Ordeal By Innocence

  • Novel
  • 1958

The Argyle family is far from pleased to discover one of its number has been posthumously pardoned for murder – if Jacko Argyle didn’t kill his mother, who did? Dr. Arthur Calgary takes a ferry across the Rubicon River to Sunny Point, the home of the Argyle family. Two years before, the matriarch of the family was murdered and a son, Jack, was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Throughout the trial Jack had maintained his innocence, claiming he was hitchhiking on the night of the murder and he had been picked up by a middle-aged man in a dark car. Unable to locate this mystery man the police viewed Jack’s as a lie. Calgary was the stranger in question, but he arrives too late for Jack – who succumbs to pneumonia after serving just six months of his sentence. Feeling a sense of duty to the Argyles, Calgary is surprised when his revelation has a disturbing effect on the family – it means one of the family is a murderer.

More about this story

Two years after Jacko was convicted of the murder of his adopted mother and has died in jail, his alibi steps forward. Dr Calgary had been out of the country during the trial and only heard news of it upon his return. Certain that Jacko was innocent, Dr Calgary takes it upon himself to investigate the past.

A psychological endeavour on Agatha Christie’s part, this story signifies a shift in style from some of her earlier, light works, and focuses largely on conversation, memory and perception, as each sibling suspects each other of the murder of their somewhat eccentric foster mother. The book was dedicated “To Billy Collins with affection and gratitude”. It was he who had convinced Christie to leave her one-sided deal with the Bodley Head, the publishers of her first six books, and to switch to William Collins Sons & Co in 1926. Now known as HarperCollins, they are Agatha Christie's UK and US publishers to this day.

It was first published in 1958 and it was in 1984 that the story was first adapted for film. It starred Donald Sutherland, Faye Dunaway and Christopher Plummer, and featured an interesting soundtrack that is often thought to conflict with the atmosphere of the film. In 2007, the story featured Miss Marple as part of the ITV television series, played by Geraldine McEwan.

In 2018 new TV adaptation of Ordeal by Innocence was broadcast with an all-star cast, including Bill Nighy, Eleanor Tomlinson and Anna Chancellor. Find out more.

Did you know?

  1. In her autobiography, Agatha Christie described Ordeal by Innocence as one of her books that satisfies her the most.

  2. The 1984 film adaptation starring Christopher Plummer as Leo Argyle and Donald Sutherland as Arthur Calgary was filmed on location in Dartmouth.

  3. The ferry bell at Greenway Quay features in the story, and the town of Drymouth represents nearby Dartmouth.

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