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Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first)
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead and Company|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|Pages||244 first edition, hardback|
|Preceded by||A Daughter's a Daughter|
|Followed by||A Pocket Full of Rye|
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 18 May 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).
A 1963 UK paperback issued by Fontana Books changed the title to Murder at the Gallop to tie in with the film version. The book features the author's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, but the Murder at the Gallop film adaptation instead featured her amateur sleuth, Miss Marple.
A wealthy man dies at home. His relatives gather after his funeral for the reading of his will, during which his sister states that he was murdered. The next day, she herself is found murdered. Poirot is called in to solve the mystery.
Following the funeral of Richard Abernethie, his family assemble at Enderby Hall for the reading of the will by his lawyer, Mr Entwhistle. His wealth is to be divided up between his surviving family: his brother Timothy Abernethie and his wife Maud; his sister Cora Lansquenet; his nephew George Crossfield; his first niece Rosamund Shane, and her husband Michael; his second niece Susan Banks, and her husband Gregory; and Helen Abernethie, the wife of his brother Leo before his death during the war. Although Richard died of natural causes and his death was expected, Cora makes a chance remark that he was murdered. The day after the funeral, she is found dead, having been violently murdered in her sleep. No motive is obvious in Inspector Morton's investigations - while Cora's life income reverts to the Abernethie estate, her property goes to Susan, while her companion Miss Gilchrist receives a number of her paintings she made. However, doubts soon arise about Richard's death in the wake of her murder. Seeking help, Entwhistle contacts his friend, Hercule Poirot, to resolve the matter. Poirot contacts his old friend Mr Goby to investigate the family.
Each family member had their own reason for wanting Richard's wealth, and thus become a suspect in the murder. On the day of the inquest, Susan visits Cora's home to clean up her possession for auction. She learns from Gilchrist that her aunt always painted from life, and that she collected paintings from local sales in the hopes of finding a valuable piece. The day after Cora's funeral, art critic Alexander Guthrie arrives to look through Cora's recent purchases as previously scheduled, but finds nothing of value there. That evening, Gilchrist is poisoned with a slice of arsenic-laced wedding cake sent in the post; she survives, mainly from eating a small portion. Gathering to select items from Richard's estate before its sale, the family are joined by Poirot and Gilchrist. During discussions, Helen comments about believing there was something odd on the day of the funeral, Gilchrist makes a remark about one of the decorations in Enderby, while Susan recalls finding a painting in Cora's possession, which she believed had been copied from a picture postcard and not painted from life, Cora's usual style.
Early the next morning, Helen telephones Entwhistle to inform him what she had realised was odd during Richard's funeral, but is struck savagely on the head before she can say more. Helen suffers concussion, and is taken away for her safety. As Morton prepares to ask each family member about their movements on the day of Cora's murder, Poirot startles everyone by revealing to them that her murderer was Miss Gilchrist. She had recognised a Vermeer amongst Cora's recent purchases that her employer had not, and knew it was her chance to rebuild her beloved tea shop that she lost in the war. She painted over the Vermeer painting with a scene of a pier from a postcard, unaware it had been destroyed in the war. Afterwards, she put a sedative in her employer's tea so she would be asleep, while Gilchrist posed as her at the funeral. None of the family had seen Cora for more than two decades, which made her deception easier. After leaving suggestions that Richard had been murdered, Gilchrist killed Cora the following day so that police would believe it was connected to Richard's death. To divert suspicion from herself, Gilchrist faked the attempt on her life.
Gilchrist had to copy Cora's mannerism, but failed to realise one of these was wrong when she rehearsed it in front of a mirror. Helen was attacked because she eventually realised this. Furthermore, Poirot knew she had posed as Cora because she made a reference to a piece of decoration, which could only have been seen within Enderby Hall on the day of Richard's funeral. The Vermeer was hidden by Gilchrist so that Guthrie did not find it during his scheduled visit. Her claim that Cora painted the pier scene from life was countered by Susan finding a pre-war postcard of the pier in the cottage, along with Entwhistle recollecting that he smelt oil when he visited Cora's home after her murder when he contacted Poirot for help. Morton then reveals that two nuns visited Cora's cottage on the day of the funeral, who believed someone was inside. Once accused, Gilchrist breaks down into a flood of complaints about the hardships of her life, but quietly goes with the police. During legal proceedings before her trial, she eventually becomes insane, planning one tea shop after another, though Poirot and Entwhistle have no doubt she was in full possession of her faculties during her crime.
Unlike in Taken at the Flood, in which there is a strong sense of post-war English society re-forming along the lines of the "status quo ante", After the Funeral is deeply pessimistic about the social impact of war. A pier on a postcard has been bombed and not yet rebuilt, which fact is pivotal to the plot. Richard Abernethie is devastated that his only son died abruptly from polio, an epidemic of that time. The son was fit, healthy, about to marry, and then gone. Richard sees no other single heir worthy of succeeding to his estate entire. The Abernethie drive and talent for business are found in his niece Susan, but he cannot consider her as sole heir because she is female. Rather, he reacts to her by being disappointed in her husband. Not finding any one person to take over his fortune and business, he divides the money among family members who seem likely to waste it on gambling and theatrical ventures.
One person he valued was his sister-in-law, now widowed by the war. She had a child in a war time affair. She never told Richard of the child, aware of his Victorian views, telling others she has a nephew she helps. She is grateful for his kindness in including her in his will, as she can now raise her son on faraway Cyprus with a proper education. The child is loved, but his mother feels he cannot be accepted in post war England. The last name chosen for Cora's husband, the much disliked painter with some claim to being French, is Lansquenet. It is unusual as a last name, as mentioned in the story. The word is the name of a card game, but mainly it is the term for a German mercenary, a foot soldier with a lance, from the 15th and 16th centuries.
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 hardships of the post-war period, including the conniving Miss Gilchrist's heartache at losing her cherished teashop due to food shortages, and being forced into a life of dependence, in which she is regarded as little more than a servant. There are also comments on the increased burden of taxation associated with Clement Attlee's government.
Robert Barnard said of this novel that it had "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."
In chapter 12, Poirot mentions the case handled in Lord Edgware Dies as being one in which he was "nearly defeated".
In Chapter 13, Poirot's valet is referred to in the narrative as Georges. His actual name is George, but Poirot always addresses him directly as Georges. This is the first (and only?) time that he is referred to by the French version in narration.
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 are veiled and euphemistic: Inspector Morton calls it "feverish feminine friendship" in chapter 13.
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. The cast included Michael Fassbender as George, Geraldine James as Helen Abernethie, Lucy Punch as Susan, Robert Bathurst as Gilbert Entwhistle, Anna Calder-Marshall as Maude, Fiona Glascott as Rosamund, and Monica Dolan as Miss Gilchrist.
There were some changes made for the adaptation:
The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in forty-seven parts from Tuesday, 20 January to Saturday, 14 March 1953. In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in seven abridged instalments from 21 March (Volume 93, Number 2438) to 2 May 1953 (Volume 93, Number 2444) with illustrations by William Little.