Absent In The Spring

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1944

Motive for Murder: None

Plot:

Tell Abu Hamid, November 1936. Joan Scudamore has missed her train connection to Stanboul. Being stuck in a remote rest house, she is faced with unprecedented circumstances which delays her return to London.

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1944’s the US book jacket ofFarrar and Rinehart NY.

Two days turn four; the wadi flood has rendered the rail tracks impassable. Breathing the healing air of the Syrian desert, she finds herself rejuvenated in the serene surroundings. Her mind begins to recollect the past events; the words of an old school friend she has bumped into at Baghdad are playing reels of reminiscences in her head.  To her astonishment subconscious thoughts surge forward, which lead to her asking herself questions she has never done before.

Did she a devoted wife to Rodney, a dedicated mother to Averil, Tony and Barbara and a good person she had believed?

Highlights:

 

From you I have been absent in the spring

When proud-piep April, dressed in all his trim,

Hath put a spirit of youth in everything

That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him

                                                                                                            -Sonnet 98

As Mary Westmacott, Christie cherishes her departure from crime novels. Her fascination about self and the complexity of human mind are the two passions she’s been able to explore under the pseudo name.

For twenty years her other identity is scarcely recognised – even by her ardent fans. For twenty years the six so-called romance books has gained modest successes. Her observation about class and love and changing times in society are woven into the dynamics in self by nurture and through distinctive experience.

Absent In The Spring is the third book published during the War.  She finished it in three days straight, of which it has given her such immense pleasure in its process. The manuscript then went to print as it was – as she wished.

In this long monologue of a country lawyer’s wife Christie puts aside her usual style of storytelling. Joan’s self dialogues during her five days’ wait in the lovely warm November sun hardly scratch the surface with the afore-mentioned Shakespeare’s Sonnet.

When Blanche Haggard recognises her school friend at the girls’ boarding school St. Anne’s, her cry ‘holy Moses, it’s Joan!’ is genuine. Off all places; thousands of miles away from the good old England is a face she hasn’t seen for fifteen years. On the other hand, Joan has noticed the girl she once adored first, but has chosen to study her instead.

In portraying the two contrasting personalities – Blanche the carefree, Joan the obliging- through exchanges and remarks, Christie is outlining the ‘picture’ of her protagonist. On the one hand, Joan’s civil responses is the opposite to Blanche’s careless comments about Rodney ‘having a roving eye’ and Barbara ‘too young to be married’ in which Blanche’s insinuating that the young woman did so to get away from home. On the other hand, in spite of Joan’s feeling offended to the other,  Blanche’s words set in motion the train of thoughts which persist to continue as they part the next day.

In the subsequent chapters Christie invites her readers to ‘splash some colours’ to Joan. Her mind wandering might be rather unexciting for the first half of the story. Nonetheless, as her seemingly rose-tinted life begins to reveal some cracks, the random collections begin to make sense.  Did Rodney miss her? Or was he happy to see her go away? Did Barbara want her mother to come to Baghdad to help her convalesce?

Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell

   Of different flow’rs in odor and in hue

  Could make me any summer’s story to tell,

          Or from their proud  lap pluck them where they grew

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Joan Scudamore lays yellow chrysanthemums on Leslie Rodston’s grave. They  means neglected love or sorrow. The Victorian language of flowers are used in the story to convey the truth of a matter.   

Joan’s torrents of flashbacks take an unexpected turn, just as a sonnet alters after the eighth line. In the accidental company of an Indian servant whom serves her meals and drinks, his simple take on life makes her rethink her self image. Their limited exchange of words expresses a gentle phase of change in her through him; her perceived ideas on how to live a life becomes reconstructed. She questions whether leading a busy life actually an antidote to happiness.

Blanche and the Indian man are like pistons that runs the engine; more than minor characters. Then the advice of Miss Gilbey, the headteacher of St. Anne’s, when she left school, runs in her head: ‘think of others, my dear and not too much of yourself.’

The moment Joan admits the flaws in her judgements; the decisions she’s made as to what’s best for her family, another crack – much bigger than the previous ones- emerge: Rodney’s nonchalant attitude over the years and her marriage that has gone amiss. For quite sometime. As she turns her focus in the aftermath of Rodney’s breakdown, she sees her life differently.

 Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white

Nor praise the deep vermillion in the rose,

They were but sweet, but figures of delight,

    Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

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Rodney Scudamore is spotted by his wife wearing red rhododendrons on his lapel – the spring flowering species- in the churchyard.  An interesting substitute to ‘the deep vermillion in rose’ in the sonnet, for rhododendron means ‘rose’ and ‘tree’ in ancient Greek  

In a twist for which Christie has been famous, her clever use of the sonnet for her euphemism to a late-flowering affection is apparent. Joan has worked out herself and declares defeat.

Thus, this is not a story of a woman having an epiphany in her solitude. This is a story of a spectator to an unconsummated love, born from the shared interest in which Joan has no part.  The last proud-pied April comes before the devastating May that marks the other woman’s passing.

Yet it seemed it winter still, and,

You away,

As with your shadow I with these did play

Alas, Joan is the Saturn; the winter in Near Eastern that is ‘moving’ towards England. Yet she carries the shadow of the love little did she realise flourish for years under her very eye.

P.S. If any displeasure can be highlighted is the fact that the Baghdad Railway was completed in 1940. Thus, there couldn’t be any trains running beyond Mosul in 1936. Also, Tell Abu Hamid is a small-populated town in the district of ash-Sharqiyah in Egypt (in the eastern side of Jordan valley) and not in Syria as suggested.

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Notes On Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Rating: 5 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1975

Motive for Murder: Revenge

Plot:

Reunion at the Styles – now it’s a guest house run by the Rutrells. After another war, Arthur Hastings and Hercule Poirot come back to the former home of the Cavendishes for a summer. To Hasting’s surprise his youngest daughter Judith is present; the fresh graduate works for Dr John Franklin whom conducts medical experiments  on the poisonous Calabar beans. He stays with his wife Barbara on Sir William Boyd Carrington’s recommendation. The baronet knows Colonel Rutrell and has occupied a room while his nearby country home Knatton is being refurbished.

When Hastings settles down, Poirot reveals his mission: not for old time’s sake – that’s for sure. He tells the other five murder cases: none of them is related to one another. Nonetheless, the murderer is in the Styles – one of the guests.

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David Suchet and Hug Fraser on the adaptation of Curtain – the final in 13th series.

Poirot has been watching him; no sooner did he learn that the cunning criminal would also spend the Summer there than he checked himself in and invited his sidekick. For old time’s sake- of course.

‘This, Hastings, will be my last case. It will be,too, my most interesting case – and my most interesting criminal. For in X we have a technique superb, magnificent, that arouses admiration in spite of oneself.’

The stake is high because the killer’s alibi is watertight. There’s no shred of evidence to tie him with a murder, but the mind’s game the killer has played to each person who is then sentenced for their crimes. More importantly, not only does Poirot have to think one step ahead, but he also has to keep an eye on his sidekick. And maybe, to take a life.

Highlights:

In my beginning is my end, in my end is my beginning. The engraved words on T.S. Eliot’s tomb at St. Mary’s Church in East Choker, Somerset sums up about the book: in Styles  Poirot and Hastings’s friendship commences and in Styles their adventure end. They come a full circle.

Styles is  crumbling. As Hastings recalls Summer 1916, Mary Cavendish is a distant memory but the murder of Emily Inglethorp.

Apparently Christie wrote the book during the War. The uncertain time and the death of his son-in-law might have had a significant influence to her that she might have died before concluding about her famous foreign detective. Hence her omission about the War in the book, her subtle but bitter expressions about old age and her inventing a monster in a serial killer that would never stand in the court to face justice.

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Shirburn Castle in Watlington, Oxfordshire, UK. Built in 1377, it’s now a country house for fictitious Styles Court.

In Curtain, both Poirot and Hastings are vulnerable. The sleuth is now an infirm and a wheelchair-bound man whilst his companion a widower. Judith’s presence amplifies his thoughts of his late wife and increases his sense of protection towards his daughter at the same time.

Christie makes clear that Curtain is distinguished to her first book, although they are related in some ways. Daisy Luttrell – an efficient B&B manager but has a sharp tongue-  might jog readers’ mind to Evelyn Howard’s commanding manner. Sir William Carrington has a number of traits of John Cavendish and the bird enthusiast Stephen Norton in John’s brother Lawrence. John Franklin, serious and being preoccupied with his work, can be an equal to Alfred Inglethorp whilst Franklin’s countenance resembles Dr Bauerstein. As for Judith Hastings, she may be likened to Cynthia Murdock – Mrs. Inglethorp’s ward. Both women are committed and passionate about their professions.

