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Literature / Peril at End House

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A novel by Agatha Christie published in 1932, featuring Hercule Poirot.

While staying at a Cornish resort, Poirot meets Nick Buckley, the beautiful young mistress of End House, who has escaped several attempts on her life. He decides to try to protect her and track down the would-be killer, and comes to End House where he meets an assortment of mysterious characters: Nick's cousin and lawyer Charles Vyse, the housekeeper Ellen, Mr and Mrs Croft who are leasing the cottage on Nick's property, Nick's friends Frederica Rice, Jim Lazarus, and George Challenger, and lastly her cousin Maggie, whom she asked to stay with her at Poirot's suggestion. On the night of a firework party, a corpse is found, wearing Nick's shawl...

The novel was adapted for a double episode in series two of ITV's Poirot starring David Suchet in 1990; this episode was generally very faithful to the novel. Tropes unique to this adaptation can be found on the series page.

This novel provides examples of the following:

  • Anti-Advice: This is how Poirot reacts to Hastings calling Commander Challenger a "pukka sahib" (a Raj term for a proper gentleman), deciding that it might be worth investigating him after all. Sure enough...
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The killer commits suicide through the use of cocaine hidden in her wrist-watch, which is a much easier death than being hanged.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: This story features multiple villains. Apart from the murderer of Maggie, Nick Buckley, the Crofts are criminal forgers, and Commander Challenger is a drug trafficker.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Nick. She appears to be in danger, but it's all an act to cover up her murder of her cousin as another attempt on her life.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Maggie is shot to death during a fireworks display, so nobody hears or sees what exactly happened.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Magdala Buckley's nickname, of all things. She explains her actual name is Magdala but since it's such a common name in the family, that she prefers for others to call her Nick. Poirot realizes that Seton would have referred to his fiancee by her Affectionate Nickname in his love letters, and that Maggie was the actually engaged party since she was another Magdala Buckley.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • The killer fakes several attempts on her life and brings them up in a causal and unconcerned way to get Poirot involved as a Detective Patsy so that she can kill her intended victim and make it look like a failed attempt on her life.
    • In a lower-stakes example, Jim offers to buy one of Nick's paintings for far more than it's worth, knowing that she'll be confused by this and will probably get the painting in question valued, upon which she'll find that he was offering too much. Therefore, the next time he asks to buy one of her paintings, she'll assume that he's offering too much again and just sell it without bothering to get it valued. That second painting actually is quite valuable, and Jim will stand to net a tidy profit.
  • Coincidental Dodge: Nick appears to be bothered by a fly near her face. It turns out to be a bullet that went through her hat and narrowly missed hitting her, which Poirot finds nearby. Subverted; she planted the bullet, made the hole in her hat, and pretended to be bothered by a fly, all to reinforce the idea that someone was trying to kill her.
  • Continuity Nod: Several, as was Agatha Christie's habit. Hastings expresses regret that he was off in Argentina and wasn't able to accompany Poirot for The Mystery of the Blue Train or "that strange affair at Fernley Park", aka The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Later Hastings tells the story of how Poirot got a "Eureka!" Moment that solved a case while he was straightening ornaments on a mantelpiece—that's debut Poirot novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Implied as a backstory, when in his summation, Poirot describes how Nick began to hate Freddie because Freddie has, as Poirot puts it, "the knack of winning love, and keeping it", and also how her love for End House drove her to murder Maggie to claim her inheritance.
  • Drama Queen: A plot point; Freddie mentions to Poirot that Nick is an "actress" and is always making up lies to be at the center of attention. She's forced to eat her words when someone shoots Maggie, mistaking her for Nick. Poirot admits that Freddie had the better measure of her friend, and that Nick was a drama queen. She created the whole plot to get Poirot on her side and exonerate her of potential murder.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Played with. Freddie is a recovering cocaine addict, trying to get clean of the stuff after being addicted by her violent addict husband. Commander Challenger is also found out to be a drug dealer. Nick gets poisoned by cocaine-laced chocolates that she herself prepared, and after she is unmasked as the murderer, it is implied that she will use a full dose of cocaine to kill herself.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Surprisingly — and yet totally believably — subverted. Poirot compiles a seemingly complete list of suspects, even giving each one of them a letter of the alphabet, and yet in the end it turns out that neither the main culprit (despite being there and well-known by everybody for all the time) nor one of the minor ones are on it.
  • Faking the Dead: Nick is persuaded by Poirot to do this, in order to expose the Crofts. Poirot also does this in order to stage the drama that Nick always wanted in End House, and to give her an opportunity to incriminate herself in the process.
  • Foreshadowing: Poirot mentions that Mr. and Mrs. Croft seem almost excessively Australian. He's right, they're crooks hiding out.
  • Forging the Will:
    • When Charles Vyse reads out Nick's will, everyone was surprised to hear that she had left her entire fortune to Mrs Croft. This turns out to be a forgery, she being known to the police for engaging in this particular criminal activity, albeit by a different name.
    • Another, less direct version as well. While Nick doesn't present a forged will, she does try to forge being the "Magdala Buckley" mentioned in Michael Seton's will when it actually referred to her cousin.
  • Ghostly Glide: Nick is described as hovering across the floor when she appears at the seance.
