It has been four and bit months, since I hit my last blogging milestone, but here we are again, another 100! The idea for today’s post came to me in February, which was handy, as it has required a lot of research. Recently, when I was preparing my poll to find the 36 Most Read Mysteries of 1936, I said to my Mum that one of these days I will come up with an idea for a post which does not take a ridiculous amount of work and effort. All she did was laugh. I don’t think she was convinced, and given the nature of today’s post she probably has a point…
Before I continue you I would like to thank Brad (Ah Sweet Mystery Blog), Moira (Clothes in Books blog) and Mark Aldridge (Author of Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World (2020)), for their patience and help in answering what were probably some of the most pedantic questions you could ever ask about Christie’s work!
For this post I have looked at 62 books written by Christie, but none of the short story collections. The books I did not include are: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Destination Unknown, By the Pricking of my Thumbs and Postern of Fate. The first novel that I excluded may seem unusual, but after a lot of reading and badgering others about it, I had to come to conclusion that the text treats Simeon Lee’s room as neither just a study, nor a bedroom. Lee was a cantankerous character, so this inconvenience should perhaps not surprise us… Brad did make the suggestion of coining a new room name, the studroom, which he felt fitted in quite well with some parts of the book! I considered the idea for a good 0.03 seconds before deciding to leave Lee out of the proceedings.
I will be looking at this topic in two parts. Today I am focusing solely on rooms within the home and my next post will cover other locations. If I have counted correctly, I have catalogued 128 of the fictional deaths Christie devised. In collecting information for this post I have concentrated on where the victims are killed and not where they die. In most cases these are the same place, but on other occasions they are not. I have collected these delayed deaths in a separate section.
So which room is the deadliest? The stereotypical view of traditional classic crime novels would say the library or the study. But is that the case? Read on to find out…
Results: Part 1
To begin with I have put together a basic graph to show the amount of times each room was used:
So as you can see the room you are most likely to be murdered in, if you happen to be in a Christie novel, is the bedroom! There are presumably many reasons for this. A bedroom is a place you are likely to find a victim by themselves, and it may be especially convenient for those who are close to the victim. If you are at a weekend party, then during the night might be the easiest time to commit the deed. People are also likely to be taking sleeping preparations, medicines and other concoctions in their bedrooms, which the killer can doctor at a different time. Death by blunt instrument and gun shot also still feature though.
The bedroom as a location for murder occurred 46.4% of the time. In contrast, both the hallway and the study were only used 7.1% of the time. Given the tendency to over-emphasise the study as a site of murder in fiction, it is surprising to think that the hallway is as equally as deadly. The library only just creeps ahead of this pair, featuring in 5 novels, and it may surprise some to learn that in The Body in the Library, neither of the two victims are killed in a library!
Living/sitting rooms are another popular category. I decided to not lump together all the recreational rooms into one group, as some of the houses in which Christie plans murder might have had more than one of these rooms i.e. a drawing room and a sitting room for example. Also by leaving them separate I also discovered something quite interesting, which I talk about below. Finally, Christie’s selection of murder locations within the home also tends to avoid that other stereotypical location, the secret passageway, only using it once in her novels.
As I mentioned above, I have put delayed deaths in a separate section, as I didn’t feel they fitted the requirement of being a room in which someone is killed. To give some examples, in Lord Edgware Dies, someone is killed in a hotel room, but then manages to reach their own home and get into bed before they died, whilst in A Pocket Full of Rye, Rex Fortescue dies in his office, but he is killed by something he has eaten at breakfast, which he would have eaten in his dining room. Here is a short summary of the 9 delayed deaths I discovered:
It is not too surprising that the bedroom is again the most popular choice of final resting place. Poison was the murder method used in all cases so it is quite feasible for victims to go to bed, if they are beginning to feel the effects of the poison they have taken elsewhere.
Results: Part 2
With the basic data compiled, I then decided to look at whether Christie’s frequency of using a certain room changed over time. So this time I split the columns for each room into the decades they were published in:
I felt these results raised some interesting points:
- We get a small number of murders taking place in the living room, up until the 1940s. But from the 1950s we get none, and instead a small body of deaths in the sitting room take place. Since these terms are practically synonymous, the argument could be made that the switch reflects a change in language use.
- The study as a site of murder interestingly stops after the 1930s, with the majority occurring in that decade.
- The library is at its deadliest in the 1960s, which given the later time period seems unusual, but both Hallowe’en Party and Endless Night feature someone being killed in a library – two books you wouldn’t automatically think would have that scene for a murder.
- The hallway is a late bloomer as a location choice, but from the 1940s onwards gets one inclusion every decade. It is not a room you expect to crop up so much, but perhaps that is its tactical advantage – no one thinks they’re going to killed in the hallway! Something else I noted was that all of the novels which feature a hallway murder are Miss Marple cases. Just another thing to bear in mind, if you find yourself trapped in a Christie novel!
- The drawing room also has a very specific time frame when it is used, with all 3 cases that I found taking place in the 1930s. I wondered if this reflected a change in the types of homes Christie was setting her mysteries in, as they might not have been the types of houses you would expect to contain a drawing room.
- Given the high frequency of bedroom murders, the figures are consistently high, though they peak in the 1940s. Although after the 1950s, their frequency distinctly drops off, with only one occurrence per decade.
These figures would change a little if you included the delayed deaths. Of the 9 delayed deaths that I collected data on, 5 of these deaths, so over 50%, occur in novels published in the 1950s. Two take place in the 1930s and then one each in the 1940s and 1960s.
To round off my look at indoor spaces I am also going to include the data I collected on deaths which occurred indoors, but in public spaces, rather than in rooms in the home:
The use of such locations is quite minimal so there are not any conclusions really to draw from the data, but it is nice to have it for the sake of completeness.
I hope you found this interesting and at least now if you are invited to a weekend country house party or you suddenly find yourself inside an Agatha Christie novel, you know which rooms to avoid or use. On the evidence collected I would recommend taking a sleeping bag and camping out in the kitchen. Plenty of food and probably quite warm if it has an aga.
Stay tuned for my next post in which I look at Christie’s outdoor murders…