Hence it was inevitable to read Curtain without revisiting the former home of the Cavendishes. The contrast between a thirty-year-old Hastings, a wounded officer on a month’s leave and a grey-haired, much older man is stark. But still the same narrator who guides readers to see a chain of reactions unfolding.

If in the first crime book Hastings is merely an observer hovering round Poirot and Inspector Japp, in Curtain Christie puts him in a tight place. So tight that Poirot must insist on the other’s drinking his unsavoury cocoa drink.

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Also known as Calabar beans, it is native of Nigeria. Its use as an ‘ordeal poison’ among African tribes means to determine a person’s innocence

Furthermore, if Strychnine was catapulted to fame in 1920, in Curtain Physostigma Venenosum is chosen. Christie’s fascinating knowledge to poisons is well known, although it’s the nature of Barbara Franklin’s demise that is far more interesting in the plot. Even for an avid reader it will catch them off guard.

As Poirot has remarked, the killer is a most interesting criminal. Just as Jacko Argyll, the perpetrator doesn’t do it themselves.

For Christie has challenged readers from the onset to detect anything untoward in the words, intonation and timing in some suspects, including Hastings’s. A sentence whispered here or a response there built up over a period of time deliver a corresponding impact to a stab to the lungs. Here is a malicious slayer who understands that neither a slander nor a hearsay make an evidence in court. At the very least such will only be considered to help judge the character of a witness.

The accidental shooting of Mrs. Luttrell by her husband sees the killer’s testing the water. What did the killer do to raise George Luttrell’s anger? Dissatisfied, the slayer continues with Plan B.  It fails, but only to Poirot he can see that next time it will succeed.

‘Come, Hastings, you are not as stupid as you like to pretend. You have studied those cases I gave you to read. You may not know who X is, but you know X’s technique for committing a crime.’

Christie’s habit of throwing off scents with red-herring subplots seems scarce in Curtain.  She invents Elizabeth Cole (see more on The Most Fascinating Character) as a reassurance to Poirot’s deductions. For she’s the only one who has a connection to one of the cases and more importantly has known X.

Halfway, the elimination process might be achieved as to whodunit. None perhaps hardly prepares about the stupefying ending. For Christie puts forward the quest between morality and conscience in the course of justice; a notion about a thing should be done, not the right thing to be.

Last but not least, it’s worth looking at Christie’s contemplations on the issue of euthanasia (see Clues). The discussion which contrasts moral and courage, legality against necessity is one of her greatest’s dialogue I have ever seen. I wish she knew that forty-two years later the matter is still relevant.

Curtain is simply Christie’s finest masterpiece, of which was published in the last summer before she died.

At last, it’s the end of my reviewing all Agatha Christie’s crime novels. It’s long overdue, but a much satisfying process. Had I rushed to share my thoughts right after I had finished my reading, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it.

Finally, I would advise readers to postpone perusing Curtain until they are acquainted well with a number of her renowned crime novels.

The Twists:

-Elizabeth Cole lies about her surname

-Judith Hastings is in love with John Franklin

-Arthur Hastings inadvertently kills Barbara Franklin

-Hercule Poirot can actually walk round and is not as ill as he looks

The Most Fascinating Character: Elizabeth Cole

‘My name is Lichfield,’ says Elizabeth Cole to Arthur Hastings. He describes her as ‘ a woman of between thirty and forty, slightly haggard, with a clear-cut profile and really beautiful eyes. There was about her an air of reserve, more –of suspicion.’

Cole is her mother’s surname. She has adopted it in the aftermath of his father’s demise. Matthew Lichfield is the male equal to the larger-than-life character Mrs. Boynton (see Appointment With Death).

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Helen Baxendale as E.Cole in the adaptation of Curtain in 2013

A bully, Mr. Litchfield is nevertheless rich.  Like Mrs. Boynton he imprisons his grown-up daughters to serve him.

He dies from a blunt force trauma in his skull, delivered by Elizabeth’s elder sister Margaret. She has finished him with a single blow at the back of his head.  Then she confesses that she did it so that her sisters could be freed from the golden cage.

Elizabeth has been acquainted with the Luttrells; George and Daisy are her longstanding friends. So they welcome her at the Styles and tell not anyone a single word about her true identity. To Hastings Elizabeth remarks about the colonel and his vinegar-tongued wife: ‘he’s rather a dear and she’s nicer than you’d think.’

