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Literature / The Hollow

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The Hollow is a 1946 mystery novel by Agatha Christie.

Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell host some guests at their mansion, The Hollow, for a weekend. Among their guests are Dr. John Christow, a friend of the family, and Christow's meek, submissive wife Gerda. Also coming for the weekend is Henrietta Savernake, a cousin to the Angkatells, and mistress to Dr. Christow.

Inviting a husband, wife, and husband's girlfriend on the same weekend might be uncomfortable, but everybody seems to have turned a blind eye to the situation. However, a complication arises in the person of Veronica Cray, yet another lover of John's. It seems that fifteen years ago, John Christow and Veronica Cray met in an exotic tropical location and had a passionate fling. Veronica, a famous Hollywood actress, still carries a torch for John and has rented a cottage next door to The Hollow so that she can see him again. John goes over to Veronica's place and they have sex, but the next morning he tells her that he won't leave his wife.

Later that day John is shot and killed by the Angkatell swimming pool. The murder is investigated by the last guest to arrive at The Hollow that weekend—Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective.

A theatrical adaptation by Christie (minus Poirot) premiered in 1951.


  • Accidental Suicide: Gerda dies from a poisoned drink that she had prepared for Henrietta, due to Poirot's intervention.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Poirot comes strolling into the mansion no more than a minute or two after Christow gets shot. He bends over Christow by the pool, and John has time enough to gasp "Henrietta" before he expires. What Dr. Christow meant by this is one of the points of the mystery.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Did Gerda drink the poisoned tea accidentally, or did she believe that Poirot's appearance meant that he had figured out her scheme, and so intentionally killed herself rather than face justice?
  • Arc Words: John, Edward, Gerda, Henrietta and Midge exclaim or think "I'm so tired", an expression of their weariness with the personal drama in their lives.
  • Call-Back: Near the beginning of the book, Lucy Angkatell wakes up early, barges into Midge's room to wake her, then puts a kettle on the burner (thinking how considerate it would be for the others to wake up to a hot kettle for tea) and goes back to sleep, completely forgetting about the kettle, which boils dry and is ruined. She does the same sequence of events (waking up Sir Henry this time) at the end of the novel. Her butler keeps a stock of replacement kettles on hand, as apparently she does this all the time.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: There's an off-hand mention of a blind man who sells matches on the street near Henrietta's studio. That's how she got a random set of prints on the gun, by asking the blind man to hold it.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lucy Angkatell is quite special. The cook remembers her putting a live lobster on the card tray, and she sees nothing wrong with Midge barging into her room at six in the morning to explain how she stopped Edward from committing suicide.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Henrietta just happens to take the gun from Gerda, and then just happens to drop it into a swimming pool and thus wash off any fingerprints or powder residue. Exactly as she intended.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Gerda Christow, the "meek and submissive" wife who is often belittled by her arrogant husband, snaps when she sees him going off with still another woman. She concocts a plan, and shoots him to death.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: John Christow is out by the pool when he hears "a very faint businesslike click". He turns, and gets fatally shot.
  • Enter Stage Window: Veronica Cray makes a dramatic entrance into The Hollow through the French windows, supposedly to borrow matches, but really to find John.
  • Extreme Doormat: Gerda is described as "meek and submissive" by Dr. Christow's nurse, Beryl. She is also described as worshipping John, and in one scene John remembers asking Gerda to marry him with the explicit condition that he wanted her to let him have his way in all things.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Gerda serving as Henrietta's model for The Worshipper.
    • Lucy mentions reading The News of the World, a tabloid telling exactly how many housewives kill themselves via gas oven. Edward later attempts suicide with this method.
    • Sir Henry is a collector of firearms, and his houseguests take turns shooting with a revolver. This allows Gerda to know how to load and fire a revolver, and the large number of guns around the house makes it easy for her to obfuscate which gun actually killed John.
  • For Science!: John Christow is trying to find a cure for Ridgeway's Disease not because he wants to help the suffering but because he finds it an interesting medical problem. This exchange with Henrietta illustrates his attitude:
    John: If I’m right, a lot of our ideas will be revolutionized — we’ll have to reconsider the whole question of hormone secretion—
    Henrietta: You mean that there will be a cure for Ridgeway's Disease? That people won't die?
    John: That, incidentally.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: The narrative treats Henrietta very sympathetically, while Veronica is very blatantly portrayed as an egoist who sees John as little more than a possession. It remains though that Henrietta still befriended the wife of the man she was having an affair with, which would have been an extra dagger to the heart of Gerda had she found out, and not even their friendship and Henrietta's protectiveness of Gerda was enough to make her stop her and John's affair. Deep down, Henrietta is deeply selfish too.
  • Happily Failed Suicide: After Midge rejects Edward's marriage proposal, because she thinks he really loves Henrietta, he tries to kill himself via gas oven. Midge comes in to the kitchen and saves Edward, and they are united at last.
  • He Knows Too Much: Gerda's reason for trying to poison Henrietta, who had been trying to protect her.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: John has finally gotten closure on the love affair he fled years before, and has an epiphany about how much of a jerk he's been to the women in his life. He resolves to atone for his past behavior—and is promptly shot to death.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Due to Poirot's intervention, Gerda drinks the poison that she had intended for Henrietta.
