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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 in detail; all that's said is he ignores her most of the time, and when he doesn't its nasty enough that she hates him and is glad he's dead. Miss Carroll says of her boss that "he terrorized Geraldine."
  • Accidental Truth: Or was it? Bryan Martin's description of Jane Wilkinson's willingness to kill is motivated by the gender-inverted Woman Scorned more than by anything else. It also turns out to be absolutely correct.
  • The Alibi: Both Jane and Ronald have alibis; Jane was at a party while Ronald was at the opera. It turns out that both alibis are bogus.
  • Asshole Victim: The murder victim, Lord Edgware, was an unpleasant man with sadistic tendencies. Ronald calls him "my late, unlamented uncle."
  • Beauty Is Bad: Bryan Martin and Alton are described as being very handsome; the latter is a thief, and the former lies to Poirot in an attempt to frame the woman who rejected him. Jane Wilkinson, meanwhile, is described as very beautiful, and is the murderer and main villain of the story.
  • 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; it was Carlotta impersonating her.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Dumb Blonde Gold Digger Jane (who as Poirot suspects has a cunning for survival belied by her childishness), comparatively Brainy Brunette Carlotta (which becomes relevant when she makes a classical reference while impersonating Jane that gives away the switch) and Fiery Redhead Jenny Driver.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The offhand comment that the Duke of Merton is "a violent Anglo-Catholic" turns out to be the motive behind the murder. Jane killed her husband because she knew that the Duke would never marry a divorcee.
    • Hastings mentions that the door to Edgware's house opens to the left, so that the butler opening it would be standing on the left of anybody entering. This becomes important later.
  • Chekhov's Party: Two. The first is obvious, as Jane is at a party when her husband is murdered. Then, Donald Ross is killed... and that happens at another party. Donald overheard Jane mistake the "judgment of Paris" as referring to the city of Paris. This appears to be a simple social embarrassment, but it's much more significant to Donald because he was talking about culture with "Jane" at the dinner party. He puts these two parties together to figure out Jane had an impersonator — and so she killed him.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Carlotta Adams does a great impersonation of Jane Wilkinson, who is an actress. This is how Jane arranges her alibi, by getting Carlotta to pretend to be her.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Poirot reflects that the one time he took notice of a physical clue, no one would believe him because it was "four feet long instead of four centimetres". This is, 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.
    • Poirot was recommended to Duchess of Merton by Lady Yardly, a victim of theft in the short story "The Adventure of the Western Star".
    • Poirot says to Hastings, "You are like someone who reads the detective story and who starts guessing each of the characters in turn without rhyme or reason. Once, I agree, I had to do that myself. It was a very exceptional case. I will tell you about it one of these days. It was a feather in my cap." He is talking about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which the narrator is actually writing the book as it goes, and Poirot gets a look at the manuscript.
    • A weird one that is also a Series Continuity Error. Poirot makes an offhand comment about having once investigated a case about an ambassador's boots. "The Ambassador's Boots" was actually a Tommy and Tuppence story that appeared in short story collection Partners in Crime.
  • Cool Big Sis: Carlotta Adams provided a lot of her sister and wrote her letters with lots of interesting stories (even ones she wasn't supposed to tell).
  • Divorce in Reno: Alluded to when Poirot tells Jane that "In certain American states you could get a divorce, Madame."
  • Divorce Requires Death: Why Jane kills her husband even though he had agreed to the divorce. It turns out her new lover, the Duke of Merton, is Catholic and wouldn't marry a divorcee.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted and exploited by Jane. People take her to be a dumb blonde actress, and in many ways she is—she thinks the "judgment of Paris" is a reference to the city. But she is also very cunning in a sneaky way, and nearly gets away with murder.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: In the Italian translation, the plot point where the killer tears an "s" off the corner of a letter to change "she" into "he" is altered: the page is ripped so that only the final "i" from "lei" ("she") would be read, so it might as well be "lui" ("he"). Not only is assuming it's about a man a bit of an unjustified leap, but it also makes it obvious that the start that the letter was ripped to begin with. The same basically goes for translation into any language whose male and female pronouns are not similar enough..