It’s not clear whether Poirot has been informed about Elizabeth prior to his stay. Yet he reckons that X would stay. Moreover, X also knows the Franklins and the Luttrells.

Elizabeth is seen to spend time with Stephen Norton often. They get closer, as both are single. He’s her family’s friend, too. What she says about Norton: ‘he’s very nice –rather shy- just a little stupid, perhaps. He’s always been rather delicate. He’s lived with his mother – rather a peevish, stupid woman. She bossed him a good deal, I think. She died a few years ago. He’s keen on birds and flowers and things like that. He’s a very kind person – and he’s the sort of person who sees a lot.’ Does she like him?

In spite of her looking reserved, she’s studied people a great deal. Hastings listens to her and her observation about the suspects’ characters are precise.

Cast of Characters:

Guests at the Styles:

-Major Allerton

-Curtiss (Poirot’s manservant)

-Nurse Craven (Mrs. Franklin’s nurse)

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Philip Glenister as Boyd Carrington in 2013’s adaptation on ITV

-Miss Elizabeth Cole (an old friend of the Luttrells)

-The Franklins ( John and Barbara)

-Judith Hastings

-Stephen Norton

-Sir William Boyd Carrington

Other:

-The Luttrells (Colonel George and his spouse Daisy)

-George (Poirot’s longstanding valet)

Clues:

A.Conversation between Sir William Boyd Carrington (BC) and Barbara Franklin (BF):

BC: ‘You’ve not changed much since you were seventeen, Babs. Do you remember that garden house of yours and the bird bath and the coconuts?’

BC to Arthur Hastings: ‘Barbara and I are old playmates.’

BF: ‘Old playmates!’

BC: ‘Oh, I’m not denying that you’re over fifteen years younger than I am. But I played with you as a tiny tot when I was a young man. Gave you pick-a-backs, my dear. And then later I came home to find you a beautiful young lady – juts on the point of making your debut in the world – and I did my share by taking you out on the golf links and teaching you to play golf. Do you remember?’

BF: ‘Oh, Bill, do you think I’d forget?’

BF to AH: ‘My people used to live in this part of this world. And Bill used to come and stay with his old uncle, Sir Everard, at Knatton.’

BC: ‘And what a mausoleum it was – and is. Sometimes I despair of getting the place liveable. ‘

BF: ‘Oh, Bill, it could be made marvellous – quite marvellous!’

BC: ‘Yes, Babs, but the trouble is I’ve got no ideas. Baths and some really comfortable chairs – that’s all I can think of. It needs a woman.’

BF: ‘I’ve told you I’ll come and help. I mean it. Really.’

B.On the subject of euthanasia among Arthur Hastings (AH), Boyd Carrington, Judith Hastings (JH) and Stephen Norton (SN)

JH: ‘I mean that anyone who’s weak – in pain and ill- hasn’t got the strength to make a decision – they can’t. It must be done for them. It’s the duty of someone who loves them to take the decision.’

AH: ‘Duty?’

JH: ‘Yes, duty. Someone whose mind is clear and who will take the responsibility.’

BC: ‘And end up in the dock charged with murder?’

JH: ‘Not necessarily. Anyway, if you love someone, you would take the risk.’

SN: ‘But look here, Judith, what you’re suggesting is simply a terrific responsibility to take.’

JH: ‘I don’t think it is. People are too afraid of responsibility. They’ll take responsibility where a dog is concerned – why not with a human being?’

SN: ‘Well – it’s rather different, isn’t it?’

JH: ‘Yes, it’s more important.’

SN (murmuring): ‘You take my breath away.’

BC: ‘So you’d take the risk, would you?’

JH: ‘I think so. I’m not afraid of taking risks.’

BC: ‘It wouldn’t do, you know.You can’t have people here, there, everywhere, taking the law into their own hands, deciding matters of life and death.’

SN: ‘Actually, you know Boyd Carrington, most people wouldn’t have the nerve to take the responsibility.’

SN (smiling faintly) to JH: ‘Don’t believe you would if it came to the point.’

JH: ‘One can’t be sure, of course. I think I should.’

SN: ‘Not unless you had an axe of your own to grind.’

JH: ‘That just shows you don’t understand at all. If I had a- a personal motive, I couldn’t do anything. Don’t you see? It’s got to be absolutely impersonal. You could only take the responsibility of – of ending a life if you were quite sure of your motive. It must be absolutely selfless.’

SN: ‘All the same you wouldn’t do it.’

