Literature / Five Little Pigs

Five Little Pigs is a 1942 mystery novel by Agatha Christie. (For many years, American editions were published under the title Murder in Retrospect.)

Sixteen years ago, Caroline Crale was convicted of the murder of her husband, the painter Amyas Crale. Their daughter approaches Hercule Poirot to investigate the case. Poirot visits the five people present at the time of the murder, and each of them gives a slightly different story.

The story was featured in the television series Poirot in 2003.

This detective mystery provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Sexuality: Philip Blake is gay in the 2003 adaptation, and his long-term crush on Amyas replaces the original book's Gender Flipped Woman Scorned as the fuel for his resentment of Caroline.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Downplayed in the David Suchet adaptation; an unfortunate consequence of the change in Philip Blake's sexuality. While in the original story he tried to seduce Caroline while her marriage was apparently on the rocks; in the adaptation it was she who tried to seduce him, and then taunted his homosexuality when he refused her, making her come across less sympathetically and rather out of character according to the original novel.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Miss Williams is an old maid who takes Does Not Like Men to the hardcore and sees Caroline as a saintly martyr to one of that filthy kind. To the more modern reader it may look like she'd been attracted to Caroline.
  • Asshole Victim: Possibly subverted. Several characters sided with Caroline Crale when she was convicted of murdering her husband Amyas, since he was having an affair with his model - one of many. It turns out he never intended to leave Caroline, and he was murdered by said model. It depends on the reader whether you think that the fact that he never intended to leave Caroline is enough to get Amyas out of the "Asshole" category, or if you think he's still an asshole for having an affair and letting Elsa think he loved her enough to leave his wife.
  • The Atoner: Caroline Crale is continually haunted by the injury she inflicted on Angela, and in her attempts to make up for it, spoils her rotten. Caroline sees her opportunity for redemption by taking the blame for what she thought was Angela's crime.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Caroline and Amyas.
  • Betty and Veronica: Caroline (Betty), Amyas (Archie) and Elsa (Veronica)
  • Brutal Honesty: Caroline Crayle believed in this, at least according to her daughter. The reason that Carla believes her mother is innocent is because Caroline sent her a letter saying so, and Caroline never told her daughter comforting lies.
  • Clear Their Name: The daughter wants to prove that her mother was innocent.
  • Death by Adaptation: Well, she is dead by the start of both the novel and the Poirot adaptation, but in the novel Caroline Crale got a life sentence and died a year later in prison, while the adaptation had her executed.
  • Death by Woman Scorned: Played straight. Also subverted, because it is not the woman we assume at first.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Elsa made Caroline the scapegoat for the murder not only out of jealousy, but also because she was furious when she heard Caroline calling out Amyas for the cruel treatment of her (Elsa).
  • Does Not Like Men: Miss Williams. Years of observing the womanizing Amyas probably didn't help.
  • Exact Words: Caroline is overheard fuming about the unfairness of the situation. She's not mad that her husband has fallen for yet another model, but that he's going to break the model's heart. The key phrase is, "You and your women!" In the Summation Poirot notes the plural, implying there's nothing special to Amyas about this latest woman, Elsa, after all.
  • Gayngst: Philip Blake in the Poirot adaption. In the original his bitterness was because he was infatuated with Caroline.
  • Gender-Blender Name: When this novel was written and originally published, "Meredith" was still an exclusively male name; it wasn't until very late in the twentieth century that it lost this status, and became mainly a girls' name.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Caroline finally found the peace she had never enjoyed, after finally atoning for Angela's disfigurement by taking the blame for what she thought was Angela's crime.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Caroline pulls one to protect her sister, to whom she feels she owes it on account of having disfigured her as a baby.
    • Senseless Sacrifice: Angela didn't commit the murder and Caroline ended up covering Elsa's crime.
  • If I Can't Have You: The apparent motive for Amyas' murder. And the actual motive too.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The five suspects matches the five little pigs in the nursery rhyme ‘This Little Piggy’:
