Modèle:Infobox Book The Clocks is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on November 7, 1963 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. It features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The UK edition retailed at sixteen shillings (16/-) and the US edition at $4.50.
The novel is notable for the fact that Poirot never visits any of the crime scenes or speaks to any of the witnesses or suspects, since he is challenged to prove his oft-made boast that a crime can be solved by the exercise of the intellect alone. The novel also marks the return of partial first-person narrative, a technique that Christie had largely abandoned earlier in the Poirot sequence but which she had employed in the previous Ariadne Oliver novel, The Pale Horse (1961).
Sheila Webb, a typist-for-hire, arrives at her afternoon appointment to find a well-dressed corpse surrounded by six clocks, four of which are stopped at 4:13. When a blind woman enters the house, Sheila runs screaming into the street and into the arms of a young man who plays a key part in the investigation that follows.
Modèle:Plot It is while visiting Wilbraham Crescent that Special Branch agent Colin “Lamb” finds Sheila running into his arms. He is there investigating areas connected with crescents or the moon while following up a clue to the route by which classified information is leaving the country. The clue left by a fellow agent, Hanbury, before his death, reads a crescent shape and the characters “M 61”.
At 19 Wilbraham Crescent an investigation begins into the murder. The corpse has a business card in its pocket suggesting that he was an insurance salesman called “R. H. Curry”. This proves to be a false lead, since neither the Insurance Company nor the salesman existed.
Miss Martindale, at Sheila’s agency, gives the background to her attendance at the house of the blind lady, Miss Pebmarsh. Apparently Miss Pebmarsh had telephoned and asked for Sheila personally to come to her, and to enter the house if she had not returned. Miss Pebmarsh, however, denies having done anything of the sort.
A colourful group of neighbours is interviewed by Inspector Hardcastle with Lamb in attendance. At 18 Wilbraham Crescent, Miss Waterhouse tells them about the other neighbours. At 20, Mrs. Hemmings lives in a house full of cats. At 61, behind 19, Mr. and Mrs. Bland have recently inherited money from an overseas relative of Mrs. Bland. At 62, Mrs. Ramsay looks after two sons who are always getting into trouble; her husband, an engineer, is frequently overseas.
Things begin to look bleaker for Sheila when her aunt, Mrs. Lawton, is interviewed. It seems that Sheila’s other forename is Rosemary, the name on a leather travel clock that has been found at the scene of the murder but which has subsequently been stolen, quite possibly by Sheila herself. Moreover, Sheila has some question regarding her birth, since she apparently believes herself to be an orphan: in reality, her father’s identity was never known and her mother is presumed to be still living somewhere. Frustrated, Colin approaches Hercule Poirot, an old friend of his father, to investigate the case, challenging him to do so from his armchair as he had always claimed was possible. He leaves Poirot with detailed notes on the investigation thus far.
After the inquest, Edna Brent, one of Sheila’s fellow secretaries, is confused by something said in evidence, and attempts to draw it to Hardcastle’s attention but he is too busy to speak to her. On the day of the murder she is known to have broken the heel of her shoe when she went to lunch. Later, she is found dead in a telephone box on Wilbraham Crescent, strangled with her own scarf.
A woman, Merlina Rival, comes forward to identify the corpse of “Mr. Curry” as that of her estranged husband, whom she has not seen for fifteen years. The husband, known to her as Harry Castleton, made a profession of conning women out of their savings. Later, however, she adds to her identification the seemingly corroborative evidence that her husband had a small scar behind his ear. Hardcastle, however, discovers that the scar is too new for her to have seen it. After he challenges her with this fact, she telephones the person for whom she has given the false identification, threatening to admit the truth. She subsequently becomes the third victim.
Colin makes an important discovery when he finds a ten-year-old girl, Geraldine Brown, who has been observing the events at Wilbraham Crescent with a pair of opera glasses while confined to her room. She reveals that a new laundry service delivered a heavy basket of laundry on the day of the murder. Colin also clears up one area of confusion: Mrs. Ramsay’s husband has defected beyond the Iron Curtain, but she is not otherwise implicated.
Poirot’s explanation is based on his inference that since the appearance of complexity must conceal quite a simple murder. The clocks are therefore a red herring, as is the presence of Sheila and the confusion about the corpse’s identity. What Edna realised, having returned early to the secretarial bureau due to the damage to her shoe, is that Miss Martindale never took any telephone call that arranged Sheila to visit Miss Pebmarsh’s house. Miss Martindale, one of the conspirators to the murder, is secretly the sister of Mrs. Bland, who is Mr. Bland’s second wife. The first wife was heiress to the overseas fortune, but when news of it reached the Blands they decided that Mrs. Bland must pose as the heiress in order to obtain the fortune. When, however, Quentin Duguesclin, who knew the Canadian Mrs. Bland, decided to look her up in England, a plan was laid to murder him and relocate the body to Miss Pebmarsh’s house. Miss Martindale had picked up Sheila’s “Rosemary” clock and found it easy to add another confusing detail to an already literary puzzle; in fact, she took the entire idea from an unpublished book idea by one of the authors for whom the bureau provided secretaries.
