Notes On A Caribbean Mystery

Rating: four out of five

Year or Publication: 1964

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: Mr.Rafter is not an amiable fellow; the nearly octogenarian English man speaks in a forthright manner, barks orders and does not care less for small talks with the guests in Golden Palm Hotel. But he is very rich.

When a guest dies mysteriously, it is to him Miss Marple turns to; after all there is more than one can do when they have money in their hands.  Then a maidservant is stabbed and she knows too well that another life is in imminent danger.

Meanwhile, rumours have it that Lucky Dyson married her husband Greg just over a month after the demise of his first wife, Gail. Prior to her death Lucky was Gail’s carer during her illness. More importantly, Lucky was in charge of the other’s medicine. Gail’s death results in Greg having inherited a vast fortune. Did Greg have nothing to do with Gail’s death?

Time is essential as Lucky is found drowned in the small hours.

 

Highlights:

The clear blue sky and the peaceful surrounding of the imaginary St. Honore do not put Miss Marple’s mind at ease any more. Thousand miles away from England, she feels alone.  Not only does she try to find a murderer among the hotel guests but also a dangerous killer who already got away with his crimes. Moreover, who would trust her saying that Major Palgrave was about to show her a snapshot of a murderer earlier in the day before he died?

Enter Mr. Rafter, an unlikely partner in crime. Miss Marple sees a shrewd mind and wealth beyond his rude addressing that come handy. The rest is a collaboration of minds as they compare notes and take actions against someone who blends himself well among the guests.

The plot sees Christie’s attention to detail and her mastering the art of gossiping.  The opening chapter is intriguing although it appears to be a mere dialogue between two hotel guests. Its significance lies on the fact that Major Palgrave is then killed and it is to Miss Marple to whom he spoke.

Furthermore, what makes the scene tickle readers’ ‘little grey cells’ is how stories spread through the grapevines and more importantly gossiping is part of human nature – not women’s in particular. Then Major Palgrave does it; yet as a character he is an unreliable voice. To Mr. Rafter there is no mentioning about the snapshot and he is quite sure about it.

The Major’s death apparently is the reason to believe in some truths in his tales. Then Miss Marple’s inquiry into the questionable photograph comes to nothing, for there are not any images among the Major’s personal items.

And how about Victoria Johnson’s story? The maidservant notices that a bottle of tablets for high-blood pressure is in the Major’s room a day after his death. For she is not aware of it before.  Besides, she knows to whom it belongs. Is that what triggers her killing? Or perhaps her seeing the opportunity to blackmail the murderer?

Knowledge can be such a dangerous thing, especially the one which comes with the full realisation long after it is done. To my mind the subplot on the Dysons goes well as a reference to the actual murderer plus the confession of an accessory (see Clues).

What holds the story is the dynamic between Miss Marple and Mr. Rafter. Splendid as it is, it is also comical. On the one hand is a disabled man bound in the wheelchair, who does seem eccentric at face value but generous at heart. On the other is an ‘old pussie’ who is able to put aside her feelings and make ‘allowances’  to the other’s forthright manner. (see the dialogue in the right box).

Miss Marple (Julie McKenzie) and Mr. Rafiel (Anthony Sher) in 2013’s novel adaptation for television. “We’ve been discussing the murder here,” said Mr. Rafter.  Esther Walters looked slightly startled. She turned her head towards Miss Marple. “I’ve been wrong about her,” said Mr. Rafter, with characteristic frankness. “Never been much of a one for the old pussies. All knitting wool and tittle-tattle. But this one’s got something. Eyes and ears, and she uses them.” Esther Walters looked apologetically at Miss Marple, but Miss Marple did not appear to take offence. “That’s really meant to be a compliment, you know,” Esther explained. “I quite realise that,” said Miss Marple. “I realise, too, that Mr. Rafter is privileged, or thinks he is.” “What do you mean—privileged?” asked Mr. Rafter. “To be rude if you want to be rude,” said Miss Marple. “Have I been rude?” said Mr. Rafter, surprised. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.” “You haven’t offended me,” said Miss Marple, “I make allowances.”

 

Esther Walters comes into the scene; a loyal secretary who knows how to handle her employer.  You will see later why I have chosen her as The Most Fascinating Character; partly because she represents a sort of woman that is a world apart from the glamorous Lucky Dyson or the quiet intelligent Miss Preston. Nonetheless, there is more about her than just being a secretary to a millionaire.

As regards to the twists in the plot, Lucky Dyson’s death will remind readers to Cora Lansquenet (After The Funeral). For at first Dyson is perceived as another woman –the intended victim- due to similar height and build, until Miss Marple notices Dyson’s hair colour. As for Lansquenet, nobody realises that it is not her until Helen Abernethie realises the way the other turns her head in the wrong way.

In terms of the ending, it reminds me of the similar scene in A Murder Is Announced in which Miss Marple’s ‘little game’ is put in order. Mr. Rafter’s valet, Arthur Jackson, plays part in it although –again, surprisingly- he befriends the murderer. As the curtain falls in which a cunning plot is revealed, there is a lot of similarities about it compared to Patrick Redfern’s (Evil Under The Sun) and Michael Rogers’s (Endless Night).

 

The Twists:

-Major Palgrave does not have problems with his blood pressure

-The murderer removes a snapshot of himself from the Major’s wallet

-Edward Hillingdon is an accessory to the murder of Gail Dyson, Greg’s first wife

-Mr. Rafter grants £50,000 for Esther Walters in his will

-Lucky Dyson was meeting Arthur Jackson on the beach at the time she was murdered

-Arthur Jackson’s snooping in the Kendals’ room results in his suspicion about Molly’s face cream

 

Cast of Characters:

-Arthur Jackson (English, Mr. Rafter’s valet and masseur)

-Inspector Daventry (a constable in Jamestown)

-Colonel Edward Hillingdon (Evelyn’s husband)

-Esther Walters (Mr. Rafter’s secretary)

-Evelyn Hillingdon (Edward’s wife)

-Jane Marple

-Canon Jeremy Prescott (English)

-Joan Presscott (English, the Canon’s sister)

-Dr. Graham (a retired doctor in the island)

-Greg Dyson (American, who writes on butterflies, Lucky’s husband)

-‘Lucky’ Dyson (American, Greg’s second wife)

-Molly Kendal (English, Tim’s wife, who runs the hotel with her husband)

-Tim Kendal (English, Molly’s wife)

-Mr. Rafter (an English millionaire, who vacations in St. Honore every year)

-Dr. Robertson (the young doctor in the island)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Esther Walters

She is a widow who is employed by Mr. Rafter as his secretary. She follows his annual holiday to Caribbean and tends to his whims and tantrums. Although her employer is frequently rude to her, she does not seem to take notice and simply carries on her duties. Perhaps it is the generous salary and Mr. Rafter’s paying of her daughter’s school fee that make her bear his treatment.

To Miss Marple Mr. Rafter explains who Walters is as follows:

” She’s a good girl. First-class secretary, intelligent, good-tempered, understands my ways, doesn’t turn a hair if I fly off the handle, couldn’t care less if I insult her. Behaves like a nice nursery governess in charge of an outrageous and obstreperous child. She irritates me a bit sometimes, but who doesn’t?

There’s nothing outstanding about her. She’s rather a commonplace young woman in many ways, but I couldn’t have anyone who suited me better. She’s had a lot of trouble in her life. Married a man who wasn’t much good. I’d say she never had much judgement when it came to men. Some women haven’t. They fall for anyone who tells them a hard luck story. Always convinced that all the man needs is proper female understanding. That, once married to her, he’ll pull up his socks and make a go of life! But of course that type of man never does.

Anyway, fortunately her unsatisfactory husband died, drank too much at a party one night and stepped in front of a bus. Esther had a daughter to support and she went back to her secretarial job. She’s been with me five years. I made it quite clear to her from the start that she need have no expectations from me in the event of my death. I paid her from the start a very large salary, and that salary I’ve augmented by as much as a quarter as much again each year. However decent and honest people are, one should never trust anybody. That’s why I told Esther quite clearly that she’d nothing to hope for from my death. Every year I live she’ll get a bigger salary. If she puts most of that aside every year—and that’s what I think she has done—she’ll be quite a well-to-do woman by the time I kick the bucket. I’ve made myself responsible for her daughter’s schooling and I’ve put a sum in trust for the daughter which she’ll get when she comes of age. So Mrs. Esther Walters is very comfortably placed. My death, let me tell you, would mean a serious financial loss to her.”

 

As for Miss Marple, she notices that Walters is a kind of woman without sex appeal (in Miss Marple’s young days the other is  someone that ‘lacks come-hither in her eye’). The one who would not make a man turns his head and will be flattered when one does.

Be that as it may, Walters is a dark horse. She is a decent woman that will not make a pass at a woman’s husband and leers at a ‘potential.’ She craves for  attention nevertheless and she falls for one as soon as it is bestowed upon her. And who wouldn’t, having learnt that she will inherit £50,000 upon the death of Mr. Rafter – sooner or later?

Clues:

 

Conversations between Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon:

“I helped her to commit a murder—”

 

The words were out. There was silence. Evelyn stared at him. “Do you know what you are saying?”

 

“Yes. I didn’t know I was doing it. There were things she asked me to get for her—at the chemist’s. I didn’t know—I hadn’t the least idea what she wanted them for. She got me to copy out a prescription she had . . .”

 

“When was this?”

 

“Four years ago. When we were in Martinique. When—when Greg’s wife—”

 

“You mean Greg’s first wife—Gail? You mean Lucky poisoned her?”

 

“Yes—and I helped her. When I realised—”

 

Evelyn interrupted him. “When you realised what had happened, Lucky pointed out to you that you had written out the prescription, that you had got the drugs, that you and she were in it together? Is that right?”

 

“Yes. She said she had done it out of pity—that Gail was suffering—that she had begged Lucky to get something that would end it all.”

 

“A mercy killing! I see. And you believed that?”

 

Edward Hillingdon was silent a moment, then he said: “No—I didn’t really—not deep down. I accepted it because I wanted to believe it—because I was infatuated with Lucky.”

 

“And afterwards—when she married Greg—did you still believe it?”

 

“I’d made myself believe it by then.”

 

“And Greg—how much did he know about it all?”

 

“Nothing at all.”

 

“That I find hard to believe!”

 

Edward Hillingdon broke out: “Evelyn, I’ve got to get free of it all! That woman taunts me still with what I did. She knows I don’t care for her any longer. Care for her? I’ve come to hate her! But she makes me feel I’m tied to her by the thing we did together.” Evelyn walked up and down the room then she stopped and faced him.

 

 

Major Palgrave talking to Miss Marple:

Major Palgrave speaks to Miss Marple about showing a snapshot of a murderer.

 

“Lots of chaps talking at the club one day, you know, and a chap began telling a story. Medical man he was. One of his cases. Young fellow came and knocked him up in the middle of the night. His wife had hanged herself. They hadn’t got a telephone, so after the chap had cut her down and done what he could, he’d got out his car and hared off looking for a doctor. Well, she wasn’t dead but pretty far gone. Anyway, she pulled through. Young fellow seemed devoted to her. Cried like a child. He’d noticed that she’d been odd for some time, fits of depression and all that. Well, that was that. Everything seemed all right. But actually, about a month later, the wife took an overdose of sleeping stuff and passed out. Sad case.” Major Palgrave paused, and nodded his head several times. Since there was obviously more to come Miss Marple waited. “And that’s that, you might say. Nothing there. Neurotic woman, nothing out of the usual. But about a year later, this medical chap was swapping yarns with a fellow medico, and the other chap told him about a woman who’d tried to drown herself, husband got her out, got a doctor, they pulled her round—and then a few weeks later she gassed herself. Well, a bit of a coincidence—eh? Same sort of story. My chap said: ‘I had a case rather like that. Name of Jones—(or whatever the name was)—What was your man’s name?’ ‘Can’t remember. Robinson I think. Certainly not Jones.’ Well, the chaps looked at each other and said it was pretty odd. And then my chap pulled out a snapshot. He showed it to the second chap. ‘That’s the fellow,’ he said. ‘I’d gone along the next day to check up on the particulars, and I noticed a magnificent species of hibiscus just by the front door, a variety I’d never seen before in this country. My camera was in the car and I took a photo. Just as I snapped the shutter the husband came out of the front door so I got him as well. Don’t think he realised it. I asked him about the hibiscus but he couldn’t tell me its name.’ Second medico looked at the snap. He said: ‘It’s a bit out of focus—but I could swear—at any rate I’m almost sure it’s the same man!’ Don’t know if they followed it up. But if so they didn’t get anywhere. Expect Mr. Jones or Robinson covered his tracks too well. But queer story, isn’t it? Wouldn’t think things like that could happen.”

