Cat Among the Pigeons is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 2 November 1959, and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in March 1960 with a copyright date of 1959. The UK edition retailed at twelve shillings and sixpence (12/6), and the US edition at $2.95.
It features Christie’s Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, who makes a very late appearance in the final third of the novel. The emphasis on espionage in the early part of the story relates it to Christie’s international adventures (such as They Came to Baghdad) and to the Tommy and Tuppence stories.
A revolution takes place within Ramat, a fictional kingdom in the Middle East. Before their deaths, Prince Ali Yusuf entrusts his pilot, Bob Rawlinson, to smuggle a fortune in jewels out of the country. He conceals the gems in the luggage of his sister, Joan Sutcliffe, and her daughter Jennifer, without telling them. Unbeknown to him, a mysterious woman watches him conceal them from the balcony of a neighbouring room. Three months later, Jennifer prepares to attend Meadowbank School, a prestigious girls’ independent school in England. Its staff includes Miss Bulstrode, the school’s founder and headmistress; Miss Chadwick, a co-founder of the school; Miss Vansittart, a teacher for several years; Miss Rich, a teacher for eighteen months; Miss Johnson, the girl’s matron; Miss Angèle Blanche, the new French teacher; Grace Springer, the new gym teacher; Ann Shapland, Bulstrode’s new secretary; and Adam Goodman, the new gardener. Bulstrode is nearing retirement, so she decides to seek a successor. As Chadwick is not the type to lead the school, Bulstrode chooses between Vansittart, whom many believe she will choose, and Rich, who is young and has many ideas of her own.
One night, Springer is found by Johnson and Chadwick, shot dead in the Sports Pavilion. When the police begin to investigate, Goodman reveals to Inspector Kelsey, and later to Bulstrode, that he works for British Intelligence. He is at Meadowbank to track down the gems Rawlinson smuggled out, while monitoring Princess Shaista, Ali Yusuf’s cousin, who is attending the school for this term. During the investigation, Jennifer complains that her racquet feels unbalanced since being abroad, and switches it for that of her friend Julia Upjohn, while she awaits a new one. Later, a woman gives Jennifer a new racquet to replace her current one, claiming it is from her Aunt Gina. However, the sharper Julia suspects this is not the case as the two girls had swapped racquets, and Aunt Gina later writes to reveal that she had not sent her niece the new racquet. The following weekend, Shaista is kidnapped by someone posing as her uncle’s chauffeur, while on the night of the kidnapping, Vansittart is murdered with a sandbag in the Sports Pavilion.
While many of the girls are sent home, Julia investigates Jennifer’s racquet, and finds the smuggled jewels within a hollow in the handle. When someone attempts to enter her room during the night, she quickly flees the school to tell her story to Hercule Poirot, a friend of a friend of her mother. Arriving at Meadowbank to investigate the murders, he learns that Blanche has been recently murdered with a sandbag; the police suspect she knew the killer’s identity and attempted blackmail. Interviewing Bulstrode, he learns that she believed Julia’s mother Mrs Upjohn, who had served in military intelligence during the war, had noticed someone at the school on Parent’s Day whom she recalled seeing from fifteen years earlier.
Poirot eventually reveals to all that the Shaista who attended Meadowbank was an imposter; the real Shaista was kidnapped by a group seeking Ali Yusuf’s jewels. When the imposter does not find them, the group extracts her from the school before the uncle of the real Shaista can expose her. Poirot briefly focusses attention on Miss Rich as a potential suspect, so he can put the true murderer at her ease. Poirot reveals that Springer was killed because she caught the killer searching for the racquet. Blanche was killed for her attempted blackmail of the killer in regards to the Springer murder.
Then, through Mrs Upjohn, Poirot identifies Shapland as the ruthless espionage agent known as “Angelica”. Ann Shapland had been in Ramat three months earlier and was the woman who had witnessed Rawlinson concealing the gems in Jennifer’s racquet. Before Shapland is arrested, she attempts to shoot Mrs Upjohn; Bulstrode tries to shield her, but Chadwick steps in faster to shield both and is fatally wounded. Shapland is disarmed and taken away. Poirot then reveals that the second murder was not Shapland’s work. Although Shapland had killed Mlle Blanche in the same way as Vansittart was killed, Shapland had an airtight alibi for Vansittart’s killing. That murder was done by Chadwick, who was jealous of Vansittart as Bulstrode’s chosen successor. Chadwick found her in the Sports Pavilion and struck her down in a fit of madness. Before dying, Chadwick confesses to Bulstrode.
In the aftermath of the investigation, Bulstrode appoints Rich as her partner and successor, with both focusing on rebuilding Meadowbank and its reputation. Meanwhile, Poirot turns over the gems to Mr Robinson to be delivered to an English woman who had secretly married Ali Yusuf when he was a student and had their son. Julia receives one gemstone as a reward.
- 1959, Collins Crime Club (London), 2 November 1959, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1960, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), March 1960, Hardcover, 224 pp
- 1961, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 216 pp
- 1962, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 187 pp
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in six abridged instalments from 26 September (Volume 106, Number 2771) to 31 October 1959 (Volume 106, Number 2776) with illustrations by Gerry Fancett. In the US a condensed version of the novel appeared in the November 1959 (Volume LXXVI, Number 11) issue of the Ladies Home Journal with an illustration by Joe DeMers.
Cat Among the Pigeons – 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.
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1959||Cat Among the Pigeons||William Collins & Sons, London, ||First edition. "© Agatha Christie, Ltd., 1959" stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Red cloth lettered in black. Price 12/6.|
|1960||Cat Among the Pigeons||Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, ||First American edition. Copyright 1959 stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Gray boards lettered in purple. First published in March 1960, but copyright date 1959. Price $ 2.95.|
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.
Cat Among the Pigeons – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide
First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.