The book is notable for a subplot in which Hastings meets his future wife, Dulcie Duveen.
Captain Hastings arrives in the flat that he now shares with Poirot in London, eager to tell the Belgian detective about a woman with whom he has fallen hopelessly in love on the train from Paris to Calais. But Poirot is busy sorting his mail, impatiently tossing aside bills and banal requests "recovering lost lap dogs for fashionable ladies". Then he finds an extraordinary letter from the south of France: "For God's sake, come!" writes Monsieur Paul Renauld. Poirot decides to investigate and he takes Hastings to France and the Villa Genevieve in Merlinville-sur-Mer on the northern French coast where Renauld wrote from. Asking for directions near the Villa Genevieve, they are watched by a young girl outside another smaller villa who has "anxious eyes".
Arriving at Renauld's house, they find they are too late – Renauld is dead. He and his wife were attacked in their rooms at 2.00 in the night by two bearded men. Madame Renauld was tied up and her husband taken away by the men wanting to know "the secret". They appear to have got in to the house through the open front door with no sign of forced entry. His body was found stabbed in a newly dug open grave on the edge of a nearby golf course which is under construction and next to the placing of a bunker which was due to be dug that day. The Renaulds' son, Jack, had just been sent away on business to South America and Renauld also gave the chauffeur an unexpected holiday leaving just three female servants in the house who heard nothing. The elder of the three servants tells Poirot and the police that quite often, after Madame Renauld has retired to bed for the night, her husband has been visited by a neighbour, Madame Daubreuil, who is the mother of the girl with the "anxious eyes" - Marthe Daubreuil. The dead man changed his will just two weeks before, leaving almost everything to his wife and nothing to his son. There is a smashed watch at the scene of the kidnap which is still running but has somehow gained two hours. The widow inspects the body to identify it. She loses her composure and collapses with grief at the sight of her dead husband.
Poirot is puzzled by some of these findings – why is the watch running fast? Why did the servants hear nothing? Why was the body found somewhere where it was bound to be quickly discovered? Why is there a piece of lead piping near the body? Poirot is hampered in his investigations by the attitude of Monsieur Giraud of the Surete who plainly believes the elderly Belgian is too set in his old-fashioned ways to solve the mystery. The local Examining Magistrate, Monsieur Hautet, is more helpful and tells Poirot that he has found out that the Renaulds' neighbour at the Villa Marguerite, Madame Daubreuil, has paid two hundred thousand francs into her bank account in recent weeks – was she Monsieur Renauld's mistress? They visit the lady who is furious when the suggestion is put to her and throws them out. Having now met Madame Daubreuil for the first time, Poirot tells Hastings that he recognises her from before – and that the connection is a previous murder case going back some twenty years.
Soon after, Jack Renauld arrives back – his trip to Santiago was delayed enabling him to return when he heard of his father's murder. Jack admits to rowing with his father over who he wanted to marry - hence the change of will. Poirot suspects that Marthe Daubreuil is the girl in question and feels that the answer to the problem lies in Paris. He goes there to investigate. Whilst he is away another body is found in a shed on the golf course. No one recognises the man who by his hands could be a tramp but is dressed in finer clothes. The strangest thing is that the man has been dead for forty-eight hours and thus died before Monsieur Renauld's murder. No one recognises the new corpse. Poirot returns from Paris and, without being told details beforehand, staggers Hastings by correctly guessing the age of the man, place of death, and manner of death! He examines the new corpse with the doctor. Poirot sees foam on his lips and the doctor realises the man died of an epileptic fit and was then stabbed after death.
When alone, Poirot tells Hastings that his investigations in Paris have borne fruit and that Madame Daubreuil is in fact a Madame Berodly who was put on trial twenty years previously for the death of her elderly husband. He too was murdered by, supposedly, two masked men who broke into their house at night wanting to know "the secret". Madame Berodly had a young lover, Georges Conneau, who absconded from justice but wrote a letter to the police admitting to the crime – there were no masked men and he stabbed Monsieur Berodly himself. Madame Berodly managed a tearfully-convincing performance in the witness box, convincing the jury of her innocence, but leaving most people suspicious. She then disappeared herself.
