Book Collecting

Cards on the Table (1936) – Agatha Christie | First Edition Identification Guide

Agatha Christie - Cards on the Table 1936 UK
Cards on the Table 1936 UK

Cards on the Table is a detective fiction novel by the English author Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 2 November 1936 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

The book features the recurring characters of Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, with the crime writer Ariadne Oliver making her first appearance in a Poirot novel. The four detectives and four possible suspects play bridge after dinner with Mr Shaitana. At the end of the evening, Mr Shaitana is discovered murdered. Identifying the murderer, according to the author, depends wholly on discerning the psychology of the suspects.

The novel contains a foreword by the author in which she explains that the novel has only four suspects and that since any of them, given the right circumstances, might have committed the crime, the deduction must be “entirely psychological”. She notes that the book is no less interesting for that since “when all is said and done it is the mind of the murderer that is of supreme interest”.

Plot Summary

[SPOILER ALERT]

Mr Shaitana, a flamboyant collector, meets Hercule Poirot by chance at an art exhibition and brags about his personal crime-related collection. Scoffing at the idea of collecting mere artefacts, Shaitana explains that he collects only the best exhibits: criminals who have evaded justice. He invites Poirot to a dinner party to meet them.
Poirot’s fellow guests include three other crime professionals: secret serviceman Colonel Race, mystery writer Mrs Ariadne Oliver, and Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard; along with four people Shaitana believes to be murderers: Dr Roberts, Mrs Lorrimer, Anne Meredith, and Major Despard. Shaitana taunts his suspects with comments that each understands as applying only to them.
The guests retire to play bridge, the professionals playing in one room while the others play in a second room where Shaitana relaxes by the fire. As the party breaks up, Shaitana is found to be dead – stabbed in the chest with a stiletto from his own collection. None of the suspects can be ruled out, as all had moved around during the evening. Leading the police investigation, Superintendent Battle agrees to put his “cards on the table” and to allow the other professionals to make their own enquiries. Poirot concentrates on the psychology of the murderer.
The investigators look into the suspects’ histories: the husband of one of Dr Roberts’ patients died of anthrax shortly after accusing the doctor of improper conduct, and a botanist that Despard had been guiding through the Amazon was rumoured to have been shot. Anne’s housemate Rhoda Dawes tells Mrs Oliver about an incident that Anne has been concealing, when an elderly woman for whom Anne was acting as companion died after mistaking poison for syrup of figs. Mrs Lorrimer’s husband had died twenty years earlier, though little is known about that.
Mrs Lorrimer tells Poirot that she has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and that she wishes to confess to killing both her husband and Shaitana. Poirot refuses to believe her psychologically capable of spontaneous murder, and thinks that she is protecting Anne. Mrs Lorrimer reluctantly discloses that she had actually seen Anne commit the crime, but feels sympathy for a young girl just starting out in life. The next day, each of the other suspects receives in the morning’s post a confession and suicide note from Mrs Lorrimer. Battle informs Poirot by telephone that although several people had rushed to her house it was too late, and she had died of an overdose. Poirot is again suspicious, as he knows that Anne had visited the previous night. He discovers that, due to the established time of death, Mrs Lorrimer could not possibly have sent the letters.
Realising that Rhoda’s life is in danger (she being the only person who might give Anne away), Poirot, Battle, and Despard race to Rhoda’s cottage, arriving to find the two girls in a boat out on the river. Anne attempts to push Rhoda overboard, but Anne herself falls in and drowns, while Rhoda is rescued by Despard.
Poirot explains his findings. Although Despard had indeed shot and killed the botanist, that had been not murder but an accident. Anne poisoned her employer by switching two bottles to conceal her petty thieving. Although Mrs Lorrimer thought she had seen Anne kill Shaitana, Anne had in fact just leaned forward to touch him and confirm he was already dead.
Poirot explains that only one person was psychologically capable of carrying out a spur-of-the-moment stabbing, namely Dr Roberts. Believing that Shaitana meant to reveal him as the anthrax killer, Roberts quickly took his chance. He covered his tracks by forging Mrs Lorrimer’s letters and killing her with an injection when he visited her house. Although Roberts initially protests, he is forced to confess when Poirot reveals a surprise eye-witness to the killing, a window-cleaner. After Roberts is led away, Rhoda notes what amazing luck it was that the window cleaner had been there at the exact moment of the fatal injection. Poirot replies that it had not been luck at all, and introduces them to a hired actor whose presence had prompted Roberts’ confession.
With the murder solved, Despard courts Rhoda.

Publication history

  • 1936, Collins Crime Club (London), 2 November 1936, Hardcover
  • 1937, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1937, Hardcover
  • 1949, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 293 [mapback])
  • 1951, Pan Books, Paperback, (Pan number 176)
  • 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback

The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in six instalments from 2 May (Volume 208, Number 44) to 6 June 1936 (Volume 208, Number 49) with illustrations by Orison MacPherson.

Cards on the Table – 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
1936Cards on the TableWilliam Collins & Sons, London, [1936]First edition. "Copyright 1936" stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Orange cloth lettered in black. Price 7/6.
1936Cards on the TableDodd, Mead & Co, NY, 1936First American edition. Date on the title & copyright page matches. No statement of later printings. Burgundy 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.

Cards on the Table – 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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