Wednesday, February 02, 2011


JANUARY: Murder in Mesopotamia
Frederick Bosner's execution is reported in a newspaper dated November 1918, and that was "nearly twenty years ago".  Captain Hastings says he's been married "a few years", which is pushing it a bit considering when the production crew decided to set Murder on the Links, but it might reasonably be 1938.  So this could be the latest pre-2004 adaptation in chronological terms.  Moreover, in Christie’s novel, Nurse Leatheran mentions that “M. Poirot went back to Syria, and about a week later he went home on the Orient Express and got himself mixed up in another murder”, so the episode should (and could, incredibly enough) be placed directly preceding Murder on the Orient Express. So I would say the case itself is set at some point in late December 1937 and early January 1938.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY: Murder on the Orient Express
I’ll lean on a comment from one of the excellent users of the forums at the Agatha Christie page, shantysleuth, who put my sentiments on this episode to the point:
“I think there is an error in MOTOE. It's definitely set in 1938, but the actual month is either September or January. Poirot receives a telegram from London while at the hotel in Istanbul, and it is clearly dated 26/9/38. However, a closeup of Ratchett's note telling him to drop the ransom money off at Calais reads January. I think January is correct, but how the filmmakers could be so careless as to show a closeup of an incorrectly-dated telegram is beyond me.”
In other words, I choose to set MOTOE in January/February 1938, directly after Murder in Mesopotamia.

FEBRUARY: Elephants Can Remember
The episodes opens with a caption reading "1925". Then, the action shifts, and the caption reads "Thirteen years later" (see temporary screencaps below - will upload higher quality when the DVD/Bluray set is released). As a result, the episode is quite clearly set in 1938. I am delighted to see that they 've kept going with the (conscious) move to 1938 that began with MOTOE (see above). May the remaining (as of June 2013) four episodes continue in that fashion!

JUNE: Dead Man's Folly
No references. Mrs Oliver eats apples, a habit we know she stopped in Hallowe'en Party (the novel), set in October this year. The friendship between Poirot and Mrs Oliver is well developed here, so you would assume that they have cooperated on a couple of cases already.


JULY/AUGUST: Three Act Tragedy
No references. George is present, so it must be after Taken at the Flood. There are also several hints to a placement after 1936. Le Train Bleu is used to Monte Carlo (my guess would be after Mystery of the Blue Train), and most of the people don’t know who Poirot is; Charles Cartwright introduces Poirot to Miss Wills as a detective (“a real one?”), making it reasonable to believe that his fame is declining (possibly as a result of his semi-retirement). The story takes place over at least two months, as a card between the first murder (Babbington) and the second murder (Strange) reads “one month later”. It looks like summer.

SEPTEMBER: Cat Among the Pigeons
No specific references. A football game between Arsenal and Sheffield United is mentioned, but that took place in APRIL 1936, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain.  This episode is supposed to be set at the beginning of the school term (September?). George is mentioned (helping Poirot by telephone, packing case etc.), so once again this has to be placed after Taken at the Flood. Julia Upjohn, the girl, mentions one of Poirot’s cases where someone has their head smashed in. This could be Mrs. McGinty, but I’m guessing Enoc Arden/Charles in Taken at the Flood. In this episode, Spence and Poirot speculate on suicide, but regard it as unlikely to be “smashing in the back of one’s head”. Ramat (the Middle East country mentioned) does not exist. I choose September 1938.

The dinner invitation Lady Angkatell sends Poirot is dated 'Saturday 17th September'. 1938 fits this date. Lady Ankatell also mentions Poirot’s case in Baghdad (something about him being ”talked about all over Baghdad” when "Henry was High Commissioner"). This somewhat fits with Murder in Mesopotamia in January 1938, if we assume Henry has just retired. Unlikely, but possible. No mention of George or the new apartment (we don’t even see Whitehaven Mansions). So it could theoretically be set before or after Cards on the Table and Taken at the Flood. Based on the evidence of the date, however, I choose to place it in September 1938.

