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Literature / Mrs. McGinty's Dead

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Mrs McGinty's Dead is a 1952 mystery novel by Agatha Christie.

Hercule Poirot is approached by an old acquaintance, Superintendent Spence. Spence was the investigating officer in the murder of one Mrs. McGinty, an old cleaning lady. Evidence led the police to her lodger, an unemployed man named James Bentley—Bentley couldn't explain his whereabouts, some blood was found on his clothes, and Mrs. McGinty's money was found hidden in the yard. It seemed like an Open-and-Shut Case and Bentley was swiftly convicted. However, Spence's gut instinct tells him that Bentley isn't guilty, and he goes to Poirot for help. It's an urgent matter as Bentley is due to be executed in a matter of weeks. Poirot, who has nothing on his plate, agrees to take the case.

Poirot decides to investigate in the village of Broadhinny, where Mrs McGinty and James Bentley lived, and in doing so, he stumbles across an old newspaper. Said newspaper contains photos of four people with criminal pasts, and these photos may prove instrumental in solving the crime...

Mrs McGinty's Dead provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Decay: Ariadne Oliver works on a theatre adaptation of her book, and complains that the characters are completely changed. Ironically, in real life, Agatha Christie's main complaint about early stage adaptations of her plays was that they stuck too closely to the books, as she felt that a murder mystery should surprise people.
  • Author Avatar: The return of Ariadne Oliver, who makes her second appearance in a Poirot novel 16 years after Cards on the Table, but would appear in five of the last nine Poirot books as well as non-Poirot book The Pale Horse. She is a very thinly veiled cartoon of Agatha Christie, being a tall woman who is a bestselling mystery novelist about a fictional detective who is a Funny Foreigner (hers is a Finn, Sven Hjerson). Mrs. Oliver complains about her mistake in making a blowpipe (for the purpose of shooting a poison dart) a foot long when it should be more like six feet long, which is a mistake Christie made in Death in the Clouds. Mrs. Oliver is arguing with Robin Upward about changes made to the plot for a stage adaptation of one of her books; Christie was strong-armed into changing the ending of And Then There Were None when it was adapted for the stage.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: Mrs. Summerhayes the Lethal Chef can even screw up coffee. Poirot describes her coffee as "an affront to the stomach."
  • Batman Gambit: Poirot pulls one against Robin Upward to trick him into letting his guard down, by insinuating that Mrs. Summerhayes committed the crimes, as Robin had planned.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Major Summerhayes is a good person, but flips out when Poirot insinuates that Mrs Summerhayes committed the crimes.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Maude Williams has "a full buxom figure that Poirot approved."
  • Call-Forward: Mrs. Summerhayes is the god-mother of Julia Upjohn, a character in the next Poirot mystery to be published, Cat Among the Pigeons.
  • Clear Their Name: Superintendent Spence gets Poirot involved because James Bentley, Mrs. McGinty's lodger, has already been convicted, but Spence isn't convinced. Apparently, his sullen, diffident demeanour during the trial was guaranteed to look unsympathetic to the jury, but in Spence's experience is entirely unlike how real murderers behave in court.
  • Comic-Book Time: Discussed Trope, as Robin Upward wants to make Ariadne's Oliver a parachutist in the Norwegian Resistance in World War II, while Mrs. Oliver indignantly replies that she's been writing Sven Hjerson for thirty years so he has to be in his sixties.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Superintendent Spence comes to Poirot, because he is uneasy about the conviction of James Bentley. Spence was the investigating officer in the previous Poirot novel, Taken at the Flood.
    • Poirot says that he can't abide the idea of retirement, commenting that he once retired to the country to grow vegetable marrows and it went badly. That is the plot of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
    • Poirot talks about a case in which the resemblance between a wealthy financier and a soap boiler he had known in Liege turned out to be important. That's short story "The Nemean Lion" from The Labours of Hercules.
    • Mrs. Oliver and Poirot reminisce about their first meeting, involving the murder of one Mr. Shaitana—that's Cards on the Table.
  • Creator Backlash: In-universe, Ariadne Oliver gets angry when talking about her own character, a Finnish detective with a bizarre quirk (he grates his vegetables before eating them). She also slams one of her novels, Death of a Débutante as "frightful tripe".
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Miss Horsefall, the reporter who wrote the crucial news story and candidly admits that it was romantic nonsense. She "forgot to be impatient to get to Sheffield, and sat down astride a chair" as she talks of the McGinty murder with Poirot.