Poirot deduces that Paul Renauld was in fact Georges Conneau. He fled to Canada and then South America where he made his fortune and gained a wife and a son. When they returned to France, by great misfortune, the immediate neighbour of the house he bought was Madame Berodly, now Daubreuil, who started to blackmail him. When a tramp died on his grounds of an epileptic fit, Renauld saw a chance to duplicate the ruse of twenty years earlier by faking his own death and escaping his blackmailer with his wife's cooperation. His plan was to send his son away on business, give his chauffeur a holiday, and stage a kidnap by tying his wife up and then going to the golf course where he would dig a grave where he knew it would be discovered and put the tramp into the grave after destroying his features with the lead pipe. The plan was for this to happen at midnight, giving Renauld the chance to get away from the local station on the last train and use the smashed watch to gain an alibi. Unfortunately, the smashing of the watch did not stop it working so the deception failed – on Poirot at least. What then went wrong is that Renauld was stabbed by someone else after he finished digging the grave but before he could fetch the body of the tramp – hence his wife's faint when she saw that the body actually was her husband.
Jack is proven innocent by another girl he was also in love with and as far as Poirot is concerned that leaves only one suspect who had anything to gain by Renauld dying – Marthe Daubreuil, who did not know of the change of will disinheriting Jack and thought that by killing his father she would gain his fortune when she married his son. She overheard the Renaulds discussing using the dead tramp as a ruse and stabbed Renauld on the golf course after he had dug the grave. Marthe dies when she tries to kill Madame Renauld. Her mother disappears again. Jack and his mother go to South America and Hastings ends up with Dulcie Duveen, the sister of the girl who was able to prove Jack's innocence. She is also the woman he met on the train at the beginning of the novel.
At the Villa Geneviève
At the Villa Marguerite
Merlinville and Parisian Police
The Times Literary Supplement reviewed the novel in its issue of June 7, 1923. The review compared the methods of detection of Poirot to Sherlock Holmes and concluded favourably that the book "provides the reader with an enthralling mystery of an unusual kind".
The New York Times Book Review of March 25, 1923 began, “Here is a remarkably good detective story which can be warmly commended to those who like that kind of fiction.” After detailing the set-up of the story the review continued, “The plot has peculiar complications and the reader will have to be very astute indeed if he guesses who the criminal is until the last complexity has been unravelled. The author is notably ingenious in the construction and unravelling of the mystery, which develops fresh interests and new entanglements at every turn. She deserves commendation also for the care with which the story is worked out and the good craftsmanship with which it is written. Although there is not much endeavour to portray character, except in the case of M. Poirot, several of the personages are depicted with swiftly made expressive and distinctive lines.”
The unnamed reviewer in The Observer of June 10, 1923 said, "When Conan Doyle popularised Sherlock Holmes in the Strand of the 'nineties he lit such a candle as the publishers will not willingly let out. Not a week passes which does not bring a 'detective' story from one quarter or another, and several of the popular magazines rely mainly on that commodity. Among the later cultivators of this anything but lonely furrow the name of Agatha Christie is well in the front. If she has not the touch of artistry which made The Speckled Band and The Hound of the Baskervilles things of real horror, she has an unusual gift of mechanical complication." The reviewer went on to compare the novel with The Mysterious Affair at Styles which they called, "a remarkable piece of work" but warned that, "it is a mistake to carry the art of bewilderment to the point of making the brain reel." They did admit that, "No solution could be more surprising" and stated that the character of Poirot was, "a pleasant contrast to most of his lurid competitors; and one even suspects a touch of satire in him.
Robert Barnard: "Super-complicated early whodunnit, set in the northerly fringes of France so beloved of the English bankrupt. Poirot pits his wits against a sneering sophisticate of a French policeman while Hastings lets his wander after an auburn-haired female acrobat. Entertaining for most of its length, but the solution is one of those 'once revealed, instantly forgotten' ones, where ingenuity has triumphed over common sense".
