Peril at End House is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by the Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1932 and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in March of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).
Poirot and Hastings are spending a week's holiday at the Cornish resort of St. Loo, staying at the Majestic Hotel. Sat on the hotel terrace in the morning sun, Hastings reads in the paper of Captain Seton who is lost near the Solomon Islands whilst on a round-the-world flight. They meet a local resident, a young girl called 'Nick' Buckley (her real first name being Magdala) who lives in End House, a slightly ramshackle house on a point in the bay. During conversation, Nick lightly mentions that she has had three lucky escapes from death in as many days, piquing Poirot's curiosity. At the same time, a wasp shoots past the head of the young girl. Nick is fetched away by a friend of hers, Commander George Challenger, RN. After they have gone, Poirot examines the straw hat the girl has left behind and finds a bullet hole in it and a spent bullet nearby. He resolves to help save Nick's life. He calls on her at End House and she tells him of the other three 'accidents' – a falling picture frame above her head, a dislodged rock on a cliff path down to the sea and the brakes failing on her car. Poirot tells her his belief that her life is in danger. She doesn't take the threat at all seriously but Poirot has identified the bullet shot at her as coming from a Mauser pistol. She tells him that she possesses one and looks in the drawer for it but it has disappeared. Nick starts to take the threat seriously. She allows Poirot to question her and claims to know of no enemies. She is in somewhat reduced financial circumstances and is an orphan, her only brother having died in a car accident three years earlier. Her nearest living relative is a lawyer cousin, Charles Vyse, who arranged the re-mortgaging on End House for her to supply desperately needed funds and, aside from some distant cousins in Yorkshire, she has no other relatives. Her household is comprised of Ellen, the housekeeper, her husband and their child and the lodge house is let some Australians by the name of Croft. Her other friends who will be staying at the house for Regatta Week with her are Freddie Rice, who Nick is trying to persuade to divorce her abusive husband who has now disappeared, and Jim Lazarus, a young man who is in love with Freddie. George Challenger is also one of the party for the weekend. He is as impoverished as Nick and quite a few years older and has half-heartedly proposed marriage to her on a few occasions. Nick made a will six months previously in which she left the house to Charles Vyse and anything else that remained to Freddie. Poirot persuades her to ask someone else to stay with her for the weekend and Nick thinks of asking one of her Yorkshire cousins – Maggie Buckley. When they leave the house Poirot tells Hastings that Nick now has three levels of protection: she, as the victim, is forewarned, Maggie Buckley is to stay with her in a house full of otherwise potential suspects and the would-be murderer knows that Hercule Poirot is on the scene. Aside from that, Poirot is mystified, not knowing of any possible motive that would be worth Nick's death.
They call at the local garage and find that the brakes of Nick's car were indeed tampered with. The day after Nick tells them that Maggie is arriving that afternoon and she invites Poirot and Hastings to join her other guests that night for dinner after which there will be a firework display in the harbour that they can watch from the garden. They then call on Charles Vyse and find out by deceptive questioning that he has no alibi for when the shot was fired at Nick. Vyse also tells them that Nick is devoted to End House whereas the impression gained by Poirot and Hastings was that she was merely fond of the house.
That night the two meet Maggie Buckley and are reacquainted with the others of the party except for George Challenger who is delayed in Plymouth. The conversation turns to the lost pilot Michael Seaton and it is revealed that Nick and Freddie met him in Le Touquet the year before and then later on Nick met him in Scarborough. They are interrupted by a telephone call in another room that Nick takes and by the arrival of some more after-dinner guests for the fireworks that they all move outside to watch. Soon Nick goes inside the house to fetch coats for herself, Maggie and Freddie's against the chill night air. After a few minutes of watching the fireworks, Poirot sees a huddled shape between them and the house. They think it is Nick but she calls out of the house. Turning the body over they see it is Maggie, dressed in the shawl Nick had been wearing earlier and Poirot theorises that Maggie was shot mistakenly for Nick. Hastings telephones for the police who question Nick when they arrive. She tells them that Maggie put on the red shawl that she had been wearing as she couldn't find her coat. Nick is in shock and Poirot and her doctor suggest she be taken to a nursing home for both treatment and protection. Poirot is distraught that he failed to stop the murderer in time. Maggie was shot by three bullets although the gun has not been found and it cannot be identified if it was the missing Mauser pistol. No one was spotted stealing away to commit the crime whilst the fireworks were on, the latter also disguising the sounds of the shots. All of the possible suspects were in the house and grounds with the exception of Challenger but no probable motive can be found for such an audacious crime. Having thought over matters through the night, Poirot has three questions: 1) Why has Nick been worried lately as she admitted, before the attacks on her started? 2) Why did she buy and wear a black dress to the party whilst admitting to hating black? 3) Why did she say that she had nothing to live for now after finding that Maggie had been shot, thus behaving in a very different manner to her usual one? Poirot realises that one event of the night before that they know nothing about is the telephone call that Nick received. After breakfast and a read of the papers, Poirot states that he now knows what the phone call was about and they go to the nursing home where Nick confirms that after the call she listened to the radio and heard that that Michael Seton is dead. She was engaged to him but in secret as Seton's Uncle Matthew was opposed to Michael marrying, however the uncle died a week ago. Poirot at last has a possible motive to work on – if Michael Seton's will leaves his newly acquired fortune to Nick, then that money will go to Freddie under the terms of Nick's will, should she then die. Also Charles Vyse did not draw up the will and therefore doesn't know that it states that he only gets End House and not any other assets, which are now possibly considerable. Poirot has permission from Nick to search her room for the will and there he finds a bundle of love letters from Seton in which he mentions writing a will leaving everything to her. Poirot however cannot find Nick's will. Back at the nursing home, she tells him that she forwarded it onto Charles Vyse for safekeeping but when visiting the lawyer he denies receiving it. Going back to End House they re-visit Mr Croft who remembers both witnessing the will and posting it onto Vyse. During the visit, Poirot surreptitiously obtains Croft's fingerprint, which he posts onto Japp at Scotland Yard as he suspects the Australian. The local Chief Constable is glad to have Poirot's assistance on the case and gives him part of a piece of paper found near to the murder scene which seems to contain a demand for money. When Poirot interviews Challenger and Freddie in his hotel room, Freddie catches sight of the note and almost passes out.
