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Literature / Cards on the Table

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Cards on the Table is an Agatha Christie detective fiction murder mystery first published in 1936. The mysterious Mr Shaitana, who boasts of being a "collector of murderers", hosts a dinner party to which he invites four "specimens" of his collection along with the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, crime novelist Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Battle and Colonel Race. After some provocative discourse on the subject of murder, Shaitana invites his eight guests to play Bridge, while he retires to his armchair by the fire, where he is promptly murdered. In investigating the murder, Poirot uncovers some dark secrets in the lives of all four suspects.

The book was made into a stage play in 1981, and adapted for the TV series Poirot in 2005, the latter of which strayed considerably from the original story. Tropes for the 2005 adaptation are listed on the page for the TV series.


The 1936 novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: The killing of Professor Luxmore turns out to be this, but the circumstances made it look very bad.
  • After Action, Villain Analysis: Double subverted. At the beginning of the Summation Gathering, we are falsely led to believe that the killer of Shaitana is Anne, who has just drowned, before Poirot announces that the true killer is in the room. Poirot begins his analysis of this person after they are taken into custody.
  • Author Avatar: Ariadne Oliver is an obvious self-parody of Christie herself.
  • Betty and Veronica: Flatmates Rhoda Dawes and Anne Meredith are in love with Major Despard. The former, a tomboyish and down-to-earth girl, is the Betty, while the latter, being shy and mysterious, is the Veronica.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Poirot hires an actor to play the part of a window cleaner who claims to have witnessed one of the murders through the window. He didn't really, of course, but Poirot reconstructed how it occurred from his imagination.
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  • ...But He Sounds Handsome: There's an element of this in the way the killer (at the beginning) comments about how much nerve would be required to commit a murder in that fashion.
  • Call-Back: Poirot gives Rhoda the knife used to send Cassetti where he belonged. It even spoils the ending of that story.
  • Canon Welding: Superintendent Battle previously appeared in the two novels starring Bundle Brent, while Ariadne Oliver first appeared in the Parker Pyne stories, and appeared along with Rhoda Dawes and Major Despard in the 1961 novel The Pale Horse, which also featured the vicar's wife from the Miss Marple novel The Moving Finger.
  • Card Games: The murder takes place during a game of Bridge.
  • Closed Circle: The only people in the room where Shaitana dies are four successful murderers he "collected".
  • Deadly Doctor: Roberts have caused numerous deaths of his patients throughout his career as a doctor. Most of them die of natural causes while being under his care, but this only provides a convenient cover/excuse when he does deliberately murder his patients.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When one of the suspects confesses to shield the real murderer, Poirot points out how short-sighted such a move really is, as it will only encourage the killer to keep using murder as a means of solving problems.
    • Earlier, Poirot repeatedly points out how stupid it was of Shaitana to go around deliberately taunting successful murderers.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: The book ends with a joke.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Invoked, both in universe and out of it: a preface to the novel specifically states that the trope is in place; four of Shaitana's guests are invited on the premise that they are all successful murderers, and Shaitana pretty much blackmails them.
  • Graceful Loser: Downplayed a bit; indicated by the killer's calmly delivered final line: "I throw in my hand. You've got me!".
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • Shaitana poses a danger to the murderers he has "collected".
    • Rhoda's knowledge about Anne Meredith's shady past made her a target.
  • The Ingenue: Anne Meredith appears to be a shy but very sheltered and innocent girl whom the sleuths couldn't help feelings sorry for, but she's one of the murderers that Shaitana had "collected" for his party.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Subverted with Superintendant Battle, who seems to be this at first but his 'wooden' stolidity is a careful act, and his investigative methods do prove effective (though, of course, Poirot is Always Someone Better).
  • Irony: Despard shot at a Professor Luxmore to save his life when he was about to deliriously wander to his death by drowning; the shot was only fatal due to the misguided intervention of Mrs Luxmore.
  • Just One Little Mistake: Subverted. At first it seems that Dr Roberts was seen killing Mrs Lorrimer, but Poirot reveals that this was a bluff.
