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Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

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Why Didn't They Ask Evans First Edition Cover 1934
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
DunleaGlennAdded by DunleaGlenn
Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in September 1934 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1935 under the title of The Boomerang Clue.

The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

Plot summaryEdit

Bobby Jones, the son of the vicar of the Welsh seaside town of Marchbolt, is playing a game of golf with a friend. He chips the ball over a cliff edge and when he goes to look for the ball he sees a man lying unconscious below. Bobby's companion goes for help while Bobby stays with the badly injured man. The man soon dies, but not before briefly regaining consciousness and saying “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” This, and a photograph of a beautiful woman Bobby finds in the man's coat pocket, are the only clues to his identity. While Bobby is waiting with the body another man finds him there. He introduces himself as Roger Bassington-ffrench and offers to stay with the body so Bobby will not be late to play the organ at his father's church.

The dead man is identified as Alex Pritchard by his sister, Amelia Cayman. She is said to be the woman in the photograph, and Bobby wonders how such a beautiful girl could become such a coarse older woman. After the inquest, Mrs. Cayman and her husband want to know if Pritchard had any last words. Bobby says that he did not. Later, when talking with his friend "Frankie" – Lady Frances Derwent – Bobby remembers that Pritchard did have last words and writes to the Caymans to tell them. He receives a polite but dismissive reply in the post.

Bobby is due to start work with a friend at his garage in London, but receives an unexpected job offer from a firm in Buenos Aires. He rejects the offer. Soon afterwards Bobby falls ill after drinking from a bottle of beer. The beer had been poisoned. The local police can only conclude the poisoning was the work of a madman, but Frankie thinks Bobby was targeted for murder. Bobby is convinced when he sees an old issue of the local paper that had printed the photograph used to find Pritchard's sister. Bobby immediately recognizes that the photo in the paper is not the one he found in the dead man's pocket. He and Frankie realize that Bassington-ffrench must have swapped the photograph while he was alone with the body and that Mrs. Cayman was likely not related to the dead man at all. Bobby and Frankie decide the best way to solve the mystery is to find Bassington-ffrench.

They manage to trace him to a house called Merroway Court in Hampshire, owned by his brother Henry and Henry's wife Sylvia. They stage a car accident outside the house with the help of a doctor friend so that Frankie (really uninjured) will be invited to stay at Merroway Court to "recover". Frankie produces a newspaper cutting about the mysterious dead man and Sylvia remarks that he looks like a man she'd met named Alan Carstairs. He was a traveler and big-game hunter who was a friend of John Savage, a millionaire who had killed himself a short time ago after finding out he had terminal cancer. Frankie is also introduced to two neighbours of the Bassington-ffrench’s – Dr Nicholson and his younger wife, Moira. Dr Nicholson runs a local sanatorium and Frankie writes to Bobby and gets him to investigate the establishment. He breaks into the grounds at night and comes across a young girl who says that she is in fear of her life – it is the same girl in the original photograph that Bobby found in the dead man’s pocket. Bobby has to leave the grounds before they are discovered.

Several days later, the girl turns up at the local inn where Bobby is staying. She identifies herself to him as Moira Nicholson. She is convinced that her husband is trying to kill her and she admits to knowing Alan Carstairs before her marriage to the doctor. Bobby introduces her to Frankie and it is Moira who suggests that they simply ask Roger if it was he who took the photograph on the body of the dead man. At the next opportunity, Frankie does so and Roger admits that did indeed take the picture, recognising Moira and wanting to avoid scandal for a family friend at the inquest, but he did not put in the photograph of Mrs. Cayman.

Interested in the will of the late John Savage, Frankie consults her own family solicitor in London and finds out that by coincidence Carstairs consulted him too. Savage was staying with a Mr. and Mrs. Templeton when he became convinced he had cancer, although one specialist told him it wasn’t the case and he was perfectly well. When he died by suicide, his will left seven hundred thousand pounds to the Templetons who have now gone abroad. Carstairs was also on their trail, suspicious of the will.

Bobby is kidnapped and Frankie is lured to his place of confinement – an isolated cottage and finds herself held as well. Their kidnapper is Roger but they manage to turn the tables on him and find Moira in the house but drugged. By the time the police arrive, Roger has escaped.

Bobby and Frankie trace the witnesses to the signing of John Savage’s will. They are the former cook and gardener of Mr. and Mrs. Templeton, Mr. Templeton being, in reality, Mr. Cayman. They are told that Gladys, the parlour maid, wasn’t asked to witness the will – made the night before Savage died - and realise that it must have been because she had previously served Savage during his stay (the cook and gardener hadn’t) and she would have realised that it was Roger who was taking his place in the "death-bed" after he forged the will's contents. They also discover that Gladys’ name was Evans, hence the reason for Carstairs’ question – "Why didn't they ask Evans?"

