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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 finds the cache of hidden jewels, she actually figures out a large part of what is going on, when all the grown-ups around her (including Miss Bulstrode and Adam Goodman), are pretty much clueless. She is 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.
  • Boarding School: The main setting is the girls-only boarding school Meadowbanks.
  • Call-Back : 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:
    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.
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  • 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.
  • Cool Uncle: Bob Rawlinson to his niece Jennifer.
  • Dawson Casting: In-universe. It is 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 Guy Junior: Ali Yusuf's secret son Allen provides a belated example of both this and Someone to Remember Him By.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Miss Blanche, who is actually impersonating her sister Angèle who died, and who earned her teaching references. It is not as relevant to the plot as you might expect.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Jennifer is set up to receive a fair amount of focus at the beginning, but her trading tennis rackets with Julia and her own relatively unimaginative nature keep her from having much to do with the plot.
  • 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 its graduates. Miss Bulstrode has elements of this among the school population, probably for good reason.
  • Foreshadowing: Although not relevant to the actual murder, Julia's letter to her mother mentions that Jennifer told her that -according to her uncle- Prince Ali Yusuf was in love with someone other than Shaista and that woman appears at the end of the novel.
  • 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.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: Princess Shaista was kidnapped in Switzerland before she could arrive at Meadowbank School, and the character believed to be her throughout the book is an actress specializing in Dawson Casting parts. The reader never gets to know the real Shaista at all.
  • Lady Drunk: Lady Veronica Carlton-Sandways even has the Lady part in her title and makes a scene showing up drunk, upset at being away from her twin daughters for the school year.
  • 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.
  • My Own Private "I Do": Ali Yusuf had an English wife who he married after she got pregnant, but he kept this a secret from everyone in his home country.
  • Name Drop: by Eileen Rich, talking about the odd feeling she has had since the beginning of the 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.
  • Stern Teacher: Miss Bulstrode is the tough but fair kind.
  • Those Two Girls: Jennifer and Julia, for a while, with a letter from one of their classmates to her mother mentioning that everyone at school calls them the Jays.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: The murder of Ms. Vanstittart was completely unpremeditated, with Ms. Chadwick having simply gone to inspect a suspicious light while bringing a sandbag, and upon finding her rival there, with her back turned, was unable to resist the urge to strike her down, something she instantly felt horrified over.
  • 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.
  • Unfit for Greatness: It isn't that anyone has anything bad to say about Ms. Vanstittart, but Ms. Bulstrode secretly feels that she lacks the imagination and flexibility to help the school remain great.
  • 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 the 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!
  • Villain with Good Publicity: At the beginning of the novel, Ali Yusuf bemoans how the people of the country are trying to overthrown him, even as they venerate the memory of his grandfather, an Ax-Crazy dictator.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The book never reveals the fate of the real princess Shaista, although she is resuced in the TV adaptation.
  • The Wise Prince: Ali Yusuf tried to be this to his country, introducing many reforms. Unfortunately, it just made his enemies see him as weak and launch a revolution.


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