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Appointment with Death First Edition Cover 1938

Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition

Appointment with Death
is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on May 2, 1938 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and reflects Christie's experiences travelling in the Middle East with her husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan.

Plot introductionEdit

Holidaying in Jerusalem, Poirot overhears Raymond Boynton telling his sister: "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Their stepmother, Mrs Boynton, is a sadistic tyrant who dominates her family. But when she is found dead on a trip to Petra, Poirot proposes to solve the case in twenty-four hours, even though he has no way of even proving whether it was murder.

CharactersEdit

  • Hercule Poirot, renowned Belgian detective
  • Colonel Carbury, senior figure in Transjordania
  • Mrs Boynton, the victim
  • Ginevra Boynton, the victim's daughter
  • Raymond Boynton, the victim's stepson
  • Carol Boynton, the victim's stepdaughter
  • Lennox Boynton, the victim's stepson
  • Nadine Boynton, the victim's stepdaughter-in-law (Lennox's wife)
  • Jefferson Cope, a family friend
  • Dr Gerard, a French psychologist
  • Sarah King, a young doctor
  • Lady Westholme, a member of Parliament
  • Miss Amabel Pierce, a former nursery governess

Literary significance and receptionEdit

Simon Nowell-Smith's review in the Times Literary Supplement of 7 May 1938 concluded that "Poirot, if the mellowing influence of time has softened many of his mannerisms, has lost none of his skill. His examination of the family, the psychologists and the few others in the party, his sifting of truth from half-truth and contradiction, his playing off one suspect against another and gradual elimination of each in turn are in Mrs Christie's most brilliant style. Only the solution appears a trifle tame and disappointing."

In The New York Times Book Review for 11 September 1938, Kay Irvin said, "Even a lesser Agatha Christie story holds its readers' attention with its skillful management of suspense. Appointment with Death is decidedly of the lesser ranks: indeed, it comes close to being the least solid and satisfactory of all the Poirot mystery tales. Its presentation of a family harried and tortured by a sadistic matriarch is shot full of psychological conversation and almost entirely deficient in plot. And yet, when the evil-hearted old tyrant has been murdered at last and Poirot considers the suspects, one follows with genuine interest the unraveling of even unexciting clues."

In The Observer's issue of 1 May 1938, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) said, "I have to confess I have just been beaten again by Agatha Christie. There was no excuse. I was feeling in particularly good form; and the worst of it is that she handicapped herself in the latest game with what in anyone else would be insolent severity. Murder on the Nile (sic) was entirely brilliant; Appointment with Death, while lacking the single stroke of murderer's genius which provided the alibi in the former story, must be counted mathematically nearly twice as brilliant, since the number of suspects is reduced by nearly half. Indeed, though we begin out story in Jerusalem and meet our murder in Petra, the Red Rose City, we might as well be in a snowbound vicarage as far as the limitation of suspicion is concerned. And it is in this respect that Agatha Christie repeats her Cards on the Table triumph and beats Steinitz with a single row of pawns."

The Scotsman of 9 May 1938 said, "As usual, Miss Christie plays fair with her readers. While the solution comes with a shock of surprise, it is logical enough: the clues are there, one could fasten upon them and assess their importance. Perhaps it is another case of the reader being unable to see the wood for the trees; but there are so many trees. Not this author's best crime novel, Appointment with Death is yet clever enough and convincing enough to stand head and shoulders above the average work of the kind."

E.R. Punshon of The Guardian in his review of 27 May 1938 summarised: "For ingenuity of plot and construction, unexpectedness of dénouement, subtlety of characterisation, and picturesqueness of background, Appointment with Death may take rank among the best of Mrs. Christie's tales."

Mary Dell in the Daily Mirror of 19 May 1938 said, "This is not a book I should recommend you to read last thing at night. The malignant eye of Mrs. Boynton might haunt your sleep and make a nightmare of your dreams. It's a pretty eerily bloodcurdling tale. A grand book."

Robert Barnard: "Notable example of the classic-era Christie, with excellent Near East setting, and the repulsive matriarch as victim. The family tensions around her are conveyed more involvingly than usual. The detection, with its emphasis on who-was-where-and-when, is a little too like Ngaio Marsh of the period, and there is some vagueness in the motivation, but this is as taut and atmospheric as any she wrote."

References to other worksEdit

The novel mentions several other Poirot investigations: the detective is seen to retell to Colonel Carbury the story of Cards on the Table, and Colonel Race from this investigation is mentioned. Nadine Boynton actually confronts Poirot with his own actions in the conclusion of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot suggesting that she was told by one of the case's figures. Miss Pierce also comments on The A.B.C. Murders when she recognises Poirot as a great detective.