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Hastings and Poirot attended a dinner at 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 leaving a cinema who passed him in the street: "If they had just had the sense to ask Ellis right away..."
    • Donald Ross has one when Jane overhears a reference to the judgement of Paris at a dinner party and responds as if it's referring to the city. Having been at the party where Carlotta had impersonated Jane and was able to converse easily about topics like history, Ross realises that the Jane he'd met at the previous party was not the Jane he was presently dining with. Unfortunately, this revelation costs him his life.
  • 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, until 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.
  • The Fundamentalist: The Duke of Merton is a very strict Catholic. His refusal to marry a divorced woman is what kicks off the whole murder plot.
  • 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.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Jane refers to the Duke of Merton as 'kinky'. Additionally, a character mentions that Lord Edgware shouldn't have gotten married because "he's a very queer man".
  • 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.
  • Henpecked Husband: Hercule Poirot suggests that Bryan Martin will become this following his marriage to Jenny Driver. Though it's actually played positively, since the wife in this case is a decent but strong-willed person and the husband, to be blunt, could do with some henpecking.
  • High-Class Glass: The snooty Dowager Duchess of Merton employs the female version of the high class glass, the lorgnette (glasses on a stick).
  • His Name Is...: Donald Ross is halfway through telling Poirot the important realization he had at a party, when his phone call is interrupted by a visitor at the door. The visitor murders him.
  • 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, and this resemblance ultimately has no bearing on the plot.
  • 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.
  • Inheritance Murder: Impoverished Patrician Ronald Marsh is arrested on suspicion of having murdered his uncle for the money and title, while it's not considered as a motive for Jane Wilkison because his will specifically excluded her. Jane doesn't care that she won't get anything from her husband's death, she has her eyes on another rich man who will not marry a divorced woman. A widow, on the other hand...
  • It Gets Easier: Referenced and discussed by Poirot. Several people talk about how Lord Edgware was a jerk and the world is probably better off without him. Poirot responds that, while he disapproves of all murder on principle, the idea of a justifiable murder is a danger to the public. Once a person who believes they have justifiably killed gets over the initial shock of their action and manages to avoid any consequences, they can very well start believing that Murder Is the Best Solution when up against somebody who impedes their desires. Jane Wilkinson seems to take this exact mindset.
  • 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. She is so self-obsessed to the point that after her husband dies, she shows absolutely no concern or worry for her own well-being, despite the fact that he was murdered in her own home. Given that she killed him, she had nothing to worry about, but she didn't even try to look worried about her potentially being a target. In the Epilogue Letter, she 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, and that Carlotta Adams betrayed her trust by mentioning the impersonation in a letter to her sister. The last words in her letter are her speculating that Madame Tussaud's might have a figure of her.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Poirot invites and sits Hasting, Japp, Jenny Driver, and Bryan Martin when he is about to explain the case. He invites Jenny Driver and Bryan Martin — who are about to marry — specifically because Bryan Martin gave him a foolish/fake story; he sits Jenny and Martin together and steers the conversation to frighten and shame Martin and encourage Jenny not to make their marriage "a typical Hollywood marriage" where Bryan can divorce her after 4-5 years.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • Inspector Japp jokes that "The police are always made out to be blind as bats in detective stories." This is, of course, precisely his role in the Christie universe, to be the dumb cop that Poirot runs rings around.
    • Ronald says that after he asked his uncle for money and was turned down, he walked away, "and that very same night...Lord Edgware dies." Then he says that would be a good title for a book.
  • Lingerie Scene: Jane greets Poirot and Hastings in "a gossamer negligee that revealed more than it hid." It comes off as more of her It's All About Me egoism, completely oblivious to the embarrassment she's causing two men who barely know her, than an attempt to be sexy.
  • Market-Based Title: Was originally published in the United States as Thirteen at Dinner.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Poirot seems to take pleasure in keeping Hastings in the dark. When Hastings asks why the two of them are going off to meet the Duke of Merton, Poirot answers "I wish to see him."
