Lady Tressilian, an old and humourless woman confined to her bed, invites several guests into her seaside home of Gull's Point for two weeks at the end of the summer. Tennis star Nevile Strange, former ward of Lady Tressilian's deceased husband, incurs her displeasure by bringing both his new wife, Kay, and his ex-wife, Audrey, thus causing awkward romantic misunderstandings. But events soon become sinister when Lady Tressilian is killed and Superintendent Battle, who is holidaying nearby in the home of his nephew, Inspector James Leach, finds himself in a labyrinthine maze of clues and deception.
Mid-way through the book, Neville Strange is convicted of the murder, his finger prints on the golf club used to murder Lady Tressilian. However, he is soon exonerated when a maid claims seeing him leave the house when Lady Tressilian was still alive. Later in the book, Superintendent Battle and Inspector James Leach discover another object with blood stains on it, which was obviously the murder weapon which the killer hid after murder. Audrey Strange is soon accused when evidence, such as her blood stained glove, are found. However, the man who attempted to commit suicide at the resort a year before helps her clear her name, and Neville Strange soon admits that he murdered Lady Tressilian. Although Audrey is left handed and the blows are left handed, he struck her with his backhand, his strong shot in tennis.
- Lady (Camilla) Tressilian, host of her seaside home
- Mary Aldin, Lady Tressilian's companion
- Nevile Strange, a handsome tennis player
- Kay Strange, his beautiful second wife
- Audrey Strange, Strange's nervous first wife
- Edward (Ted) Latimer, Kay's friend
- Thomas Royde, Audrey's distant cousin
- Mr Treves, solicitor, an old friend of Lady Tressilian
- Angus MacWhirter, a stranger who earlier tried to commit suicide
- Inspector James Leach, Battle's nephew
- Superintendent Battle, who solves the case with his nephew
Publication and receptionEdit
The novel was first serialised in Collier's Weekly in three installments from 6 May (Volume 113, Number 19) to 20 May 1944 (Volume 113, Number 21) under the title Come and Be Hanged! with illustrations by Charles La Salle. The first U.S. edition of the novel retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6). The review by Maurice Willson Disher in The Times Literary Supplement of 22 July 1944 was overwhelmingly positive: "Undiscriminating admirers of Miss Christie must surely miss the thrill of realizing when she is at her best. If this argument is sound then Towards Zero is for the critical. By virtue of masterly story-telling it makes the welfare of certain persons at a seaside town seem of more importance at the moment than anything else in the world. Mechanized brains may object that the murderer "perfects" his mystery by methods imposed upon fiction's police, but even when the maze is vaguely recognized the tale still grips. The characters become so much a part of the reader’s existence that he must know what their ultimate fate may be before he will rest satisfied. How alive they are is apparent when two men, both dogged, laconic, poker-faced, never seem alike. The wife and the ex-wife, who neither like nor dislike one another, also reveal creative power. As an exhibition of the modern brand of human nature, Towards Zero deserves higher praises than any that can be awarded to it as an excellent detective story."
Maurice Richardson in the 6 August 1944 issue of The Observer wrote, "The new Agatha Christie has a deliciously prolonged and elaborate build-up, urbane and cosy like a good cigar and red leather slippers. Poirot is absent physically, but his influence guides the sensitive inspector past the whiles of the carefully planted house party, and with its tortuous double bluff this might well have been a Poirot case. How gratifying to see Agatha Christie keeping the flag of the old classic who-dun-it so triumphantly flying!"
Robert Barnard: "Superb: intricately plotted and unusual. The murder comes later, and the real climax of the murderer's plot only at the end. The ingenuity excuses a degree of far-fetchedness. Highly effective story of the child and the bow-and-arrow (part II, chapter 6) and good characterization of the playboy-sportsman central character – very much of that era when one was expected to behave like a gentleman at Wimbledon."
- 1956: Christie adapted the book into a play.
- 1995: A film company was going to turn Towards Zero into a film and included such issues as incest in the script. Rosalind Hicks, Christie's daughter and controller of her estate, reviewed the script and ordered that the name of the film be changed as well as the names of the characters. The film became Innocent Lies and was met with mediocre success.
- 2007: Adaptation as part of the third season of the new Agatha Christie's Marple ITV television series.
- 2007: L'Heure Zéro, French adaptation.
- 2010: radio play for the BBC Radio 4
- 1944: Dodd Mead and Company (New York), June 1944, Hardcover, 242 pp
- 1944: Collins Crime Club (London), July 1944, Hardcover, 160 pp
- 1947: Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 210 pp (Pocket number 398)
- 1948: Pan Books, Paperback, 195 pp (Pan number 54)
- 1959: Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1972: Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 347 pp; ISBN 0-85456-126-9
- 1973: Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 224 pp
- 1974: Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 224 pp; ISBN 0-00-231827-X
- 1977: Penguin Books, Paperback, 192 pp
- Czech: Nultá hodina (Zero Hour)
- Finnish: Kohti nollapistettä (Towards Zero)
- German: Kurz vor Mitternacht (Just Before Midnight)
- Norwegian: Mot nullpunktet (Towards Zero)
- Polish: Godzina zero (Zero Hour)
- Russian: Час ноль (Zero Hour)
- Turkish: Sıfıra doğru (Towards Zero)