After the Funeral is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1953 under the title of Funerals are Fatal and in UK by the Collins Crime Club on May 18 of the same year under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.50 and the UK edition at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6).
After the funeral of the wealthy Richard Abernethie, his remaining family assembles for the reading of the will. The death, though sudden, was not unexpected and natural causes have been given as the cause on his death certificate. Nevertheless, after the tactless Cora says, "It was hushed up very nicely ... but he was murdered, wasn't he?" the family lawyer, Mr. Entwhistle, begins to investigate. Before long there is no question that a murderer is at large.
After returning home from her brother's funeral, Cora Lansquenet is murdered in her sleep by repeated blows with a hatchet. The motive for the murder does not appear to be theft, and the estate that she leaves to her relative, Susan Banks, is comparatively meagre, since the Abernethie bequest is folded back into the estate of her brother, Richard. The suspected motive is therefore to suppress anything that Richard might have told Cora about his suspicions that he was being poisoned. These had been overheard by her companion, Miss Gilchrist.
Entwhistle calls in Poirot, who employs an old friend, Mr. Goby, to investigate the family. Mr. Goby turns up a number of reasons within the family for members of it to be desperate for the money in Richard Abernethie’s estate. Poirot warns Entwhistle that Miss Gilchrist may herself be a target for the murderer.
Cora has been a keen artist and collector of paintings from local sales. While Susan Banks, a suspect, is visiting to clear up Cora’s things, she sees Cora’s paintings and privately notes that Cora has been copying postcards: one of her paintings, which Miss Gilchrist claims were painted from life, features a pier that was destroyed in the war. While she is visiting, an art critic called Alexander Guthrie arrives to look through Cora’s recent purchases, but there is nothing of interest there. Immediately afterwards, Miss Gilchrist is nearly killed by arsenic poison in a slice of wedding cake that has been apparently sent to her through the post. The only reason that she is not killed is that, following a superstition, she has saved the greater part of the slice of cake under her pillow.
Poirot focuses on the Abernethie family, and a number of red herrings come to light. Rosamund Shane, one of the heiresses, is an inflexible and determined woman who seems to have something to hide (which turns out to be her husband’s infidelity and her own pregnancy). Susan’s husband, Gregory, is a dispensing chemist who had apparently been responsible for deliberately administering an overdose to an awkward customer. He even confesses to the murder of Richard Abenerthie near the close of the novel, but is discovered to have a pathological compulsion to be punished for crimes of which he is innocent. Timothy Abernethie, an unpleasant invalid who seems to be feigning illness in order to gain attention, might have been able to commit the murder of Cora, as might his suspiciously strong-armed wife, Maude. Perhaps identifying the murderer may depend on finding a nun whom Miss Gilchrist claims to have noticed ? But what can all this have to do with a bouquet of wax flowers to which Poirot pays attention?
After playing games in mirrors, Helen Abernethie telephones Entwhistle with the news that she has realised something about the murderer. Before she can say what it is she is savagely struck on the head.
Poirot’s explanation in the denouement is a startling one. Cora had never come to the funeral at all; it was Miss Gilchrist, who disguised herself as Cora in order to plant the idea that Richard’s death had been murder. Since no one had seen Cora for many years, and Miss Gilchrist had been able to copy many of her mannerisms, it was unlikely that the ruse would be spotted, except for the fact that she had rehearsed a characteristic turn of the head in a mirror, where the reflection is reversed. When she came to do it at the funeral, she turned her head to the wrong side. Helen had had the feeling that something was wrong when Cora had made her statement, but not realized at the time that it was this incorrectly reproduced gesture. Miss Gilchrist had further given herself away by referring to the wax flowers; these were present on the day of the reading of the will but had been put away by the time Miss Gilchrist (as herself) met the family.
The “murder” of Richard needed to be established so that Miss Gilchrist’s own motive for killing Cora would be obfuscated when she killed her. Miss Gilchrist desperately wanted a painting that Cora had bought at a sale and which she had recognised as a Vermeer. Miss Gilchrist has subsequently painted over the Vermeer with the image copied from the postcard in order to disguise the painting amongst others left to her in Cora’s will.