Film, TV or theatrical versionsEdit

1945 Stage ProductionEdit

Christie adapted the book as a play of the same name in 1945. It is notable for being one of the most radical reworkings of a novel Christie ever did, not only eliminating Hercule Poirot from the story, but also changing the identity of the killer. In the play, the ill Mrs Boynton committed suicide and dropped several red herrings that pointed to her family members as possible suspects, hoping that they would suspect each other and therefore continue to live in her shadow even after her death. In addition, the character of Carol Boynton has been dropped, Ginevra is now a stepdaughter (rather than a natural child) of Mrs. Boynton, Lady Westholme becomes an ex-Member of Parliament, Miss Pierce is now Miss Pryce, and Alderman Higgs has been added as a fellow vacationer/verbal sparring partner for Lady Westholme.

Main article: Appointment with Death (1945 play)

1988 FilmEdit

It was later adapted into the sixth of six films to star Peter Ustinov as Poirot and released in 1988. The film did not incorporate the changes of the play, retaining the plot of the book. The cast included Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, Sir John Gielgud, Piper Laurie, Hayley Mills, Jenny Seagrove and David Soul.

Main article: Appointment with Death (1988 film)

Agatha Christie's PoirotEdit

The novel was adapted for the eleventh season of the series Agatha Christie's Poirot starring David Suchet as Poirot. The screenplay was written by Guy Andrews and it was filmed in Morocco in May 2008. It was directed by Ashley Pearce. The cast included Christina Cole, Tim Curry and Elizabeth McGovern.

The storyline deviates significantly from the original novel in many respects, among them:

  • Moving the central setting of the story from Petra in southern Jordan to an archaeological dig in Syria, where Lord Boynton is searching for the head of John the Baptist.
  • Adding new characters that never appeared in the original novel, such as Lord Boynton, Nanny Taylor, and Sister Agnieszka.
  • Omitting characters such as Nadine Boynton and Amabel Pierce.
  • Altering the backstory of the victim. In the novel, Mrs Boynton is a tyrannical sadist whose occupation had been a prison warden, which is central to her murder. In the adaptation, she is also a sadist, albeit one who has compiled a financial empire. She couldn't have any children of her own, so she selected her children from orphanages, all of whom were badly abused and tormented.
  • Altering the backstories of several supporting characters. In the adaptation, Jefferson Cope was one of the orphans severely abused by Lady Boynton in his youth, and he decides to take his revenge by wiping out her financial empire and ensuring that she is kept in the dark, though she dies before she realizes her financial ruin. Jinny (Ginevra, in the novel) is adopted like Raymond and Carol, and she also becomes the prime motivation for the murderer, whereas in the novel she was Mrs Boynton's sole biological child. Lady Westholme, a U.S.-born Member of Parliament, becomes the unconventional British travel writer Dame Celia Westholme in the adaptation. Dr Gerard, a Frenchman in the novel, becomes Scottish, develops a witty personality and becomes an accomplice to the murderer (whereas in the novel, he is completely innocent).
  • Adding a subplot involving slave traders. It transpires that Sister Agnieszka is an agent whose intent was to kidnap and sell Jinny. Her attempt fails when Jinny attacks her, not knowing that the undercover nun was in fact trying to kidnap her and not trying to save her.
  • Altering the murderer's motives and method. In the novel, Lady Westholme murdered Mrs Boynton in order to keep her past secret. Before climbing the social ladder, she was incarcerated in the same prison where Mrs Boynton had been a warden. Knowing Mrs Boynton's sadistic personality, she silenced her to keep her reputation and her social status. In the adaptation, Dame Celia Westholme served as a maid in the home of Lady Boynton (who was then Mrs Pierce) before becoming a writer. She had an affair with Dr Gerard, delivered a child, and was sent away to a nunnery in Ireland while Lady Boynton kept the baby. That child turned out to be Jinny. When Dame Celia and Dr Gerard found out that Lady Boynton had abused all of the children that were in her care (including Jinny) even for a short while (Mr Cope), they decided to kill her for revenge. In the novel, Lady Westholme used a lethal dose of digitalis under the guise of an inconspicuous Arab servant in order to commit the murder. In the adaptation, the plan is much more elaborate. First, Dame Celia injects Lady Boynton with a drug that would slowly paralyze her, doing so under the pretense of swatting away a hornet. Dr Gerard drops a dead one and pretends to kill it in order to verify the fact that Lady Boynton had, indeed, been stung. While Lady Boynton sits atop her platform enjoying the sun, she slowly becomes immobile. Dr Gerard, who had injected himself with a drug that would simulate the symptoms of malaria beforehand, returns to the dig with Jinny in order to rest. Instead, he drugs Jinny and disguises himself as an Arab in order to plant a wax ball filled with the blood of a goat that he had killed under the clothes of Lady Boynton. That way, as the sun melted the wax, the blood would make it seem as if she were already dead. When Lord Boynton discovered his wife, Dame Celia went to "check" the body - in reality, she quickly stabbed the woman dead in front of everyone before Dr King could examine her. In this way, neither Dr Gerard nor Dame Celia could have been implicated in the crime as neither apparently would have been seen to have had the opportunity to commit it. Later, when Nanny Taylor has a mental breakdown, Dr Gerard gives her mind-altering drugs and drives her to suicide after forcing her to relive her past, making her feel guilty for delivering the beatings and punishments that Lady Boynton had ordered for her children.
  • Omitting the fateful line “I've never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face.” Since the motive for the murder has been changed, as well as the character of Mrs/Lady Boynton, the line is now irrelevant to the adaptation.
  • Downsizing the importance of another line: “You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?” The line, the first sentence in the novel uttered by Raymond to his sister Carol, is not said in its entirety in the adaptation, and is not given much thought after the fact.