Tracing the parlour maid they are amazed to find that she is now the housekeeper at the vicarage of Bobby’s father. This is the reason for Carstairs visit to Wales – his attempt to find Evans when he grew suspicious of Savage's will and it is also the reason for the first attempt on Bobby’s life – the villains couldn’t risk Bobby (who found Carstairs’ body) being in the same house as Evans. Going back to Wales they find Moira who claims she is being followed by Roger and has come to them for help. Frankie though is not taken in and spoils Moira’s attempt to poison their coffee in the quiet country café they are in. Moira was Mrs. Templeton and Roger’s co-conspirator. Attempting to shoot Frankie and Bobby in the café when she is exposed, she is successfully overpowered.

Several weeks later, Frankie receives a letter from Roger, posted from South America, in which he confesses his part and Moira's part. Bobby and Frankie realise they are in love with each other and become engaged.

Characters in "Why Didn't They Ask Evans"Edit

  • Robert "Bobby" Jones – son of the Vicar of Marchbolt
  • Lady Frances "Frankie" Derwent – daughter of Lord Marchington
  • Dr. Thomas – a golfing partner of Bobby
  • The Vicar of Marchbolt – Bobby's father
  • Alex Pritchard – man who died on the cliffs near Marchbolt, real name: Alan Carstairs, a friend of John Savage
  • Mr. Leo and Mrs. Amelia Cayman, supposed brother-in-law and sister of Alex Pritchard
  • "Badger" Beadon – nervous, stammering friend of Bobby's and owner of a garage in London
  • George Arbuthnot – friend of Frankie's
  • Henry and Sylvia Bassington-ffrench of Merroway Court in Hampshire
  • Thomas Bassington-ffrench – their small boy
  • Roger Bassington-ffrench – Henry's brother
  • Dr. Nicholson – Canadian owner of a sanatorium near Merroway Court
  • Moira Nicholson – his wife
  • John Savage – deceased millionaire big-game hunter
  • Mrs. Rivington – friend of John Savage
  • Gladys Roberts, née Evans – former parlourmaid to "Mr and Mrs Templeton", now housekeeper for the Vicar of Marchmolt
  • Rose Pratt, née Chudleigh – former cook to "Mr and Mrs Templeton" and witness to John Savage's last will
  • Albert Mere – former gardener to "Mr and Mrs Templeton" and witness to John Savage's last will

References to actual history, geography and current scienceEdit

As stated in the first chapter of the book, the name of the novel's hero - Bobby Jones - is a humorous allusion to the famous American golfer of the same name, who was at the height of his fame at the time of publication. Their successes at the game, though, are radically different from each other.

Literary significance and receptionEdit

The Times Literary Supplement of September 27, 1934 concluded favourably, "Mrs Christie describes the risks (Bobby Jones and Frankie Derwent) ran in her lightest and most sympathetic manner, playing with her characters as a kitten will play with a ball of wool, and imposing no greater strain on her readers than the pleasure of reading at a sitting a story that tickles and tantalises but never exhausts their patience or ingenuity".

Isaac Anderson in The New York Times Book Review of September 18, 1935 concluded, "Frankie and Bobby are not nearly so brilliant as amateur detectives usually are in books, but you are sure to like them, and you may even be able to forgive Agatha Christie for leaving out Hercule Poirot just this once."

The Observer of September 16, 1934 started off by saying that, "there is an engaging zest about Agatha Christie's latest novel" and concluded that, "the narrative is lively" and "the story is full of action."

Milward Kennedy in his review in The Guardian of September 21, 1934 said after summarising the set-up of the plot that, "Poirot has no part in this book; instead, a young man and a young woman who blend charm and irresponsibility with shrewdness and good luck contrive amusingly and successfully to usurp the functions of the police. The fault which I find is the overimportance of luck. For the villains it was, for example, singular good luck which enabled them to discover and identify an obscure vicar’s fourth son asleep on a solitary picnic; it was very bad luck for them that he was able to assimilate a sixteenth times fatal dose of morphia. They were lucky, again, in having always at hand just the properties required to make an extempore murder seem something else; and as for the Bright Young Couple – but these are defects which are little noticeable in the gay stream of Mrs. Christie’s narrative. Perhaps I should not have noticed them had I not read the book so quickly that, in a secluded village, there was nothing for it next day but to read it again with a sterner eye but no less enjoyment."

Robert Barnard: "Lively, with occasional glimpses of a Vile Bodies world, though one short on Waugh's anarchic humour and long on snobbery ('Nobody looks at a chauffeur the way they look at a person'). Weakened by lack of proper detective: the investigating pair are bumbling amateurs, with more than a touch of Tommy and Tuppence"

References in other worksEdit

A character in the short story Problem at Sea, which appears in The Regatta Mystery and Poirot's Early Cases, mentions Bassington-ffrench (evidently Sylvia or Tommy, since Roger has fled and Henry is dead). In the same sentence, he also mentions someone named Badger, but that Badger's last name is Cotterill, not Beadon.

