Agatha Christie 100 - Ordeal by Innocence

One of Christie's final non-series mysteries, this novel was one of her own favourites.

Dr. Calgary has been on a research trip on Antarctica for the last two years, but when he returns he learns that Jacko Argyle, the young hitch-hiking man he picked up on one of his last days in England, was accused of committing a murder and sentenced to prison where he later died. As Dr. Calgary could have alibied Jacko, he contacts the authorities to correct their mistake and visits Jacko's family to apologise. But their reaction is not what he had imagined...

I can understand why Christie liked this one, because this is a totally solid mystery plot with interesting characters. Dr. Calgary is a nice acquaintance, and his investigations are of the kind that you could imagine from a total novice in the detection business.

In my opinion, there are two problems with this novel, one big and one small. The smaller issue is simply that there is too little of the investigation business. We are treated to scenes with the different characters and also to the police force's somewhat reluctant re-opened case discussions, but quite a few of them simply serve as distractions from the main plot. This could, however, simply be down to this particular reader's tastes.

The larger problem, however, is one of those that puts a big hole in the plot and just about scuppers the whole thing - and that is the question why Jacko didn't reveal the true story as soon as he realised that he was going to be convicted of the crime. He knew what had happened, and while the rest of the world might not have believed him (though they should have, and obviously it was quite easy to get the true killer to reveal themselves, as we see in the dénouement here), it's simply not in accordance with what we learn of Jacko's character that he would keep quiet about it.

Unfortunately, that plot hole has to affect the rating of what is otherwise a pretty darn good mystery, and therefore I'll only give this a 51 out of 100. Please adjust your expectations accordingly if you don't feel that this admittedly peripheral plot hole will affect your enjoyment of the novel.

1959 1962 1980 1989
1990 2014 1963

Six editions - or seven, depending on how you want to count (see below) - is a fair amount for a title that isn't one of Christie's most celebrated, though as I mentioned she herself was very pleased with it. The original Swedish title is fairly similar to the British one - a direct translation of the Swedish one would be Tried Innocence, which is close enough. However, for the 2014 edition, the publishers chose to change the title to Huset på udden (=The House on the Promontory), which I guess describes the location but is much less evocative. Also, it caused me to think that there was a thitherto unknown Christie title. Imagine my disappointment...

The late 50s edition has a cover which is quite typical for the period. I don't really like the drawing style and I don't think the whole thing looks particularly great. The Zebra cover from 1962 looks better, with a funeral scene and a dagger. Dagger, you say? Let's drown in them for a while! The 1980 Delfinserien edition again steals the Tom Adams cover from the British Fontana edition, featuring a dagger front and centre. Not a bad cover at all.

And so thought two (2!) book clubs who both chose to feature this title, and they made sure to use the same cover without copying it outright. The 1989 cover has a pinker hue and a pearl necklace, while the later one has a nicer blue tint, some money and a diamond necklace. You decide who got it right... To be honest, I actually think the covers themselves are pretty good otherwise.

The latest edition from 2014 changes the title, as I mentioned, and features a snake instead of a dagger. I like the fact that they use the snake's coils to feature the title, but I don't like that they use a snake because there are no snakes in the book (and also, snakes are disgusting).

The final cover here is a curio. An omnibus package featuring this Christie title together with Raymond Chandler's Playback. Shown here for completeness' sake.


  1. Interesting to change the title so late for this one. I know certain English publishers have recently taken to reissuing GAD novels under new titles to cater to a Christmas Crowd (for instance, Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer becoming A Christmas Party...bleh) -- do you have any insight on what the motivation behind that new title might be? It's not like they're going to trick anyone into thinking they're picking up some new literary contender, given that Christie is moderately well-known...

    Also love the idea that someone would package Christie and Chandler into a twofer, as if those two books have anything in common. One can only speculate that the late 1960s Swedish literary scene was littered with equally bizarre pairings: Oscar Wilde and Neville Shute, Jilly Cooper and John Steinbeck, Chester Himes and Anthony Trollope...hey, this game is kinda fun!

    1. I don't know why they changed the title. The translation was a newly made one - I haven't read it, but the translation was publicised as "Outdated concepts have been modernized without the books losing the linguistic connection to the time when they were written. At the same time, a British ingenuity that has previously been overlooked has been highlighted." Which to me sounds a bit suspicious, but as I haven't read it I'll withhold from further comments...

      As for the twofer, it seems it was the Zebra series who published it as such. The Chandler novel was no. 144 in the Zebra series, this one was no. 145. There's at least two other twofers. Both combine a novel by Georges Simenon, one with Swedish mystery writer Stieg Trenter and the other with a novel by Erle Stanley Gardner.

      For anyone interested, this page features all the covers from the Zebra series: http://www.serielagret.se/bocker/EnZebraBok.htm