    “This little piggy went to market. (Philip Blake)
    This little piggy stayed at home. (Meredith Blake)
    This little piggy had roast beef. (Elsa Greer)
    This little piggy had none. (Cecilia Williams)
    And this little piggy went "Wee! Wee! Wee!" all the way home. (Angela Warren)”
  • It's All About Me: By everyone's account, Amyas was a raging egomaniac. Elsa has shades of this as well, and is quite open about it.
  • It's for a Book: When speaking with some of the witnesses, Poirot claims he is writing a book about famous murders.
  • Karma Houdini: Downplayed. Poirot admits to the killer he has no physical evidence to prove their guilt and they won't publicly confess to it. However, they don't get away consequence-free: Elsa Greer has never been able to move on from the day she murdered the only man she ever loved. She lives a wealthy but utterly joyless and miserable life. As she puts it "I died that day." In the adaptation she even begs Carla/Lucy to shoot her when she confronts her with a gun, determined to exact her own justice - but Lucy decides to let her live instead, as a Cruel Mercy.
  • Late to the Punchline: Angela mentions having one of these moments, where she actually said aloud "Oh! Now I get the point of that story about the plum pudding." This led her to recount a similar incident where she realized the significance of something she observed the weekend of the murder.
  • Living Lie Detector: Miss Williams to a degree. When she was a governess, none of the kids even tried to lie to her, feeling that it'd be pointless. Poirot, at first, tells to other people that he's writing a book about the case, but he tells the truth to Miss Williams right away.
  • Market-Based Title: It was originally published in the US as Murder in Retrospect. Later publications restored the original British title.
  • Must Make Amends: Caroline never stops trying to make up for her sister's injury, but as a result spoils her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Both Caroline and Miss Williams tried to protect someone in the name of what they thought was justice, but their lies caused the actual murderer, whom neither of them would want to shield, to get away.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Poirot pieces together what actually happened by hearing the differing accounts of the five main witnesses to the crime. These accounts differ due to the tellers both not having the full perspective on what happened and due to them frequently concealing information for their own purposes.
  • Really Gets Around: Amyas Crale had a lot of affairs, despite being married. However, he only really loved his wife; the rest of the women meant nothing to him.
  • Parents as People: Lampshaded by Poirot when he finds strange that every witness seems to forget that the murder victim has a baby daughter: Miss Williams as the governess discusses it when she explains that middle class children know that their parents love them but are too busy providing for them to pay attention; the love between the affluent murder victim and his wife was so intense that the baby could never have been their first concern.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss / Kiss-Kiss-Slap: Amyas and Caroline, constantly. Amyas had affairs and he had very nasty fights with Caroline, but despite this, they were very much in love. Amyas never considered leaving her and she always forgave him.
    • Also Philip Blake's attitude toward Caroline in the book.
  • Straight Gay: Philip Blake in the Poirot adaption.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Amyas seems to be portrayed in that way by the narration and in the end it's confirmed, though not all of the characters see him that way.
  • Taking the Heat: Caroline believes that Angela poisoned Amyas (perhaps by accident, just meaning to make him sick). Since she believes that she still owes Angela for injuring her when they were kids, she lets suspicion fall on her and ends up being jailed for Amyas' murder.
  • Unrequited Love Lasts Forever: Meredith Blake's love for Caroline. Subverted, however, because while he claims he's still in love with Caroline, reading his account of the crime makes it obvious he's actually in love with Elsa.
    • Another possible example is Elsa, who still seems to be in love with Amyas Crayle even after he rejected her and she murdered him.
  • Wham Line: From Poirot: "We have taken it for granted that Amyas Crale proposed to leave his wife for the other woman. But I suggest to you now that he never intended to do anything of the kind."
  • Woman Scorned: Subverted with Caroline, but played straight with Elsa.
    • Gender-flipped with Philip Blake, who wanted to make Caroline look as black as possible at least partially because she rejected him when they were young.