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Inspector Japp is admitting that Lord Edgware's butler has disappeared.
    "Yes, I have. I’ve let that (here he gave way to profanity)—of a butler slip through my fingers."
  • Never One Murder: The second murder came very soon after the first and was part of the plan. But there's a third murder later, when Donald Ross is killed to keep him from telling Poirot what he figured out.
  • The Nondescript: Carlotta Adams has an indistinct appearance that "could take on an alien character easily, but had recognisable character of its own".
  • Noodle Incident: Poirot speculates that Lord Edgware agreed to the divorce because Jane discovered something ugly in his past to blackmail him about. What it is is never explained.
  • Not an Act: Hastings sees Jane Wilkinson trying out widow's clothes with an air of great concentration, and clearly uninterested in such trivial matters as the murder of her husband. At the end of the story he confirms his impression that she really did only care about the clothes at the time even though she'd murdered said husband.
    But when I think of her, I always see her the same way— standing in her room at the Savoy trying on expensive black clothes with a serious absorbed face. I am convinced that that was no pose. She was being completely natural. Her plan had succeeded and therefore she had no further qualms and doubts. Neither do I think that she ever suffered one pang of remorse for the three crimes she had committed.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Jane pretends to be much sillier than she really is. Now, on the one hand, it is completely true that she doesn't know history or classical studies or anything academic at all, but on the other, as Poirot points out, she is incredibly intelligent about things that allow her to social climb, like fashion, and that her murder plan was very elegant and she almost got away with it.
  • Oh, Crap!: A double whammy, both centered on the same gaffe. While attending a dinner party, someone makes reference to "the judgment of Paris," a term from Greek mythology, but Jane thinks the speaker is referring to the city. Everyone is embarrassed, but Donald Ross falls into this trope and seems more troubled — because he realizes that the "Jane" who he spoke to at the dinner party on the night of Lord Edgware's murder was a cultured, intelligent lady who spoke freely and articulately about mythology and history. He immediately deduces that this isn't the same woman, and rushes off to make a phone call... triggering the trope in Jane, who follows and promptly murders him.
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: "The perspiration was running down his face" as Bryan Martin frantically denies that he's the killer.
  • Phoney Call: How Jane arranges her alibi. She has Carlotta pretend to be her, then calls "herself" at the time of the murder, so everyone thinks that she was at the party when it was actually Carlotta.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Jane is ultimately revealed to be this. She has absolutely no moral code and cares about nothing but her own happiness, dressing up in pretty clothes, and getting whatever she wants. The problem is that she's incredibly socially intelligent and able to manipulate people into either playing along with her games or underestimating her, even if she lacks a classical education. All in all, she comes across as an overgrown toddler with the money and means to indulge her every whim — and who kills those who stand in the way of those indulgences.
  • Quizzical Tilt:
    • "Poirot looked at her, his head a little on one side," when he's boggling at Jane's unfeigned happiness at her husband being murdered.
    • Again when Jenny looks at Poirot, "an impudent head on one side", as he suggests she might have done it.
  • Rags to Riches: Ronald Marsh is a poor but extravagant nobleman, who 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. It is evidence — but not of anything Carlotta actually did. It was planted on her by the murderer to make the "accidental overdose" theory more plausible, by making it seem as though she had a drug habit.
    • 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.
    • The woman presumed to be Jane entering Edgware's home the night he was killed was wearing black (a color Jane said she hates to wear) and had a large hat blocking the left side of her face, which is the side the butler stood at as he opened the door. Poirot also demonstrates that Miss Carroll, standing where she was on the stairs, could not have seen the woman's face, even though Carroll insists that the woman was Jane. Also, Carlotta Adams has been demonstrated to have an excellent impersonation of Jane Wilkinson. Actually, the woman entering the home was Jane all along, and she deliberately came up with this ruse to avert suspicion.
    • Also anything about Bryan Martin's story about the man with the gold tooth he tells to Poirot and Hastings; that was all an excuse to slander Jane after she spurned his advances.
