Literature / Lord Edgware Dies

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A novel by Agatha Christie published in 1933, featuring Hercule Poirot.

When the fourth Baron Edgware is murdered, the primary suspect is his estranged wife, the talented actress Jane Wilkinson, who wanted to marry the Duke of Merton, and whom Lord Edgware's servants swear they saw entering his house. However, Jane spent the whole evening at a high-profile dinner party with twelve distinguished people, after having found out from Poirot that her husband had sent her a letter granting her a divorce — a letter that she did not receive. If Jane did not kill her husband, who did?

The story was adapted as a film called Thirteen at Dinner in 1985, starring Peter Ustinov and Faye Dunaway, and then in 2000 as part of the seventh season of ITV's Poirot starring David Suchet. The 1985 film adaptation has its own trope section, while tropes for the 2000 ITV adaptation are listed on the page for the TV series.

The original novel provides examples of the following:

  • Abusive Parents: Mostly implied. Lord Edgware is a ruthless man who enjoys having people fear him, and his daughter has an unpleasant childhood as a result. However, his treatment of Geraldine is never described.
  • Asshole Victim: The murder victim, Lord Edgware, was an unpleasant man with sadistic tendencies.
  • Beneath Suspicion: At the time of the murder, Jane was at a party with twelve distinguished people, none of whom had any reason to lie for her. Only she wasn't; Carlotta was impersonating her.
  • Call-Back: Poirot reflected that the one time he took notice of a physical clue, no one would believe him because it was "four foot long instead of four centimetres". This was, of course, a reference to The Murder on the Links, where Poirot found a metal pipe near the victim's body, which everyone else dismissed as a part of the construction site.
    • The fact that Poirot was recommended to Duchess of Merton by Lady Yardly (a victim of theft in "The Adventure of the Western Star" short story) qualifies as well.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: The German translation of the book altered the plot point where the killer tears an "s" off the corner of a letter to change "she" into "he" to make it look like a man was being written about, because this would not work in German. It was replaced by the tearing of an uppercase "J" (signifying "Jane") to turn it into a lowercase "j" (signifying "jemand", German for "someone"). The only problem with this is that a "j" is not gender-specific and does not justify the characters thinking that it must have been a man.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Hastings and Poirot attended a dinner which they met a drunkard. The drunkard turns out to be Ronald Marsh, Lord Edgware's nephew and his heir.
  • Epilogue Letter: The story ends with one written by the killer to Poirot before being executed.
  • Eureka Moment: Poirot stumbles onto the truth as a result of an irrelevant remark made by a stranger who passed him in the street: "If they had just had the sense to ask Ellis right away..."
  • Fiery Redhead: The red-headed Miss Jenny Driver has a forceful, vivacious personality. Poirot credited her as having enough courage to achieve anything she wants.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Lady Edgware hires an actress to impersonate her at a dinner party while she kills her husband, then kills the actress later. During the murder she takes great care to be seen by those in the household, though she purposely acts strangely. At first it seems apparent she's the killer, till all the party guests give her an alibi. When the actress's dead body is found, it appears that the killer hired the actress to commit the murder and frame Lady Edgware.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Jane receives one at the dinner party. It is really Carlotta impersonating Jane who takes the call, and Jane herself made it, to ascertain whether the impersonation worked.
  • He Knows Too Much: Donald Ross and Carlotta Adams were murdered for knowing the fact that the Lady Edgware that was in the party during the time of the murder was, in fact, an impersonator.
  • Identical Stranger: Lord Edgware's butler, Alton, is said to bear a striking resemblance to Bryan Martin, but there is no mention of familial ties between the two characters.
  • I Never Got Any Letters: Jane never received the letter from Lord Edgware agreeing to the divorce, leading Poirot to speculate that a third party intercepted it. Turns out she lied about never receiving it.