 

Notes On The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Years of Publication: 1960

Motive for Murder: Wealth, Hatred, Obsession

Plots:                     

‘Don’t Eat None of The Plum Pudding. One As Wishes You Well’

On the Christmas Eve, Hercule Poirot finds a note on his bed with the above words scribbled on it. He is a guest of the Laceys, of whom are neither friends nor acquaintance. For there is a mission: to reveal the identity of a Jewel thief and find the historic ruby of a nation.  A heavenly Christmas Pudding of  the family’s cook presented for the Christmas dinner and a parlourmaid, who ruined one of the puddings are all it takes to solve the ruby whereabouts.

Mrs. Margharita Clayton is introduced by Lady Chatterton, a friend of Poirot’s, for Clayton has been in ‘trouble.’ Her husband was found dead in a Spanish Chest at the home of the Claytons’ friend, Major Charles Rich. In the previous night the husband and wife were supposed to come to the Major’s party but Arnold Clayton declined in the last minute. Furthermore, Margharita had a motive to have wanted her husband die: she and Major Rich are in love. She intends to find the murderer nevertheless to clear up Major Rich’s name, driven by her firm belief that he could not have done it. As for Poirot, Mrs. Clayton is like Desdemona; attracting men and driving them mad at the same time. What is more, there is a third person he has not considered before as a suspect.

A Lady’s companion sees Poirot concerning the dead of her employer’s husband, Sir Reuben. She was sent in order to persuade him to take on the case. For Lady Astwell vaguely believes that her late husband was hit on the back of his head by his efficient secretary, Owen Trefusis. With no proof nor evidence backs up her idea, will Poirot proceed?

North Gate – a block of luxurious flats overlooking Regent’s Park in St. John’s Wood, NW8 London. An inspiration to Northway, W8 – the home of Benedict Farley?

A phone call from Dr. Stillingfleet about the death of an eccentric millionaire refreshes Poirot’s mind to his having seen Benedict Farley a week beforehand.  He told the sleuth about the recurring  dream he’d had: that he would shoot himself at 3.28pm. Poirot’ asking to inspect the room at that time was refused. Before he left, Farley wanted the typed letter sent for the appointment to be returned. Poirot’s mistake in handing in the wrong letter is the beginning of his unmasking a near-perfect plot for murder. Had it not been for his laundress, Farley’s murder would have been easily perceived as a suicide:  a dream fulfilled.

During a dinner in a Chelsea restaurant, Mr. Bonnington draws Poirot’s attention to a regular customer who is referred as the ‘Old Father Time.’ When a few weeks later Henry Gascoigne is reported died in his home, the cause of death sounds natural. Nobody benefits from his death, for his being a penniless pensioner and had no children. Not until the will of Arthur’s, his  estranged twin brother’s emerge does it interest Poirot.  Henry would have had inherited Arthur’s fortune, for hours prior to Henry’s death Arthur had died. Poirot’s meeting with the twins’ nephew, Dr. George Lorrimer, sheds further light upon the inheritance issue.

Lastly, a recluse woman is shot with an arrow at the back of her neck.  Jane Marple’s nephew’s wife’s cousin is a witness; from the window she saw the other ask for help while felt hopeless, having been locked in her room.  Meanwhile, on the other room, Mrs. Creswell, the housekeeper, was also being locked in. Miss Marple’s curiosity is aroused due to the appearance of a police constable whom helped the women get out of their respective rooms. And also because Marple remembers his nephew saying about the deceased’s remark about police.’ If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,’ she said. There is something nagging about ‘police’ that set out the female sleuth to solve the mystery.

Highlights:

Six plots, six bite-sized crimes for readers to enjoy. Christie is the cook.

Christmas Pudding, a sumptuous desert consumed in the Christmas Dinner

A main course, the Adventure of the Christmas Pudding story, is put at the front to coincide with the festive mood. The good old traditional English Christmas; a home-made Christmas pudding by the Laceys’ cook that retains a custom of everyone in the house coming out to stir the pudding and make their wish. Everyone did, except Poirot, for it was done a day before he came.

Furthermore, two other stories, the Mystery of the Spanish Chest and Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds are related to food. The three others interestingly touch about subconscious mind. In The Dream, did a repeated nightmare seal someone’s fate? Can a woman’s instinct be trusted in The Under Dog?

More importantly, can a woman’s appearance be mistakened by another? As often the case in Christie’s books, the crimes are all intime – they were carried out by an insider.

An 18th century Spanish Chest

In the Mystery of the Spanish Chest, “Othello” reappears (see also Notes On Cat Among The Pigeons); in the story Christie focuses on Desdemona. Othello’s wife is a fascinating character; she is devoted to her husband and perceives Cassio as a platonic friend. On the other hand, Cassio adores her and will pander to her wish. It is most interesting how Poirot tells Mrs. Clayton about herself by referring to Desdemona on the telephone,’….She (Desdemona) loved her husband with the romantic fervour of hero worship, she loved her friend Cassio, quite innocently, as a close companion…I think that because of her immunity to passion, she herself drove men mad….’ For he has achieved to tell Margharita what she was like without her feeling offended about it. At any rate she did not understand him in the least.

The Under Dog takes longer to solve. Unlike the others, it is not premeditated and the murderer is someone that is as normal as others. Yet anger might be a lethal weapon and obedience has its limit. Discussing matters, the crime undertaken is a chilling one. To begin with, Lily Margrave, Lady Astwell’s companion, is reluctant to describe the circumstances of Sir Reuben’s killing –knocked out by a green baize tuber. Next, she is somehow uneasy and Poirot comes to realise her clever ways in  persuading him not to investigate the case. As Poirot eventually finds out the reason, Margrave has a motive and opportunity for murder. Nonetheless, does she have the criminal temperament?

Personally, the most fascinating thing in the book is a suspect’s name: Owen Trefusis. Readers, do you remember the mysterious Mr. Owen who bought Soldier Island (And Then There Were None, 1939)? Further on, Emily Trefusis, the driving force behind the unmasking of an unassuming killer? (see Notes on Why Didn’t They Ask Evans).  If you recall about the details, you will find the solution faster.

 As I finished reading, I could not decide which story I liked best. Each of them is unique and seems to jog readers’ mind towards previous cases seen from a different angle. The downside of this book  is there is only a Miss Marple’s case.  

Miss Marple’s first image when appeared as Christie’s short story in ‘Tuesday’s Night Club Murder’ on a paper in 1927 (later on compiled in he Thirteen Problems).

When I start this ‘Christie In A Year’challenge I did not know Jane Marple very much. Her image mostly came from the ITV series of Marple’s. Nonetheless, the more I read about her, the more I understand her ways of the world. In Greenshaw’s Folly, she knows that Joan West’s niece, Louisa Oxley, has never met Miss Greenshaw. How? Just by looking at Miss Greenshaw’s rockery garden. For a gardener’s eyes understands better: that there is a difference between someone who does weeding and someone who cannot differentiate between alpine plants and weeds. Likewise, in Sleeping Murder he likens the murderer to binweed – a weed that overtakes a plant and extremely hard to rid of. 

Christie’s succinct style and the red herrings she drops sometimes make a story more difficult to read. She has no problem in pacing the story but a post-reading feeling that a few words –important clues they are- are overlooked easily. Take the example of a simple object that holds a clue as to how the killing is done. In The Dream Poirot explained, ‘After all, if this object (a black stuffed cat) were found what would anyone think- that some child had wandered round here had dropped it.’ In an another book, published much earlier, a villain describes a suicide to appear like a murder. ‘My hand, protected with a handkerchief, will press the trigger. My hand will fall to my side, the revolver, pulled by the elastic, will recoil to the door, jarred by the door-handle it will detach itself from the elastic and fall. The elastic, released, will hang down innocently from the eyeglasses on which my body is lying. A handkerchief lying on the floor will cause no comment whatever.’ Can you see what I mean?

Well, I suppose the best thing is just to ‘enjoy’ the crimes as they are. It is worthwhile to read them after all.

The Twists:

The precious Ruby stone determines the future of a prince in an imaginary rich country of Christie’s

-The ruby is found in the Christmas pudding for the New Year’s one

-Poirot receives a warning letter in his bedroom on the Christmas Eve

-Arnold Clayton hides himself in the Spanish Chest and creates a hole at one of the corners for air

-Arnold Clayton receives a telegram of high importance that he must leave for Scotland

-Lily Margrave comes out after midnight to see her brother, Humphrey Naylor

-Victor Astwell sits in his room with the door open and does not see Charles Levenson pass after ten minutes to midnight

-Old Father Time comes to dine in the restaurant on a Monday night, instead of his usual Tuesdays and Thursdays

-On a Monday night he orders food that is out of his habit (he dislikes blackberry tart and thick soup)

-Poirot finds a black stuffed cat below the window of Bernard Farley’s room

-Bernard Farley was short-sighted and hated cats

-Miss Greenshaw’s will does not state Mrs. Cresswell as the beneficiary but Alfred – the gardener

-Alfred Pollock leaves for lunch at 12.25

Cast of Characters:

  1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding:

Annie  (the housemaid)

Bridget (Emmeline’s great niece)

Colin (the Laceys’s grandson)

David Welwyn (the Laceys’s old friend)

Desmond Lee-Wortley (Sarah’s boyfriend)

Diana Middleton (Emmeline’s cousin)

Emmeline Lacey (Sarah’s grandmother)

Horace Lacey (Emmeline’s husband)

Mr. Jesmond (a mediator for a future ruler of a country in the Far East)

Michael (Collin’s friend, who stays with the Laceys for Christmas)

Sarah Lacey (the Laceys’s granddaughter)

2. The Mystery of The Spanish Chest:

Arnold Clayton (the deceased, Margharita’s husband)

Major Charles Rich (the host of the party)

Lady Chatterton (Margharita’s and Poirot’s friend)

Hercule Poirot

Jeremy Spence (Linda’s husband)

Jock McLaren (the Claytons’ oldfriend)

Linda Spence (Jeremy’s wife, Margharita’s friend)

Margharita Clayton (Arnold’s wife)

Inspector Miller (taking charge in the case)

William Burgess (Major Rich’s manservant)

3. The Under Dog:

Lady Astwell (Sir Reuben’s wife)

Dr. Cazalet (the hypnotist)

Charles Leverson (Sir Reuben’s nephew)

Miss Cole (the manageress at the Mitre)

George (Poirot’s manservant)

Gladys (the maid)

Miss Langdon (the manageress at the Golf Hotel)

Lily Margrave (Lady Astwell’s companion)

Detective-Inspector Miller (of Abbots Cross police)

Owen Trefusis (Sir Reuben’s secretary)

Parsons (the butler)

Sir Reuben Astwell (Lady Astwell’s husband)

Victor Astwell (Sir Reuben’s brother)

4. The Dream

Inspector Barnett (of local police)

Benedict Farley (the eccentric London millionaire who had the same dream)

Mr. Conworthy (Benedict’s secretary)

Joanna Farley (Bernard’s only daughter)

Dr. Stillingfleet (Poirot’s friend, who contacts the sleuth about his appointment with the deceased)

5. Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds

Dr. George Lorrimer (Anthony and Henry’s nephew)

Henry Bonnington (Poirot’s friend, who dines with him at the Chelsea restaurant)

Henry Gascoigne  (a.k.a. Old Father Time, Anthony’s twin brother)

Hercule Poirot

Dr. MacAndrew (Henry’s doctor)

6. Greenshaw’s Folly

Alfred Pollock (Miss Greenshaw’s gardener)

Mrs. Cresswell (Katherine Greenshaw’s housekeeper, Nat Fletcher’s mother)

Horace Bindler (an Art collector, Raymond West’s acquaintance)

Jane Marple (Raymond’s aunt)

Joan West (Raymond’s wife)

Katherine Greenshaw (Mrs. Cresswell’s and Louisa’s employer)

Louisa Axley (Joan’s niece, employed by Miss Greenshaw to edit her grandfather’s diaries)

Raymond West

Inspector Welch (of a local police)

The Most Fascinating Character: N/A

Clues:

1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding

Emmeline Lacey:

‘..But you see she (Sarah Lacey) has taken up with this Desmond Lee-Wortley and he really has a very unsavoury reputation. He lives more or less on well-to-do girls. They seem to go quite mad about him. He very nearly married the Hope girl, but her people got her made a ward in court or something. And of course that’s what Horace wants to do. He says he must do it for her protection. But I don’t think it’s really a good idea, M. Poirot. I mean, they’ll just run away together and got to Scotland or Ireland or the Argentine or somewhere and either get married or else live together without getting married. And although it may contempt of court and all that – well, it isn’t really an answer, is it, in the end?…..’

2. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest

Linda Spence (to Hercule Poirot):

‘Arnold was an extraordinary person. He was bottled up, if you know what I mean. I think he did know. But he was the kind of man who would never have let on. Anyone would think he was a dry stick with no feelings at all. But I’m sure he wasn’t like that underneath. The queer thing is that I should have been much less surprised if Arnold had stabbed Charles than the other way about. I’ve an idea Arnold was really an insanely jealous person.’

‘Jock? Old faithful? He’s a pet. Born to be the friend of the family. He and Arnold were really close friends. I think Arnold unbent to him than to anyone else. And of course he was Margharita’s tame cat. He’d been devoted to her for years.’

3. The Under Dog

Lady Astwell (under hypnotist):

‘…Lily keeps looking out of the window, I don’t know why. Now Reuben comes into the room; he is in one of his worst moods to-night, and bursts out with a perfect flood of abuse to poor Mr. Trefusis. Mr. Trefusis has his hand round the paper knife, the big one with the sharp blade like a knife. How hard he is grasping it; his knuckles are quite white. Look, he has dug it so hard in the table that the point snaps. He holds it just as you would hold a dagger you were going to stick into someone. There, they have gone out together now. Lily has got her green evening dress on….’

4. The Dream

Hercule Poirot (to Dr. Stillingfleet):

‘My laundress was very important. That miserable woman who ruins my collars, was, for the first time, in her life, useful to somebody. Surely you see-it is so obvious. Mr. Farley glanced at that communication –one glance would have told him that it was the wrong letter – and yet he knew nothing. Why? Because he could not see it properly!’

5. Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

Dr. MacAndrew (to Hercule Poirot):

‘If it’s the nephew, Lorrimer, you suspect, I don’t mind telling you here and now that you are barking up the wrong tree. Lorrimer was playing bridge in Wimbledon from eight-thirty until midnight. That came out at the inquest.’

6. Greenshaw’s Folly

Conversations between Louisa Axley (LA) and Mrs. Cresswell(C):

C: ‘Come and let me out, Mrs. Oxley. I’m locked in.’

LA: ‘So am I.’

C: ‘Oh dear, isn’t it awful? I’ve telephoned the police. There’s an extension in this room, but what I can’t understand, Mrs. Oxley, is our being locked in. I never heard a key turn, did you?’

LA: ‘No, I didn’t hear anything at all. Oh dear, what shall we do? Perhaps Alfred might hear us.’

C: ‘Gone to his dinner as likely as not. What time is it?’

LA: ‘Twenty-five past twelve.’

C: ’He’s not supposed to go until half past, but he sneaks off earlier whenever he can.’

LA:’Do you think-do you think-‘

Notes On A Pocket Full of Rye

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1953

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye

Inside Rex Fortescue’s pocket is a handful of rye. He has been pronounced died from poison.

Four and twenty black birds baked in a pie

 A few months before four dead black birds were found in the library at his home, Yewtree Lodge.

When the pie was opened the birds began to sing

and shortly afterwards inside a pie

Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King

 

The King was in his counting house counting out his money

Rex, Latin for a king, owns a large and thriving firm based in the City

The queen is in the parlour, eating bread and honey

A day after his death, Adelle Fortescue, his second wife, dies from cyanide in her tea while eating buttered scones and honey

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,

Gladys Martin, the parlourmaid at Yewtree Lodge, goes outside the house, having seen someone

                   When there  came a little dickey bird and nipped off her nose              

And hours later is found strangled under the washing line. A washing peg is on her nose.

Highlights:

Remember the Leonides in Crooked House? Rex Fortescue is the equal to Aristide Leonides; they are shrewd businessmen whose descendants would benefit from their death. If Grandpa Leonides was poisoned with his eye drops in the insulin injection, Fortescue’s marmalade has been tampered with taxine, the poison substance found in Yew berries. Whilst  Aristide’s death was fast, taxine takes a few hours to complete. Furthermore, both men individually have a second wife- a much younger one- who married them for the wealth and commit adultery. Yet Aristide’s wife survived him and got the inheritance. Moreover, a sister-in-law who came to live in the house to look after the children after the deaths of the men’s first wife. As the deaths shake the ground beneath respective families, old feud between them emerge and fear escalates, having realised that a murderer is at large among them.

And forget not the domestic staff, for dangers are lurking over them as well. The Leonides’s long-standing cook’s chocolate drink was poisoned, whereas it  Gladys, the parlourmaid, is strangled having just worked for the Fortescues for over two months.

With those similarities it is the motives that are distinctive. The nursery rhyme is perhaps merely a touch, just as the ‘ding dong bell’ poem, which appears in Hallowe’en Party and N or M. Furthermore, the murderer is not the same person who puts blackbirds in a pie. More importantly, there is ‘Mr. Brown’ in sight, ie. a mastermind of the murders.

As regards to the authoress’s choice of the nursery rhyme, there seems to be a certain attachment on it.  In the 1929’s short story ‘Sing a Song of Six Pence’ it came up firstly and later on in another short story published as part of Adventures of Christmas Pudding. Was it the song or the interpretations behind it, to which she had been drawn?

The “queen” is Adelle Fortescue in Christie’s world

The family feud theme in the book can be referred to Christie’s previous novel Death Comes As The End. The bitter rivalry between Percival and Lance, Rex’s sons, are quite like Imhotep’s Yahmose and Sobek. Miss Ramsbottom, Percival and Lance’s elderly aunt, has ears and memories like Esa, Imhotep’s mother.  What is missing is the cunning Nofret. Although Adelle Fortescue might be as attractive as the young concubine, Mrs. Fortescue does not stir arguments and bully people the way Nofret did. Besides, Percival’s wife, Jennifer, is nothing like , Yahmose’s wife, who undermined her husband but became frightened after Nofret’s death.

The “maid” is Gladys Martin

What is most interesting is the dark horse in the plot. She plays a substantial part although she remains in the background throughout. Nonetheless, she is not an equal to Henet, a two-faced servant in the Imhotep household. Instead she is a nice girl, who would not attract many men and therefore will be flattered by one.

How the female sleuth knows well about the girl is for readers to find out in the book. Evidently, the triple murders in Yewtree Lodge make Miss Marple leave her St. Mary Mead for Baydon Heath in the outer part of London. Such move is moving to my mind – for Miss Marple’s care to one of the victims and her apparent anger to what the perpetrator had done. Yes, it irks the gentle elderly woman and she expresses it well to the Chief-Inspector Neele.

It is worth mentioning here the dynamic between Miss Marple and Neele. Christie builds up his character first as he investigates the case with Sergeant Hay; searching the house and interviewing members of family and the staff while two murders then happen under his nose. He is more or less Charles Hayward, Sophia Leonides’s future husband; a smart man who is nonetheless bewildered at the turns of the events. Unlike Inspector Dermot Craddock, he has not been acquainted with Miss Marple prior to the case although he has been aware of her ‘assistance’ to Scotland Yard. No sooner has she arrived at the crime scene than she points out the angle of the case to the above-mentioned nursery rhyme. ‘You really must make inquiries about blackbirds. Because there must be blackbirds!’ she emphasises. Further on, the inquiries towards ‘blackbirds’ produce surprising finding, for it reveals about the Mackenzies and the possibility of revenge to Rex Fortescue from the surviving member of the family (see The Most Fascinating Character).

In this regard Neele has a similar attitude to Craddock; open minded and having attention to details. From a man’s viewpoint, Miss Marple’s suggestion of following the trail of a nursery rhyme is unheard of, but they are willing to try her idea about the keyword ‘blackbird.’ As Neele comes to the conclusion of the case, he is still puzzled by the fact that evidences refer to a male suspect in the family. On the other hand, he has realised that the blackbird in the pie is not a man’s job. Is Miss Marple wrong or has she misled him?

In the end, the blackbird thing is merely a smoke screen to a much simpler affair that will surprise readers.

 

The Twists:

- A marmalade jar is found in the shrubbery

-Gladys Martin is restless and puts her best nylon (a pair of stockings) the day Lance Fortescue comes to tea at Yewtree Lodge

-Inspector Neele found newspaper cuttings about truth drugs used by Russians in Gladys’s room

-Adelle Fortescue dies without inheriting her late husband’s fortune due to the term in the will that she must survive him for at least a month before claiming her money

-Mary Dove sees a man disappear round the yew hedge before the dark before the second murder occurs

-Gladys Martin sent a letter to Miss Marple, of whom reads it later when she came back from Baydon Heath (when the case is solved)

Cast of Characters: 

A. The Fortescues:

Adelle (Rex’s second wife, thirty years his junior)

“The Queen Was In The Parlour Eating Bread And Honey” by Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904)

Effie Ramsbottom (Rex’s sister-in-law)

Elaine (the youngest girl)

Jennifer (Percival’s wife)

Lance (the prodigal son returning home after eleven years with his new wife)

Patricia (Lance’s wife, married to Lance for six months)

Percival (the eldest son, a senior partner in his father’s City firm)

Rex (the head of the family)

B. The Staff at Yewtree Lodge:

Mr. and Mrs. Crump (a butler and a cook)

Ellen Curtis (the housemaid)

Gladys Martin (the new parlourmaid)

Mary Dove (the housekeeper)

Others:

Gerald Wright (Elaine Fortescue’s fiancé)

Sergeant Hay

Jane Marple ( Miss Ramsbottom’s guest at Yewtree Lodge)

Chief-Inspector Neele (of Scotland Yard)

Vivian Dubois (Adelle Fortescue’s lover)

The Most Fascinating Character: Jennifer Fortescue

She is the eldest son’s wife and lives in Yewtree Lodge in a separate wing with her husband. She is an ex-hospital nurse and came to know Percival Fortescue when she took a job to nurse him. She reminds of  Nadine Boynton (Appointment With Death) due to their similar circumstances. Moreover, both women are unhappy;  Mrs. Boynton having to cope with her tyrant mother-in-law while Jennifer’s husband lacks attention to her and the rest of the family have given her their cold shoulders.

To Inspector Neele’s eyes, Jennifer is ‘a mediocre type of woman and not very happy. Restless, unsatisfied, limited in mental outlook, yet she might have been efficient and skilled in her own profession of hospital nurse. Though she had achieved leisure by her marriage with a well-to-do man, leisure had not satisfied her…’

Jennifer has not had the same spirit like Nadine’s nevertheless. Nadine loved her husband but having felt trapped by the marriage and therefore wanted to leave the family. She then told him that she had left for Jefferson Cope, a family’s friend, in the family holiday in Petra, Jordan. Jennifer, however, sounds to accept the fact that she must stay. Is it a fatalistic attitude on her part?

