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Christie’s Sleuths: Superintendent Battle

Brook and Sarah continue their exploration of Agatha Christie’s sleuths. In this episode, they discuss Superintendent Battle, who appeared in five novels between 1925 and 1944.


The Secret of Chimneys (1925) Agatha Christie

The Seven Dials Mystery (1929) Agatha Christie

Cards on the Table (1936) Agatha Christie

Murder is Easy (1938) Agatha Christie

Towards Zero (1944) Agatha Christie

A Haunting in Venice (2023 film) 

Death on the Nile (2022 film) 

And Then There Were None (1939) Agatha Christie

The Clocks (1963) Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys (2010) ITV episode

Murder is Easy (2023) BBC

Murder is Easy (1982) TV Movie

The Seven Dials Mystery (1981) TV Movie

Inspector Gadget (1983-1985) TV Series

And Then There Were None (1939) Agatha Christie

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi, Brook.
BrookSarah, I’m so glad it’s the day to talk mystery with you again.
SarahI love Fridays.
BrookIt’s the best day of the week. So, today we’re going to talk about another one of Christie’s lesser-known sleuths. And that is Superintendent Battle. So I’ll just give us a little introduction to this character that you’ve maybe never heard of before. Scotland Yard police Superintendent Battle whose first name was never revealed to us by Dame Agatha appeared in five novels from 1925 to 1944. They were The Secret of Chimneys, The Seven Dials Mystery, Cards on the Table, Murder is Easy and Towards Zero. Superintendent Battle is a calm, stoic police officer who sometimes takes advantage of his appearance to gain access to investigations similarly to how characters underestimate Miss Marple since she’s an elderly woman. Characters in these stories asse battle is just a simple and unobservant kind of jock of a cop when in fact, he’s carefully investigating even when he appears to be uninterested. This is a nice twist since in other lighthearted mysteries. We often find law enforcement officers. Portrayed as a bbling bunch unable to solve the crime until the amateur sleuth swoops in and takes care of things. Christie turns this trend on its head making the characters in her fictional world play out the stereotype but having battle come out as the hero in the end but make no mistake he is a brute of a man. He’s described many times with words such as square wooden faced carved of wood and out of the timber of a battleship. His mustache is big as well and impressive to even Poirot himself. The two characters appear together in cards on the table regarding his backstory and personal information battle is married but readers don’t learn this until The Seven Dials Mystery when his spunky sidekick Lady Eileen Brent says to him “Superintendent Battle, you’re a wonderful man. I’m sorry you’re married already. As it is, I shall have to put up with Bill.” In his last appearance in Toward Zero, Christie finally reveals that Battle’s wife is named Mary and they have five children. In fact, their youngest, Sylvia, unwittingly provides an important clue to solving the mystery as an interesting connection. In Christie’s 1963 The Clocks, it’s hinted that a secret agent with the code name Colin Lamb is the son of the then retired. Superintendent Battle, another of those christie-verse tidbits that we love so well, Sarah. The Superintendent Battle books are regularly thought of as thrillers rather than whodunits they have a satirical style characters names such as Inspector Badgeworthy and Battle himself reflect this.
BrookThey also have multiple complications some with international consequences playing out The Secret of Chimneys and The Seven Dials Mystery both follow crimes committed at a mansion called Chimneys. And of the two, Seven Dials is more popular with Christie fans probably because it follows battle and that aforementioned plucky young woman Lady Brent as they investigate a murder at her family home that uncovers an unexpected secret society known as the Seven Dials. In this adventure they must track down the location of the secret society’s meetings and they discover that they’re held in a London club with the same name. To me this story to me this type of story is reminiscent of what Christie does in the Tommy and Tuppence books. As I mentioned superintendent battle is the inspector who helped solve the case and arrest the villain in Christie’s 1938 Murder is Easy it was first adapted for TV in the US in 1982 and later for stage both of these renditions include Miss Marple as the sleuth not Superintendent Battle. It seems that he wasn’t a well-known enough sleuth to carry the adaptations.