  • Hollywood Midlife Crisis: John Christow is going through this. Bored with his practice, bored with the hypochondriac ladies who come to his office, bored by his mousy wife, frustrated by his mistress's refusal to focus all her attention on him. The appearance of an Old Flame nearly causes him to bail on his life completely.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Lady Lucy comes across as The Ditz at times, and this includes when she doesn't seem to be all that disturbed by John's murder, but rather that she finds it an interesting diversion. Similarly, her reaction to Edward's attempted suicide is not any outward concern, but to tell Sir Henry that they ought to start cooking with electricity.
  • It's All About Me: Veronica Cray is a truly massive egoist, having expected John Christow to completely abandon his medical career and follow her off to Hollywood. Her recounting to Poirot of her last meeting with John is the complete opposite of how their conversation really went, and Poirot surmises that she is simply incapable of comprehending that she cannot simply possess John as she wishes.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: An example that almost backfires disastrously. Midge calls off her engagement to Edward because she thinks he still loves Henrietta. Misunderstanding her and despairing at having been rejected by both women, he attempts suicide. Fortunately Midge saves him and they are reunited.
  • Last Request: It turns out that John's last word was one. He was asking Henrietta to protect and cover for Gerda.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall
    • Midge regards the scene with John Christow lying mortally wounded by the pool as "like the jacket of a detective story." In fact early paperback printings of The Hollow used just that scene on the cover.
    • David Angkatell, a bookworm with a rather superior attitude to everyone, describes their situation as having "all the cliches that one thought existed only in the pages of detective fiction."
  • Let Off by the Detective: Henrietta is clearly an accessory after-the-fact to John's murder, but Poirot takes no action about it. It's likely that he knows she is terribly distressed by being involved.
  • Love Dodecahedron: There's John Christow, his wife Gerda, his mistress Henrietta, and his Old Flame Veronica. It so happens that Henrietta is also adored by her distant cousin Edward Angkatell, heir to the family estate. And Edward is in turn adored by Midge Hardcastle, Lucy's working-class cousin.
  • Loving a Shadow: Edward is in love with Henrietta...or rather, he's in love with a previous version of Henrietta, who no longer exists and is not in love with him. Midge breaks off the engagement thinking that Edward will never get over this obsession, but by the end he comes to realize that he was in love with a person who never really existed, and finds happiness in Midge.
  • Murder by Inaction: Hercule Poirot himself skirts the edge of this. He is suspicious enough that he tells Henrietta not to drink the tea that Gerda just prepared for her. He then does nothing else, letting her put the tea back on the tray and letting Gerda drink it. Gerda dies of the poison she meant for Henrietta.
  • Never the Obvious Suspect: Played with. Gerda, John Christow's long-suffering wife, is suspected of having killed her serial adulterer husband. If that isn't enough, Gerda is seen standing over Christow's body with a gun! It turns out however that the gun Gerda was carrying wasn't the one that killed John, so she's apparently cleared. The ending reveals that Gerda did kill her husband after all. She intentionally carried two guns to kill her husband, shot him with one and threw the other in the bushes, so that when the gun she was found with was tested, she'd appear to be innocent.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Near the beginning of the book, there is an internal monologue of how Gerda has found it easier to act slow and stupid at times, both to get out of having to do things, and to lower the expectations of people around her so that they underestimate her. This includes deflecting suspicion that she'd planned her husband's murder.
  • Old Flame: Veronica Cray, with whom John Christow had a brief passionate fling with fifteen years prior, shows back up in his life, wanting to start things again.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Accidentally. Poirot thinks Henrietta's cup of tea may be poisoned, so he makes her put it down on the tray. Gerda returns, picks up the wrong cup of tea, drinks it, and dies.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Midge calls off her engagement to Edward because she thinks he's still in love with Henrietta. He misunderstands her reasons for breaking up with him, and believing that neither she nor anyone else wants him, attempts suicide - but fortunately she saves him.
  • Proof Dare: When Poirot all but accuses Henrietta of having killed John Christow, she spits at him "You will never prove it!" It turns out she's right, but she did help cover up for the real murderer.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal: Edward asked Henrietta to marry him four times, and she rejected him each time. At the fourth time, she said: "I wish I wasn’t so dreadfully fond of you, Edward. It makes it so very much harder to go on saying No."
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's never really know where Lady Lucy picked up the Mauser .25 Automatic and why she put it in her egg basket, though there is one possible explanation.
  • Sexy Secretary: Christow deliberately avoided this, hiring "a plain secretary with no nonsense about her" instead.
  • Spurned into Suicide: A fortunately subverted example. Edward attempts suicide after Midge rejects his marriage proposal. She only rejected him because she believed he was still in love with Henrietta, but she saves him, and they are united.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The POV alters between all of the main characters, on a chapter-by-chapter basis.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Gerda tries unsuccessfully to poison Henrietta, despite the latter having done her utmost to cover for and protect her.
  • Yandere: What Gerda actually is, foreshadowed by her posing for Henrietta's sculpture The Worshipper — described as terrifying in her mindless devotion. And when her devotion's object fell short of her expectations... she just snapped.