Poirot has been asked by a friend, who is the director of the Northern Union Insurance Company, to investigate the case of a middle-aged man who died of an internal haemorrhage just a few weeks after insuring his life for fifty thousand pounds. There were rumours that the man – Mr Maltravers – was in a difficult financial position and the suggestion has been made that he paid the insurance premiums and then committed suicide for the benefit of his beautiful young wife. Poirot and Hastings travel to Marsdon Manor in Essex where the dead man was found in the grounds, with a small rook rifle by his side. They interview the widow and can find nothing wrong.
They are leaving when a young man – Captain Black – arrives. A gardener tells Poirot that he visited the house the day before the death. Poirot interviews Black and by using word association finds out that he knew of someone who committed suicide with a rook rifle in East Africa when he was out there. Poirot realises that this story, told at the dinner table the day before the tragedy, gave Mrs Maltravers the idea as to how to kill her husband by making him demonstrate to her how the African farmer would have put the gun in his mouth. She then pulled the trigger and the unsuspicious local doctor certified a natural death. Poirot uses an actor to play the ghost of the dead man, terrifying the widow into a confession.
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