Ordeal By Innocence - Plot Summary

Plot Summary

While serving a sentence for killing his foster mother – a crime he insisted he didn't commit – Jacko Argyle dies in prison. Two years later, the man who could have supported Jacko's alibi suddenly turns up; and the family must come to terms with the fact not only that one of them is the real murderer, but also that suspicion falls upon each of them. Christie's focus in this novel is upon the psychology of innocence, as the family members struggle with their suspicions of one another.

The witness, Arthur Calgary, believes that, when he clears the name of their son, the family would be grateful. He fails to realise the implications of his information. However, once he does so, he is determined to help and to protect the innocent by finding the murderer. To be able to do so, he visits the retired local doctor, Dr MacMaster, to ask him about the now-cleared murderer, Jacko Argyle. Dr MacMaster states that he was surprised when Jacko killed his mother. Not because he thought that murder was outside Jacko's 'moral range', but because he thought Jacko would be too cowardly to kill somebody himself; that, if he wanted to murder somebody, he would egg on an accomplice to do his dirty work. Dr MacMaster says "the kind of murder I'd have expected Jacko to do, if he did one, was the type where a couple of boys go out on a raid; then, when the police come after them, the Jackos say 'Biff him on the head, Bud. Let him have it. Shoot him down.' They're willing for murder, ready to incite to murder, but they've not got the nerve to do murder themselves with their own hands". This description seems to be a reference to the Craig and Bentley case which had occurred in 1952.

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