Nor does she agree with Adelle Fortescue, owing to her unfaithfulness and splashing her husband’s money. Yet Jennifer knows one thing: that Adelle has made a will weeks before her death.

The twist about Percival’s wife lies in her past. For her real name is Suzie Mackenzie, the daughter of the man whose death in East Africa was mysterious after he went to Tanganyika with Rex Fortescue to investigate a mine. The late Rex told his sister-in-law that Mackenzie had died from fever. Mackenzie’s wife then accused him to have swindled her husband and let him die there. More importantly, she told her two children afterwards that they must revenge his father’s life.

What has become her in the end? Do you think she is ‘the dark horse’  in the story?

Clues:

Effie Ramsbottom (to Lance Fortescue):

‘No – I mean that silly little parlourmaid. She’s been twitching and jumping like a rabbit all day. “What’s the matter with you?” I said. “Have you got a guilty conscience?” She said,”I never did anything – I wouldn’t do a thing like that.” “I hope you wouldn’t,” I said to her, “but there’s something worrying you now, isn’t there?” Then she began to sniff and said she didn’t want to get anybody in trouble, she was sure it must be all a mistake. I said to her, I said,”Now, my girl, you speak the truth and shame the devil.” That’s what I said. “You go to the police,” I said, ”and tell them anything you know, because no good ever came,” I said, “of hushing up the truth, however unpleasant it is.” Then she talked a lot of nonsense about she couldn’t go to the police, they’d never believe her and what on earth should she say? She ended up by saying anyway she didn’t know anything at all.”

Gladys Martin (to Inspector Neele):

‘I didn’t do anything. I didn’t really. I don’t know anything about it.’

Lance Fortescue (to his wife Patricia):

‘I’ve wondered if it wasn’t Percival who was behind that cheque business – you know, when the old man kicked me out – and was he mad that he’d given me a share in the firm and so he couldn’t disinherit me! Because the queer thing was that I never forged that cheque – though of course nobody would believe that after that time I swiped funds out of the till and put it on a horse. I was dead sure I could put it back, and anyway it was my own cash in a manner of speaking. But the cheque business- no. I don’t know why I’ve got the ridiculous idea that Percival did that – but I have, somehow.’

Mary Dove (to Inspector Neele):

‘I should hardly advise you to go too much by all I’ve told you. I’m a malicious creature.’

Notes On The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1962

Motive for Murder: Hatred and Money

Plot: Heather Badcock buys a new blue taffeta dress for a very special occasion: meeting Marina Gregg, a famous actress. She and her husband host St. John’s Ambulance’s Summer Fete on the grounds of their new home at Gossington Hall.

The quiet St. Mary Mead is awakened by the prospect of sighting a celebrity. Among the guests of honour on the day is Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple’s old friend.  They are coming for a small reception in the house.

On the landing the host and the hostess receive their guests. When Heather Badcock finally comes face to face with her favourite actress, there are words she has spoken that seem to shock the other. Further on, she was seen to stare at a picture on the wall opposite, still giving Badcock her frozen look.

The day after Mrs. Bantry telephones Miss Marple. For Badcock’s cocktail was apparently spiked; in front of others her body flopped onto the floor and her heartbeat stopped. She died from an overdose of Calmo, an anti-depressant drug. Who would have poisoned the woman in public?

A few days beforehand Miss Marple happened to meet the deceased. She remembers Badcock telling her about meeting the actress in her youth in Bermuda. Suddenly, Badcock reminds the female sleuth of someone she used to know.

There she weaves by night and day A magic web with colours gay. She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the ‘curse’ may be, And so she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shallot.

Higlights:

It is fairly to say that I might be a little biased here about the book rating. First, the killing of Heather Badcock is swift and fantastic from the murder plot’s point of view. Secondly, the circumstances of the murders – yes they repeat, don’t they- are not as intriguing as Christie’s interpretation of Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot. Thirdly, I personally like various domestic scenes and senior moments that are both amusing or bewildering.

The geriatric theme in the book, described in great length, is unprecedented. It sets apart from other Miss Marple’s books in which she is now in a situation where she is confined at home due to her age. Having been perceived too old to live independently by Dr. Haydock, a carer is required: a Mrs. Knight. Unfortunately her employer is not pleased with her in the least. Furthermore, she can no longer do anything in the garden –no bending, no stooping, no digging; enough to frustrate her. Fortunately the presence of a young cheerful cleaner Cherry Baker lightens the situation. Yet the woman does not see eye to eye with Mrs. Knight. Hence small disputes over trivial matters.  Add Baker’s singing while vacuuming within the earshot of the other and the sighing from Miss Marple becomes more often.

In Christie’s work aging issues adds flavour to her stories. In the early days of her success, Poirot’s retirement comes to a halt after a few weeks growing vegetable narrow (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926). Another plan is ended when the sleuth then commits to twelve cases in The Labours of Hercules (1947). He ‘moans’ to Ariadne Oliver about his age when a young woman turned up at his flat and on seeing him saying ‘you’re too old…(to help her with the case)’ in Third Girl (1968).

Anyhow, Miss Marple has never been young since she appeared in Tuesday’s Crime Club series in 1927. In the book, she sends her obedient carer on useless errands and slips out for a walk towards rows of new houses on the other part of the village – so called ‘Development’. It is while in the neighbourhood she meets Heather Bradcock after falling over outside her home.

Dolly Bantry’s account on Badcock’s murder in addition to Miss Marple’s impression on the deceased intrigues her to work on the case. Dermot Craddock is now a Chief-Inspector and they are reunited once more, just as in the good old days, when his godfather introduced him to the ‘super pussy’ in A Murder Is Announced (1950).

What is more, a dead body in Gossington Hall once more. This time is on the landing area. The former residence of the Bantrys is  now owned by the actress and her director husband, Jason Rudd, owing to its location near a film studio  where she has been filming.  To the actress, Gossington Hall is her ‘Camelot.’

Lindsay Duncan as Marina Gregg in the novel adaptation for the TV series of Miss Marple’s (2010)

As a major character, Marina Gregg resembles Louise Leidner (Murder In Mesopotamia, 1936) and Rita Vandermeyer (The Secret Adversary, 1922). To begin with, the three women are very beautiful, middle-aged, risk-taking and seem to be deeply unhappy despite their privileges. Also, they are in a crossroads in their life.

There are quite a few similarities between Miss Gregg and Dr. Eric Leidner’s wife. While one is portrayed as The Lady of Shallot, the other is Christie’s imagination of Keats’s La Belle Sans Da Merci.

Credits are due for this approach of imagery to a personae. For Christie has given spirit anew to the respective poems in terms of its symbolism and similes. The book title, taken from a line in Tennyson’s poem, appears to pinpoint the timing of Lancelot’s reflection in the mirror as he approaches. The mirror crack’d from side to side, “The curse comes upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…

I would rather think that Marina Gregg could have been La Belle Sans Da Merci in its true sense nevertheless. By the same token, I am in two minds about Louise Leidner being a woman without mercy. Admittedly, she is ruthless and selfish, but her feeling frightened with the death threats she has received is genuine. As for Gregg, she has abandoned three children she adopted, having felt ‘bored’ about them. Children as publicity stunt only? (how we have heard a lot about this!).

The ending suggests that Jason Rudd might have poisoned his wife in her sleep. A similar sad ending to the life of Louise Leidner’s and Rita Vandermeyer’s; having been killed by the men who loved them. Can love be as cruel as Christie imagined?

Yet there is something in Miss Marple’s verdict about the case that I cannot fathom. It concerns an illness Heather Badcock had when she went to see Marina Gregg in Bermuda many years before. Miss Marple said that Badcock specifically had mentioned the name to Gregg.

As a result, I scanned the relevant pages to find the name but did not succeed. And therefore I am puzzled. Readers, can you help? It is a crucial clue, as it helps make sense of things. More importantly, the name will confirm its association with the picture Marina Gregg was looking beyond her ardent fan  at that time.

Finally, was Marina Gregg inspired by Vivian Leigh ? If you know what I mean.

To sum up, the book has become my most favourite of Miss Marple’s to date.

 

The Twists:

Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna And The Child

-Marina Gregg looks at a picture of the reproduction of Giacomo (Giovanni?) Bellinis’s ‘Laughing Madonna’ hung on the opposite wall while receiving Heather Badcock on the landing

- Gladys Dixon, who was serving drinks during the reception, says to Miss Marple’s cleaner woman that Heather Badcock deliberately spilled her cocktail on her new dress

- Marina Gregg’s coffee is tampered with arsenic poison

-Gladys Dixon goes on holiday as soon as she has talked to Miss Marple

-Arthur Badcock, Heather’s husband, was Marina Gregg’s first husband. Later he is arrested for murder

-Lola Brewster once threatened Marina Gregg with a pistol

The Most Fascinating Character: Jason Rudd

Known to his wife as ‘Jinks’, he is Marina Gregg’s latest husband. The famous film director has a clown’s big sad mouth; far from being the handsome Lancelot. According to Mrs. Bantry, his appearance is not a match to his wife’s outstanding beauty. Nonetheless, he has a pleasant voice and an impenetrable mind, just as a ‘Mr. Brown’ in The Secret Adversary.  Moreover, his words are guarded well and therefore his self-control baffles the Chief-Inspector Dermot Craddock.

He has been married to Gregg for two years when they bought Gossington Hall and moved into it. He adores her and has loved her since they were young. Most probably at the time when her career started to take off whilst he was not a big name yet. Then Gregg married to other men before settling down with Rudd. The truth is that he has not given up despite Marina Gregg’s insecurities and madness.

Unbeknown to him, his wife was married before her Hollywood days and then left him to become an actress. The ex-husband has changed his name and  reside in St. Mary Mead a few years before Gregg and Rudd’s presence in the village. Also, he was among the guests in the small reception on the Fete day.

During their marriage Rudd feels the immense responsibility to protect Gregg’s feelings. For the actress has suffered from depression for many years and cannot accept the fact that her only son from previous marriage is disabled.

In the meantime, Ella Zielinsky, his Social Secretary, loves Rudd. She has worked with him before his marrying Gregg. Yet her hating Rudd’s wife is due to her making things difficult for her husband. Furthermore, Zielinsky is able to conclude the writer of death threat notes to Gregg.

Having been aware with the continual conflicts between two women, he I suppose has tried his best to balance the situation. He loves his wife, but his secretary is indispensable. Yet Zielinsky dies a few weeks after Badcock’s death and it gives Rudd a big shock: he knows who did it.

What’s the end of a man who has been tortured by the woman he loves?

Cast of Characters:

Ardwyck Fenn (Marina’s old friend, an old admirer who turns up at the reception)

Arthur Badcock (Marina’s first husband, Heather Badcock’s husband)

Dolly Bantry (Miss Marple’s old friend, the former owner of Gossington Hall)

Cherry Baker (Miss Marple’s cleaner woman)

Chief-Inspector Dermot Craddock

Ella Zielinsky (Jason Rudd’s secretary)

Inspector Frank Cornish

Gladys Dixon (Cherry’s friend, who works at a film studio where Rudd is directing)

Dr. Gilchirst (Marina’s doctor, who stays in Gossington Hall)

Giuseppe (the Italian butler at Gossington Hall)

Hailey Preston (Jason Rudd’s Public Relation Officer)

Dr. Haydock (Miss Marple’s doctor and an old friend – first appeared in The Murder At The Vicarage)

Heather Badcock (Arthur’s wife, the Secretary of St. John’s Ambulance in Much Benham)

Jane Marple

Jason Rudd (Marina’s husband)

Lola Brewster (ex-wife of Eddie Groves, Marina’s former husband)

Margot Bence (Marina’s adopted daughter)

Sergeant William Tiddler (a police who is into films and celebrity world)

Clues:

Ella Zielinsky (to Dolly Bantry):

‘…You’ve got to keep her (Marina Gregg) happy, you see; and it’s not really easy, I suppose, to keep people happy. Unless-that is-they-they are….