AdaptationsEdit

1980 television adaptationEdit

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans was adapted by London Weekend Television and transmitted on Sunday, March 30, 1980. Before this production, there had been relatively few adaptations of Christie’s work on the small screen as it was a medium she disliked and she had not been impressed with previous efforts, in particular a transmission of And Then There Were None on August 20, 1949 when several noticeable errors went out live (including one of the 'corpses' standing up and walking off set in full view of the cameras). By the 1960’s she emphatically refused to grant television rights to her works. After her death in 1976, her estate, principally managed by her daughter Rosalind Hicks, relaxed this ruling and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans was the first major production that resulted. Evans attracted large audiences and satisfactory reviews, but more importantly, it demonstrated to television executives that Christie’s work could be successful for the small screen given the right budgets, stars and attention to detail – Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, Miss Marple with Joan Hickson (who had a minor role in Evans), Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet and Marple with Geraldine McEwan, until her retirement, and now with Julia McKenzie, can all trace their style and successes back to this 1980 adaptation.

Given a generous budget of one million pounds — a large sum for the time — it had an all-star cast and a three-month shooting and videotaping schedule. Problems were encountered during the 1979 ITV strike which lasted three months and led to replacement production personnel when the strike ended, including a second director. The original intention was that the 180-minute teleplay would be transmitted as a three-part "mini-serial" but ITV then decided to show it as a three-hour special with maximum publicity, especially for Francesca Annis in the role of Frankie (Annis was a major name in UK television at the time, having played the title role in Lillie, the story of Lillie Langtry, two years before).

The production was extremely faithful to the plot and dialogue of the book. Only two notable changes were made. The first is the recognition in the isolated cottage that Dr. Nicholson is Roger Bassington-ffrench in disguise. In the novel, it is Bobby who recognises the deception as the man's ear-lobes are different from those of the doctor whom he had glimpsed previously. In the adaptation, Frankie witnesses one of Nicholson's patients attacking him in the sanatorium when his face is badly scratched. In the cottage, she realises the scratches have disappeared. The second change comes at the end when, instead of writing to Frankie from South America, Roger lures her to a deserted Merroway Court, makes much the same confession as appears in the book's letter and tells her he loves her, asking her to join him. When she refuses, he locks her in a room of the house (to be freed by Bobby the next day) but doesn't harm her as he makes his escape abroad. Presumably this change was made as the exposition of the long letter would not have worked on television. The production was first screened on US television as part of Mobil Showcase on May 21, 1981, introduced by Peter Ustinov.

Adaptor: Pat Sandys
Executive Producer: Tony Wharmby
Producer: Jack Williams
Directors: John Davies and Tony Wharmby

Principal Cast:
Francesca Annis as Lady Frances (Frankie) Derwent
Leigh Lawson as Roger Bassington-ffrench
James Warwick as Bobby Jones
Connie Booth as Sylvia Bassington-ffrench
John Gielgud as Reverend Jones
Bernard Miles as Dr. Thomas
Eric Porter as Dr. Nicholson
Madeline Smith as Moira Nicholson
Robert Longden as Badger Beadon
Doris Hare as Rose Pratt
Joan Hickson as Mrs. Rivington
Roy Boyd as Alan Carstairs
James Cossins as Henry Bassington-ffrench

In 1983, Annis and Warwick were teamed together again in The Secret Adversary and Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, adapted and produced by the same team.

2008 television adaptationEdit

In August 2008, ITV announced a new adaptation, with Patrick Barlow adapting Christie's novel into a two-hour television film starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, who does not appear in the original novel. The plot was largely rewritten for this new version, which was first transmitted on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, on ITV1. Among the most major changes:

