Peril at End House (1932) by Agatha Christie

Note: This review contains spoilers within the overall thoughts section, so only read it, if you have read the book or don’t mind spoilers.

I am planning to re-read more Christie this year. These are the mystery novels by her that I have yet to review on my blog, but did read pre-blog:


  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles
  • The Secret Adversary
  • The Murder on the Links
  • The Secret of Chimneys
  • The Mystery of the Blue Train
  • The Seven Dials Mystery


  • The Sittaford Mystery
  • Peril at End House
  • Lord Edgware Dies
  • The ABC Murders
  • Appointment with Death
  • And Then There Were None (I have only reviewed the play)


  • Sad Cypress
  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
  • Evil Under the Sun
  • Sparkling Cyanide
  • The Hollow


  • Mrs McGinty’s Dead
  • They Do it With Mirrors
  • After the Funeral
  • A Pocket Full of Rye
  • Hickory, Dickory Dock


  • The Pale Horse
  • The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side
  • The Clocks
  • At Bertram’s Hotel
  • Third Girl
  • Endless Night
  • By the Pricking of my Thumbs


  • Passenger to Frankfurt
  • Nemesis
  • Elephants Can Remember
  • Curtain

It was quite tricky trying to decide which one I would re-read first, and I was swaying between Evil Under the Sun, Mrs McGinty’s Dead and several of the 1930s novels. However, I plumed for Peril at End House in the end, as firstly I remembered the Puzzle Doctor saying it was one he would recommend for someone who had never tried Christie before (a statement which intrigued me), and also because my memories of this one are quite hazy outside of the David Suchet adaptation.


‘Nick Buckley was an unusual name for a pretty young woman. But then she had led an unusual life. First, on a treacherous Cornish hillside, the brakes on her car failed. Then, on a coastal path, a falling boulder missed her by inches. Later, an oil painting fell and almost crushed her in bed. Upon discovering a bullet-hole in Nick’s sun hat, Hercule Poirot decides the girl needs his protection. At the same time, he begins to unravel the mystery of a murder that hasn’t been committed. Yet.’

Overall Thoughts

In the year of publication, The Times Literary Supplement wrote that Christie’s novel was:

‘…certainly one of those detective stories which is pure puzzle, without any ornament or irrelevant interest in character. Poirot and his faithful Captain Hastings are characters whom one is glad to meet again, and they are the most lively in the book, but even they are little more than pawns in this problem. But the plot is arranged with almost mathematical neatness, and that is all that one wants.’

Whilst I would not go as far as fully agreeing that this is a mathematically neat plot (the ending has a more throw-in-everything-the-kitchen-sink approach after all), I do concur with the liveliness and fun Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot bring to the story. Their exchanges are some of the best in the book and Poirot gets quite proficient at insulting his friend. This is one of the less subtle examples:

‘You have so strongly the flair in the wrong direction that I am almost tempted to go by it! You are that wholly admirable type of man, honest, credulous, honourable who is invariably taken in by any scoundrel. You are the type of man who invests in doubtful oil fields, and non-existent gold mines. From hundreds like you, the swindler makes his daily bread.’

Maybe this is why Hastings goes back to Argentina! That and Poirot’s inflated sense of ego. After all, in this mystery he mentions turning down the Home Secretary’s request to hire him for a case. However, I think this character trait serves a wider purpose within this particular story, as in the opening Poirot’s ego levels are very high and I think the intention of this is to provide a contrast with how Poirot feels once Maggie has been murdered. This leads to many moments of self-reproach, although I don’t think readers need worry there is any irrevocable damage to Poirot’s self-esteem.  