During the explanation, Poirot also gives Colin a hint to the mystery of Hanbury’s clue. Hanbury had written it upside down on hotel headed notepaper; it really read “19 W [crescent]”, Miss Pebmarsh’s house. At the end of the novel, Colin visits Miss Pebmarsh and reveals to her that she is about to be raided by Special Branch. He knows that all along she has been using Braille as a means to sending information abroad, but it is willing to give her two hours’ head start since he intends to marry Sheila, whom he has correctly recognised as her daughter. Miss Pebmarsh admits to being the long lost mother, but refuses to run away and the two are left intransigently facing one another until the authorities arrive.
Characters in "The Clocks"Modifier
- Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective
- Inspector Dick Hardcastle, the investigating officer
- Sergeant Cray, a policeman in the case
- Colin “Lamb”, a secret agent, (possibly the son of Superintendent Battle.)
- Miss Martindale, owner of the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau
- Sheila Webb, a typist with the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau
- Edna Brent, a typist with the Cavendish Secretarial Bureau
- Miss Pebmarsh, a blind teacher and inhabitant of 19 Wilbraham Crescent
- James Waterhouse, occupant of 18 Wilbraham Crescent
- Edith Waterhouse, James’s sister
- Mrs. Hemming, occupant of 20 Wilbraham Crescent
- Josiah Bland, a builder, occupant of 61 Wilbraham Crescent
- Valerie Bland, Josiah’s wife
- Mrs. Ramsay, occupant of 62 Wilbraham Crescent
- Bill Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay’s small son
- Ted Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay’s small son
- Angus McNaughton, a retired professor, occupant of 63 Wilbraham Crescent
- Gretel McNaughton, Angus’s wife
- Merlina Rival, a woman of questionable virtue
- Colonel Beck, Colin’s boss in intelligence
- Geraldine Brown, a young girl
Literary significance and receptionModifier
Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) reviewed the novel in The Guardian's issue of December 20, 1963 when he said, "About Miss Agatha Christie's The Clocks I am not so sure. This begins well, with the discovery of a stranger in a suburban sitting-room, with four strange clocks all showing the same time; but thereafter the story, though as readable as ever, does tends to hang fire. Also there is one very corny item, the vital witness killed when on the point of disclosing crucial information, which is quite unworthy of Miss Christie."
Robert Barnard: "Lively, well-narrated, highly unlikely late specimen - you have to accept two spies and three murderers living in one small-town crescent. The business of the clocks, fantastic and intriguing in itself, fizzles out miserably at the end. Contains (chapter 14) Poirot's considered reflections on other fictional detectives, and the various styles and national schools of crime writing."
References to other worksModifier
- In Chapter 14, Poirot refers again to one of his favourite cases, the one related in The Nemean Lion, the first story of The Labours of Hercules.
- In Chapter 24 mention is made of Poirot’s role in “the Girl Guide murder case”. This had been retold in Dead Man's Folly.
- In Chapter 25, Lamb meets a little girl with her broken leg in a cast who spends the day looking out of the window at the neighbours, whom she has given fanciful descriptive names. The inspiration for this plot device is quite probably Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptationsModifier
An adaptation for the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, with David Suchet as Poirot, was produced for the show's twelfth season. Guest stars include Tom Burke as Lieutenant Colin Race, Jaime Winstone as Sheila Webb, Anna Massey as Miss Pebmarsh, and Lesley Sharp as Miss Martindale. Charles Palmer (who also directed Hallowe'en Party for the series) directs this installment, with the screenplay being written by Stewart Harcourt (who also wrote the screenplay for Murder on the Orient Express).
- 1963, Collins Crime Club (London), November 7, 1963, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1964, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 276 pp
- 1965, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 246 pp
- 1966, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 221 pp
- 1969, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 417 pp ISBN 0-85-456666-X
The novel was first serialised in the UK weekly magazine Woman's Own in six abridged instalments from November 9 - December 14, 1963 with illustrations by Herb Tauss. It was advertised as being serialised prior to the publication of the book, however this had already appeared on November 7.
In the US a condensed version of the novel appeared in the January 1964 (Volume 156, Number 1) issue of Cosmopolitan with illustrations by Al Parker.
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