JH: ‘I would. To begin with I don’t hold life as sacred as people do. Unfit lives, useless lives – they should be got out of the way. There’s so much mess about. Only people who can make a decent contribution to the community ought to be allowed to live. The others ought to be put painlessly away.’

JH to BC: ‘You agree with me, don’t you?’

BC: ‘In principle, yes. Only the worthwhile should survive.’

JH: ‘Wouldn’t you take the law into your own hands if it was necessary?’

BC: ‘Perhaps. I don’t know…’

SN: ‘A lot of people would agree with you in theory. But practice is a different matter.’

JH: ‘That’s not logical.’

SN: ‘Of course it’s not. It’s really a question of courage. One just hasn’t got the guts, to put it vulgary. Frankly, you know Judith, you’d be just the same yourself. You wouldn’t have the courage when it came to it.’

JH: ‘Don’t you think so?’

SN: ‘I’m sure of it.’

BC: ‘I think you’re wrong, Norton. I think Judith has any amount of courage. Fortunately the issue doesn’t present itself.’

Flaming June

Paintings in Christie’s books are a subject still being scarcely discussed. Her great interest in the revival of Victorian paintings occurred long before Jeremy Maas published Victorian Painters and Sir John Betjeman led a campaign to protect the crumbling Victorian buildings.

As the Impressionists rise to fame, the lights extinguish for Victorian art. Having been perceived as prudish and encouraged conformity, a number of Victorian masterpieces become abandoned and forgotten.

I don’t think I’ve ever told you, my dears – you, Raymond and you, Joan about the rather curious little business that happened some years ago now. I don’t want to seem vain in any way – of course I know in comparison with you young people I am not clever at all – Raymond writes those very modern books all about rather unpleasant young men and women – and Joan paints those very remarkable pictures of square people with curious bulges on them – very clever of you, my dear, but as Raymond always says (only quite kindly, because he is the kindest of nephews) I am hopelessly Victorian. I admire Mr Alma-Tadema and Mr Frederick Leighton and I suppose to you they seem hopelessly vieux jeu. Now let me see, what was I saying?

The opening of Miss Marple Tells A Story (in Miss Marple’s Final Cases) names two renowned but under-celebrated painters whose genius works regain their much-deserved credits a centenary later.

My impression of Flaming June was the striking pose of the woman in a saffron-coloured dress. What’s so special about a portrait of a woman in her slumber? Christie might have scolded it me on the spot had I spoken it out aloud.

 

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Frederick Leighton’s last paintings as shown in a private exhibition at Royal Academy of Art in May 1895. His illness prevents him to attend the opening. From left: Candida (submitted but not exhibited), Lachrymae, The Maid With The Golden Hair, ‘Twixt Hope and Fear and Flaming June

Standing at the back of Sir Frederick’s stunning studio where it was displayed, I feel as if I were the man himself staring at his muse napping after a day’s tiring work. While the gilded tabernacle frame enforces the emotion to the painting the flowing material chosen for the dress showcasing beauty and intimacy. She must have been someone special.

I wondered whether Christie had an opportunity to see it in 1930; the last time it was shown to the public in the house. She would’ve been thrilled to had learnt about the accidental icon of Victorian art being reunited with Lachrymae, The Maid With The Golden Hair and ‘Twixt Hope and Fear – just as the way they were when first revealed to the public.

 

 

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A portrait of Dorothy Dene at Sir Frederick’s study at Leighton House

The fascinating story of Flaming June goes beyond its being disappeared until Jeremy Maas bought it for £1,000 from Colonel Frederick Beddington in 1962. A year later Luis A Ferre buys it from Maas for £2,000 . The founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce gives the neglected jewel its lasting home. The young Andrew Lloyd Weber could have got hold of it, had he not listened to her grandmother’s remark of not having any Victorian junk in her home.

 

Like Christie’s murder mystery, speculations revolve round the model’s identity. Whilst Flaming June came back in 1996 ’s Leighton centenary exhibition a star, the woman in it remains an enigma until 2011.

Following the discovery of the only head study of Flaming June (1894) in West Hosterley Place, now the ‘weary model’ can be confirmed as none other than Dorothy Dene.

 

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The Head Study for Flaming June (1894)

The nineteen-year-old working-class girl from Clapham meets the fifty-year-old son of a physician. Leighton’s grandfather was the primary physician to the Russian royal family in St. Petersburg.