One aspect of this story which surprised me upon re-read was how Christie arguably overturns established conventions of the Had-I-But-Known novel, a subgenre which is associated with the works of Mary Roberts Rinehart and Mignon G. Eberhart. It is in the opening chapter that I noticed this overturning especially. For example, the isolated End House is described, initially, in gothic terms: “looks rather eerie and imposing standing there by itself far from anything […] tumble-down old place. Going to rack and ruin.” Moreover, Nick Buckley says of herself that she is “the last of the family.” This setup elicits sympathy from Poirot who responds: “That is sad. You live there alone, Mademoiselle?” Yet this is where things begin to be turned upside down with Nick replying:

“Oh! I’m away a good deal and when I’m at home there’s usually a cheery crowd coming and going.”

Poirot then articulates his misconceptions:

“That is so modern. Me, I was picturing you in a dark mysterious mansion, haunted by a family curse.”

So in this passage we find that Nick is not on her own and that her life, whilst lacking in funds, is not a deprived nor gloomy one. If nothing else, superficially, End House is an occupied jovial space.

A cover which steers into the gothic HIBK house trope

Had-I-But-Known heroines are normally placed in dangerous situations, with at least one person wanting to end their lives for motives such as an inheritance or because they know too much. Once again, we find in this book that Nick Buckley is introduced in this way. She casually says to Poirot and Hastings:

“What a picturesque imagination you must have. No, it’s not haunted. Or if so, the ghost is a beneficent one. I’ve had three escapes from sudden death in as many days, so I must bear a charmed life.’

Far from being in terror for her life, Nick is pretty breezy about her near death experiences. That in itself overturns the conventions of the HIBK heroine. However, this is then compounded by Christie’s final solution which reveals that Nick Buckley engineered/faked the experiences in order to fool Poirot into thinking she was in danger and in need of protection. In fact, she is the killer a role which HIBK heroines don’t tend to get allotted. Christie instead shows a resourceful and independent female who manipulates those around her, men in particular, by using female victim stereotypes to camouflage her true intentions. This is something which crops up again in Christie’s work such as in Evil Under the Sun. I would also say at the start of the book Nick Buckley may be further misinterpreted as a Bundle Brent (see The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)) type of protagonist, who is plucky in the face of, but also dismissive of, the dangers she encounters:

“What a marvellous idea! My dear man, who on earth do you think would attempt my life? I’m not the beautiful young heiress whose death releases millions. I wish somebody was trying to kill me – that would be a thrill, if you like – but I’m afraid there’s not a hope!”

Interestingly, she suggests inheritance would be a poor reason for murdering her, yet it becomes one of the most dominant false motives later in the book, because she pretends to be the fiancée of the recently declared dead Michael Seaton.

Another cover which gives the impression of this being a sinister HIBK mystery. Giants bats don’t feature in the plot as far as I can remember!

I have read a mixture of comments online about how easy to it is to spot that Nick Buckley is the culprit. The Times Literary Supplement seemed to think it was a solution readers could figure out early on, for example. Nevertheless, I think she is an excellent choice of killer. The pretend victim is a great use of deception and red herrings. These begin from the get-go with Nick carefully deploying understatement to reveal her “near death” experiences:

“Escapes from death? That sounds interesting, Mademoiselle.”

“Oh! They weren’t very thrilling. Just accidents you know.”

It is by acting nonchalantly that she draws more attention to it, yet in such a way that it looks like she is doing the opposite.

When Poirot and Hastings first meet Nick Buckley, the language used to describe her physically is also ambiguous:

  • ‘elfin look’
  • Regarding her face: ‘something haunting and arresting. Was it a hint of recklessness?’
  • ‘There were dark shadows under her eyes.’

Even Hastings is not quite sure how to interpret her. ‘Dark shadows’ indicate strain and fatigue but is this worry because her life is in danger, or because she is enacting a murder plot? ‘Elfin’ also carries a duality of meaning, as it means small and delicate, which could feed into the false idea that she needs protecting and is vulnerable, but it also relates to mischievous charm, and in this case her mischief is far more deadly.

