Data Analysis Within the Poirot Novels
The Data Base
Being a self-proclaimed ‘super-fan’ of Agatha Christie and interested in data analysis and statistics, I decided I would try and combine the two and see what there is to be discovered by analysing the data behind the stories. Given how prolific Agatha Christie was in her writing there is plenty of data to work with – great from the analysis perspective but not so great when you’re manually assembling the database! After many hours and a lot of coffee, I completed my database which now includes for all the Poirot novels, short stories and the play Black Coffee a complete list of all characters. The data also covers all deaths (including suicides), attempted murders, murderers by gender all means of murder etc.. Other crimes such as thefts and blackmail. The list goes on. What I have below are some key call out stats which you may (or may not!) find interesting…
Victims & Murderers in the Agatha Christie Poirot Novels – an analysis of the relationships between the two including gender, motive and methods.
Analysis of the victims, murderers and methods is as below. The data reviewed covers 82 victims and includes: all murders mentioned in the books, all attempted murders and induced suicides. I have excluded any suicides by murderers to escape justice though. Reviewing the novels and answering the apparently simple question ‘how many murders are there in the Poirot novels’ was harder than I imagined. I quickly found that there are categories of killings: The initial murder or what I have termed the ‘primary’ murder in the novel, is the initial murder to which Poirot is called to help for example that of Marlene Tucker in Dead Man’s Folly. The ‘secondary’ killings are those of witnesses and blackmailers such as we find in Death on the Nile There are the obvious ‘attempted’ killings where the victim survives – Poirot himself has his life attempted more than once. Finally there are ‘background’ murders which are mentioned but do not actually occur within the novels. These differ in that the rest occur to characters who appear as alive in the novel and interact with other characters before dying where are ‘background’ murders happen to those we have not met such as the murders detailed in the ‘Daily Comet’ in Mrs McGinty’s dead. These are harder to analyse as in some cases background murders are only alluded to so finding the method is hard (although in most cases it is given by Christie) such as in The Big Four where the opponents of Li Chan Yen are descried as all dying and their means although their names are not given. As the killings were all completed by orders of Li Chan Yen (even if not by his own hand) I have marked these as being male murders. In the case of the ‘background’ murders in Curtain, the number of killings is hard to determine, where the ‘induced killings’ are referred to. Where possible I have included these in the analysis to given the most complete view possible although occasionally you will see ‘undisclosed’ within the graphs below. More widely, I have complete this review of deaths and killings across all Christie’s works for all her detectives (Marple, Quin, Parker Pyne & the Beresfords’) and all her short stories as well as her plays This offers a wider view to compare the Poirot novels specifically to. The purpose of this is to answer questions I had such as:
- Is the world of Poirot more dangerous than that of Miss Marple?
- Are more men killed than women in Poirot?
- Does the volume of murders vary by method or gender compared to the other stories?
It may only be me that wants to know the answers to these but just in case, you’re interested too – here’s what I’ve found.
Below you can see the split of victims and murderers by gender – more woman are murdered than men and more men are killers. But more women kill than men are killed.
Looking further, it is also interesting to see men are more likely to be killed by other men or by other women…here women are equally likely to be killed by men or other women but only roughly a third of men a likely to be killed by a woman. So, Christie holds true to social norms in her Poirot novels where men a more likely to kill than women. There is one case where I have noted the victim is killed by both a man and a woman – this isn’t that Christie introduced a hermaphrodite to her novels, interesting though that would be, this is once case where someone is killed by separate individuals. I’m sure any Christie fan can determine which I’m referring to.
When reviewing the Poirot novels it is interesting to see if the victims gender is linked in anyway to the method they are killed by. How often is it said by a character in Christie’s novels that ‘Poison is a woman’s choice’ for example…well let’s see.
First of all let’s see the breakdown of the methods of murder (including attempts). I have categorised the killings below with any deaths by knife (e.g. Simeon Lee’s throat cut in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) all under ‘Stabbed’. Any deaths where the victim was bludgeoned or battered (such as Alice Ascher in the ABC Murders) are under ‘Hit over Head’ and ‘Pushed’ covers those such as pushed off something (such as John Ingles in The Big Four). Poison, no surprise given Christie’s background and knowledge form her word during the wars, is the most common method of murder. Stabbings surprisingly and hit over head come next.
Taking this a step further, in the graph below you can see the split of murder methods by gender of the victim (M/F). We can see that Poison is more often used to kill women than men and when compared to the murders in the Marple novels this is also the case with the split being 38:62
Men are stabbed more often than women but in the case of shootings it is fairly evenly split.
Interestingly, women are never pushed off anything and men never strangled. Christie seems to reserve this for women only. *
(*Please note the one omission to this graph which I left out is the attempted murder of Poirot when he is pushed in front of a train in the novel Mrs McGuinty’s Dead).
This shows that although both men and women are drowned, it is only women who kill by this method (ref. Halowe’en Party). Women frame others as a means of killing however only men get behind the wheel to kill. Hit over head, shootings and stabbings are more evenly split but in the case of poisoning –is still more women using this to kill than men. Again, although from the graph above it appears that women kill just as much as men, the volume of killings completed by men is much higher than those of women, this is the % split of the methods.