Their class difference holds little of their becoming closer; his introducing her to his art’s circle of friends and advancing her stage career. Their unusual relationship subsequently triggers rumours of their being intimate. Later she lives in a flat not far from Leighton House and is allowed at his dead bed.  He leaves a bequest of £5,000 for her and another £5,000 to set up a trust fund to help her siblings. Dene dies at the age of forty in 1900.

 

Both never marry despite the witnessed affection between them. Either he might have been just a father figure to her or he thought he had been too old to be her husband. Whatever the story is, they remind me of Boyd Barrington and Barbara Franklyn in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. The former is a bachelor with a high social standing and the latter a scientist’s wife to whom Barrington has known since she was seventeen. Their spending summer at Styles –now a guest house running by the Lutrells- surge old memories and inevitably the old feelings.

I bid goodbye to Leighton House with lingering thoughts about Sir Frederick and Dorothy Dene. Theirs are a book to write.

 

Reference:

-Flaming June: The Making of an Icon. Leighton House Museum (4 November 2016 – 2 April 2017)

Notes on Miss Marple’s Final Cases

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1979

Motive for Murder: wealth and revenge

 

Plot:

1.Sanctuary: Bunch opens the church to find a dying man at the altar. He mumbles his last word sanctuary and the other that sounds like her husband’s name: Julian, the vicar. When a man and a woman turn up and claim the deceased as their brother, Bunch starts to smell a rotten business in the stranger’s death. Particularly, they insist to take his shabby coat which is stained with blood as a memento.

 

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Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire,UK is a filming set for A Murder Is Announced which features Reverend Julian Harmon and his wife Bunch.

2.Strange Jest: The benefactors to Matthew Rossiter’s will Charmian Stroud and Edward Rossiter are running out of time to solve  his late uncle’s riddle. They believe there’s been a buried treasure in Ansteys- the inherited home they love so much. Despite their effort they can’t find it. Being under the pressure to either foot the bill  or sell the property, they turn to Miss Marple for her insights on Victorian idiosyncrasies.

 

3.Tape-Measure Murder: Constable Palk is not supposed to touch anything in a crime scene. Yet he’s picked up a pin on his uniform, having come first to the crime scene. Mrs. Spenlow has been strangled in her home dressed in a kimono.Yet, as the saying goes: ‘see a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.’

4.The Case of the Caretaker: Harry Laxton comes back to his village a wealthy man. The prodigal son of Major Laxton has bought the Kingsdean estate where he spent his boyhood and rebuilt the house after his marriage to Louise, a rich Anglo-French woman. An orphan with considerable fortune, her happiness is put to a test when Mrs. Murgatroyd, the widow of the former caretaker whom lives in a corner of the estate threatens the other. Not long afterwards Louise falls off her horse and never regains consciousness.

5.The Case of the Perfect Maid: St. Mary Mead is buzzing with the enviable Mary Higgins. The Skinner sisters’ perfect maid is everybody’s dream. Is it too good to be true? Miss Marple visit them to find out more.

6.Miss Marple Tells a Story: An old friend, Mr. Petherick, comes with his client to consult the sleuth about Mr. Rhoderick’s case. For he’s been suspected to have stabbed his wife in her bed while they were staying at the Crown Hotel in Barnchester. What would she suggest the solicitor regarding the line of defence in the court?

7.The Dressmaker’s Doll: Alicia Coombe announces to her staff that she has given up the

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Who  is the man in the mir

use of the fitting-room. Nobody hesitates that the decision may come from a menacing-look puppet doll of the dressmaker that seems to occupy the place. Feeling the continual terrors of it, Alicia feels compelled in the end to throw it away. Despite her relief, will it stop bothering her?

 

8.In A Glass Darkly: On his best friend’s invitation a young man stays over at his home Badgeworthy. There he meets the other’s sister Sylvia Carslake and her fiancée Charles Crawley. To his horror, the man happens to see in  the mirror Sylvia’s being strangled in her bed by Crawley.

 

Highlights:

Published posthumously, the six stories of Jane Marple’s show the unwavering wits of Christie’s.  As for the two other stories, The Dressmaker’s Doll and In A Glass Darkly, their inclusion I believe has suggested their having been discovered with the others after Christie’s death in 1976. Other unknown short stories  emerge later on in Greenways;  While The Light Lasts and Problems At Pollensa Bay were released in 1990s.

