By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

July 21, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): When Tommy and Tuppence visit an elderly aunt in her gothic nursing home, they think nothing of her mistrust of the doctors; after all, Ada is a very difficult old lady.

But when Mrs. Lockett mentions a poisoned mushroom stew and Mrs. Lancaster talks about “something behind the fireplace,” Tommy and Tuppence find themselves caught up in a spine-chilling adventure that could spell death for either of them . . .

A duty visit to Tommy’s elderly and unpleasant aunt results in a strange inheritance, black magic–and danger for Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I was expecting the usual lighthearted fare involving Tommy and Tuppenece, but was pleasantly surprised to see that this book was quite a bit darker and more sinister than anything else involving the husband and wife team.
  • Christie did a good job throwing red herrings out there. I mean, I really had NO IDEA what Tuppenece was getting herself into here. Was she on the track of a serial killer? Was she about to bust open a major crime ring? Was there something else involved? Her purpose and the outcome were in doubt (in a good way) for a significant portion of the novel.
  • The Perrys were a totally creepy couple. The way Christie kept describing the wife as a witch, I was sure they were going to snatch Tuppenece the first time she visited there. Nothing even happened in that scene, but it was incredibly tense nonetheless.
  • I was not able to guess that Mrs. Lancaster was the killer. I thought her disappearance was due to “Mrs. Johnson” wanting her killed or something. The solution to this one caught me completely off guard.


  • I would have liked to see more of Tommy in this book. This was pretty much Tuppence’s show, and while that wasn’t a totally bad thing, I like them better when they’re together.
  • I don’t really understand what happened in the end. Who saved Tuppence? Was it Philip Starke? And why did Mrs. Lancaster kill herself? Did she simply realize the gig was up because she had failed to kill Tuppence? As for Starke, I guess he was morally gray enough to cover up his wife’s past murders, but not to kill Tuppence in order to keep the charade going. Not the best ending, but I can accept it.
  • I wish there had been more of a payoff to the boat having been added to the painting. The explanation Christie gave (it comforted seemed pretty mundane.
  • I thought for sure the vicar was going to turn out to be a shady character. After all, what kind of church doesn’t have any Bibles in it??? But Christie just kind of dropped that whole plot point (unless I missed something).
  • I didn’t understand why Mrs. Lancaster killed all those children. Was it just because she had to give up her own child in order to preserve her career as a dancer? That hardly made sense at all. There was also some mention of a religious faction or something, but again, that angle wasn’t really explained or elaborated upon enough.


I was set to give this book 4 stars, but I just realized that there were actually more things I disliked about it than I liked! Even so, I still thought this was a surprisingly good effort, considering the stage of Christie’s career at which it was written and the fact that it was Tommy and Tuppence rather than Miss Marple or Poirot. I give By the Pricking of My Thumbs 3 stars out of 5.

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