Poirot calls on the late Sir Matthew Seton's solicitor in London who confirms that Michael Seton inherits his uncle's fortune and that they are in possession of his will which leaves everything to his affianced wife, Magdala Buckley, which will be a considerable amount, even after death duties. They meet Japp for lunch who tells them that no record can be found of the Crofts. Returning to St Loo, Poirot is shocked to find that yet another attempt has been made on Nick's life as she is dangerously ill in the supposed safety of the nursing home with cocaine poisoning brought about by eating a chocolate from a box supposedly sent by Poirot (together with a basket of flowers that he did in fact send her). Investigating, they find that Jim Lazarus bought the chocolates at the request of Freddie and she in turn sent them from a telephone request supposedly from Nick. Freddie is now either the main suspect, as she is a cocaine addict and could therefore easily supply the poison, or she knows more than she is telling.
Poirot decides to tell the world that the murderer has at last succeeded and that Nick is dead in order to prompt any developments. Whilst discussing the matter back in their hotel room, Hastings spots a "dreadful face" looking in at the window which is gone in a flash. Charles Vyse telephones to tell Poirot that he has just received in the post the much delayed-will. Hastings assumes it is the one which will make Freddie residual legatee. This prompts a conversation between Poirot and Hastings about the shortening of names Frederica to Freddie, Margaret to Maggie and suddenly Poirot sees all!
He organises a meeting of the suspects at End House where the will is read. To everyone's amazement, except that of the beneficiary, the will that is read out leaves everything to Mrs Croft, for the help she gave Nick's father many years before when he was in Australia. Mrs Croft is touched and wishes there was some way in which she could thank Nick for her kindness. Poirot makes the suggestion of a séance which is agreed to with reluctance. Part way through the ceremony, Nick enters the room as her own ghost, prompting panic on the part of Mrs Croft. Japp enters the room and identifies her as Milly Merton, an expert forger on the run, who rewrote the will after her husband intercepted it and kept it until it was certain that Nick was dead.
At that moment, a shot rings out, grazing Freddie. Poirot and Challenger rush outside and apprehend the shooter and bring him into the house. He is half-dead with a wasted face – the "dreadful face" that Hastings saw outside their hotel window – and after the man dies, Freddie identifies him as her missing, drug-addicted husband. It was he who sent the demand for money that ended up as the scrap of paper that Poirot was given by the Chief Constable and which caused Freddie to almost pass out in the Belgian's hotel room. Freddie supposes that it was he who shot Maggie, mistaking her for Freddie in the darkness.
Poirot however has arrived at the truth and lets Japp announce that concealed in the house earlier he saw Nick take the Mauser from concealment and put it in Freddie's wrap to implicate her. Poirot announces Nick as the murderer of Maggie.
After Nick and the Crofts have been taken into custody, Poirot tells the former suspects the whole story. As Charles Vyse said, Nick was devoted to End House and when she met Michael Seton in Le Touquet she saw an opportunity to marry him for his money. They met again in Scarborough where Michael also met Maggie Buckley and fell in love with her, quickly entering into a secret engagement. Nick was the only person let in on the secret of both the engagement and the will leaving "Magdala" all his worldly goods . However Seton did not know that "Magdala" was also Nick's name, and that when she heard of the death of Sir Matthew and then Michael she formed a plan to murder Maggie and let everyone think that she had been his fiancé all the time. She arranged the 'attempts' on her life and had already written to Maggie to join them when she found out Poirot was visiting St Loo and brought him into the plot for verisimilitude. She then jumped at Poirot's suggestion of another person for company and telegraphed Maggie asking her to come a day early. When Poirot heard of this from Maggie's parents, he started to question Nick's statements and actions. Nick also sent the poison chocolates to herself to keep up the pretence as well as stealing some of Michael's letters to Maggie - but only the ones in which he did not address her by her full name. Poirot knows one last secret – Challenger was a supplier of cocaine and Nick has a stash on her which she will no doubt use to kill herself and escape the hangman's noose. At the end, Frederica Rice and Jim Lazarus become engaged to be married.