It’s more her ups and downs are so violent. You know- far too happy one moment, far too pleased with everything and delighted with everything and wonderful she feels. Then of course some little thing happens and down she goes to the opposite extreme.’

Dolly Bantry (to Miss Marple):

‘She [Marina Gregg] had a kind of frozen look, as though she’d seen something that- oh, dear me, how hard it is to describe things. Do you remember the Lady of Shallot? The mirror crack’d from side to side: “The doom has come upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…’

Heather Badcock (to Miss Marple):

‘She [Marina Gregg] and her husband. I forget his name- he’s a producer, I think, or a director – Jason something. But Marina Gregg, she’s lovely, isn’t she? Of course she hasn’t been in so many picture of late years – she was ill for a long time. But I still think there’s never anybody like her. Did you see her in Carmanella? And the Price of Love, and Mary of Scotland? She’s not so young any more, but she’ll always be a wonderful actress. I’ve always been a terrific fan of hers. When I was a teenager I used to dream about her. The thrill of my life was when there was a big show in aid of the St. John’s Ambulance in Bermuda, and Marian Gregg came to open it. I was mad with excitement, and then on the very day I went down with a temperature and the doctor said I couldn’t go. But I wasn’t going to be beaten. I didn’t actually feel too bad. So I got up and put a lot of make-up on my face and went along. I was introduced to her and she talked to me for quite three minutes and gave me her autograph. It was wonderful. I’ve never forgotten that day.’

Notes On A Murder Is Announced

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1950

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: On October 29t the residents of Chipping Cleghorn are drawn to an unusual advertisement:

A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.

So they come, having thought of it as a joke. Moments after the last guest arrives the lights go out. Three bangs and the ‘the murder party’ ends. As the lights come on there is a stranger lying dead – at least that is what everybody says; none of them have met him before.

The deceased is Rudy Scherz, a receptionist at the Royal Spa Hotel in Meldenham Wells. His being a crook has been noticed prior to his death by an elderly guest none other than Miss Marple.  It was Scherz who posted the advertisement and was to perform at Letitia Blacklock’s house. It is clear to to Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock that there was someone behind all of ‘the joke.’

Is it a coincidence that he died? Did he fire the revolver, which was then found next to his body? What seems like an accidental death worries the Inspector: the whole thing does not seem to make sense. Moreover, he comes to realise something else: some people in the party have lied in their version of events.

Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrian King (745-727 BC). He is perceived to have introduced advanced civil, military and political system.

Yet it is Tiglath Pileser, which shows Miss Marple how the plot was executed.

Highlights:

After many years Miss Marple appears to travel outside St. Mary Mead and spends her time at a luxurious spa hotel ( albeit paid by her generous nephew Raymond West). Yet this holiday is unlike the staged one in Dilmouth (Sleeping Murder, 1976).  Murder found her well through a forged cheque of hers done by Rudy Scherz; the rest for the ‘old pussy’ is just the detail.

On the first reading strangely it was apleasure to read this crime novel. It is sandwiched with humours and interesting remarks of the characters, having begun with a pleasant morning at a quiet village just as St.Mary Mead. And therefore it was rather amusing to have noted various reactions towards a ‘murder party’ at a neighbour’s house as everyone were looking forward to come. What is more, the extent of human curiosity is deliberated without having to include some jargons or puzzling terms in psychology.

On the second reading, as I was skimming for details I was drawn to the murderer’s character. First and foremost, I am pleased there is only one murderer. His/her complex personality is described in a need-to-know basis throughout the book. What might have made it difficult was that the murderer is in a good terms with everyone in the village. Moreover, he/she appears to have been generous to others and no history of family madness; except for an item in his/her possession that most people think of being surprisingly ‘cheap’.  Yet perhaps the eyes of an outsider, such as Miss Marple, are clearer and therefore she is able to see a number of untoward facts about the murderer.

Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress (1844-1923). In the book Emma Roedler became the subtitute of Julia Simmons, who did not want to study as a dispenser at Milchester but an actress like Bernhardt.

Be that as it may, I cannot help feeling sympathetic to that poor Inspector Craddock, who is in charge of the investigation. Sir Henry Clithering’s godson meets the female sleuth and later on reappears in 4.50 From Paddington. From barmy Dora Bunner to the mysterious Philippa Haymes, Craddock has to deal with variable personalities who have hidden facts during the interview. They lied to him for one reason or another and therefore he must comb the facts to find out whose lies are insignificant and whose ramblings should be taken into consideration. Luckily, help is on offer from an elderly woman with a spidery hand writing.

As his godfather pinpoints to Craddock’s superior the Chief Constable George Ryesdale:

‘George, it’s my own particular, one and only, four-starred Pussy. The super Pussy of all old Pussies. And she has managed somehow to be at Medenham Wells, instead of peacefully at home in St Mary Mead, just at the right time to be mixed up in a murder. Once more a murder is announced—for the benefit and enjoyment of Miss Marple.’

Personally Dermot Craddock is the finest police character Christie has created. I like Inspector Japp for his ‘little jokes’ to Poirot and yet there is something more about Craddock. On meeting his ‘fairy godmother’ Miss Marple he was initially sceptical and went on to carry out ‘a little test’ concerning the logic of the situation in the murder party. After that he was converted to the idea that his godfather might have been right after all.

Furthermore, Craddock is honest. He does not pretend to know everything about anyone and anything and is willing to seek help when he is in two minds about someone. More importantly, he seems to have appreciated his learning curve on the art of gossiping and letter deciphering to reveal the truth.

What I like most in the book was his exchange of words while interviewing Mitzi, a refugee woman who considered the police as a terror to her life. Others said she had been a liar, but unwittingly she was pointing the Inspector to the right direction on the case.  Her hysteria and ‘madness’ were amusingly described while Craddock being continually challenged were clear in her remarks. In this aspect I do appreciate Christie’s skill in delivering sensitive post-war issues and the impending Cold War. Letitia Blacklock defended her cook (Mitzi) by highlighting the police’s ‘anti-foreign complex’ to Craddock and even scolded him that he would have to cook dinner if Mitzi had became ‘ga-ga’ because of him. Smashing. In  the end Mitzi she plays part in catching the murderer.

This Mitzi is very unique that I would have made her as The Most Fascinating Character had it not been for the Vicaress ‘Bunch’ Harmon. Remember Reverend Leonard Clement and his wife Griselda (The Murder At The Vicarage, 1930)? Apparently ‘Bunch’ is their daughter. She is married to a vicar, too, Julian Harmon. I will tell you later why she is more special than Mitzi.

What makes me wonder about the book is the creation of a Colonel Easterbrook and his wife. The colonel is said to have served in India. I find it strange that Christie did not breathe a word about the partition and probably the aftermath from the Colonel’s point of views. I was thinking: was it too sensitive (as well as upsetting) to mention about  the British government and the English readers in general?  To my mind he seems to be there because it is his revolver, which has been fired and killed Scherz. Such a waste.

I put aside the book with a lingering sense of wonder about people I thought I had known well. Are they as I have believed to be? In life, nothing is as it seems.

The Twists:                          

-The other door in the drawing room is opened and oiled prior to the ‘murder party’

-Letitia Blacklock will inherit a large fortune upon the death of Randall Goedler’s wife

-Photographs of Sonia Goedler have been taken off an old album Letitia Blacklock has kept in her house.

-Julia Simmons turns out to be Sonia Goedler’s daughter, Emma, and consequently Randall Goedler’s niece

-The spelling for ‘enquiry’ using ‘i’ instead of ‘e’ in Letitia Blacklock’s letter to her sister Charlotte

-Tiglar Pileseth the cat gnaws the lamp cable at the vicarage

-Philippa Haymes’s husband is a deserter

- Miss Marple is reported missing while conducting ‘a little experiment’ involving Mitzie and Sergeant Fletcher

Cast of Characters:

Miss Amy Murgatroyd (lives at Boulders cottage with Miss Hinchcliffe)

Colonel Archibald Easterbrook (Miss Blacklock’s neighbour)

Belle Goedler (Randall Goedler’s wife who gives account of Letitia Blacklock as her late husband’s faithful secretary)

Diana Harmon (the Vicaress, a.k.a. ‘Bunch’)

Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock (in charge of the case, the godson of Sir Henry Clithering)

Dora Bunner (Miss Blacklock’s old friend who lives at Little Paddock)

Sergeant Fletcher

Mrs. Easterbook

Edmund Swettenham (Mrs. Swettenham’s son)

George Rydesdale (Chief Constable at Middlershire)

Miss Hinchcliffe (lives at Boulders with Miss Murgatroyd)

Jane Marple

Julia Simmons (Letitia’s distant cousin)

Julian Harmon (the Vicar)

Letitia Blacklock

Mrs. Lucas (Philippa Haymes’s employer, the owner of Dayas Hall)

Mitzi (the cook at Little Paddocks)

Myrna Harris (a waitress at the Royal Spa Hotel, to whom Rudy Scherz says about the plot)

Paul Simmons (Julia’s brother)

Philippa Haymes (billeted in Little Paddocks, an assistant gardener at Dayas Hall)

Mrs. Swettenham (Edmund’s mother)

The Most Fascinating Character:  Diana Harmon, a.k.a. ‘Bunch’

‘Hallo, Miss Blacklock,’ she exclaimed, beaming all over her round face. ‘I’m not too late, am I? When does the murder begin?’

With this remark she comes into the drawing room and everyone gasps in surprise. For her frank words have unmasked others’ excuse of coming to Little Paddocks on a Friday afternoon. ‘Bunch’ is the last guest and afterwards the lights go out.

She is a gay vicaress with a sartorial mishap but a happy-go-lucky personality. The wife of Julian Hammon has a cat Tiglath Pileser – after an Assyrian king! She might not be as bold as her charming mother Griselda and thinks that she is not clever (although her husband says the opposite).

‘Bunch’ is the name that sticks with her deriving from her round face.  Miss Marple comes to stay in the Vicarage following her twice a week rheumatic treatment  in the spa hotel because of Bunch. To Dermot Craddock she says: ‘…Bunch’s father (he was vicar of our parish, a very fine scholar) and her mother (who is a most remarkable woman—real spiritual power) are very old friends of mine. It’s the most natural thing in the world that when I’m at Medenham I should come on here to stay with Bunch for a little.’

Compared to her mother, Mrs. Harmon takes her job as the Vicaress more seriously. Unlike Griselda with her witty words, Bunch inherits her father’s self-controlled trait with a touch of  her mother’s good-humoured spirit. She is curious like Reverend Clement but does not seem to be married to a much older man. Yet she has a good instinct; like Craddock she feels things did not make sense about what happened in Little Paddocks, ie. Rudy Scherz had been murdered. Hers is similar to the impression Hercule Poirot had no sooner had he stepped into a crime scene by the pool side (The Hollow).

Unfortunately there is no tea at the Vicarage but in Miss Blacklock’s. Miss Marple’s presence there is amiable; an unlikely amateur detective who was a little gossipy with her stories of constant preoccupation with burglars. When they have left Little Paddocks, Bunch asks: ‘Did you do that on purpose?’ Talk about photographs, I mean?’ Miss Marple responds: ‘’Well, my dear, it is interesting to know that Miss Blacklock didn’t know either of her two young relatives by sight…Yes—I think Inspector Craddock will be interested to hear that.’

The most curious thing about Bunch is her age. For the book was published twenty years after  Griselda was expecting. Surely Bunch was not married Julian Harmon at a very young age, was she? I suppose it does not matter; Christie could have made her a young mother in her late twenties or mid-thirties. Nonetheless, that trivial fact bothers me.

How about you? And how old do you think is her children, Edward and Susan?

Clues:

Amy Murgratroyd [to Miss Hinchcliffe]

‘She (the murderer) wasn’t there…’

Diana Harmon [to Dermot Craddock]

‘Oh, my goodness, yes, there was plenty to hear. Doors opening and shutting, and people saying silly things and gasping and old Mitzi screaming like a steam engine—and poor Bunny squealing like a trapped rabbit. And everyone pushing and falling over everyone else. However, when there really didn’t seem to be any more bangs coming, I opened my eyes. Everyone was out in the hall then, with candles. And then the lights came on and suddenly it was all as usual—I don’t mean really as usual, but we were ourselves again, not just—people in the dark. People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?’

