Literature / Cat Among the Pigeons

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Cat Among the Pigeons is a 1959 mystery novel by Agatha Christie, featuring detective Hercule Poirot.

At the start of the summer term at Meadowbank School for Girls, a prestigious prep school in England, there is no reason for Miss Bulstrode, the popular but aging headmistress, to believe that the challenges facing her will be more than the occasional irate or inebriated parent. She scarcely listens when Mrs Upjohn, a parent, recognizes someone that she sees from her wartime days in the intelligence service. But there is a killer at the school who does not wait long to strike.

In 2008, ITV adapted the story for the eleventh season of Poirot. Tropes concerning the adaptation are listed on the series page.


This novel provides examples of the following:

  • Amateur Sleuth / Kid Detective : Julia Upjohn has definite shades of this. Not only does she deduce the existence of and then find the cache of hidden jewels, she actually figures out a large part of what's going on, when all the grown-ups around her (including Miss Bulstrode and Adam Goodman), are pretty much clueless. She's then intelligent enough to realize that she knows enough to be in danger, and promptly goes to see Poirot.
  • Blackmail: Miss Blanche knew the identity of Miss Springer's killer and attempted to blackmail them. Unsurprisingly, this only gets her killed.
  • Callback : Julia Upjohn, who discovers the cache of jewels and brings the case to Poirot's attention, is the god-daughter of Maureen Summerhayes from Mrs McGinty's Dead. Leads to a Crowning Moment of Funny :
    Julia: Auntie Maureen really is great fun - and she makes the most smashing omelettes
    Poirot: Then I, Poirot, have not lived in vain. For it was I who taught your Aunt to make an omelette.
  • Cool Teacher: Honoria Bulstrode, headmistress of Meadowbanks, is not overly strict, but she seems to have an almost telepathic knowledge of everything that goes on at her school. Eileen Rich, the English teacher, also qualifies.
  • Dawson Casting: In-universe. It's said of some of the older girls that they could pass for adults in their 20s. In the case of "Princess Shaista", it turns out that this is because she is an adult of 25, having been switched with the real Princess.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Miss Blanche, who is actually impersonating her sister Angele who died, and who earned her teaching references. It's not as relevant to the plot as you might expect.
  • Famed In-Story: Meadowbank is one of the most famous girls' schools in England, numbering many well-known and successful women in all walks of life among it's graduates. Miss Bulstrode has elements of this among the school population, probably for good reason.
  • He Knows Too Much: Miss Blanche.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Twice. Prince Ali Yusuf, who fears an assassination attempt, hands the jewels off to Bob. Bob realizes that having the jewels makes him a target, and hides them in his sister's luggage.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Eileen Rich, a respectable schoolteacher, has an illegitimate child and is among the most sympathetic characters in the novel. Honoria Bulstrode, her headmistress, does not hold this against her, provided it does not become public knowledge. The novel ends with the implication that Bulstrode has chosen Rich as her eventual successor.
  • Name Drop: by Eileen Rich, talking about the odd feeling she's had since the beginning of term (Eileen is noted to be highly intuitive)
    Eileen: ... it's like a cat among the pigeons, but we can't see the cat.
  • Never One Murder: Three murders are committed by two people with entirely different motives.
  • Not My Driver: Princess Shaista, a student at Meadowbrook School, gets into a car to meet her uncle in London and never arrives. This is a subversion, though, because it actually was her driver. "Shaista" was an impostor, and the car had come to help her disappear before she met anyone who knew the real Princess, making it look like a kidnapping.
  • Qurac: A hunt for royal jewels from the country of Ramat.
  • Redemption Equals Death: One of the murderers, Miss Chadwick, redeems herself by Taking the Bullet to stop her best friend being killed and thus atoning for her own crime.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal : Adam Goodman. His actual agency isn't specified, but he's either Special Branch or domestic intelligence. Played with in that the reader is introduced to him as he's instructed to go undercover, played straight later on with the police Inspector investigating Miss Springer's murder during his initial questioning.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: or rather, activity. At one point, Miss Bulstrode and Poirot think it might be a good idea to get in contact with Mrs Upjohn, and get some more details on exactly who she was talking about on first day of term, so they naturally enough ask Julia.
    Julia: I'm sorry, but Mummy's gone to Anatolia on a bus.
    (after Julia leaves)
    Miss Bulstrode: Gone to Anatolia on a bus? The child said it as if she'd taken the 43 bus to Selfridges!


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