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Appointment with Death (1938) – Agatha Christie | First Edition Identification Guide

Agatha Christie - Appointment with Death 1938 UK
Appointment with Death 1938 UK

Appointment with Death is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 2 May 1938 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and reflects Christie’s experiences travelling in the Middle East with her husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. The main settings are Jerusalem and Petra.

The novel mentions several other Poirot investigations: the detective is seen to retell to Colonel Carbury the story of Cards on the Table, and Colonel Race from this investigation is mentioned. Nadine Boynton actually confronts Poirot with his own actions in the conclusion of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot suggesting that she was told by one of the case’s figures. Miss Pierce also comments on The A.B.C. Murders when she recognises Poirot as a great detective.

Plot Summary

[SPOILER ALERT]

The novel opens as the family and the victim are introduced through the perspective of Sarah King and Dr Gerard, who discuss the behaviour of the family. Mrs Boynton is sadistic and domineering, behaviours which she may have carried over from her original profession of prison warden. Sarah is attracted to Raymond Boynton, while Jefferson Cope admits to wanting to take Nadine Boynton away from her husband, Lennox Boynton, and the influence of her mother-in-law. Having been thwarted in her desire to free the young Boyntons, Sarah confronts Mrs Boynton whose apparent reply is a strange threat: “I’ve never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face.” When the party reaches Petra, Mrs Boynton uncharacteristically sends her family away from her for a period. Later, she is found dead with a needle puncture in her wrist.
Poirot claims that he can solve the mystery within twenty-four hours simply by interviewing the suspects. During these interviews he establishes a timeline that seems impossible: Sarah King places the time of death considerably before the times at which various of the family members claim last to have seen the victim alive. Attention is focused on a hypodermic syringe that has seemingly been stolen from Dr Gerard’s tent and later replaced. The poison administered to the victim is believed to be digitoxin, something that she already took medicinally.
Poirot then calls for a meeting and explains how each member of the family has, in turn, discovered Mrs Boynton to be dead and, suspecting another family member, failed to report the fact. None of the family would have needed to murder the victim with a hypodermic, since an overdose could have been administered much more effectively in her medicine. This places the suspicion on one of the outsiders.
The murderer is revealed to be Lady Westholme who, prior to her marriage, had been incarcerated in the prison in which the victim was once a warden. It was to Lady Westholme, and not to Sarah, that Mrs Boynton had addressed that peculiar threat; the temptation to acquire a new subject to torture had been too great for her to resist. Disguised as an Arab servant, she had committed the murder and then relied upon the suggestibility of Miss Pierce to lay two pieces of misdirection that had concealed her role in the murder. Lady Westholme, eavesdropping in an adjoining room, overhears that her criminal history is about to be revealed to the world and commits suicide. The family, free at last, take up happier lives: Sarah marries Raymond; Carol marries Jefferson; and Ginevra takes up a successful career as a stage actress and marries Dr Gerard.

Publication history

  • 1938, Collins Crime Club (London), 2 May 1938, Hardback, 256 pp
  • 1938, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1938, Hardback, 301 pp
  • 1946, Dell Books, Paperback, (Dell number 105 [mapback]), 192 pp
  • 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 682), 206 pp
  • 1957, Pan Books, Paperback, 159 pp (Pan number 419)
  • 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 159 pp

The first true publication of Appointment with Death occurred in the US with a nine-part serialisation in Collier’s Weekly from 28 August (Volume 100, Number 9) to 23 October 1937 (Volume 100, Number 17) with illustrations by Mario Cooper.

The UK serialisation was in twenty-eight parts in the Daily Mail from Wednesday, 19 January to Saturday, 19 February 1938 under the title of A Date with Death. Fifteen of the instalments contained illustrations by J. Abbey.

Appointment with Death – First Edition Book Identification Guide

The books are listed in the order of publication. While the majority of Agatha Christie’s books were first published in the UK. There are many titles that were first published in the US. The title of the book may differs from the UK edition in some cases.

YearTitlePublisherFirst edition/printing identification points
1938Appointment with DeathWilliam Collins & Sons, London, [19First edition. "Copyright 1938" stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Red or orange cloth lettered in black. Price 7/6
1938Appointment with DeathDodd, Mead & Co, NY, First American edition. Date on the title & copyright page matches. No statement of later printings. Orange cloth lettered in black. Price $2.00

Note about Book Club Editions (BCE) and reprints:

UK: You can see statements of later reprint dates or of book club on the copyright page.

US: The US reprint publishers usually use the same sheets as the first edition and are harder to identify by looking at the title page or the copyright page. One may identify a BCE by looking at the DJ, which doesn’t have a price on top of the front flap and a “Book Club Edition” imprint at the bottom. If the dust jacked is clipped at both the top/bottom of the front flap. You can safely assume it’s a BCE . If the book is missing the dust jacket. Later BCE editions can be identified by its plain boards, while first printings are issued in quarter cloth.

Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of true first edition bindings and dust jackets.

Appointment with Death – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide

First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.

Reference:

BOOKSTORE: Rare, Antiquarian, First editions, Illustrated Children's Books

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