  • Greedy Jew: Poirot finds it suspicious that Lazarus is offering Nick several times what a painting is worth. It transpires that he intends Nick to get the painting valued, discover he's being generous, and then not get a valuation the next time he offers to buy a painting from her.
  • Hat Damage: While Nick was conversing with Poirot, a bullet was apparently shot at her, narrowly misses her head and hits the rim of her hat instead. However, it is almost certain that Nick had deliberately damaged the hat and left the bullet for Poirot to find in order to create an illusion that someone is after her life.
  • Haunted House: End House has shades of this. Lampshaded when it is suggested that the house's influence made Nick succumb to evil.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Michael Seton's uncle Matthew disliked women, which is why Michael had to keep his engagement a secret.
  • Inheritance Murder: This is a suspected motive behind the attacks on Nick, as she is engaged to Michael Seton, nephew and inheritor of "the second-richest man in England", who had named his fiancee as his own inheritor. Double Subverted: While Seton's money was indeed the motive for the murder, the truth plays out differently from what was presupposed. Michael was engaged, not to Nick, but to her cousin Maggie. As they have the same name — Magdala Buckley — Nick murders her cousin in order to claim the inheritance Michael had left for Maggie.
  • Just One Little Mistake: Despite how brilliantly manipulative the killer is, they make three mistakes: firstly, suppressing the fact that she had already sent for Maggie and was simply asking her to come a day earlier, and secondly, using a love letter from Seton that does not mention a serious operation she had, despite being dated for that time. There are surprisingly few letters for such an ardent love affair, as Nick had to remove all of the ones that mention the real recipient. The third mistake was her Revealing Cover-Up in trying to frame Freddie by placing her pistol in the latter's coat pocket.
  • Kill the Cutie: The murder victim comes across as a very likeable, if reserved, person. It turns out that Michael Seton had thought so, too, and had been secretly engaged to marry her.
  • Kissing Cousins: A one-sided example. Nick's maternal cousin Charles asks her to marry him but she refuses.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Nick, Freddie, and Maggie. The fact that both Nick and Maggie have the first name Magdala but neither uses it is what makes the plan possible.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Poirot, when grilling Nick about who could be responsible for the attempts on her life, says "And now we ask the question of the cinema, of the detective novel—Who profits by your death, Mademoiselle?"
  • Lost Will and Testament: Nick's will is missing, only to turn up after her faked death, and it turns out that it's a fake made by the Crofts, who persuaded her to make a will in the first place, then prevented it from reaching her cousin/lawyer after she survived the operation. When she apparently dies for real, they send their version to him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: This trope appears to be in play for the attempts on Nick's life. This is her cover for the crime she is planning, which is the murder of her cousin.
  • Murder by Mistake: Inverted. Nick dressed up her murder of Maggie as this, and made herself look like the intended victim.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Nick kills her cousin Maggie for the Sefton fortune to save End House instead of just asking her for a gift or a loan of the money, even though the two of them are close and Maggie might have agreed to help Nick out financially.
  • Near-Villain Victory: The killer comes incredibly close to succeeding, having very skillfully manipulated Poirot into firmly believing that her life was in danger and that she was the intended victim of her cousin's murder, working hard to protect her, and investigating every outlandish possibility save the real one until the very end of the story. He is only put on the right path due to a curious line in a letter that Maggie had written to her mother.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Nick tries to invoke this with Freddie's dead husband, ostensibly to spare Freddie, but really to cover up her own murder.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Nick tries to frame Freddie by placing a gun in her coat, unaware that she is being watched.
  • Reverse Psychology: The killer is a master of this. Nick goads Poirot into concluding that her life is in danger, while at the same time laughing it off and insisting that the things that happened to her were just silly accidents. When he insists that she call for someone to be with her, she half-heartedly suggests summoning Maggie, while also making a big deal about how there are better choices, but Poirot says she will do admirably (just as Nick planned).
  • Significant Name Overlap: Both Nick and Maggie share the same legal name, Magdala, and this is what makes the murderer's plan even possible. Nick pretends that someone is after her life to gain the inheritance she had just received from her deceased fiance—except the one who's meant to inherit the wealth is actually Maggie, and Nick murders her for the money while pretending that the killer had got the wrong victim.
  • Sickbed Slaying: The poisoned chocolates sent to Nick. Subverted in that not only is she not dead, but she sent them to herself as a ruse.
  • Sizable Semitic Nose: When discussing Lazarus, Poirot comments on the length of his nose as if this and the likelihood of him being a Greedy Jew are directly linked.
  • Spooky Séance: A dramatic one that culminates in Nick entering the room as her own ghost.
  • Summation Gathering: As usual, Poirot gathers all the principals together to identify the murderer. He mixes it up this time by staging a Spooky Séance.
  • Tomboyish Name: Nick Buckley and Freddie Rice.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Nick used Poirot as he had never been used before or after, making him a part of the murder plot.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: One of the attempts on Nick's life in the backstory, when someone tampered with her brakes. Subverted in that Nick actually did it herself.
  • The Watson: Hastings as usual, both providing narration and making Poirot look smart by comparison. Lampshaded when Nick snarkily addresses him as "Dr. Watson," much to Hastings' irritation.