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Dissecting Christie Part 5

The Crooked House by Agatha Christie is a manor house mystery. All of the suspects reside in the house. The amateur sleuth has connections with the police, but is not a professional investigator. His goal is to solve the murder so he can marry his fiancée Sophia.

All of the suspects had access to the victim (the wealthy patriarch), and the method (eye drops substituted for insulin). Everyone had a potential motive. The actual killer was never seriously considered until the very end, though clues were planted if you knew where to look.

*** Warning: Spoilers Ahead ***

Suspects included:
Suspect 1: Brenda, the victim’s much younger widow.
Suspect 2: Victim's son Phillip (Sophia's father).
Suspect 3: Phillip's wife Magda, an actress (Sophia's mother).
Suspect 4: Victim's son Roger.
Suspect 5: Roger's wife Clemency.
Suspect 6: Sophia, the victim’s granddaughter and sleuth's fiancée
Suspect 7: Laurence, the children’s tutor.
Suspect 8: The grandchild Eustace, 16.
Suspect 9: The grandchild Josephine, 12.
Suspect 10: Victim's sister-in-law Edith.

Chapter 1: Introduce Sleuth.

We meet the amateur sleuth and find out he wants to marry the victim's granddaughter.

Chapter 2: The inciting incident.

The victim is murdered and the sleuth is made aware of it.

Chapter 3: Suspects are lined up. Challenge is stated.

Amateur sleuth talks to his father, of Scotland Yard, about the case. They agree he is in a unique position to find out who had the most compelling motive. All suspects had access to the method and opportunity. It is a question of who had the greatest motive. The victim was killed when his insulin was replaced with eye drops and he received the wrong injection by his wife. She is the most likely candidate.

Chapter 4: Suspect 6 is discounted.

Sleuth arrives at the scene. His story goal is repeated: to find out who murdered the victim so he can marry his fiancée. Sophia had no apparent motive, so she is ruled out.

Chapter 5: Finger points to Suspect 1.

The sons were already financially cared for but would inherit more money. The young widow would be free to remarry.

Chapter 6: Sleuth interviews Suspect 2.

Sleuth interviews Suspect 2 Phillip, who insists he had no motive.

Chapter 7: Sleuth interviews Suspects 3, 4, and 5. The finger points to Suspects 1 and 7.

Magda is overly dramatic but had no apparent motive other than the victim refused to fund one of her plays.

Suspects 4 Roger and 5 Clemency point the finger at Suspect 1 Brenda who they believe was having an affair with Suspect 7 Laurence. Brenda administered the injection and had the strongest motive.

Chapter 8: Sleuth interviews Suspects 1 and 7 who deny their guilt.

Brenda insists she didn’t notice anything odd about the insulin and gave him the shot as scheduled. She denies having an affair with Suspect 7 Laurence. She felt safe with the Victim, why would she ruin that?
Sleuth interviews Suspect 7 Laurence who denies the affair. Both are lying. It could be the prime motive.

Chapter 9: Sleuth interviews Suspect 1 again. Important clue 1 is planted.

First hint that Suspect 9 Josephine is the killer. Brenda mentions that Josephine isn’t quite right.

Chapter 10: Sleuth interviews Suspect 9. Important clue 2 is planted. Finger points at Suspects 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. Red herring is planted.

Josephine brags that she knows things and always wanted to be a detective. She insists she is more intelligent than the police. She knows the name of the poison and how it was administered. She also states that she did not like the Victim. She points the finger at other suspects. Tells the sleuth Suspects 4 Roger and 5 Clemency were packed to leave town. She overheard a conversation between the Victim and Suspect 4 Roger that suggested Roger was guilty of embezzlement.

She points the finger at her own father and mother. Suspect 2 Philip and Suspect 3 Magda are now free to move to London. The Victim refused to fund one of Magda’s plays.

Suspect 9 Josephine also states she has seen love letters between Suspects 1 Brenda and 7 Laurence.

The red herring is planted. The terms of the will are discussed. The Victim asked for a revised will which his attorney sent to him. He left money to everyone. The revised will was discussed with everyone and everyone saw him sign it. However, the signed will was never sent back to the attorney. The Victim stated that he mailed it to his bank. However, they find the revised will provided by the attorney and it is not signed.

Chapter 11: Recap with police. Finger points to Suspects 4 and 5. They have proof they had no motive. Suggests alternative motive for Suspect 2.

Sleuth reveals Suspect 4 Roger’s motive: hide embezzlement from the victim and get money to solve problem. The police confirm that his business was on the rocks. They believe Suspect 4 is too bumbling and it must have been his wife Suspect 5 Clemency.

Sleuth confronts Suspect 4 Roger. He admits that he discussed his business failure with the Victim but produces a letter the Victim wrote instructing his agent to fix the problem. He was going to mail it then the Victim was murdered so it was still in his pocket. He had no motive. If the victim had lived, his problems would be over. He was back to having a problem.

Which leads to a new conjecture: Did someone in the house want Roger to fail? Depends on what happens with the will. If the revised will disappeared, the person most likely to benefit from it is the widow, Suspect 1 Brenda.

Chapter 12: Theme stated. Important clue 3 planted.

Thematic statement is made: murder is an amateur crime. Reinforces second clue that Suspect 9 Josephine is the killer, though the sleuth and the police have not seriously considered her.

"Murderers are vain. They think they are far too clever to be caught and want to talk about it."

Sleuth is encouraged to look for people who give false information. They always slip up. He is also admonished to protect the child, suggesting the child could be in danger from the killer because she is always listening at doors and might know something she shouldn’t.

This is a critical chapter. It lays the foundation for Suspect 9’s guilt and dismisses her as a potential suspect in the same paragraph. The Sleuth is told that children sometimes kill on accident but feel horrible when they realize what they have done. This reinforces that children do not kill intentionally, further removing any possibility in the Sleuth’s mind that the child is guilty of premeditated murder.

Chapter 13: Sleuth interviews Suspect 9. Plants important evidence.

The Sleuth did not tell the police about the love letters. He interviews Suspect 9 Josephine. She states she lied about the love letters. Reinforces that Josephine is a snoop. The letters play a critical role later.

Next week, we finish the analysis of The Crooked House.

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