoman, who tried to push him off the platform and under a train. And Maude Williams turns out to be the daughter of Eva Kane's lover. She came to Mrs. Upward's house, thinking Mrs. Upward was Eva Kane, with the intent to kill her, but left once she found her dead. Poirot tells her he will not mention that fact to anyone. Finally, Poirot reveals to Superintendent Spence his plan to pair off Deirdre Henderson with James Bentley.

Characters in "Mrs. McGinty’s Dead"

  • Hercule Poirot,
  • Ariadne Oliver,
  • Supt. Harold Spence,
  • George The Butler,
  • District Judge,
  • James Gordon Bentley,
  • Mr. Scuttle,
  • Maude Williams,
  • Maureen Summerhayes,
  • Major Johnnie Summerhayes,
  • Guy Carpenter,
  • Eve Carpenter,
  • Robin Upward,
  • Laura Upward,
  • Dr. Rendell,
  • Sheelagh Rendell,
  • Mr. Roger Wetherby,
  • Mrs. Edith Wetherby,
  • Deirdre Henderson,
  • Mrs. Sweetiman,
  • Edna,
  • Bessie Burch,
  • Joe Burch,
  • Lily Gamboll,
  • Abigail McGinty,
  • Pamela Horsfall,
  • Michael West,
  • Mrs. Elliott,
  • Frieda.

Literary significance and reception

No review of this book appeared in the Times Literary Supplement.

Maurice Richardson of The Observer of March 23, 1952 thought that Poirot was, "slightly subdued" and summed up "Not one of A.C's best-constructed jobs, yet far more readable than most other people's."[3]

Robert Barnard: "This village murder begins among the rural proletariat (cf. Death by Drowning in The Thirteen Problems and the excellent London working-class woman in The Hollow), but after a time it moves toward the better-spoken classes. Poirot suffers in a vividly awful country guesthouse in order to get in with the community and rescue a rather unsatisfactory young man from the gallows. Highly ingenious – at this point she is still able to vary the tricks she plays, not repeat them."[4]

References to other works

  • When Superintendent Spence arrives to see Poirot, the detective reacts to him as though it has been many years since the case on which they worked. The case in question was, however, the one retold in Taken at the Flood, which is the previous novel in the series, and was explicitly set in 1946. At most, it can only have been six years since they last worked together.
  • Poirot refers in the first chapter to a case in which the resemblance between his client and a soap manufacturer proved significant. This is the case of “The Nemean Lion”, first published in the Strand Magazine in November 1939 and later collected in The Labours of Hercules (1947).
  • Mrs. Oliver, who is a very amiable caricature of Dame Agatha herself, remarks about her gaffes in her books. In chapter 12, she mentions one of her novels (actually a thinly-veiled reference to Christie's own Death in the Clouds) in which she had made a blowpipe one foot long, instead of six.
  • Evelyn Hope” is the name of a poem by Robert Browning that is quoted in the course of the novel. In Taken at the Flood Christie had made a character take the alias of "Enoch Arden", which is a poem by Tennyson.

Film, TV, or theatrical versions

Murder Most Foul

The novel was adapted by MGM in 1964 as the film Murder Most Foul. However, in an unusual move, the character of Poirot was replaced with Christie's other most famous detective Miss Marple (portrayed by Margaret Rutherford), who comes onto the case when she is a juror in the trial of the lodger who is accused of the murder. As she is the only juror to believe the lodger is innocent and will not join with the others to vote guilty the jury foreman says to the judge that they cannot make up their minds. The judge rules for a mistrial and arranges for a retrial for a week's time, giving Miss Marple seven days to solve the case.

Agatha Christie's Poirot

A television film was produced in 2007 with David Suchet as Poirot in the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, first broadcast on 14 September 2008. It was directed by Ashley Pearce, who also directed Appointment with Death and Three Act Tragedy for the ITV series. It also starred Zoë Wanamaker and Richard Hope returning as Ariadne Oliver (who first appeared in Cards on the Table) and Superintendent Spence (who first appeared in Taken at the Flood), respectively. The adaptation is very faithful to the novel, despite the deletion of a few characters and omitting two of the women from the newspaper article — only focusing on Lily Gamboll and Eva Kane. The characters of Dierdre Henderson and Maude Wiliams are merged in the film. As such it is Maude Williams, the estate agents' secretary (with dark hair instead of blonde), who is in love with Bentley and helps Poirot throughout his investigation. Maude and Bentley are reunited by Poirot in the final scene.[5]

Publication history

Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)
  • 1952, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1952, Hardback, 243 pp
  • 1952, Collins Crime Club (London), March 3 1952, Hardback, 192 pp
  • 1952, Walter J. Black (Detection Book Club), 180 pp (Dated 1951)
  • 1953, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 181 pp
  • 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 188 pp
  • 1970, Pan Books, Paperback, 191 pp
  • 1988, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-70-891771-2
  • 2008, HarperCollins; Facsimile edition, Hardcover, ISBN-13: 978-0007280537

In the US, the novel was serialised in the Chicago Tribune in its Sunday edition in thirteen parts from October 7 to December 30, 1951 under the title of Blood Will Tell.

International titles

  • Dutch: Poirot komt terug (Poirot Returns)
  • German: Vier Frauen und ein Mord (Four Women and a Murder)
  • Hungarian: Mrs. McGinty halott (Mrs McGinty's Dead), Mrs. McGinty meghalt (Mrs. McGinty has Died)
  • Italian: Fermate il boia (Stop the Hangman)
  • Spanish: La Señora McGinty ha muerto (Mrs. McGinty Has Died)
  • Czech: Smrt staré posluhovačky (Old Charwoman´s Death)
  • Indonesian: Mrs. McGinty Sudah Mati (Mrs. McGinty's Dead)


  1. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  2. ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
  3. ^ The Observer March 4, 1951 (Page 7)
  4. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 197). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
  5. ^ At the PBS website for viewing the entire episode, or its various chapters, is the following description of the last scene of the film (Chapter 10: “Secrets of the Past”): “While Poirot and Bentley’s colleague Maude Williams wait for Bentley, Poirot reveals her secrets.” [Emphasis added.] “Secrets of the Past,” Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. Chapter 10, Hercule Poirot Series IX. PBS. Available only from June 29, 2009, to July 12, 2009. (Retrieved 2009-06-29.)

External links

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