BrookEven the current series, which began releasing in 2023, doesn’t mention poor Battle. Likewise The Secret of Chimneys was adapted to a Miss Marple movie for a 2010 TV episode but Battle does make an onscreen appearance in the 1981 TV movie production of The Seven Dials Mystery. And will Superintendent Battle make an appearance in an upcoming Kenneth Branaugh adaptation? Fans theorize that either of the two books could make exciting big screen debuts for the perpetually stoic superintendent or even Cards on the Table where one of London’s richest men invites four possible murderers and four detectives to his lavish home to solve a murder the detectives he invites are Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, Ariadne Oliver—her first appearance in a Christie novel—and Hercule Poirot. Battle does his part in the investigations by interviewing each suspect and completing background checks on them his role as a professional sleuth comes in handy in this way. Personally, this would be my pick for a movie including Battle. But I do see a few problems in this first Ariadne Oliver’s portrayal. Ah, Brannaugh in A Haunting in Venice essentially precludes her from appearing in any anymore of his adaptations and secondly Brana didn’t include Colonel Race in Death on the Nile making an appearance of him and another story maybe seem odd.
BrookFans of Christie’s books enjoy Superintendent Battle, noting that he’s likable and is believable as a working police officer. A GoodReads reviewer named Anne ss up this sleuth nicely. She writes, “Superintendent Battle is the kind detective that stands back and interrogates people with a twitch of his eyebrows. He’s there working quietly behind the scenes to sniff out. Not only the murderer but also whatever other secrets people are trying to keep from him.” So, Sarah have you read any of the novels that include superintendent battle.
SarahI have Brook I’ve read ah murder is easy and the secret of chimneys what about you.
BrookYeah, this week I read Murder is Easy and or rather I listened and I really like this character. I find him as the other fans have said really likable. He’s kind of that good guy.
SarahYeah I would agree with that assessment. He appears quite late in that book if I remember correctly, it’s been a while since I’ve read it. But she’s done that with some Poirot novels where you know it’s not until the final third that we actually see the sleuth.
BrookExactly yeah, it’s that trend that we’re really you know I think starting to notice and these are still I mean Murder is Easy is 1938 so not at the very beginning of her career. But you know, ah considering the length of it kind of her earlier. Ah stories and I feel like that’s something she was doing quite often then is letting the characters the people involved in the mystery flounder a little bit and then her her signature sleuth comes in and helps straighten the story out.
SarahYeah, and I actually think the same is true for Chimneys, like I I don’t think Battle appears until like well into the mystery.
BrookBut I really enjoyed his character I like that ah point that they make about that because he kind of seems you know he’s he’s very unemotional and. Just kind of sitting there staring at someone when they’re talking and so people asse that he’s not listening or he’s not. You know, being imaginative or trying to solve the case when in fact, he is and I enjoyed that I have to tell you ah you know the big guy with the big mustache I imagine Battle as Chief Quimby from Inspector Gadget is that a ah cartoon you’ve ever seen, Sarah?
SarahSo yes I remember watching Inspector gadget when I was younger but I don’t specifically remember that character was Chief Quimby his boss?
BrookYeah, he’s his boss. You’ll have to look him up see if you agree if that fulfills superintendent battle for you.
SarahSo you read is you said you read Murder is Easy. Did you read any of the others.
BrookNo, that’s my only battle so far.
SarahYeah, I definitely want to read some more of them and ah it almost seems like he’s ah his stories are ones you would want to read in order. as you kind of uncover a little bit. A little bit more about him. I think it’s interesting. You were you were saying that there’s kind of allusion to his son. in one of the other books and and that’s one of the things I think we’ve talked about before that I really love about. Agatha Christie in the way she kind of wove in she really created that world right? I I love the idea of Cards on the Table.
BrookSuperintendent Battle also has a nephew who works as an inspector for Scottland Yard. And this really got me thinking as you say this Christieverse. So this must have been a sister’s son according to his surname and so then I got to thinking was their father an inspector as well to have this nephew then want to follow in the trade. . I think someone needs to write a prequel and trace the family tree.