The close of chapter 1 is very clever as it provides a strong hook, with Poirot thinking someone has tried to shoot at Nick Buckley, but it is also a scene full of red herrings as to what has really occurred. We also get characters such as Frederica Rice who claims that Nick is a liar. This is true but because Nick introduces herself to Poirot first and also because of the way this truth is delivered, it boomerangs back onto Frederica herself. Instead, it is she who is regarded with suspicion throughout the book. Moreover, by chapter 6 Nick Buckley has so successfully lured Hercule Poirot into her false way of viewing things that when Charles Vyse contradicts her regarding her levels of devotion to End House, Hercule Poirot gives greater credence to her words than his.

I think this book is good at tabulating information regarding the crime, such as possible suspects and their motives. Poirot uses such a list more than once in the story and he adds his own questions regarding various characters’ curious behaviour. Although, arguably these lists are a bit of red herring in that they do not include the name of the actual killer, as the lists presume the killer is the intended victim. Poirot does draw attention our attention to some important clues though, such as Nick’s out-of-character black dress choice. Yet, I would say Christie is clever in her reveal of this clue as she initially seems to link to a false interpretation e.g., the black dress was a sign of mourning for the loss of Michael Seaton. Robert Barnard also mentions another trick that Christie uses in this mystery: ‘be careful […] about names – diminutives and ambiguous male-female Christian names are always possibilities as reader deceivers.’

The weakest part of the novel, for me, was the ending. It contains a lot of subterfuge and theatricals. We even have Captain Hastings laid low with a fever whilst Poirot organises Nick’s pretend death. This seemed an unnecessary addition to the text and the only reason I could think of for Christie doing this, is that it means Hastings is kept out of the way and that it also shortens the narrative, as Hastings does not need to narrate it first-hand. Yet it adds no dramatic value. Furthermore, the finale theatricals lacked narrative investment, as the plot moves quickly on from them, on to the next one. As I wrote earlier in my review, the ending felt like it had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at it and Robert Barnard opines that there is ‘rather a lot of melodrama and improbabilities’ in this story, which ‘prevent this from being one of the very best of the classic specimens.’ The final solution does require a lot of information being pulled together (some of it off the page too) and consequently some of the peripheral mysteries/crimes felt less satisfying. However, the core puzzle involving Nick works well.

So all in all a good Christie read and one which I feel showcases her red herring writing talents well. I would even say that it is probably one of her more underrated mysteries too.

Rating: 4.25/5


  1. For me, the other weakness is Maggie’s behaviour when Michael goes missing. I know she is billed from the start as being a calm, phlegmatic kind of person, but even so…

    Liked by 1 person

    • hmm I noticed that less. I suppose it helps that we see so little of her on the page. If we had seen more of her, she had had more time to converse with others, including Poirot, I think it would have been more problematic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the review. I only read this once years ago (and it was the pocket book paperback with the bat that you show above where I thought the story would be a gothic mystery when it was not that all). Your review makes me want to re-read this one, but I don’t remember it being amongst my favourite Christie titles.

    Some of my favourites though are on your Christie TBR list including Evil Under the Sun, After the Funeral, Sad Cypress, The Hollow and Mrs McGinty’s Dead … all Christie classics.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Well I need to re-read it as perhaps my view would change after many years, but two reasons why this isn’t on my favourites list: (1) the cognitive dissonance between the gothic murder mystery I thought I would read versus the what the book actually was and (2) similar to what you described above, the ending seemed a bit over the top to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t read this in a while but IIRC I also enjoyed the solution to the murder. I think your enjoyment likely depends on whether you’re reading to find the solution or reading more generally for the story – like in other books, if you’re reading just to identify the bad person, then it’s likely easier to guess something is up with Nick based on meta-clues (how much time we spend with other characters, etc.). But that doesn’t means it’s a bad story!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked this one a lot when I first read it a very long time ago. The writing seems a bit clunky now, but I still like the characterization of Nick.

    Liked by 1 person

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