The Pale Horse

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To understand the strange events at The Pale Horse inn, Mark Easterbrook knew he had to begin at the beginning. But where exactly was the beginning? The blow to Father Gorman's head? Or the priest's visit to a woman on her death bed? Or the violent arguement he witnessed earlier...

“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him...”

Revelation of St John, Chapter 6, Verse 8


About this story

First released

September 1961 (serialised in Women's Mirror, UK)

Genre

  • Supernatural

Formats

  • Radio Play, 
  • Novel, 
  • TV

Recurring characters

  • Ariadne Oliver, 
  • Colonel John Hugh Despard

Murder methods

Setting

  • House

The Pale Horse combined two ideas that Agatha Christie had been considering. One, a book "would start somehow with a list of names ... all of them dead". The other reintroduced Christie's earlier thoughts about "Voodoo etc., White Cocks, Arsenic? Childish stuff - work on the mind and what can the law do to you? Love Potions and Death Potions, - the aphrodisiac and the cup of poison. Nowadays we know better - Suggestion."

The resulting novel also featured a character from Agatha Christie's own past. Mr Zachariah Osborne the pharmacist was inspired by the man who first trained Christie as a ...

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The Pale Horse combined two ideas that Agatha Christie had been considering. One, a book "would start somehow with a list of names ... all of them dead". The other reintroduced Christie's earlier thoughts about "Voodoo etc., White Cocks, Arsenic? Childish stuff - work on the mind and what can the law do to you? Love Potions and Death Potions, - the aphrodisiac and the cup of poison. Nowadays we know better - Suggestion."

The resulting novel also featured a character from Agatha Christie's own past. Mr Zachariah Osborne the pharmacist was inspired by the man who first trained Christie as a dispenser during World War I. And there was a return for Ariadne Oliver - this time without Poirot in the only case in which she appears without him.

This novel is notable among Christie's books as it is credited with having saved at least two lives after readers recognised the symptoms of thallium poisoning from the description in the book. In 1975, Christie received a letter from a woman in Latin America who had thus saved a woman from slow poisoning by her husband and in 1977, a nurse who had been reading The Pale Horse correctly suggested that a baby in her care was suffering from thallium poisoning. In another instance, in 1971, a serial killer, Graham Frederick Young, who had poisoned several people, three fatally, was caught thanks to this book. A doctor conferring with Scotland Yard had read The Pale Horse and realised that the mysterious "Bovingdon bug" was actually thallium poisoning.

The title of this book comes from the Revelation of St John the Divine, chapter 6, verse 8. “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him...” It was published in 1961 by Collins Sons in London, and in 1962 by Dodd, Mead & Co. in the US. It was adapted by Anglia TV in the UK in 1996 without Ariadne Oliver and by ITV in 2010 with the addition of Julia Mckenzie as Miss Marple and the omission of Ariadne Oliver, Colonel and Rhoda Despard and Mrs Dane Calthrop. It was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 and released in 2010.

 

"The black magic theme is handled in a masterly and sinister fashion, and to give away what lay behind it would be unforgivable. This is a book which nobody (repeat, nobody) should miss."

The Guardian, 1961



More about Ariadne Oliver

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Find out more about Ariadne Oliver, the eccentric novelist and detective, who is often thought to be Agatha Christie's literary alter ego.

More on Ariadne Oliver

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