  • The Eeyore: James Bentley, who has a tendency to be constantly depressed about his situation. It pisses the people trying to help him off to no end.
  • Frame-Up: The killer planted evidence that Bentley was responsible for the murder of Mrs McGinty, by staging a burglary and hiding the money where it could be found.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Poirot tumbles to the solution when he realizes that "Evelyn" is a unisex name and the killer could be a man.
  • He Knows Too Much: Mrs. McGinty and Mrs. Upward both were killed because they recognized the photo from the newspaper and twigged to the fact that the child of Eva Kane might be in the area.
  • Hotter and Sexier: In-Universe example. Robin Upward wants to do this to Ariadne Oliver's Sven Hjerson, changing him from a chaste man in his 60s to a Norwegian Resistance fighter in his 30s who Really Gets Around.
  • It's All About Me: Eva seems honestly flabbergasted that buying her way out of trouble won't work, and that the word of her servants might be held in equal regard to hers by a jury.
  • Kavorka Man: Poirot and Spence boggle at the fact that two different women, rich Dierdre Henderson and sexy Maude Williams, are both interested in James Bentley despite the fact that he's a loser.
    • Gender-Inverted Trope with the young postal clerk, Edna, who is described as resembling a skinned rabbit, yet turns out to be playing with the affections of at least two different young men (one of whom is married), much to Major Summerhayes's wonder.
  • Lethal Chef: Maureen Summerhayes, much to Poirot's displeasure as he's a lodger in her home while he investigates the crime. In one scene she cuts herself and bleeds on the beans she's preparing but figures the blood will just cook away in the pot, causing Poirot to seek dinner elsewhere. Another meal is "under-stewed oxtail, watery potatoes, and what Maureen hoped optimistically might turn out to be pancakes."
    • Mrs. Summerhayes opens up a jar of raspberries only to find that they're moldy, but elects to serve them anyway, thinking they are "practically penicillin."
  • The Matchmaker: Poirot, not for the first time in the series. This time he decides that once James Bentley is out of jail, Poirot will try to match him up with Deirdre Henderson.
  • Matricide: In a variation, Robin is revealed to have killed his adoptive mother, Mrs Upward.
  • Never One Murder: Mrs. Upward gets murdered towards the end of the book, because she recognized one of the newspaper photos (and to keep the plot going).
  • Orgy of Evidence: When Mrs. Upward's body is found, the number of clues that point to a woman having visited — lipstick stains on a cup, heavy scent of perfume in the air — eventually makes Poirot realize that somebody is trying to lead him astray.
  • Revealing Cover Up:
    • Robin Upward tries to frame Mrs Summerhayes by planting a photo of Eva Kane among her belongings. However, Poirot had searched the desk it was kept in earlier and had not found the photo, so he knew it was planted.
    • Similar to the above, Robin plants blatant evidence to suggest that the murder of Mrs Upward was committed by a woman. Poirot figures out that a man committed the crime because of this.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The Craig affair, one of the four cases mentioned in the newspaper story that Mrs. McGinty clipped out. A married man, Mr. Craig, is unhappily married and has an affair with pretty young Eva Kane. Mrs. Craig disappears and is said to have gone abroad and later died. Mrs. Craig is actually found buried in the basement, and Mr. Craig is convicted of murder and hanged, but Eva Kane beats the rap when her lover says she wasn't involved, after which Eva leaves for America. This is Christie using the real life notorious murder case of Hawley Harvey Crippen, Crippen's wife Cora, and Crippen's young mistress Ethel Le Neve.
  • Running Gag: Poirot, a very fussy man who is accustomed to fine food, suffering from the cooking of Mrs. Summerhayes the Lethal Chef. At the end he buys her a cookbook.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: Bitchy Mrs. Sweetiman complains about Maude Williams' "tight jumpers" (and Poirot already described Maude as having a "full buxom figure").
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: An offhand gag from Mr. Scuttle, real estate agent and James Bentley's former employer, as he's explaining that Bentley got fired because he wasn't shady enough and didn't close sales.
    "And if a client wants a house, we find him one. If it's a house in a lonely place with no amenities, we stress its antiquity, call it a period piece- and don't mention the plumbing! And if a house looks straight into the gasworks, we talk about amenities and facilities and don't mention the view. Hustle your client into it - that's what you're here to do. All sorts of little tricks there are."
  • Summation Gathering: As usual, Poirot gathers everyone together, explains his deductions, and then identifies the killer.
    He always enjoyed explanations.
  • Title Drop: The titular phrase is mentioned as part of an Ironic Nursery Rhyme at different points throughout the novel.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The killer, aka Robin has one when he thinks Poirot is about to attack him with a sugar hammer.