‘And there he was. ‘A rather weaselly-looking foreigner—all pink and surprised-looking—lying there dead—with a revolver beside him. It didn’t—oh, it didn’t seem to make sense, somehow.’

Dora Bunner [identifying the man who was murdered]

‘Letty, Letty, it’s the young man from the Spa Hotel in Medenham Wells. The one who came out here and wanted you to give him money to get back to Switzerland and you refused. I suppose the whole thing was just a pretext—to spy out the house…Oh, dear—he might easily have killed you…’

[to Dermot Craddock]

‘She (Letitia Blacklock) was over by the table. She’d got that vase of violets in her hand’

Sergeant Fletcher [to Dermot Haddock]

‘There’s got to be a motive. If there’s anything in this theory at all, it means that last Friday’s business wasn’t a mere joke, and wasn’t an ordinary hold-up, it was a cold-blooded attempt at murder. Somebody tried to murder Miss Blacklock. Now why? It seems to me that if anyone knows the answer to that it must be Miss Blacklock herself.’

[to Letitia Blacklock with Miss Marple and Bunch Harmon present]

‘Oh, Lotty, I’m so—sorry—I mean, oh, I do beg your pardon, Letty—oh, dear, how stupid I am.’

Sir Henry Clithering:

‘Don’t you despise the old Pussies in this village of yours, my boy,’ he said. ‘In case this turns out to be a high-powered mystery, which I don’t suppose for a moment it will, remember that an elderly unmarried woman who knits and gardens is streets ahead of any detective sergeant. She can tell you what might have happened and what ought to have happened and even what actually did happen! And she can tell you why it happened!’

Julia Simmons [to Dermot Craddock]

‘The exception was Mrs Harmon. She’s rather a pet. She came in with her hat falling off and her shoelaces untied and she asked straight out when the murder was going to happen. It embarrassed everybody because they’d all been pretending they’d dropped in by chance. Aunt Letty said in her dry way that it was due to happen quite soon. And then that clock chimed and just as it finished, the lights went out, the door was flung open and a masked figure said, “Stick ‘em up, guys,” or something like that. It was exactly like a bad film. Really quite ridiculous. And then he fired two shots at Aunt Letty and suddenly it wasn’t ridiculous any more.’

Letitia Blacklock [to Dermot Craddock]

‘Rudi Scherz?’ Miss Blacklock looked slightly surprised. ‘Is that his name? Somehow, I thought…Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. My first encounter with him was when I was in Medenham Spa for a day’s shopping about—let me see, about three weeks ago. We—Miss Bunner and I—were having lunch at the Royal Spa Hotel. As we were just leaving after lunch, I heard my name spoken. It was this young man. He said: “It is Miss Blacklock, is it not?” And went on to say that perhaps I did not remember him, but that he was the son of the proprietor of the Hotel des Alpes at Montreux where my sister and I had stayed for nearly a year during the war.’

Mitzie [to Dermot Craddock]

‘That young man(Rudy Scherz), he does not work alone. No, he knows where to come, he knows that when he comes a door will be left open for him—oh, very conveniently open!’

Myrna Harris [to Dermot Craddock]

I will. I’ll tell you all about it. But you will keep me out of it if you can because of Mum? It all started with Rudi breaking a date with me. We were going to the pictures that evening and then he said he wouldn’t be able to come and I was a bit standoffish with him about it—because after all, it had been his idea and I don’t fancy being stood up by a foreigner. And he said it wasn’t his fault, and I said that was a likely story, and then he said he’d got a bit of a lark on that night—and that he wasn’t going to be out of pocket by it and how would I fancy a wrist-watch? So I said, what do you mean by a lark? And he said not to tell anyone, but there was to be a party somewhere and he was to stage a sham hold-up. Then he showed me the advertisement he’d put in and I had to laugh. He was a bit scornful about it all. Said it was kid’s stuff, really—but that was just like the English. They never really grew up—and of course, I said what did he mean by talking like that about Us—and we had a bit of an argument, but we made it up. Only you can understand, can’t you, sir, that when I read all about it, and it hadn’t been a joke at all and Rudi had shot someone and then shot himself—why, I didn’t know what to do. I thought if I said I knew about it beforehand, it would look as though I were in on the whole thing. But it really did seem like a joke when he told me about it. I’d have sworn he meant it that way. I didn’t even know he’d got a revolver. He never said anything about taking a revolver with him.’

Paul Simmons [to Dermot Craddock]

‘I am innocent, Inspector. I swear I am innocent.’

Notes On Sleeping Murder

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1976 (posthumous)

Motive for Murder: Jealousy

Plot:

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster was first staged in 1614.

Gweena Reed suddenly screams as The Duchess of Malfi draws to a close. Some words in the scene awaken a memory deep in her mind. Beforehand, a series of peculiar occurences happen in the house she recently bought on the south coast of England.

One night, as she looks down the stairs in the dark, she sees the image of a woman. A pair of strong hands are around the woman’ neck; her face becomes blue and contorted. Such fills Gweena with terror that the next day she leaves Hillside to stay with her husband’s cousin in London.

As she recounts her experience to Miss Marple, it is clear to the elderly woman what Gweena has told her are recollections of a murder. As a result, Gweena and Giles Reed then embark on a journey to find who killed this woman despite warnings to leave well alone.

Dangers lurk as the newly-married couple talk to people about what happened eighteen years ago. But someone does not like their raking up the past: someone who says the same words as Gweena heard in the theatre.

Highlights:

Published posthumously,  Sleeping Murder is Miss Marple’s last case. It concerns  a young woman who was the sole witness to a premeditated murder. Unbeknown to Gweena Reed, she bought the house where the murder took place and where she used to live as a child.

Her character will jog readers’ memories towards Carla Lemarchant (Five Little Pigs). If it was her late mother’s letter which brought about Carla’s hiring of Poirot, it is another story to Mrs. Reed. For she actually saw the murder when she was three and therefore her recollections are confused and do not make sense at first. Moreover, she is somewhat unsure about finding out further about her stepmother’s death. It is actually Giles Reed who seems to precipitate matters.

It is almost a perfect crime the murderer has got away with for many years. The only flaw in the plan is the presence of a child witness. The little Gweena is not asleep when she is supposed to be and looks through the banisters as the murderer strikes. The same happened to Elspeth McGiliCuddy (4.50 From Paddington) who sees a murder on the train. Like Elspeth, Gweena only sees the back of the murderer.

Here the issue of childhood trauma is discussed with a degree of sensitivity. Christie approaches it using the “zoom-out” technique in writing ,with her descriptions from the protagonist’s point of views.  What initially seems to be a ghost story in a haunted house turns out to be a far more serious matter. Consequently, before her meeting with Miss Marple in Raymond West’s house in London, Gweena’s thoughts and feelings guide readers.

Of equal merit is Christie’s observation of the male characters, ranging from a supportive husband to an old bachelor filled with jealousy of his much younger sister. Some of these men become suspects due to their being on the spot on the day of the murder.

There are two of them who intrigue me most. Firstly, Giles Reed. He is an ideal husband who believes his wife’s stories wholeheartedly and further on becomes involved in the investigation. Secondly, Foster, the gardener at the Reeds’ house; the one who drinks more tea than he does his work.

On the one hand, Giles appears to lead the initiatives during the search. His remarks often make a mockery of Gweena’s statements. On the other, Foster might not be up to scratch with his work but provides important information, having attended the garden over the years. If anything, both men do not talk to each other, so have very different versions of events. It is Gweena who is able to extract information from old Foster.

Halfway through it becomes apparent that Giles’s comments border on arrogance (see Clues). In fact, he considers that Foster rambles on about irrelevancies. Little does Giles understand the value of the other’s words. Well, not until it dawns on him why Miss Marple has temporarily employed the ex-gardener of James Halliday on the pretext of helpinf Foster.

The subtle conflicts between the men and what readers might learn from them, are the craft in Christie’s writing I have come to admire. More importantly, the context and who says what needs to be right as well.

As often occurs in her work, there are quite a few references to earlier cases.  Dr. Haydock (The Murder At The Vicarage) appears as Miss Marple wants him to prescribe her with a “seaside treatment” in a certain place. Further on, she visits Dolly Bantry (The Thirteen Problems/Body In The Library) to obtain the address of her ex-cook who opens a Bed & Breakfast in the seaside town Miss Marple is going to visit.

It is worth looking at how Miss Marple gets what she wants. To the doctor she is forthright and adamant in helping the Reeds to solve the murder. She says ‘..I’m worried about those two. They’re very young and inexperienced and much too trusting and credulous. I feel I ought to be there to look after them.’ As to Colonel Arthur Bantry’s wife, she does a little gossiping first before changing the subject to the ex-cook. Yet nothing passes her lips about the case.

Nonetheless, it bothers me there is a mention of Colonel Melrose (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). Isn’t it supposed to be Colonel Melchett that Miss Marple might have acquainted with?

It is not so much about the murky details of the crime that matter but the emotional disturbance that lingers.  In the end, Gweena discovers her late stepmother’s murderer in the same way Elspeth McGiliCuddy does – the reconstruction of the crime. It frightens her very much, yet she bounces back. Yet it is the self-controlled cook Mrs. Cocker, who is deeply affected by the discovery of bones underneath the mint plants. For she picks the leaves on a regular basis.

The Twists:

-Kelvin Halliday was admitted to Saltmarsh House, an asylum, before he died.

-James Kennedy received two letter from Helen Halliday after she had left Dillmouth for France and Italy.

-Dr. Penrose believed that Kelvin Halliday was not a suicidal person

-Lily Kimberly recalled that the clothes packed in Helen Halliday’s suitcase were wrong for the season.

-Leonie, the Swiss nursemaid, saw something out of the window late at night on the day Helen Halliday disappeared

-Two phone calls from an unknown person to Jack Afflick and Walter Fane to come to Hillside after four pm on Thursday

Cast of Characters:

Alison Danby (Gweena’s aunt, her mother’s sister who raised her in New Zealand)

Colonel Arthur Bantry (Dolly’s husband, Miss Marple’s old friend)

Mrs. Cocker (the cook at Hillside)

Dolly Bantry (Miss Marple’s old friend)

Edith Pagett (the ex-cook at Hillside)

Mrs. Fane (Walter Fane’s mother)

Foster (a long-standing gardener at Hillside)

Dr. Haydock (St. Mary Mead’s doctor, Miss Marple’s old friend)

Mrs. Hengrave (the previous owner of Hillside)

Giles Reed (Gweena’s husband)

Gwenda Reed, nee Halliday (Kevin Halliday’s daughter)

Helen Halliday (Gweena’s late stepmother, James Kennedy’s stepsister)

Dr. James Kennedy (Helen Halliday’s stepbrother)

Jack Afflick (Helen’s admirer)

Jane Marple

Major Kevin Halliday (Gweena’s father, Helen’s husband)

Lily Kimberly, nee Abbots (the ex-housemaid at Hillside)

Manning (Dr. James Kennedy’s ex-gardener)

Dr. Penrose (the psychiatrist at Saltmarsh House)

Major Richard Erskine (Helen’s admirer)

Walter Fane (Helen’s ex-fiance; the son of a solicitor)

The Most Fascinating Character: Walter Fane

The son of a local solicitor falls in love with the young Helen Kennedy as soon as he has set eyes on her coming back to live with her stepbrother in Dillmouth. He adores her but she only thinks him as a dear friend.

Miss Marple’s first impression of him is ‘a gentle quiet-looking person, slightly diffident and apologetic in manner’. Gweena Reed thinks that she sees ‘a rather tired-looking man of about fifty, with a gentle, nondescript face.’ Moreover, she likens him to a spider in the middle of a cobweb outside his office thinking ‘not the fat juicy kind of spider who caught flies and ate them. A ghost spider.’

