Agatha Christie’s novel, Lord Edgeware Dies, was called Thirteen at Dinner in America. The woman initially accused of the crime has been at a dinner party which had 13 guests, and it is believed unlucky to be the first person to rise from the dinner table if there are thirteen guests. The novel features Hercule Poirot, and is narrated by his loyal sidekick, Captain Hastings.
Jane Wilkinson, a beautiful actress, wants her husband Lord Edgeware to divorce her after three years of marriage, so that she can marry the Duke of Merton, who is even wealthier. She tells everyone that Lord Edgeware won’t grant her a divorce, and she asks a very reluctant Hercule Poirot to talk to Lord Edgeware, to see if Poirot can convince him to grant her a divorce.
Poirot finds Lord Edgeware to be a rude and obnoxious man, who has several enemies. He confounds Poirot when he tells him that he wrote a letter to Jane six months earlier, agreeing to a divorce. Hercule Poirot reports this back to Jane Wilkinson (Lady Edgeware), who denies all knowledge of any letter. She had previously commented to Poirot that it would be so much easier if Lord Edgeware would die – because then she would be rid of him forever.
That evening Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings go to the theatre to watch the famed impersonator Carlotta Adams. By coincidence, Jane Wilkinson is also in the audience.
When Lord Edgeware is found murdered, stabbed at the base of the neck, all suspicion turns to Jane Wilkinson, who has been very vocal about wishing him dead. Jane Wilkinson had arrived at Lord Edgeware’s house on the night of the murder, announced herself to the butler, and went into his study, where he was found dead the next morning. She was also witnessed by Lord Edgeware’s secretary who saw her from the stairs.
Lord Edgeware’s wife asks Hercule Poirot to help clear her name. Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard discusses the case with Poirot, and the consensus of opinion to people with whom they talk is that Jane could commit a crime if it helps her get what she wants, as she only thinks of herself. However the morning newpaper’s society column says that Jane Wilkinson was a guest at a dinner party on the night of the murder.
The host of the dinner party confirms that Jane Wilkinson was there all night, and only left the room briefly to take a telephone call. When asked, Jane said that the female caller checked that she was Lady Edgeware, then laughed and hung up. There are twelve witnesses to the fact that Lady Edgeware was at the dinner party, and therefore couldn’t have murdered her husband.
With a concrete alibi, both the police and Hercule Poirot are baffled. And then another death is discovered – that of Carlotta Adams, the famous actress and impersonator. Carlotta is thought to have died from an overdose of a sleeping powder, Veronal. Amongst her possessions is a gold case which contained the sleeping powder, and which bears the inscription “From D, Paris, November 10th, Sweet Dreams”.
Then Poirot gets a phone call from one of the dinner party guests, who has since met up with Jane Wilkinson again, and was confused by her lack of knowledge on something which they had spoken in depth about on the night of the murder. Before he can tell Hercule Poirot everything, he is murdered – he too is stabbed in the base of the neck.
One of the better Agatha Christie detective novels, with a good plot, twists and turns, and witnesses who haven’t witnessed quite what they think….