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Literature / Appointment with Death

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A Hercule Poirot detective novel by Agatha Christie published in 1938.

The novel has been adapted multiple times. Christie herself made a stage play in 1945 that removed Poirot from the story and changed the ending. A movie adaptation directed by Michael Winner was released in 1988 featuring an All-Star Cast, including Peter Ustinov, Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, John Gielgud and Piper Laurie. In 1992 it was adapted for radio by BBC Radio 4 with John Moffat as Poirot.

It has also been adapted by ITV's Poirot as part of the 11th season, starring David Suchet as Poirot. Like many other episodes, the TV adaptation features many changes to the plot and characters. Tropes for the TV adaptation can be found on the page for the series.


Appointment with Death contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mrs Boynton, whose only amusement in life comes from controlling and terrorising her children.
  • Asshole Victim: Mrs Boynton is unpleasant and tyrannical towards her children. They finally gain their Happy Ending at the end of the novel, which probably would not have been possible with her still alive.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Boyntons are a tight-knit family dominated by the sadistic and tyrannical Mrs. Boynton. She keeps her step-children, plus her biological daughter, on a tight leash and prevents them from having much contact with the outside world, leaving them entirely dependent on her.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: While several of the Boynton's had given thought to the idea of killing Mrs Boynton, she was in fact killed by someone outside of the family, allowing them a Happy Ending.
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  • Blackmail Backfire: While the victim never actually gets that far, it's her unspoken threat to reveal the murderer's secret that gets her killed. Poirot speculates that she wanted a victim to toy with, and would have eventually revealed the truth anyway.
  • Call-Back: Nadine is revealed to know what went on in Murder on the Orient Express. Who exactly from the previous book told her is Riddle for the Ages.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: After the case is solved, most of the Boynton siblings are paired up in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.
  • Dark Secret: Lady Westholme had been a criminal and served a prison sentence, something her wealthy husband doesn't know about. She's willing to commit murder to keep it hidden.
  • Debate and Switch: Throughout the whole book, a driving question is whether the murder can even be thought of as immoral, given that Mrs Boynton was commited to ruining the lives of all people around her. Perhaps the investigation should be stopped, even? Then it turns out that the murder happened for entirely selfish motives. This affirms the need to always look for the truth, but sidesteps the entire moral question.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Jefferson Cope has been pursuing the married Nadine, and offering her a way out of the family for some time, all without losing an aura of having her best interests in mind, although he proves to be a Graceful Loser when she finally decides to stay with her husband.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: The description of Lady Westholme's husband in the text implies this, and he's content to be off shooting animals while she wages politics.
  • Everyone Must Be Paired: Of the four Boynton children, Lennox is married to Nadine (who is deciding whether or not to leave him for Jefferson Cope), Raymond is in love with Sarah King, and neither Carol nor Ginevra has a romantic plot. In the epilogue, all four are married: Nadine chooses to stay with Lennox, Raymond marries Sarah, Carol marries Jefferson Cope, and Ginevra marries Dr. Gerard.
  • He Knows Too Much: Lady Westholme murders Mrs Boynton so that she can't blackmail her.
  • Hiding in a Hijab: Lady Westholme's murder plot involves cobbling together a disguise of an Arab servant in order to steal the poison, commit the murder and create a fake suspect.
  • No Party Given: Lady Westholme's political affiliation isn't explicitly stated in the text, but it's pretty obvious she's a Conservative.
  • Not His Sled: The stage play adaptation changes the solution to the murder: Rather than being murdered by Lady Westholme, Mrs Boynton commits suicide in order to instill fear and paranoia over her children, intending to make her iron grip on their lives last even in death.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Poirot becomes very various about how Mrs. Boynton had encouraged her family to leave her presence and go enjoy the day as they saw fit, reasoning that it was very unlike her, and deducing that her reason for doing so was to get them out of the way so she could meet with and threaten Lady Westholme.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sarah delivers one to Mrs. Boynton, pointing out she is an insufferable tyrant who rudely lords over her own children because she needs to feel powerful, but in reality she's nothing but a miserable, petty old woman whose death will only evoke relief from her own offspring. Turns out she was exactly correct and it hit the old woman hard.
    Sarah: Goodbye, Mrs. Boynton. I hope you'll have a nice trip. You've wanted to be very rude to me. You've tried to prevent your son and daughter making friends with me. Don't you think, really, that that is all very silly and childish? You like to make yourself out a kind of ogre, but really, you know, you're just pathetic and rather ludicrous. If I were you I'd give up all this silly play-acting. I expect you'll hate me for saying this, but I mean it-and some of it may stick. You know you could have a lot of fun still. It's really much better to be friendly and kind. You could be if you tried.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the opening paragraphs, Poirot overhears Raymond saying that Mrs Boynton will have to die. He decides it's probably an author talking about writing out a character, and recalls the story of Anthony Trollope overhearing two readers discussing the latest installment of his work and saying they were tired of a particular character. Trollope promptly introduced himself and said he'd kill off the character at the next opportunity.
    • Raymond mentions that he thought of murdering his stepmother, using a method he'd read in a detective novel. From his description, it's clear that the novel in question is Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers.
  • The Shrink: Dr. Gerard, who spends a while breaking down the relationships and underlying motives in the Boynton Family to Sarah.
  • Those Two Guys: Miss Pierce and Lady Westholme are always seen together, and are even interviewed simultaneously by Poirot. The twist is that this was Invoked by Lady Westholme, the murderer. She was only hanging around Miss Pierce—who is extremey susceptible to suggestion—in order to get someone to back up her false accounts.
  • Treachery Cover Up: The epilogue shows a newspaper article reporting the murderer's suicide as an accident.
  • The Un-Reveal: While Poirot has launched inquiries to find out what crime Lady Westholme served a prison sentence for, the reader never finds out, due to her killing herself at that point.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: A very typical example. Mrs Boynton is so despised that everyone in her family discover her body and fail to report it, each believing that someone else in the family did it.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Mrs. Boynton, although its downplayed given that her treatment of her biological daughter is just as bad if not worse than how she treats her stepchildren.
  • Yes-Man: Poirot describes one witness, Miss Pierce, as a very impressionable woman whose quick to follow what others say.