  • It's All About Me: Jane is pretty open about this being her philosophy in life; she believes that everyone, everywhere ought to be working to make her happy. She really doesn't care about the damage she might do to other people. And in the Epilogue Letter, says she thinks it was mean of Poirot to have her arrested for doing what she needed to do to be happy merely because that resulted in the murders of three people.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Poirot invites and sits Hasting, Lestrade, Jenny Driver, and Bryan Martin when he is about to explain the case. He invites Jenny Driver and Bryan Martin because Bryan Martin gives him foolish/fake story, so he sits Jenny Driver and Bryan Martin who are about to marry to shame Bryan Martin and encourage Jenny not make their marriage "a typical Hollywood marriage where Bryan can divorce her after 4-5 years".
  • Market-Based Title: Was originally published in the United States as Thirteen at Dinner.
  • Rags to Riches: Ronald Marsh is poor but extravagant, nobleman and he suddenly becomes rich because he inherits his uncle's wealth. He of course lampshade this saying (paraphrasedly), "Yesterday, I was rejected by every potential father-in-law. Today I am chased by every investor."
  • Red Herring:
    • A rare inverted version. Into just about a third of the book, Hastings mentions in passing that it was the last time he saw Jane Wilkinson, which hints at either her impending murder or low plot relevance of her character after all. In fact, she is the murderer, and Hastings just had to leave Britain before her trial.
    • The ruby-encrusted box with Carlotta's initials on it and the inscription about Paris.
    • Pretty much all references to the city of Paris. As it turns out, the only reference to Paris that means anything is the reference to the prince of Troy from Greek mythology and the fact that Jane didn't know who he was.
    • Also anything about Bryan Martin's story he tells to Poirot and Hasting.
    • Both The Butler who has criminal past and Ronald and Geraldine Marsh came to the Edgware's house don't count for the reader but serve as in-universe Red Herring-s.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The murderer openly visits Lord Edgware's house as herself, knowing that the word of the servants will be worthless against that of the twelve distinguished friends at the dinner where Carlotta is impersonating her.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Agatha Christie first got the idea for this novel after seeing a highly talented vaudeville artiste, who in her show portrayed a range of characters ranging from five to fifty, of both genders and over a dozen varied walks of life. Christie basically started wondering 'if this woman can do all that, what else could she do - could she impersonate someone specific?'. Plot Ensued.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: Thirteen people are at that dinner party (in fact, the American title of this novel is Thirteen At Dinner), and the superstition that ill luck will befall the first to rise is lampshaded. Donald Ross says that he rose first, and Hastings remembers this when Ross is murdered. However, Poirot points out that that isn't strictly true; Ross might have gotten up first at the end of dinner, but actually Jane rose first when she went to answer the Harassing Phone Call. Only it is really Carlotta impersonating her, and she dies that night.
  • Title Drop: Ronald makes one, while mockingly describing the case against himself. "Nephew quarrels with Lord Edgware, that very night Lord Edgware Dies." He immidiately Lampshades this by pointing out "Lord Edgware Dies" would make a great name for a book.
  • Woman Scorned: A male version: Poirot initially speculates that, after Jane rejected Bryan Martin for the Duke of Merton, Bryan committed the murder for the purposes of framing Jane and getting her hanged.

The 1985 film, Thirteen At Dinner, additionally provides examples of the following:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Inverted with Bryan Martin and Alton. The books consistently describe the two as incredibly young and handsome, especially the latter, whom Hastings compared to a Greek God and considers as "one of the handsomest young men [he's] ever seen". Their film counterparts, while not necessarily ugly, are not as conventionally attractive, and wouldn't attract such gushes from other people.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Jane Wilkinson as played by Faye Dunaway has elements of this; she even asks Poirot if she might wear lavender to the funeral because she "hates black".
  • Lighter and Softer: Similarly to the previous two Peter Ustinov Poirot films, this adaptation is noticeably more light-hearted than the novel, with more comic elements.
  • Man of a Thousand Faces: David Suchet completely nailed the "rat-faced" Inspector Japp in this film, several years before going on to play the dapper Belgian himself for the ITV series.
  • Setting Update: In this version, the setting is moved to the eighties; the original book was set in the thirties.
  • Worthy Opponent: In the final scene of the film, Poirot is this for Jane Wilkinson, who says she wouldn't have chosen anyone else to be the leading man in her murder drama; he responds in kind.
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