The Clocks

Agatha Christie,The Clocks
(New York: Harper Collins, 1991)
First published: 1963

‘Miss Martindale? But her evidence only lasted a few minutes.’
‘Exactly. It consisted only of the telephone call she had received purporting to be from Miss Pebmarsh.’
‘Do you mean that Edna knew that it wasn’t from Miss Pebmarsh?
‘I think it was simpler than that. I am suggesting there was no telephone call at all.’

In Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, four timepieces are left at the crime scene, each stopped at the same time: 4:13. These clocks are what those in the business would call a red herring. Christie’s crime novel ends up being less about clocks than about telephones, telephone calls, and telephone boxes. A woman is called to a blind woman’s home (where there is no telephone) for a stenography appointment; there she finds a body and the clocks. Another woman is told by her boss to call the police from a nearby telephone box, where she is strangled with her own scarf. Hercule Poirot, in his customary disquisition scene, reveals that this tricky case will be cracked by adopting a simple premise: what if that first call, which set all the events in motion, had never been made? 

by Kevin Riordan