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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.

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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.
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  • 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 re-enforce the idea that someone was trying to kill her
  • 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.
  • 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. And then Nick gets poisoned by cocaine-laced chocolates that she herself prepared.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: While discussing the possible motives for murder, Poirot briefly mentions Iago and how ingenious his methods of killing were. In Curtain, Poirot must face a killer who had perfectly mastered Iago's methods and is able to commit murder through other people while he himself remains legally innocent.
    • 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.
    • 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 the will when it actually referred to her cousin.
  • Ghostly Glide: Nick is described as hovering across the floor when she appears at the seance.
  • 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. 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: The use of a love letter that does not mention Nick's serious operation, 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. Also, her Revealing Cover-Up at the end.
  • 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.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Nick, Freddie, and Maggie. The fact that both Nick and Maggie have the first name Magdala but neither use it is what makes the plan possible.
  • Lost Will and Testament: The will of Nick 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, then 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.
  • 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.
  • One Steve Limit: Subverted: Both Nick and her cousin Maggie are legally 'Magdala Buckley'.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Nick tries to frame Freddie by placing a gun in her coat, unaware that she is being watched.
  • 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.
  • Spooky Séance: A dramatic one that culminates in Nick entering the room as her own ghost.
  • 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.

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