‘The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor’ by Agatha Christie

The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor by Agatha Christie, 1923

The magic trick:

Structuring the plot around four interviews

This early Poirot short story is very much like a heavily compressed Poirot novel in that we get a handful of suspects introduced, leading up to a big reveal at the end. To make that kind of plot work, you need conversations, and this story has some classic Poirot interviews. There are four – one with the doctor, one with the widow, one with the mysterious (and appropriately named) Captain Black, and finally one with the killer. Each interview reveals new information and points the reader’s suspicions in new directions. It’s a perfect mystery investigation template. And that’s quite a trick on Christie’s part.

The selection:

“I demand pardon,” said Poirot humbly. “But, if my memory is not at fault, in the case of a recent murder, the doctor first gave a verdict of heart failure – altering it when the local constable pointed out that there was a bullet wound through the head!”

“You will not find any bullet wounds on the body of Mr. Maltravers,” said Dr. Bernard dryly. “Now, gentlemen, if there is nothing further – ”

We took the hint.

“Good morning, and many thanks to you, doctor, for so kindly answering our questions. By the way, you saw no need for an autopsy?”

“Certainly not.” The doctor became quite apoplectic. “The cause of death was clear, and in my profession we see no need to distress unduly the relatives of a dead patient.”

And, turning, the doctor slammed the door sharply in our faces.

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