He goes to India to try his hands on the tea-planting business. Helen follows him as his fiancé but then changes her mind. She decides to come back to England asking her brother to send her money for her fare.  On the boat she meets Kevin Halliday and marries him in London.

Walter’s business venture does not come to fruition. When he arrives back in Dillmouth he finds out that Helen is now a married woman. He seems to accept it matter-of-factly and moves on to continue his father’s law practice.

He shocked his mother once. She confides in Miss Marple that when he was little he hit her elder brother Robert with a poker until Robert lost consciousness.  The trigger was that he smashed a model aeroplane Walter constructed over days on end. The incident has played on Mrs. Fane’s mind as she could not see it coming from her quiet and gentle son.

Such powerful rage resembles a similar incident between Sobek and Yahmose in Death Comes The End. According to Hori, Sobek, bigger and taller than his elder brother, hits Yahmose’s head with a stone. ‘It dangerous! I tell you, it is dangerous!’ shouts their mother at Sobek when she has stopped him.

Similar as both incidents might seem, they are not entirely the same. For Sobek’s mother repeats the word ‘dangerous’ as an emphasis to the consequence – not the action itself. On the other hand, Walter’s mother means it literally and might suggest the fact that her son could be a dark horse.

Intriguingly, Mrs. Fane recalls the incident to a stranger like Miss Marple. Why? Also, her account contradicts Gweena Reed’s; her thinking of Walter as a ghost spider. Who is one to believe? A young woman’s impression or a mother?

Clues:

Edith Pagett:

[to Giles and Gweena Reed and Miss Marple ]

‘No matter what anybody says. She [Hellen Halliday] was as nice as could be to me always. I’d never have believed she’do what she did do. Took my breath away, it did. Although, mind you, there had been talk…’

[later on, recalling Helen Halliday’s words as Edith Pagett overhears her]

‘I’m afraid of you…I’ve been afraid of you for a long time. You’re mad. You’re not normal. Go away and leave me alone. You must leave me alone. I’m frightened. I think, underneath, I’ve always been frightened by you…’

Giles Reed:

[to his wife]: ‘ I don’t believe it. You could have dreamt about monkeys’ paws and someone dead – but I’m damned if you could have dreamt that quotation from The Duchess of Malfi.’

Gweena Reed:

[to Miss Marple]

‘It’s true that I seemed to know right away just where everything was- the kitchen and the linen cupboard. And that I kept thinking there was a door through from the drawing-room to the dining-room. But surely it’s quite impossible that I should come to England and actually buy the identical house I’d lived a long time ago?’

James Kennedy

[to Giles and Gweena]:

‘..The link between us, you see, was Helen. I was always very fond of Helen. She’s my half-sister and very many years younger than I am, but I tried to bring her up as well as I could. The right schools and all that.But there’s no gainsaying that Helen – well, that sge never had a stable character. There was trouble when she was quite young with a very undesirable young man. I got her out of that safely. Then she elected to go out to India and marry Walter Fane. Well, that was all right, nice lad, son of Dillmouth’s leading solicitor. He’d always adored her, but she never looked at him. Still, she changed her mind and went out to India to marry him. When she saw him again, it was all off. She wired to me for money for her passage home. I sent it. On the way back, she met Kelvin. They were married before I knew about it. I’ve felt, shall we say, apologetic for that sister of mine. It explains why Kelvin and I didn’t keep up the relationship after she went away.’

Kevin Halliday [his words in a diary]:

Did she give me drugs in my food? Those queer awful nightmares. Not ordinary dreams…living nightmares…I know it was drugs…Only she could have done that…Wy?…There’s some man…Some man she was afraid of…      

Notes On The Murder At the Vicarage

Rating: three out of five

Year of Publication: 1930

Motive of Murder: Wealth

Plot:

When Colonel Lucius Protheroe is shot in the head at the Vicar’s study, there are seven people at St. Mary Mead who have motives to kill him – at least in Jane Marple’s mind.  Living next to the vicarage, there is nothing the elderly spinster would miss while attending her garden.

The murder awakes the litle village and furthermore as Lawrence Redding confesses to the police. Then Mrs. Anne Protheroe does it too. It turns out that they are lovers.  Be that as it may, their movements on the day of the murder render both statements at fault. As a result they are cleared later.

What is peculiar is the night before the Colonel receives Mrs. Lestrange at his home.  The woman rents a house recently and her presence arouses the neighbours’ curiousity. Rumour has it that she might have blackmailed him and has an affair with the village’s doctor. Meanwhile, an anonymous note arrives for Reverend Clement; in which the sender warns him about his much younger wife’s whereabouts near the time of the murder.

Men and women’s fashion in the thirties. Imagine the dazzling Lawrence Redding in suit and Mrs. Protheroe next to him in black.

Highlights:

‘Why does the murderer not kill Jane Marple?’

I have every intention to justify the above question. But let’s begin with a number of things I would like to pinpoint having read the first case of Miss Marple.

First and foremost, Christie used an Anglican priest, Reverend Leonard Clement, as a narrator. He straightaway gives readers the impression as an unreliable voice. His character is similar to Hastings;  upper stiff lip and self-deprecating.  Personally, her approach to put a vicar in the limelight is forward-thinking for her time.  Her notion that the profession is not merely a matter of preparing sermons and saying prayers to the dying is a cut above others. Moreover, she shows the human side of Mr. Clement; his “infatuation”  to his wife, Griselda, his views towards his parishioners and his not seeing eye to eye with the churchwarden.

Next, the intriguing opening.  In the second paragraph the authoress tells readers exactly what the Vicar thinks about the colonel:

“…I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) and on resuming my seat I remarked, in a spirit most becoming to my cloth, that any one who murdered Colonel Protheroe [the churchwarden] would be doing the world at large a service”.

Quite a powerful paragraph I would think. It is clear that there is no saint-like quality about Mr. Clement. Further on is his fifteen-year-old nephew’s reaction having heard his remarks  –still clutching a carving knife: “That’ll be remembered against you when the old boy is found bathed in blood…” That a warning should be delivered from a boy draws a smile. Naturally, his uncle does not take any notice of it; not until it dawns on him that he has a motive. At any rate the boy’s words ring true; twenty-four hours afterwards the churchwarden is in a pool of blood from his head.

As Dennis Clement slips his uncle’s words to Inspector Slack, it is unthinkable to suspect the Vicar nor arrest him. For he is the one who finds the body. Nonetheless, as the Vicaress says to the husband of hers –albeit carelessly-  that “nobody would suspect you of anything, darling. You’re so transparently above suspicion that really it would be a marvellous opportunity. I wish you’d embezzle the S.P.G. funds…”  Quite like Hercule Poirot’s words to Hastings.

Furthermore, Miss Marple enters the scene as she attends tea at the vicarage the day before the murder. Towards the end of the tea she gives Griselda a meaningful look as Lawrence Redding’s name is mentioned.  The hurtful Vicar is taken aback by the scene and suddenly comes to defend his wife. I love this touch on a man’s voice, of his vulnerability and his devotion to his wife, which I believe make readers to want more.

At the inquest, it is not only the whole village who get excited. Here the Vicar starts to change as he is involved in the case. His point of views towards his next-door neighbour alter as well, having realised there is more about Miss Marple than meets the eye. For his impression to her is “Miss Marple sees everything. Gardening is as good as a smoke screen, and the habit of observing birds through powerful glasses can always be turned to account”.  Halfway the book readers will see that their relationship grow and the misunderstanding is cleared.

The adaptation of the book in a television series (2004) starring (from the left): Rachael Stirling (Griselda Clement), Tim McInnerny(Rev. Clement), Jason Flemyng (Lawrence Redding) and Geraldine McEwan (Jane Marple).

Concerning the sub-plots, they work wonderfully to distract readers who do not keep a watchful eye. The discovery of a brown suitcase in the wood and a strange call to Mrs. Pridley are one of them. Although I found them rather amusing and for all they are worth I have learnt a thing or two as well to pace a story in Christie’s way.

Now come to question: ‘why does the murderer not kill Miss Marple?’ I will tell you why it does bother me. First, the elderly woman notices the absence of Mrs. Protheroe’s handbag on the day of the murder. The colonel’s wife stops to talk to her –yes, attending the garden as usual- before going to see her husband at the vicarage. Secondly, Miss Marple insists its signicance to the police. Neither does the Vicar nor Inspector Slack understand the meaning at first. Thirdly, her telling them that the note found near the deceased “seems wrong to her”. Does not it occur to the police to test Lawrence Redding’s handwriting when he comes up to confess? Besides, Mrs. Protheroe remarks that it does not sound like his late husband’s handwriting. Lastly, Miss Marple hears the shot from the wood at half-past six, just as the Vicar, his housemaid and Mrs Protheroe herself.

To my mind it should have been obvious to the murderer that Miss Marple is “a kind of noticing person” and therefore she must be stopped – be silenced  to be precise. And that is what troubles me about the whole plot. Had Christie attempted a murder to her heroine, it would have been more real. In my experience, it is unlikely that the authoress should let the loose ends. More importantly, many of the murderers in her stories are calculating and cunning. I have no doubt that the murderer has studied about the colonel before. And as Inspector Slack points out that the murder plan is detailed to the minute.

My only consolation to the mystery is that perhaps the murderer has not done an attempted murder to Miss Marple owing to two reasons: first, she is not seen as a treat; being perceived as not much different to other three silly spinsters. Secondly, the appearance of Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew, who stays for a few days with his aunt just after the inquest.

There is one more thing. West’s role of identifying an impostor trying to steal valuable artefacts is rather disappointing. Miss Marple’s critics of “his clever book” might be justified but is there any other use of him to appear in the story at all?

Finally, a person’s life is saved in the eleventh hour. On the whole, The Murder At The Vicarage is a cross between a thriller and a crime novel, which is highly recommended for a character study, a sense of humour and brilliant dialogues throughout.

The Twists:

-The clock at the vicar’s study is fifteen minutes forward

-Mrs. Price Ridley receives a strange telephone call at 6.30 pm coming from Lawrence Redding’s cottage

-The note left near Colonel Protheroe’s body, highlighting it is written at 6.22 pm.

-The shot Miss Marple and Mary heard coming from the wood at half-past six

- Colonel Protheroe is slightly deaf

-Mrs. Lestrange is not at home near to six o’clock according to Miss Hartnell

-A telephone call to the Vicarage by a mysterious caller saying “I want to confess. My God, I want to confess.”

-the discovery of a note in Mr. Hawes’s pocket which resembles the handwriting of the note found near the dead Colonel.

-Lawrence Redding brings the wrong stone for Miss Marple’s Garden

Cast of Characters:

Anne Protheroe (Colonel Protheroe’s second wife, Lettice’s stepmother)

Dennis Clement (the vicar’s nephew)

Gladys Cram (the secretary to Dr. Stone, an archaeologist)

Griselda Clement (the Vicaress)

Miss Hartnell

Mr. Hawes (the curate)

Dr. Haydock (the doctor’s village)

Jane Marple

Lawrence Redding (a painter)

Mrs. Lestrange (the mysterious woman who rents a house at the back of the vicarage)

Lettice Protheroe (Colonel Protheroe’s daughter)

Colonel Lucius Protheroe (the churchwarden, the magistrates, who lives in Old Hall)

Mary Adams (the Vicar’s housemaid)

Colonel Melchett (the Chief Constable)

Mrs. Price Ridley (lives next to the Vicarage)

Raymond West (Miss Marple’s nephew, a writer)

Rose (a maid at Old Hall, Colonel Protheroe’s house)

Inspector Slack (the local police)

Dr. Stone (an archaeologist who digs at Colonel Protheroe’s land)

Miss Wetherby (lives next to Miss Hartnell)

The Most Fascinating Character: Griselda Clement (the Vicaress)

‘I know that I am very often rather foolish and don’t take things as I should, but I really do not see your point.’

Griselfa Clement is painted by Lawrence Redding in her coat. The above image suggests what might she wears according to the thirties’ fashion.