The Times Literary Supplement of April 14, 1932 stated that the "actual solution is quite unusually ingenious, and well up to the standard of Mrs. Christie's best stories. Everything is perfectly fair, and it is possible to guess the solution of the puzzle fairly early in the book, though it is certainly not easy." The review further opined that, "This is certainly one of those detective stories which is pure puzzle, without any ornament or irrelevant interest in character. Poirot and his faithful Captain Hastings are characters whom one is glad to meet again, and they are the most lively in the book, but even they are little more than pawns in this problem. But the plot is arranged with almost mathematical neatness, and that is all that one wants.
Isaac Anderson began his review in The New York Times Book Review of March 6, 1932 by saying, ""With Agatha Christie as the author and Hercule Poirot as the central figure, one is always assured of an entertaining story with a real mystery to it." He concluded, "The person who is responsible for the dirty work at End House is diabolically clever, but not quite clever enough to fool the little Belgian detective all the time. A good story with a most surprising finish.
Robert Barnard: "A cunning use of simple tricks used over and over in Christie's career (be careful, for example, about names – diminutives and ambiguous male-female Christian names are always possibilities as reader deceivers). Some creaking in the machinery, and rather a lot of melodrama and improbabilities, prevent this from being one of the very best of the classic specimens.
Two references (in Chapters 1 and 5) are made to the events told in The Mystery of the Blue Train and it is clearly stated in Chapter 1 that Peril at End House takes place the August following Poirot's trip to the French Riviera.
On November 22, 2007, Peril at End House, like Death on the Nile, was adapted into a PC game by Flood Light Games, and published as a joint venture between Oberon Games and Big Fish Games, with the player once again taking the role of Poirot as he searches End House and other areas in Cornwall Coast for clues and questions suspects based on information he finds, this time through the clue cards he gains on the way.
The first true publication of the book was the US serialisation in the weekly Liberty magazine in eleven instalments from June 13 (Volume 8, Number 24) to August 22, 1931 (Volume 8, Number 34). There were slight abridgements to the text, no chapter divisions and the reference in Chapter III to the character of Jim Lazarus as, "a Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one was deleted. The serialisation carried illustrations by W.D. Stevens.
In the UK, the novel was serialised in the weekly Women's Pictorial magazine in eleven instalments from October 10 (Volume 22, Number 561) to December 19, 1931 (Volume 22, Number 571) under the slightly different title of The Peril at End House. There were no chapter divisions and slight abridgements. All of the instalments carried illustrations by Fred W. Purvis.
The dedication of the book reads:
"To Eden Phillpotts. To whom I shall always be grateful for his friendship and the encouragement he gave me many years ago".
In 1908, Christie was recovering from influenza and bored and she started to write a story at the suggestion of her mother, Clara Miller (see the dedication to The Mysterious Affair at Styles). This suggestion sparked Christie's interest in writing and several pieces were composed, some of which are now lost or remain unpublished (one exception to this is The Call of Wings which later appeared in The Hound of Death in 1933). These early efforts were mostly short stories but at some point late in the year Christie attempted her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert. She sent it to several publishers but they all rejected the work. At Clara's suggestion she then asked Phillpotts to read and critique both the book and other examples of her writing for her. He was a neighbour and friend of the Miller family in Torquay. He sent an undated reply back which included the praise that, "some of your work is capital. You have a great feeling for dialogue". In view of her later success in allowing readers to judge character's feelings and motivations for themselves (and in doing so, thereby deceiving themselves as to the identity of the culprits), Phillpott's gave valuable suggestions to, "leave your characters alone, so that they can speak for themselves, instead of always rushing in to tell them what they ought to say, or to explain to the reader what they mean by what they are saying". He gave her further advice in the letter regarding a number of suggestions for further reading to help further improve her work.
Phillpotts gave Christie an introduction to his own literary agents, Hughies Massie, who rejected her work (although in the early 1920's, they did start to represent her). Undaunted, Christie attempted another story, now lost, called Being So Very Wilful and again asked Phillpotts for his views. He replied on February 9, 1909 with a great deal more advice and tips for reading. In her 1977 Autobiography, Christie said, "I can hardly express the gratitude I feel to him. He could so easily have uttered a few careless words of well-justified criticism and possibly discouraged me for life. As it was, he set out to help".
Three near escapes from death in three days! Is it accident or design? And then a fourth mysterious incident happens, leaving no doubt that some sinister hand is striking at Miss Buckley, the charming young owner of the mysterious End House. The fourth attempt, unfortunately for the would-be murderer, is made in the garden of a Cornish Riviera hotel where Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective, is staying. Poirot immediately investigates the case and relentlessly unravels a murder mystery that must rank as one of the most brilliant that Agatha Christie has yet written.