Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is a novel by Agatha Christie. In the story, a dying man's last words "Why didn't they ask Evans?" inspires an amateur detective investigation, in which ultimately

"Evans" turns out to be a parlourmaid, Gladys Evans, and the fact that she was not asked to witness a will turns out to be significant.

I was told once that the title of this story was inspired by a phrase Agatha Christie overheard, "why didn't they ask Evans?", and she decided to write a story with this title. But I don't know if this is true or not, and couldn't find this claim online.

What, if anything, inspired the title of this novel?

1 Answer 1


I'm wondering if the claim you heard was a conflation of a few things.

I could find two sources online stating that the title of Why Didn't They Ask Evans was something Christie overheard. The first is this IMDB review from 2013, which claims:

The title of the book actually came from a conversation Ms. Christie overheard coming out of a movie theater, and she built a whole story around it.

The second is this blog post:

In her autobiography, Agatha Christie talks about how she comes by ideas for various books. This one started with the title, which was a phrase she overheard.

I've read the autobiography, and have it on Kindle. I searched every variation of "ask", "asked", "question", "overheard", "Evans", "theatre", "title" and etc that I could think of and didn't find any reference to this particular novel or inspirations for it.

There is, however, a reference in the autobiography to one piece of inspiration Christie did get from overhearing a conversation:

I considered writing another book. Supposing I did--what should it be about?

The question was solved for me one day when I was having tea in an ABC. Two people were talking at a table nearby, discussing somebody called Jane Fish. It struck me as a most entertaining name. I went away with the name in my mind. Jane Fish. That, I thought, would make a good beginning to a story--a name overheard at a tea shop--an unusual name, so that whoever heard it remembered it. A name like Jane Fish--or perhaps Jane Finn would be even better.

This became The Secret Adversary (1922):

“Funny scraps one does overhear,” murmured Tommy. “I passed two Johnnies in the street to-day talking about some one called Jane Finn. Did you ever hear such a name?”

As for the movie theater, take a look at this quote from Christie's Lord Edgware Dies (published a year before Why Didn't They Ask Evans):

We were passing a big cinema. People were streaming out of it discussing their own affairs, their servants, their friends of the opposite sex, and just occasionally, the picture they had just seen.

With a group of them we crossed the Euston Road.

‘I loved it,’ a girl was sighing. ‘I think Bryan Martin’s just wonderful. I never miss any picture he’s in. The way he rode down the cliff and got there in time with the papers.’

Her escort was less enthusiastic.

‘Idiotic story. If they’d just had the sense to ask Ellis right away. Which anyone worth sense would have done—’

This is clearly someone overhearing a phrase, where the speaker is wondering why someone whose name begins with E wasn't asked--while coming out of a movie theater. However, the difference is that the overhear-ers here are Poirot and Hastings, not Christie herself.

It's certainly possible that Christie reused the phrasing from Lord Edgware Dies in Why Didn't They Ask Evans. However, I can find no evidence that she herself ever overheard this specific phrase.

  • 1
    Great sleuthing, thank you. It's interesting that you found two sources making the same claim that I remember, suggesting that it's either a reasonably common urban myth, or actually true but very hard to substantiate. Anyway, unless someone finds a definitive proof of the claim, this answer seems as good as we're going to get.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 21:14
  • What's so unusual about the name "Jane Finn"? Especially when compared to "Jane Fish"? Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 0:04

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