She says it to her husband as they are discussing the confession of Lawrence Redding; Miss Marple is present at that time. Nearly twenty years her husband’s junior, she is pretty and carefree. Calling herself “a shocking housekeeper”, her husband describes her as “incompetent in every way, and extremely trying to live with. She treats the parish as a kind of huge joke arranged for her amusement”.

Her being my choice is because I grow to love Griselda.  Her spirit and her wittiness intrigue me most. Moreover, her point of views are unique and “refreshing” at times.

My duty. My duty as the Vicaress. Tea and scandal at four-thirty.

Furthermore, the Vicar initially simply regards her ” a child” due to her careless remarks. Deep inside it is actually his self-criticism of having been unable to keep up with her zealousness. In spite of her seemingly childishness, there is a very sharp mind of Griselda’s that may astonish readers at times. More importantly, her perceptiveness  helps  Miss Marple without the other knowing it. In fact, the elderly listens to her. For both have the same indomitable spirit and courage although they are expressed in different ways.

The following is my most favourite dialogue between the husband and wife:

Griselda: ‘Do you realise, Len, that I might have married a Cabinet Minister, a Baronet, a rich Company Promoter, three subalterns and a ne’er –do-weel with attractive manners, and that I instead I chose you?Didn’t it astonish you very much?

Rev. Len Clement: At the time it did. I have often wondered why you did it.’

G:It made me so powerful.The others thought me simply wonderful and of course it would have been very nice of them to have me. But I’m everything you most dislike and disapprove of, and yet you couldn’t withstand me!My vanity couldn’t hold out against that. It’s so much nicer to a secret and delightful sin to anybody than to be feather in their cap…’

Be that as it may, she dislikes Miss Marple at the beginning. ‘She is the worst cat in the village,’ Griselda said. Nevertheless, no sooner has she realised the meaning of Miss Marple’s look during the tea at the vicarage she then understands that the spinster is not to be undermined. Unbeknown to the Vicar, Griselda has a secret. Something only her own sex understand its nature – not a husband. It is the turning point of them as Griselda begins to appreciate Miss Marple’s discreetness.  Besides, there is another secret of hers Miss Marple happens to know.

To sum up, Griselda is the life and soul of the party. I think she is also rather a dear, too.

Clues:

Griselda Clement:

[to her husband]

‘You’re wrong, Len. Lawrence [Redding] knew about that clock being fast. “Keeping the vicar up to time!” he used to say. Lawrence would never have made the mistake of putting it back at 6.22. He’d have put the hands somewhere possible – like a quarter to seven.’

Jane Marple [to everyone at tea in the vicarage on a Wednesday]

‘Mr. Hawes looked worried. I hope he hasn’t been working too hard.’

[to Mr. and Mrs. Clement]

‘It seems to me that if a young man had made up his mind to the great wickedness of taking a fellow creature’s life, he would not appear distraught about it afterwards. It would be premeditated and cold-blooded action and though the murderer might be a little flurried and possibly might make some small mistake, I do not think it likely he would fall into a state of agitation such as you [Mr. Clement] describe. It is difficult to put oneself in such position, but I cannot imagine getting into a state like that myself.’

Lawrence Redding:

[to the Vicar and Miss MArple]

‘I must ask Anne [Protheroe]. She may remember. By the way, there seems to me to be one cuious fact that needs explanation. Mrs. Lestrange, the Mystery Lady of St. Mary Mead, paid a visit to old Protheroe after dinner on Wednesday night. And nobody seems to have any idea what it was all about. Old Protheroe said nothing ti either his wife or Lettice.’

Mrs. Price Ridley:

[to the Vicar}

‘She [her maid, Clara] heard a sneeze on the day of the murder at a time when there was no one in your house. Doubtless the murderer was concealed in the bushes waiting his opportunity. What you have to look for is a man with a cold in his head.’

Inspector Slack:

[to the Vicar]

‘Mr. Redding had nothing to do with it [the call put through that comes from Old Hall]. At that time, 6.30, he was on his way to the Blue Boar with Dr. Stone in full view of the village. But there it is. Suggestive, eh? Someone  walked into that empty cottage and used the telephone, who was it? That’s two queer telephone calls in one day. Makes you think there’s some connection between them. I’ll eat my hat if they weren’t both put through by the same person.’

Miss Wetherby:

[to the Vicar]

‘A certain lady, and where do you think this certain lady was going? She turned into the Vicarage road, but before she did so, she looked up and down the road in a most peculiar way- to see if any one she knew were noticing her, I imagine.’

Notes On 4.50 From Paddington

‘A doctor’s life, I always think, is so noble and self-sacrificing’

Jane Marple

Rating: four out of five

Year of publication: 1957

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: The year began with the discovery of a woman’s found in a Greco-Roman sarcophagus at the Long Barn in Rutherford Hall – the Crackenthorpes’s estate. It resulted from Jane Marple’s following up her friend’s story, whom witnessed a woman being strangled by a man on the train seven minutes before she got off at Brackhampton.

During the investigation, suspicions arouse to the family members as some seemed to have a respective motive for committing a crime. Only when the second victim was claimed did Miss Marple and Inspector Craddock of Scotland Yard realise that they might have barked up the wrong tree.

 

Highlights:

First and foremost, a body in an old family’s land; Christie appeared to have revisited the theme in her previous novels . For there were four things that could be listed. To begin with, ‘recycled’ surnames: the one ending with –thorpe (Inglethorpe in The Mysterious Affair at Styles and now Crackenthorpe), Cartwright and Ellis. Secondly, the Crackenthorpes’ feuds.  Third, a faked accident of Miss Marple’s to prove her theory. Also, three deaths – just as in A Pocket Full Of Rye.

Furthermore, concerning the characters, there were family members who dabbled in art without any success, a wrong ‘un and capitals tied up in the will. Coupled with some financial troubles, anyone could have carried out the premeditated murder. Or were the murders arising from opportunities that came from the considerable knowledge about the Crackenthorpes?

Nevertheless, it was not a great relief that not all about the grim details of crimes in Christie’s.  She might have been in her mid-sixty when she was writing the story but her wits and understanding the world did not change a bit. There were a touch of the NHS and her subtle critics to taxation on income. Yet the abolishment of capital punishment that might have been disagreed most. In Miss Marple’s remark: ‘…I am really very,very sorry,’ finished Miss Marple, looking as fierce as a fluffy old lady can look, ’that they have abolished capital punishment because I do feel if there is anyone who ought to hang, it’s …..[the murderer]’.

Admittedly, halfway little did I realise that the motive was wealth. Not until Lucy looked up tontine in the dictionary and discussed it with Miss Marple. Of course it had been wealth again – just as what occurred to the Cavendishes. Also, I guessed wrong about who fell in love to whom. In the end, there was not one but two happy-ending love stories – something that surely Miss Marple took part in them).

The mentioning of traditional English cuisine provided a real flavour to the story. Treacle tartYorkshire pudding and roast beefginger cakespeach flan and chicken curry were greatly appreciated but not the mushroom soup unfortunately. I wondered whether Christie the latter was her least favourite food?

The kitchen at 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool is maintained by the National Trust.

The kitchen at 20 Forthlin Road, Liverpool; the childhood home of Sir Paul Mc Cartney. Listen to his accounts about the food made in the 1950’s ration era on BBC’s Radio Four: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0146f03

My only criticism was a section in which Inspector Craddock interviewed Dr. Morris. For what it was worth, the doctor said that Luther Crackenthorpe’s wife had died not long after their second son was born. If Cedric had been the last child, who would have been the woman who gave birth Alfred and Harold? This puzzled me a lot, for there was no further explanation to clarify the matter.

To conclude, Miss Marple’s distinctive approach to Poirot’s was Christie’s ultimate success.  Not bad for a mind like a sink.

 

Cast of Characters:

Alex Weastley (Alfred’s nephew)

Alfred Crackenthorpe (Harold’s younger brother)

Inspector Bacon (Brackhampton police)

Bryan Eastley (Alex’s father and the husband of the late Edith Crackenthorpe)

Cedric Crackenthorpe (an artist living in Iviza, Spain)

Inspector Dermot Craddock (Scotland Yard, an old acquaintance of Miss Marple’s)

Elspeth McGillicuddy (Miss Marple’s friend, who found the body)

Emma Crackenthorpe (Cedric’s sister)

Harold Crackenthorpe (Cedric’s younger brother)

Mrs. Kidder (the local woman who worked on an ad-hoc basis at Rutherford Hall)

Lucy Eyelesbarrow (Miss Marple’s collaborator in the case)

Luther Crackenthorpe (the father of Alfred, Cedric, Edith and Edmund- both deceased,Emma and Harold)

Dr. Morris (the Crackenthorpe’s family doctor before Dr. Quimper took over)

Dr. Quimper (the Crackenthorpes’ s doctor)

Lady Stoddard-West (mother of James Stoddard-West)

Mr. Wimborne (the Crackenthorpes’ lawyer)

The most fascinating character: Lucy Eyelesbarrow

Good-looking and smart, she had a First in Maths from Oxford. Far from taking the profession deemed “suitable for her intelligence”, she chose to be a professional domestician help; having seen a niche in the market for a shortage of an efficient and  reliable domestic helper. Having been aware of Lucy’s capability, Miss Marple set her a task of finding a woman’s body at the Crackenthorpe’s land.

Mushroom Soup Lucy Made: A deadly food?

Initially having a three-week contract with the Crackenthorpes, Lucy nonetheless made a u-turn to stay longer with the family. For she had met her opposite attract and fallen for him. In the meantime, every male member of the family approached her and gave her a proposal.  Lucy’s nonchalant responses made it a rather tricky business of guessing right until the end. Yet, Christie being Christie still left the matter for readers about the man  Lucy should marry.

Such was done without a single sexual scene involved, but engaging dialogues between Lucy and the men. Much was actually various point of views of the males’ about her; mostly pinpointed their sense of inferiority against a strong woman. For instance, Inspector Craddock said to Miss Marple (when seeing her after Lucy achieved the task): ‘I’ll say she is! She scares the life out of me, she’s so devastatingly efficient. No man will ever dare marry that girl’.

So efficient was she that she remembered to look up two words in the crosswords Miss Marple had mentioned in passing.

Be that as it may, Lucy epitomised Christie’s vision of an independent woman; years before the Flower Generation began. Personally I was inclined to associate Lucy with Sophie Kinsela’s haphazard heroine in Undomestic Goddess. It had  jumped into my mind almost immediately in spite of their differences in genre and plots. But all the same they were a similar tale of brain, beauty and freedom.

 

Clues:

Alfred Crackenthorpe:

‘Emma’s got a very good memory for face…’

‘Oh, that old fool Quimper, It’s no use listening to him, Inspector. He’s an alarmist of the worst kind’.

‘I bet you can. If you’d arranged a murder, Harold, you’d arrange your alibi carefully, I’m sure’.

Inspector Craddock: (thoughts)

‘A quiet woman. Not stupid. Not brilliant either. One of those comfortable pleasant women whom men were inclined to take for granted, and who had the art of making a house into a home, giving it an atmosphere of restfulness and quiet harmony.

Harold Crackenthorpe:

‘It’s no business of his [the family doctor]. Let him stick to pills and powders and National Health [NHS]’.

Lucy Eyelesbarrow:

‘It wasn’t the mushrooms. They were perfectly all right’.

Luther Crackenhope:

‘…None of my sons are good. Crowd of vultures, waiting for me to die, that’s their real occupation in life…’

Dr. Quimper:

‘Look after two people in particular. Look after Emma. I’m not going to have anything happen to her’.

‘Because I’m making it business to find out about the people who come here and settle themselves in…’

The twists:

- The letter from Martine Crackenthorpe (nee Dubois); supposedly the French girl the late Edmund Crackenthorpe had married before he was reported missing after the retreat to Dunkirk

- The death of the “black sheep in the family”

- Lady Stoddard-West’s revelation of her true identity.

- Miss Marple’s choking of fish bone