  • Miss Marple is portrayed as a friend of Bobby's Mother (Bobby's father does not appear), and joins the investigation masquerading as Frankie's governess.
  • The time period of the book is shifted from the early 1930s to the late 1950s to match time timeframe used by the rest of the ITV Marple series.
  • The characters of Leo Cayman, Amelia Cayman, Badger Beadon, Henry Bassington-ffrench, Vicar Jones and Dr. Thomas are omitted.
  • Thomas Bassington-ffrench is a small boy in the novel, but in the film he is a cold and introverted teenager.
  • New characters and subplots are introduced, including Sylvia's two children Tom and Dorothy Savage, Wilson the butler, Commander Peters and Claude Evans. Evans, portrayed as an orchid-grower and a friend of The Savages, is murdered to throw Bobby, Frankie and Miss Marple off the track.
  • Sylvia Bassington-ffrench and Alan Carstairs undergo name changes to become John Carstairs and Sylvia Savage. Sylvia becomes a drug addict in this version, her fixes supplied by Dr. Nicholson.
  • John Savage (called Jack in this adaptation) is made into Sylvia's husband, who is murdered before the film begins.
  • Bobby does not find the body whilst playing golf; he is taking a walk across the cliff, and the attempt on his life is by sabotaging his bicycle rather than a poisoned beer.
  • Roger's role in the household is changed: Instead of being Sylvia's brother-in-law, he is the piano player at Castle Savage, and since the Caymans are deleted, and there is no photograph for him to take from Carstair's body, he is not present when the body is discovered.
  • The motive for the murders are changed: Roger and Moira are revealed to be brother and sister, children of Sylvia from her first marriage, to John Savage's brother George. John and Sylvia began an affair while the brothers were living in China shortly before the beginning of world war II, and John had his brother, a vocal opponent of the Japanese, murdered. As the war intensified, John returned to England with Sylvia but forced her to leave her children behind, where Roger was placed in an orphanage and Moira, it is implied, was used as a comfort girl by the Japanese army. The denouement is changed; Moira and Roger are interrupted in an attempt to kill Sylvia by injecting her with poison, but are surprised by the other suspects. In the struggle, Roger is shot by Tom and Moira is killed by Wilson with the poison she meant for Sylvia.

The Castle Savage scenes were largely filmed at Loseley Park near Guildford — a 16th century stately home in Surrey belonging to the More-Molyneux family.

The cast for this adaptation included:

Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple
Sean Biggerstaff as Bobby Attfield
David Buchanan as John Carstairs
Siwan Morris as Florrie
Helen Lederer as Marjorie Attfield
Georgia Moffett as Frankie Derwent
Samantha Bond as Sylvia Savage
Richard Briers as Wilson
Freddie Fox as Tom Savage
Rik Mayall as Alec Nicholson
Hannah Murray as Dorothy Savage
Rafe Spall as Roger Bassington
Natalie Dormer as Moira Nicholson
Warren Clarke as Commander Peters
Mark Williams as Claud Evans
Basher Savage as Young George Savage
Sarah Ridgeway as Young Sylvia
Rupert Savage as Young Jack Savage
Aaron King as Butler
Erin J Myles as Young Moira

Publication historyEdit

  • 1933, The McCall Company (abridged version as part of Six Redbook Novels), 1933
  • 1934, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1934, Hardcover, 256 pp (priced at 7/6 - seven shillings and sixpence)
  • 1935, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1935, Hardcover, 290 pp as The Boomerang Clue (priced at $2.00).
  • 1944, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 46 mapback), 224 pp
  • 1956, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
  • 1968, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 288 pp
  • 1968, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead and Company), Hardcover, 288 pp
  • 1974, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 394 pp ISBN 0-85456-270-2
  • 1978, Pan Books, Paperback, ISBN 0-330-10736-4

The novel was first published in the US in the Redbook magazine in a condensed version in the issue for November 1933 (Volume 62, Number 1) under the title The Boomerang Clue with illustrations by Joseph Franké. This version was then published in Six Redbook Novels by The McCall Company in 1933, prior to the publication of the full text by Dodd Mead in 1935. The other five condensed novels in this volume were The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, The Figure in the Fog by Mignon G. Eberhart, The Cross of Peace by Philip Gibbs, White Piracy by James Warner Bellah and Parade Ground by Charles L. Clifford.

Book dedicationEdit

The dedication of the book reads:
"To Christopher Mallock
in memory of Hinds"

The Mallock family were friends of Christie's from the years before her first marriage. They staged amateur theatricals at their house, Cockington Court, near Torquay in which Christie, managing to overcome her usual crippling shyness, took part. The allusion to Hinds is unknown.

Dustjacket blurbEdit

The blurb on the inside flap of the dustjacket of the first UK edition (which is also repeated opposite the title page) reads:

"Believe it or not, Bobby Jones had topped his drive! He was badly bunkered. There were no eager crowds to groan with dismay. That is easily explained – for Bobby was merely the fourth son of the Vicar of Marchbolt, a small golfing resort on the Welsh coast. And Bobby, in spite of his name, was not much of a golfer. Still, that game was destined to be a memorable one. On going to play his ball, Bobby suddenly came upon the body of a man. He bent over him. The man was not yet dead. “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” he said, and then the eyelids dropped, the jaw fell...
It was the beginning of a most baffling mystery. That strange question of the dying man is the recurring theme of Agatha Christie’s magnificent story. Read it and enjoy it."

International titlesEdit

  • Czech: Proč nepožádali Evanse? (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?)
  • German: Ein Schritt ins Leere (A Step Into the Nothing)
  • Hungarian: Miért nem szóltak Evansnek? (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?)
  • Slovak: Prečo nepožiadali Evans? (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?)

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