    • Both the butler who has a criminal past and Ronald and Geraldine Marsh's visit to the Edgwares' house don't count for the reader but serve as in-universe Red Herrings. Ronald and Geraldine were really doing exactly what they said they were doing, and while the butler did commit a crime, it was just theft.
  • 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. Additionally, she repeatedly said, in the hearing of multiple people, including the famed Poirot, that she wanted to kill her victim.
  • 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.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Miss Carroll says that Lord Edgware treated Geraldine cruelly as a form of revenge against her mother for leaving him.
  • Reverse Relationship Reveal: Jane Wilkinson is apparently the victim of a frame-up, in which the murderer hired a mimic named Carlotta Adams to make it appear that Jane had kill Lord Edgware. In fact, Jane was the real murderer and had hired Carlotta to establish her alibi.
    • Jane also feels victimized by her terrible husband who refuses to grant her a divorce. He is in fact her victim. He granted her a divorce by letter, but she pretended never to receive it, as part of her alibi for his murder. In any case, the divorce was not sufficient, as she wished to marry a Catholic who did not recognize divorce as valid.
  • Seven Minute Lull: It's "in a momentary lull of conversation" that Jane makes her dumb comment confusing "the judgment of Paris" for something that happened in the city of Paris.
  • Sizable Semitic Nose: There's a lot of anti-Semitism in early Christie novels, like in this one when Ronald is talking about going to the opera with a Jewish family hoping to match him up with their daughter Rachel. Ronald says "Her long Jewish nose is quivering with emotion."
  • Smarter Than You Look: Ronald Marsh is a drunken, overly-talkative man who's constantly hitting up people for money and seems like just another Upper-Class Twit fallen on hard times, but Poirot notes that he isn't really a foolish man, as he is well aware that Poirot and the police see him as a murder suspect and quickly and decisively produces an alibi to yank the rug out from under Poirot almost before the detective has begun interviewing him.
  • The Sociopath: Jane seems completely impervious to guilt or shame, only upset that she didn't get away with it all. She just wanted to be happy, and if three other people had to die, so be it.
  • Spanner in the Works: Carlotta Adams' letter to her sister, and an out-of-place pair of eyeglasses.
  • Sticky Fingers: Alton the butler discovered the victim's body and did not report it immediately. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to steal cash that was lying about nearby.
  • Summation Gathering: Played with. Poirot gives his typical summation, but he only gathers two of the suspects, Bryan and Jenny, instead of the whole group. And it turns out that neither of them is the killer, but he summoned them in order to 1) match them up and 2) scare the wits out of Bryan, who pissed Poirot off by telling him a fictitious story.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: At the end of the novel Poirot speculates that Lord Edgware was willing to give his wife a divorce due to a letter she sent him threatening to reveal some form of marital cruelty. He comes to this belief because Lord Edgware had said his decision was "not on account of anything in that letter", before Poirot even mentioned the letter.
  • 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. And the real Jane was hanged after the events of the novel.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: Jane killed her husband because she knows that the Duke of Merton won't marry a divorcee, but he would marry a widow.
  • Title Drop: Ronald makes one, while mockingly describing the case against himself. "Nephew quarrels with Lord Edgware, that very night Lord Edgware dies." He immediately Lampshades this by pointing out "Lord Edgware Dies" would make a great name for a book.
  • Villain Raises a Toast: After Edgware's death, Jane Wilkinson and Carlotta Adams raise a toast. Too bad Carlotta's drink is poisoned.
  • Wham Line: Lord Edgware has one when he states that he will not contest a divorce.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: A murder mystery in which the victim, Lord Edgware, is a complete asshole, emotionally abusive to his daughter, a sadist, and just generally a dick.
  • Widow's Weeds: The supremely self-obsessed Jane complains about having to wear black mourning dress, and does so only because it's expected of her, and so she has an excuse to try on a bunch of new clothes.
  • 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. He didn't, but he did make up stories to try and inconvenience her.

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.