- First published: US, Dodd Mead, March 1953, as Funerals are Fatal; UK, Collins, May 1953
Christie’s last classic performance, playing (as she did in the 1930s) on the genre’s conventions. Here, a wealthy old man is cremated without any suspicion of foul play arising until his sister demands ‘He was murdered, wasn’t he?’ Whereupon she is battered to death. The family lawyer calls in Poirot, who appears late, but functions very effectively. Clueing top-notch standard job, including two brilliant devices (the mirror and the wax flowers) dangled lovingly (yet tantalisingly out of reach) before the reader’s very nose. Murderer’s identity as brilliant as the plot used to camouflage the murder, and, as a character, ranks with the villains of Lord Edgware Dies and Five Little Pigs.
Richard Abernethie died a very wealthy man. All the relatives who attended his funeral benefited by his death. Although the newspaper announcements of his death said: suddenly at his residence, there was no reason to suspect that his death was anything but a natural one—or was there? One person certainly thought so, and old Mr. Entwhistle, the family lawyer, was made uneasy. He began to consider the various members of the Abernethie family. Though outwardly prosperous, how badly did they need the money old Richard’s death brought them? Succeeding events deepened Mr. Entwhistle’s uneasiness into active alarm. How best could he serve the interests of the Abernethie family, and what would his dead friend Richard Abernethie wish him to do?
Entwhistle goes for help to Hercule Poirot, an old friend of his, and the little Belgian solves things in his own inimitable way; making sense out of apparent nonsense; piecing things together from such widely different clues as a piece of wedding cake and a bouquet of wax flowers.
If there is one thing better than an Agatha Christie without Poirot, it is an Agatha Christie with Poirot. After the Funeral shows this happy partnership at its unbeatable best.
Hercule Poirot, the shrewd little Belgian detective, was a stranger in the family gathering. But one of their circle had already died cruelly by a brutal hatchet murder. Another had been poisoned by arsenic in a wedding cake. There was suspicion about a third death. And so Poirot was using his eyes and ears. He had watched and listened behind doors—noticed affinities, antagonisms, unguarded words. At the right moment, someone in the family circle would betray himself a murderer to this watchful Poirot.
Here is the latest of that brilliant series of murder mysteries with which Agatha Christie has been baffling readers for more than two decades. Never has she palmed the ace more adroitly before our eyes! Never has Poirot sprung a more dramatic final surprise. Never before has even the veteran mystery reader been so completely engrossed as by this suspenseful drama of the emotions and passions revealed in this little family circle, met for the disposition of the deceased’s property, after the fatal funeral!
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 17th May 1953): It begins like one of those stock, family inheritance murders, but of course she is fooling you. Never mind whether the impersonation device would have worked; roll over on your back like a wasp immobilised by a spider-bite in the thoracic ganglion, and enjoy the unfair, paralysing stab of surprise. Construction may be a bit ragged but the familiar smooth, almost edible, scone-like readability is there. Also Poirot, who has thought up a new messy trick to annoy you with: he drinks crème de cacao after dinner.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 15th March 1953, 150w): Agatha Christie’s Funerals are Fatal is much more conventional than her recent successes—so much so that only topical references keep you from thinking that this is a revival of one of her novels of the mid-Thirties. But no one can write the conventional novel, complete with a genealogical tree, a dubious will, and a family full of potential murderers, so well as Christie, nor can anyone so consistently devise plot-tricks to delight without reservation the heart of the connoisseur-technician.
San Francisco Chronicle (L.G. Offord, 29th March 1953, 70w): This new Christie is rich in characters—especially the English servants and companions—and has all the usual mastery of plot twisting.
New Yorker (4th April 1953, 100w): Miss Christie’s works have a tendency to resemble one another in tone, quality, and method, and this one is probably as good as most, and maybe even a little better.
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 12th April 1953, 220w): Diverting in all ways and admirable foolery.