The character of the theatrical agent Joseph Aarons also features in the 1928 short story Double Sin which was published in book form in the US in Double Sin and Other Stories in 1961 and in the UK in Poirot's Early Cases in 1974.
The Murder on the Links was presented as a one-hour, thirty-minute radio play in the Saturday Night Theatre strand on BBC Radio 4 on September 15, 1990, the centenary of Christie's birth. It was repeated on July 8, 1991. John Moffatt starred as Poirot. The play's recording took place on June 21, 1989 at Broadcasting House.
Adaptor: Michael Bakewell
Producer/Director: Enyd Williams
John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot
Jeremy Clyde as Captain Hastings
Madeline Smith as Dulcee Duveen
Vincent Brimble as Inspector Giraud
Geoffrey Whitehead as Inspector Bex
Joan Matheson as Madame Renauld
Stephen Tompkinson as Jack Renauld
David King as Judge Hautet
Petra Davies as Madame Daubreuil
Francesca Buller as Marthe Daubreuil
Barbara Atkinson as Françoise
Joanna Mackie as Léoine
Danny Schiller as Hotel Receptionist
Ken Cumberlidge as Sergeant of Police
Brian Miller as the Doctor
The two major changes in this version from the book were:
The episode was filmed on location in Deauville, France
Adaptor: Anthony Horowitz
Director: Andrew Grieve
David Suchet played Hercule Poirot
Hugh Fraser played Arthur Hastings
Bill Moody played Giraud
Damien Thomas played Paul Renauld
Sophie Linfield played Marthe Daubreuil
Katherine Fahey played Bernadette Daubreuil
Jacinta Mulcahy played Bella Duveen
Bernard Latham played Lucien Bex
Ben Pullen played Jack Renauld
Diana Fletcher played Eloise Renauld
Terence Beesley played Stonor
Andrew Melville played Dr Hautet
Henrietta Voigts played Leonie
James Vaughan played Adam Letts
Ray Gatenby played a Station Master
Randal Herley played the Judge
Peter Yapp played a Lawyer
Terry Raven played a Tramp
Margaret Clifton played a Concierge
Tim Berrington played a Golfer
Howard Lee played a Golfer
Joseph Morton played a Policeman
Christopher Hammond played a Policeman
Belinda Stewart-Wilson played a Dubbing Secretary
Richard Bebb played a Newsreader
Laurence Richardson played a Golfer
The Murder on the Links was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on July 16, 2007, adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by Marc Piskic (ISBN 0-00-725057-6). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2003 under the title of Le Crime du Golf.
The novel received its first true publication as a four-part serialisation in the Grand Magazine from December 1922 to March 1923 (Issues 214 - 217) under the title of The Girl with the Anxious Eyes before it was issued in book form by The Bodley Head in May 1923. This was Christie's first published work for the Grand Magazine which went on to publish many of her short stories throughout the 1920's.
Christie's Autobiography recounts how she objected to the illustration of the dustjacket of the UK first edition stating that it was both badly drawn and unrepresentative of the plot. It was the first of many such objections she raised with her publishers over the dustjacket. It would appear that Christie won her argument over the dustjacket as the one she describes and objected to ("a man in his pyjamas, dying of an epeleptic fit on a golf course") does not resemble the actual jacket (illustrated above) which shows Monsieur Renauld digging the open grave on the golf course at night.
Christie dedicated her third book as follows:
"TO MY HUSBAND. A fellow enthusiast for detective stories and to whom I am indebted for much helpful advice and criticism".
Christie refers here to her first husband, Archibald Christie (1890 - 1962) from whom she was divorced in 1928. This dedication has not appeared in most editions for many years since.
The dustjacket front flap of the first edition carried no specially written blurb. Instead it carried quotes of reviews for The Mysterious Affair at Styles whilst the back jacket flap carried similar quotes for The Secret Adversary.