In 2013 I bought a second-hand copy of 2002’s signature edition. In it there was another short story, A Greenshaw’s Folly. Two years later, however, I happened to get hold some 2006’s facsimile edition in crisp condition a National Trust second-hand bookshop. Interestingly, it does not contain Miss Marple’s finding the murder of Miss Greenshaw.

Having studied about Agatha Christie’s writings in the last four years, I have established a fair assumption that she might have written some at the same time; be they a scene of a play here and details for a short story there. In the meantime, she might have re-read her previously published books and therefore a subplot would have had a new lease of life with different character names and setting.

 

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Bunch puts down the Chrysanthemums she has brought for the church to come closer to a huddled body on the chancel steps

Her ‘recycling’ a setting with a different twist for the plot is noticeable in this collection, too. First, Sanctuary featuring Reverend Julian Harmons and his wife Bunch will jog readers’ minds to A Murder Is Announced (1950). In the novel Bunch is acquainted with Miss Marple, whilst her curious nature in the short story makes her go for a day to meet the sleuth who stays at West’s home in London. It’s likely Tape-Measure Murder might have been drafted right after, punctuated by the naming of Laburnam Cottage in both stories.

 

During the writing, I supposed Christie was aware that she couldn’t omit the trio chief gossipers of St. Mary Mead. Nor should she have put them together in a piece. Hence in Tape-Measure Murder Miss Hartnell lives next to the victim Mrs. Spenlow; Miss Wetherby has her turn to further announce to the world about Lavinia Skinner’s accusing her maid Gladys to have stolen her jewellery and Miss Harmon is in the chemist when Harry Laxton introduces his wife Louise to Bella, his ex-girlfriend and the chemist’s daughter.

Next, there is a main theme running in the stories: jewellery robbery. In the difficult times between the two wars and post-second world war, crimes did occur to gain access to the valuables. With her craft Christie depicts the hardship which continued to engulf the UK right until in the sixties. The plot for At Bertram’s Hotel is based on The Great Train Robbery in 1963.

 

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Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Christie is adept to a matter close to heart to many of her readers: the ongoing problems of domestic worker issue. I wonder what would have been her opinions about of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day and The Diary of A Provincial Woman, as the books share the same clinging-on sense of the tradition whilst at the same time they are aware of their financial constraint and labour shortage. Notwithstanding whether Christie had read the two books, she herself ‘empowers’ the likes of Gladys et all as a minor character with various roles. More importantly, Christie seems to stress that some maids may have more than meet the eye.

 

Christie brings in Doctor Haydock for The Case of The Caretaker suggests the possibility of Christie’s working on Sleeping Murder, too. In the former, he infers the murder of Louisa Haxton in his note to the sleuth. In the latter, it is Miss Marple who begs to prescribe him for a trip to a seaside to help Gwenda Halliday.

By the same token is the re-appearance of Mr. Petherick the solicitor (see also The Thirteen Problems). Perhaps it’s the same ‘madness’ to his clients to see a silver-haired woman and furthermore to consult her about the case. Mr. Rhoderick is unconvinced as to how Miss Marple’s twinkling eyes can drop a murder charge looming over him.

But Mr. Petherick himself utters to his old friend: ‘In a case of illness one likes two points of views – that of the specialist and that of the family physician. It is the fashion to regard the former as of more value, but I am not sure that I agree. The specialist has experience only in his own subject; the family doctor has, perhaps, less knowledge – but a wider experience.

In the absence of Miss Marple in the last two stories, Christie puts a stress on the pertaining sense of mystery which parallels to the story theme in The Hound of Death (1932). Her exploration into the unexplained occurrences and baffling phenomena underlines what her contemporaries try to grasp owing to the shocking  change of Europe’s political map and the global economy crises.

Lastly, it’s pitiful but understandable that Christie could be audacious in her dialogues but still adheres to the golden rule of  fiction as an escape. By shifting fears to uncertain future to objects, ie. a mirror and a lively-looking velvet doll she is being non-judgmental to things that might terror people’s mind.

Thus Alicia Coombe can loose her battle  against her illogical thoughts and the male narrator succumbs to the imagery in the mirror. In her frustration Alicia tries to persuade a girl to give the doll back to her and her refusal to do so is then summed up by Alicia’s talking to herself in the last sentence : ‘perhaps…perhaps that’s what she wanted all along… to be loved….’ All of a sudden I felt sympathy to her.

