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In Agatha Christie's book The Listerdale Mystery, in the story Mr Eastwood's adventure, there is the following paragraph:

He knew only too well that the kind of story that the editor in question did not want that kind of story - beautiful though it might be. The kind of story he wanted, and insisted on having (and incidentally paid handsomely for getting), was all about mysterious dark women, stabbed to the heart, a young hero unjustly suspected, and the sudden unraveling of the mystery and fixing of the guilt on the least likely person, by the means of wholly inadequate clues; in fact, 'THE MYSTERY OF THE SECOND CUCUMBER'.

'Although', reflected Anthony, "ten to one, he'll alter the title and call it something rotten, like "Murder Most Foul" without so much as asking me!'

Emphasis mine.

Anthony is an author and is trying to write a story called THE MYSTERY OF THE SECOND CUCUMBER.

I wondered if this excerpt is possibly a dig by Agatha Christie at her editor? I know that there was a movie based loosely on one of her books called Murder Most Foul...

My question is if there is any evidence that this excerpt is 'pointed' at anyone, i.e. more than just a bit of atmosphere for the story?

  • To me it reads almost like a dig at Doyle and his weird titles. – Catija Jul 18 '17 at 17:10
  • It actually reads to me like a dig by Agatha Christie at herself. She often makes the least likely person the murderer, and I am sure that her books were often criticized for having wholly inadequate clues (although I suspect she didn't think this was the case). – Peter Shor Jul 20 '17 at 18:56
  • @PeterShor You could be right, after all Ariadne Oliver is apparently a spoof of Agatha Christie herself. However it doesn't explain the editor... – Mirte Jul 21 '17 at 11:09
  • The Mystery of the Second Cucumber is such an uninspiring title, that I'm not sure whether Christie is making fun of the editor or of the author. (Or both.) – Peter Shor Jul 24 '17 at 3:49
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In the collection The Listerdale Mystery (1934) the story has the title ‘Mr Eastwood’s Adventure’, but it was originally published in The Novel Magazine (August 1924) under the title ‘The Mystery of the Second Cucumber’.

The Novel Magazine was a monthly periodical of pulp fiction, so under the original story title, Eastwood’s position corresponds exactly to Christie’s, hence his remarks can be interpreted as a sardonic reflection on the author’s situation.

‘Murder Most Foul’ is a quotation from Hamlet act I scene V:

Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Hamlet. Murder?
Ghost. Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

There’s a long tradition of using famous quotations as story titles, a tradition that Christie would later adopt (Sad Cypress, Evil Under the Sun, The Moving Finger, Taken at the Flood, etc.), so this is why Eastwood imagines the editor might choose this title. Christie’s own quotation-titles were usually apposite to the story: one would expect a story called ‘Murder Most Foul’ to have at least some symbolic relationship to Hamlet. Presumably the lack of any such relationship is why Eastwood thinks the title ‘rotten’.

There can’t be a reference to the film starring Margaret Rutherford, because that was released in 1964, forty years after the story was written.

Contra Peter Shor in the comments, I think that ‘The Mystery of the Second Cucumber’ is a fine title, because by the conventions of detective stories the second cucumber would be expected to be an important plot element, and this raises two intriguing questions: how can a cucumber, that most watery and anodyne of vegetables, be an important clue? and how can the crucial point possibly be the second cucumber?

The use of commonplace objects in the title to create suspense about their relevance to the mystery plot goes back at least to Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories included such quotidian titles as ‘The Adventure of the Cardboard Box’ and ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain’.

  • OK, I get it now :-) (after your first, now-deleted comment reply). Might be worth an edit to expand slightly on that second paragraph, making it more explicit. I didn't understand the connection at first - the renaming of Anthony's fictional story and the renaming of AC's real story, how meta - and maybe others won't either. – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '18 at 12:00
  • Another interesting question: did the excerpt quoted by the OP appear in the 1924 version of this story, or was it added after the title really was changed? – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '18 at 12:05
  • Ok, I've spelled out various details. No idea whether there are other textual differences between the 1924 and 1934 versions. The Internet Archive only has The Novel Magazine up to 1906, alas. – Gareth Rees Dec 15 '18 at 12:16

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