Early in her writing career, Christie published over fifty short stories and two novels in two years. Many scholars and critics argue that her prolific output was due to the development of her predictable "formula". While there are certainly exceptions, often the detective is introduced, followed by the crime (usually murder) complete with clues which are then investigated through questioning and observing multiple subjects. At the climax the solution is announced and explained, and finally, the denouement features some sort of return to the beginning or a quirky humorous incident. (Sullivan 2016).
“The Wife of Kenite", a story from the early 1920's that at the time only appeared in Italian in an Italian magazine, was recently published in English*. Is the "formula" adapted to the retelling the Bible story of Jael? (For those unfamiliar with Judges:4-5, where Jael’s story is told, the cartoon version above efficiently summarizes the major actors and their activities.) Christie, in this case, puts a modern spin on the story and deviates from her murder-mystery plot. Set in South Africa, Mrs. Henshel, the protagonist, recognizes Herr Schaefer as a German soldier who invaded her home in Belgium during WWI, brutalizing and killing her son. Mrs. Henshel drugs his coffee, ties him up, and eventually appears with her sharp nails and hammer. As she approaches, Schaefer remembers that she was reading Judges:4.
One other characteristic of Christie’s writing is expanding previous stories to longer novels and plays. In the 1948 radio play “Butter in a Lordly Dish”, Christie returns to the Biblical plot line of Jael. Julia Keene lures prosecutor Sir Luke Enderby, known womanizer and highly persuasive prosecutor, to a remote cottage. She drugs him and hammers a nail into his head. The motive, however, is not as noble as that of Jael. It is revenge for the conviction of her husband for murders that she committed. In Judges 5, “Song of Deborah” Jael is acclaimed as “blessed above all women who live in tents.” The poem goes on to note that “she brought forth butter in a lordly dish” to serve Sisera.
* The collection, The Last Séance, was released by William Morrow on September 24, 2019. The English translation of the story first appeared as a U.K. limited-run pamphlet in 2013. I have not found a copy of it.
Sullivan, B. (September 4, 2016) Content strategy of Agatha Christie. http://medium.com