Towards Zero

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What is the connection between a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a tennis player?  To the casual observer, apparently nothing. When a houseparty gathers at Gull's Point, the seaside home of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head.

"The new Agatha Christie has a deliciously prolonged and elaborate build-up, urbane and cosy like a good cigar and red leather slippers."

The Observer, 1944, London


About this story

First released

May 1944 (serialised in Collier's Weekly, US)

Genre

  • Murder Mystery

Formats

  • Radio Play, 
  • Novel, 
  • TV, 
  • Play, 
  • Film

Recurring characters

  • Battle

Murder methods

Setting

  • West Country

This is often thought to be one of Agatha Christie's finest stories and is the last of the five novels to feature Superintendant Battle. The story itself came together quickly and clearly, as can be seen from Christie’s notebooks. Her notes are detailed and closely resemble the published version – she even drew a map of the coastline around Gull’s Point, which plays an important part in the story. Names and motivations underwent slight changes from the first notes, and almost at the point of publication, Christie reworked the ending to the one we are familiar with now ...

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This is often thought to be one of Agatha Christie's finest stories and is the last of the five novels to feature Superintendant Battle. The story itself came together quickly and clearly, as can be seen from Christie’s notebooks. Her notes are detailed and closely resemble the published version – she even drew a map of the coastline around Gull’s Point, which plays an important part in the story. Names and motivations underwent slight changes from the first notes, and almost at the point of publication, Christie reworked the ending to the one we are familiar with now, though unfortunately nothing of her ‘first’ ending survives.

Many of Christie's novels were first serialised in magazines and Towards Zero was no exception. Collier's Magazine with a circulation of over 2.5 million at the time published the novel in 3 parts in May 1944. Her American publishers Dodd Mead followed with the true first edition in June and Collins published their hardback in July 1944.

Robert Graves, author of I Claudius, was a neighbour of Agatha Christie’s in Devon during the Second World War and the two became friends. Christie wrote: “Dear Robert, Since you are kind enough to say you like my stories, I venture to dedicate this book to you. All I ask is that you sternly restrain your critical faculties (doubtless sharpened by your recent excesses in that line!) when reading it. This is a story for your pleasure and not a candidate for Mr Graves’ literary pillory!"

In 1956 the novel was dramatised by Agatha Christie and playwright Gerald Verner, produced by Peter Saunders, and opened at the St James's Theatre in London's West End on 4th September.

The 1995 film Innocent Lies was originally based on the novel but the connection was never used to promote the film as the script was unacceptable to the family. The story was then adapted for British television in 2007 with the addition of Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. Also in 2007 a French production company released a more faithful feature film adaptatation, L'Heure Zéro, which starred François Morel as Commissaire Martin Bataille ('battle' in French).

More recently still in 2010, BBC Radio 4 dramatised the novel for its afternoon play slot.



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