At the end of the novel, Miss Gilchrist is understandably found to be completely insane.
Characters in "After the Funeral"Modifier
- Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
- Mr. Entwhistle, the Abernethie family solicitor
- Inspector Morton, the investigating officer
- Mr. Goby, a private investigator
- Richard Abernethie, an Abernethie heir
- Cora Lansquenet, an amateur painter and Abernethie heiress
- Miss Gilchrist, Cora’s companion
- George Crossfield, an Abernethie heir
- Michael Shane, an aspiring actor
- Rosamund Shane, an actress and Abernethie heiress
- Helen Abernethie, an Abernethie heiress
- Timothy Abernethie, an invalid and Abernethie heir
- Maude Abernethie, Timothy’s wife
- Susan Banks, an Abernethie heiress
- Gregory Banks, a chemist and Susan’s husband
Unlike Taken at the Flood, in which there is a strong sense of post-war English society reforming along the lines of the status quo ante, After the Funeral is deeply pessimistic about the social impact of war. The village post office no longer handles the local post. Mr. Goby blames the government for the poor standard of investigators that he is able to employ. The family house is sold, and the butler Lanscombe, who had expected to be able to retire to the North Lodge, is forced to leave the estate. A pier from a postcard view has been bombed and the view consequently spoiled. Richard Abernethie finds it impossible to find a single heir worthy of succeeding to his estate and ends up dividing his fortune among family members who seem likely to waste it on gambling and theatre ventures.
Miss Gilchrist describes her idyllic tea shop (in Chapter 4, iii) as a "war casualty." Instead of committing a murder in order to inherit the vast wealth of the Abernethies, she does so for a much smaller sum of money, and one that she can only visualise in terms of recreating her own vision of English life: another tea shop.
Food rationing in England came to an end in the year of publication, but its effect is still felt in the egg shortages that are mentioned in the novel. Throughout, there is a strong sense of the post-war period, including comments on the increased burden of taxation associated with the government of Clement Attlee. Taking all of these elements into account, it is not difficult or fanciful to see in these plot details Christie's disquiet with this period.
Literary significance and receptionModifier
Robert Barnard: "A subject of perennial appeal – unhappy families: lots of scattered siblings, lots of Victorian money (made from corn plasters). Be sure you are investigating the right murder, and watch for mirrors (always interesting in Christie). Contains Christie's last major butler: the 'fifties and 'sixties were not good times for butlers."
References or AllusionsModifier
References to other worksModifier
In chapter 12, Poirot mentions the case handled in Lord Edgware Dies as being one in which he was “nearly defeated”.
This is the first of the Poirot novels in which lesbianism (between a woman and her companion) is discussed as a possible motive. The references to lesbianism are veiled and euphemistic: Inspector Morton refers to it as "feverish female friendship" in chapter 13.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptationsModifier
Murder at the GallopModifier
Agatha Christie's PoirotModifier
On 26 March 2006, an adaptation of the novel was broadcast on ITV with David Suchet as Poirot in the series Agatha Christie's Poirot. There were very few changes, such as Cora was married to an Italian husband whose surname is Galachio and is still alive, instead of being married to a French husband whose surname is Lansquenet and has recently died. The painting at the end is a Rembrandt, not a Vermeer and Timothy's ability to walk is only shown at the end, but in the book it is well known from the start that he is not an invalid.
Publication history Modifier
- 1953, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), March 1953, Hardback, 243 pp
- 1953, Collins Crime Club (London), May 18 1953, Hardback, 192 pp
- 1954, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 224 pp
- 1956, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1968, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 237 pp
- 1978, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 422 pp ISBN 0-70-890186-7
The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in forty-seven parts from Tuesday, January 20 to Saturday, March 14, 1953.
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in seven abridged instalments from March 21 (Volume 93, Number 2438) to May 2, 1953 (Volume 93, Number 2444) with illustrations by William Little.
- ↑ 1,0 et 1,1 American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- ↑ 2,0 et 2,1 Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- ↑ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 188). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
- ↑ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers - Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.
- After the Funeral at the official Agatha Christie website