OCTOBER: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Poirot tells Mrs. Carpenter that the murder “occurred last November, the 22nd.” Mr. Upward states “but surely, that’s all over now”. Mrs. Carpenter can’t remember Mrs. McGinty’s name, even though “she worked for you here in this house?”, as Poirot points out. She answers that “She didn’t. I wasn’t living here then. Mr. Carpenter and I were only married three months ago”. Furthermore, Mrs. Summerhayes says she bought the sugar hammer at Christmas, while Mrs. Rendell claims it happened at the harvest festival in late September (a matter of importance, because it could then have been used as the murder weapon). 

In other words, everything points to Poirot investigating the crime almost a year after it actually took place. The newspaper Mrs. McGinty reads is dated "Sunday, November 19", and the murder took place on Wednesday 22nd. The only year to fit the dates is 1939. Furthermore, the newspaper with the verdict (shortly before Spt. Spence's visit to Poirot) is dated "Sunday, September 29". The year 1940 fits the date. This means the investigation would have to take place in 1940, which might be seen as rather unlikely. On the other hand, Poirot’s moustache looks thinner, and hardly anyone remembers him or his name. So his fame is declining. In other words, perhaps a 1940-setting could fit. As for no mentioning of the war; Anne Hart states on p. 81-82 in her book that there is hardly any evidence of wartime in either Poirot or Marple stories:

”(...) where in this decade, one may very well ask, is Poirot and the Second World War? There had, after all, been forebodings of events to come in several of the cases of the late 1930s (…) As is the case with Miss Marple in wartime, we are told practically nothing of Poirot’s activities. (…) Whether as a smokescreen or not, Poirot remained in his flat in London and continued accepting cases. Those recorded for posterity have nothing to do with the war.”

I leave it up to you to decide whether you will lean on these dates and place the episode in 1940 or ignore them and place it in 1938 (or 1939, for that matter). I've decided on 1938, because that works better with the other Ariadne Oliver stories.

Now, someone in the comment section pointed out, as I am already aware, that a) Mrs. Oliver (or rather Mr. Upward) is planning a stage version of one of her Sven Hjerson novels, and we see a Sven Hjerson play in the opening of The Clocks, set in 1938 or 1939, and b) Mrs. Oliver still eats apples in this episode, but in Christie's novel Hallowe'en Party, she is so traumatized by the brutal murder of Joyce that she promises never to eat an apple again (this is not in the adaptation of the novel, probably set in 1938, so TV-Ariadne and Book-Ariadne could easily have different sentiments on this particular fact). These two facts might suggest that the story is supposed to be set in 1938 (which, in any case, is the most likely option, even if the dates don't match). However, after the trauma of trying to adapt a novel into a play with Mr. Upward (who SPOILER! even turns out to be the killer), the play we are witnessing in The Clocks is certainly not Upward's Hjerson play, and probably not anyone elses either, really. (Unless Mrs. Oliver was tricked into it in one of her more scatterbrained moments!). Also, as to the apples, we still haven't seen her dislike of apples on screen. We'll have to wait and see, but somehow I doubt that fact will be included, since it wasn't mentioned in the adaptation of Hallowe'en Party. Still, I do think a 1938 setting is much more sensible than 1940, so unless the entire chronology is ruined by the final five adaptations of Series 13, I am inclined to make a final placement of it here. 

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER: Hallow’een Party
No references. Both Mrs. Oliver and George are present, so it has to be set after Taken at the Flood and Cards on the Table. And for once, we actually know how long the case lasts: The murder of Joyce is on October 31st. The day before the last day is Guy Fawkes Night (scene between Michael and Mrs. Drake), November 5th. Then there is one more day for investigation and denouement. I find a late 1938 setting likely, since 1937 is filled up with Mrs. Oliver’s cases already.

EDIT: As you can see in the comments section, the next to last day is not Guy Fawkes Night (Michael says "Guy Fawkes Night is almost upon us"), but the adaptation is still reasonably set within one week.



  1. Interesting supposition but I'd have to dispute with you that we are told the time scale of the case.

    We don't know for sure that the Halloween Party actually takes place on October 31st - it could be a date near it. And Michael says to Rowena: "Guy Fawkes Night is ALMOST upon us" - which could mean the date is anything between the 1st and the 4th November, but means that that night can't yet be the 5th.

    Hope you agree with my detective work! :)

  2. Oh! I'm sure you're correct - it's been a while since I watched the episode. I might have jumped to conclusions a bit too fast ;) But yes, I do agree with you. However, I do think it's likely that the 'investigation' takes place during the first week of November.