SarahAh, that’s a great idea.
SarahSo , you know even though I’ve only read a couple of the Battle stories, he’s one of those characters that I wonder why she didn’t write more of do you have any ideas about that, Brook?
BrookYou know, I don’t. I’m interested in this and it it kind of , led me down a little rabbit hole actually because I was thinking about the order that she wrote each sleuth and of course we don’t know for sure that she wrote them in the same order that she published them although she was releasing a book a year. So it’s pretty likely she was probably working on that and then publishing it. And I wanted to see if there was any pattern I know that there was some reference in my research that part of the reason she would maybe take up Battle or Parker Pyne or some of these other lesser known sleuths that we’ve talked about was kind of to take a break. This was a very heavy Poirot time of her career and we know that ah he was one of her harder characters to write. Maybe she would get tired of him. So I kind of put together a list of the year that the book was published and who the sleuth was to see if I could find out if there was any pattern or , anything and it. I don’t know if anyone else would be as interested in this sort of nerdy endeavor that I did but I have a color-coded pdf and , we’ll make that available to our newsletter subscribers. If you’re interested in in seeing it too. But I didn’t necessarily see a pattern per se. But.
BrookIt was interesting to see the way it was broken up where there might be a string of Marples or ah Poirots and then one of these ah other other characters as the lead or perhaps a book such as And Then There Were None, where really there’s not a specific sleuth at all. It’s more of a thriller. , you also get to see like where the where where the Mary Westmacotts are and where they fall and that’s kind of an interesting thing to see so .
BrookYeah I can’t say why but I think that we said this about Parker Pyne like we probably would have liked more of him and I would like to have more superintendent battle as well.
SarahWell I know that the Christie estate has had other authors write you know Sophie Hannah writing Poirot and then the book of short stories featuring Miss Marple with 12 different authors that was released in 2022. It would be really interesting to see if they commission someone to write even if it’s not another Superintendent Battle but more Parker Pyne or more Tommy and Tuppence, just to see if , you know if that captures readers the way that the original stories did.
BrookYeah, great point. Ah I do think something that some of those other ones have in common is that they’re not that they’re not always the whodunits and so maybe the.
BrookAnd probably now and Christie’s time too. The commercial successes and what the audience really liked were her whodunits versus these more thriller-esque ah titles. But I I find it interesting that we. Never learn Battle’s first name but it reminded me how we never learn. Mr Satterthwaite’s first name in the Harley Quin stories either.
SarahYeah, that’s right and and those are both, you know, pretty important characters to those stories, right? That she would that she would not name them is is really interesting because Miss Marple she’s Jane and Poirot he’s obviously Hercule. Yeah, interesting.
BrookAnd you know just thinking about her process did she know and just decided that that wasn’t going to be part of the story or you know in her character development was that just not an important piece of information about them. It’s interesting to think about.
BrookYou mentioned Cards on the Table, Sarah and that is probably going to be my next read including Superintendent Battle because I just love the concept of having all those really big name sleuths in one room. That’s a lot of personality packed in there. I’m also a big Ariadne Oliver fan so I would like to see her debut and and that’s the title that that Agatha first introduces her.
SarahYeah I think I think I’m with you I think maybe that will be one of the next that I look to pick up, too. Well thank you, Brook. This has been really interesting to learn a little bit more about Superintendent Battle. I wonder if we should assign him a name given that that Agatha Christie didn’t. Maybe our listeners can suggest a name for him.
BrookOh yeah, and I’m going to see if Chief Quimby has a first name because we might just be able to hijack that one. Thank you, Sarah. And thank you all for listening today to clue in mystery I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.