  • Karmic Death: Anne Meredith tries to kill Rhoda by pushing her into the river, but ends up falling in too and drowning.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Don't read this book before Murder on the Orient Express, since it gives away the solution to that one.
    • Similarly, don't read The Pale Horse before reading this one. If you do, you'll know that Major Despard isn't the guilty party.
  • Louis Cypher: Mr Shaitana (whose name is derived from Shaitan, the Arabic spelling of Satan).
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The killer administered a bacteria-infested innoculation to Mrs Craddock, and her death weeks later was blamed on the conditions in Egypt.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse:
    • Anne tries to get rid of her romantic rival by shoving the other girl into the river while they're boating together. It backfires, however, as the boat tipped, causing both girls to fall, and eventually killing Anne.
    • Subverted with regard to Despard and the Luxmores.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Shaitana claimed all four of the people who eventually become suspects for his own murder had also committed previous murders, meaning any of them were theoretically capable of killing again. Poirot notes that Shaitana was only likely to be wrong about, at most, one of them. He turns out to be right, as Major Despard only committed accidental manslaughter.
  • Never One Murder: Mrs Lorrimer is killed to serve as a scapegoat for Shaitana's murder. Four people were also murdered before the novel began: Mr and Mrs Craddock, Mr Lorrimer, and Mrs Benson.
  • Never Suicide: Mrs Lorrimer was murdered, and set up to look like she murdered Shaitana and committed suicide from remorse.
  • Obviously Evil: Mr Shaitana, though partly because he deliberately plays up a 'Mephistophelian' image.
  • Percussive Prevention: Despard attempted this to save Professor Luxmore from drowning, but it went horribly wrong.
  • The Profiler: A prominent example of Poirot's use of "the psychology" to solve the crime.
  • Red Herring: Mrs Lorrimer and Anne Meredith, both previously successful murderers, are set up to look like Shaitana's killer. Neither is.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The night before being murdered, Mrs Lorrimer confesses to Shaitana's murder, both to protect Anne Meredith and to atone for her own successful murder of her husband years earlier.
  • Rescue Romance: Despard saves Rhoda from drowning, which jumpstarts their relationship.
  • Sadist: Shaitana enjoys tormenting his "murderers".
  • Same Story, Different Names: Ariadne Oliver is asked if she's ever reused a plot, and Poirot instantly mentions "The Lotus Murder" and "The Clue of the Candle-Wax" - which from the descriptions are her versions of Murder on the Links and "The Adventure of the Submarine Plans".
    • Also used as part of the investigation: the goal is to find a crime in one of the suspects' pasts that has the same pattern as this one.
  • The Scapegoat: Mrs Lorrimer voluntarily becomes this, and is simultaneously made one by the murderer.
  • Secret Test of Character: Poirot presents one to Anne under the pretense of asking her advice on which expensive stockings to send to his niece.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Mrs Luxmore's misapprehension that Despard was about to shoot her husband dead led her to thwart his attempt at Percussive Prevention and turn it into a fatal shot.
  • Sticky Fingers: Anne is revealed by Poirot to be a kleptomaniac. She was caught stealing by her employer Mrs Benson, whom she then poisoned.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Shaitana's dangerous hobby of collecting successful murderers gets him killed.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: Ariadne Oliver and apples.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Mrs. Luxmore tells Poirot a highly colorful and romanticized tale of forbidden love between her and Major Despard culminating in the latter killing her husband in self-defence, after which they decided that they had no choice but to part ways for good. It turns out she's an unstable drama queen whom Despard always disliked, and who was herself responsible for her husband's accidental death.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never learn why Mrs. Lorrimer killed her husband.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Christie structured the puzzle so that readers who had a good understanding of bridge would have an edge on guessing the solution.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: Mr. Shaitana invites people who literally got away with murder to a party calculated to make them squirm. Christie plays with this one, as Poirot immediately points out that this is not a safe hobby. Much of the book is spent trying to find out what murders the suspects previously committed. As a further sign of Shaitana's arrogance, very late in the book, it is revealed that one of the so-called "murderers" was actually innocent of his original crime. He did not deserve to be put through Shaitana's mind game in the first place.


Example of: