Christie Catchup: Why Didn't They Ask Evans?


Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

published 1934

“You go to tea with a friend. As you arrive her brother closes a book he is reading – throws it aside, says: ‘Not bad, but why on earth didn’t they ask Evans?’ So you decide immediately a book of yours shortly to be written  will bear the title  ‘Why Didn’t they ask Evans?’ You don’t know yet who Evans is going to be. Never mind. Evans will come in due course – the title is fixed.”

That’s Agatha Christie, writing an introduction to the much-later book Passenger to Frankfurt (1970) – she wasn’t a great one for writing intros, but wanted to explain what she was up to in her latest book. The Evans story comes as she considers people asking where she gets her ideas from.

I wonder what the original book was – there probably isn’t any hope of tracking it down, though ironically the one person who might have come across it is Curtis EVANS, an absolute expert on all things to do with detective fiction and a great friend to this blog.

I’m always surprised by the publication date of this – it has much more of a 1920s feel, like the flapper adventures of Secret Adversary and the Secret of Chimneys. This comes in the middle of Lord Edgware Dies, Murder on the Orient Express, Three Act Tragedy, and Death in the Clouds – it doesn’t seem to fit with them. (you can find past posts on these books here on the Christie page: Agatha (

It’s a standalone, no series detective, and the crime is investigated by vicar’s son Bobby Jones, and his childhood friend Lady Frankie, very much in the line of those earlier books. While out playing golf, Bobby finds the body of a man who has fallen (?) off a cliff: his dying words are the title. Bobby soon has reason to suspect that there is something wrong – there is a good emerging clue with the photograph on the body. Frankie and Bobby play golf together, discuss matters,  and soon they are off on the trail of the various people involved. As in Three Act Tragedy, there is a staged accident to get Frankie into a house of interest.

This was one of the first Agatha Christie books I read, and there were features of particular interest to a teenager: A character called Bassington-ffrench (what was with those two small fs, my bro and I, passing it between us, wondered?) and another called Moira (not that common in books). And then there was this aspect, which I considered in a blogpost called Choice Holidays from Christie Tours, in which I ranked the vacation opportunities in the oeuvre, as holidays rather than as murder plots:

6)The walking holiday in Why Didn’t they Ask Evans? The walker is said to be posting his clean clothes (‘his night things and a pair of socks’) on to his next destination each day. This never sounded like a good idea, I would not happy with this arrangement at all. (It is of course possible that this was A LIE, but it convinced the coroner at the inquest).

Is there any evidence that such an idea ever existed in real life? In this case, a mis-addressed parcel meant that his clothes went missing. Or at least that was the explanation offered…

In impersonation news, Bobby grows a moustache and pretends to be a chauffeur, and becomes completely unrecognizable.

He then pretends to be a solicitor, in a very funny interview to gather information:

“I must apologize for troubling you, Mrs Rivington,” said Bobby. “But the matter was rather urgent, and we wished to avoid the delay of letters.”

That any solicitor could ever wish to avoid delay seemed so transparently impossible that Bobby wondered anxiously whether Mrs Rivington would see through the pretence.

[later on there is a shooting incident in a teashop and ‘for the first time in its history one of the waitresses hurried’ – the two professions not often linked…] 

Luckily for Bobby, Mrs R is easily distracted by some fabricated gossip. One of Christie’s under-the-radar abilities is that she is always very good on gossip, and the questions that pop into people’s heads. *** In this case “You acted for Dolly Maltravers, didn’t you, when she shot that dreadful dressmaker man… Tell me, did she really - I mean, was she dressed as that woman said?”

(he thinks to himself  “I seem to have taken Dolly Whatsername’s character away for good, but I daresay she deserves it.”)

When Frankie goes to see her actual solicitor, he says

“What is it gives me the pleasure of seeing you in my – h’m – dingy office this afternoon?”

“Blackmail?” said his eyebrows. “Indiscreet letters? An entanglement with an undesirable young man? Sued by your dressmaker?”

All this is tremendous fun, and much more enjoyable than the chloroforming, knocking out and kidnapping which form the other half of the investigation – again, more typical of the 20s books than the 30s ones. There is another, quite unbelievable, impersonation.

At the end Frankie and Bobby are in a big rush, and take an air-taxi from Wiltshire to Wales, surprisingly.

The business of the photo – a really good launching point at the beginning of the book - is not convincingly explained in my view.

*** eg one of my favourite lines in all of Christie, in Mrs McGinty’s Dead ‘She had certainly been unfortunate in her husband. His peculiar practices [were] referred to in such a guarded way as to rouse instant curiosity…’

Also the lunch-party in the Mary Westmacott book Absent in the Spring, where the guests make ‘practical suggestions’ to a couple who have not yet managed to have a baby.

There is very little clothes description in the book, apart from our first encounter with Frankie on a train ‘A dark girl smoking a cigarette… she had on a red skirt, a short green jacket and a brilliant blue beret, and despite a certain resemblance to an organ grinder’s monkey (she had long sorrowful dark eyes and a puckered up face) she was distinctly attractive.’

The two smart women in black and white come from the collection of the US Met Museum  and seemed a fair representation of Frankie and Moira being elegant together.

A golfing chap from the state archives of North Carolina.

The woman playing golf is the early film actress Patsy Ruth Miller from the Library of Congress.



  1. Nice to be reminded of this one, Moira - thanks. I always liked the character of Frankie here. Christie was, in my opinion, good at creating female characters who are strong and in their ways empowered, but who are also of their times (i.e. not anachronistic). And I always thought it was amusing that Bobby Jones shares a name with a famous golfer of the day.

    1. Yes, I do agree with you about Frankie. It's a book that stands up well over time.

  2. Christie also had a James Bond in one story.

    1. Which story was that?
      And presumably *even* you can't guess which book provoked the original comment?

  3. One of her books from the same time has a similar line when a couple of cinema-goers complain that they should have just asked X.

    1. Oh I hadn't clocked that, well-spotted! Which book?

    2. I found it in Lord Edgware Dies: 'Idiotic story. If they just had the sense to ask Ellis right away. Which anyone with sense would have done-"

    3. Thanks, as I I say, excellent catch.


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