Publication historyEdit

  • 1938, Collins Crime Club (London), 2 May 1938, Hardback, 256 pp
  • 1938, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1938, Hardback, 301 pp
  • 1946, Dell Books, Paperback, (Dell number 105 mapback), 192 pp
  • 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 682), 206 pp
  • 1957, Pan Books, Paperback, 159 pp (Pan number 419)
  • 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 159 pp
  • 1975, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 334 pp ISBN 0-85456-366-0

The first true publication of Appointment with Death occurred in the US with a nine-part serialisation in Collier's Weekly from 28 August (Volume 100, Number 9) to 23 October 1937 (Volume 100, Number 17) with illustrations by Mario Cooper.

The UK serialisation was in twenty-eight parts in the Daily Mail from Wednesday, 19 January to Saturday, 19 February 1938 under the title of A Date with Death. Fifteen of the instalments contained illustrations by J. Abbey (Joseph van Abbé, brother of Salomon van Abbé). This version did not contain any chapter divisions and omitted various small paragraphs such as the quote in Part I, Chapter twelve from Dr Gerard which is taken from Book IV of Ecclesiastes. The political argument between Lady Westholme and Dr Gerard in chapter ten about the League of Nations was also deleted. Finally, the epilogue did not appear in the serialisation.

Four days before the first instalment appeared, in the edition dated Saturday, 15 January, a piece specially written by Christie as an introduction to the serialisation appeared in the Daily Mail. She charted the creation of Poirot and expressed her feelings about him in the famous quote, "There have been moments when I have felt: 'Why-why-why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature!'"

International titlesEdit

  • Arabic: جريمة في الصحراء (A crime in the desert)
  • Bulgarian: Среща със смъртта (Appointment With Death)
  • Czech: Schůzka se smrtí (Appointment With Death)
  • Croatian: Sastanak sa Smrću (Appointment With Death)
  • Dutch: Dood van een huistiran (Death of a family tyrant)
  • Estonian: Kokkusaamine surmaga (Appointment With Death)
  • Finnish: Hänet täytyy tappaa (She must be killed)
  • French: Rendez-vous avec la mort (Appointment With Death)
  • German: Der Tod wartet (Death awaits) / Rendezvous mit einer Leiche (Rendezvous with a corpse) - 1989 movie tie-in edition
  • Greek: Ραντεβού με τον Θάνατο (Appointment With Death)
  • Hungarian: Poirot mester (Master Poirot), Találkozás a halállal (Appointment with Death)
  • Italian: La domatrice (The Oppressor), Appuntamento con la morte (Appointment with Death)
  • Japanese: 死との約束 (Appointment With Death)
  • Polish: Rendez-vous ze śmiercią (Appointment with Death)
  • Portuguese: Morte entre as Ruínas (Death within the Ruins), Encontro com a Morte (Appointment With Death)
  • Russian: Встреча со смертью (=Vstrecha so smert'yu, Meeting with Death), Свидание со смертью (=Svidanie so smert'yu, Appointment with Death)
  • Serbian: Састанак са Смрћу (Appointment With Death)
  • Spanish: Cita con la Muerte (Appointment with Death)
  • Turkish: Ölümle Randevu (Appointment with Death)

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