Be that as it may, it beats not In A Glass Darkly. The unnamed narrator takes readers to the summer 1914; the timing being a focal point. It’s universally acknowledged as the last happy memory for Christie’s generation; the great calamity in the Great War is then repeated in the Second World War.

The premonition he sees in the mirror along with the sombre mood of a survivor’s guilt are conspicuous. Did he know who he was afterwards? Can he trust his judgment? Finally, Sylvia’s polite response on his telling her what he’s seen the other day that leaves a lingering thought: ‘I’m sure you did if you say so. I believe you.’

What do you think?

 

Cast of Characters:

In Sanctuary:

-Police Constable Abel

-Inspector Craddock

-The Eccless (husband and wife, claiming to be the deceased’s family)

-Edwin Moss (who takes Bunch’s suitcase)

-The Harmons (Reverend Julian and his wife Diana,a.k.a. Bunch)

 

In Strange Jest:

-Charmian Stroud

-Edward Rossiter

– Jane Helier (Charmian and Edward’s friend)

 

In Tape-Measure Murder:

-Miss Hartnell

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable of St. Mary Mead)

-Miss Pollit (a dressmaker)

-Constable Palk (who comes to a crime scene the first time)

-Inspector Slack

 

In The Case of The Caretaker:

-Miss Bell

-Clarice Vane (Doctor Haddock’s niece, Louise’s friend)

-Doctor Haddock

-Miss Harmon

-Mrs. Murgatroyd (lives in a corner of the Kingsdean estate)

-the Laxtons (Harry and his wife Louisa who live in Kingsdean)

 

In The Case of The Perfect Maid:249824

-Edna (Miss Marple’s maid and Gladys’s cousin)

-Mary Higgins (the perfect maid)

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable)

-The Skinner sisters (Lavinia and Emily)

-Inspector Slack

-Miss Wetherby

 

In Miss Marple Tells A Story:

-Mrs. Carruthers ( a hotel’s guest)

-Mrs Granby (a hotel’s guest)

-Mr. Petherick (a solicitor preparing for the case, Miss Marple’s friend)

-Mr. Rhodes (Mr. Petherick’s client)

 

In The Dressmaker’s Doll:

-Alicia Coombe (a dressmaker)

-Mrs. Fellows-Brown (Alicia’s client who tries on a dress)

-Mrs. Fox ( the cleaner)

-Sybil Fox (Alicia’s assistant)

 

In A Glass Darkly:

-Sylvia Carslake

-The narrator (Sylvia’s husband)

 

 

 

Notes on The Moving Finger

Rate: 4 out of five

Year of Publication: 1943

Motive for Murder: Greed

 

Plot:

In a sleepy Lymstock, nothing untoward happened. Peace was the norm in the idyllic village: no wars, no bombs.  Until the first murder occurred.  The Symmingtons’ housemaid body was found cold in the downstairs’ cupboard with a blunt force trauma in her head. A week beforehand, Mona Symmington committe suicide.

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Chilham village in Kent, the filming location for fictitious Lymstock in 2006’s adaptation of Miss Marple series.

 

Anonymous hate letters had circulated, as the poison pen  spread scare among the villagers. Despite their being defiant about the letters, fears and anxiety increased being a target of abhorrent accusations.

In the meantime, Megan Hunter saw something on the day her mother died. A young girl of twenty, she was often seen wandering round the village either in her bike or on foot. Aimee Griffith disliked her idleness, whereas some had sympathy to the girl whose mother paid little attention to her.

She saw something she wasn’t supposed to see. As she realised what would happen next, it was nobody but her who could prevent it become materialised. Could she trust herself to take a high risk to save her life and others?

 

Highlights:

In today’s social media age, the tales of fake news and rampant finger pointing are ubiquitous; the internet trolls that spewed poisonous comments then propelled an issue to a much larger scale and onto a different level.

The devastating impact of hoaxes had also left imprints in Christie’s world; Elinor Carlisle receiving spiteful letters after her engagement in Sad Cypress(1940) and Dr. Charles Odfield asking for Poirot’s help to clear his name due to rumours about his poisoning his late wife in the Labours of Hercules (1947). If vile letters were exist in those books to flavour to a plot, in The Moving Finger the issue became the epitome of an abuse in words.

From the onset Christie put forward the various effects of libels for their respective recipients. To the brother and sister Jerry and Joanna Burton, such was an expression of alienation to foreigners that strengthens the villagers’ watchful glance towards them and their quiet sighing to their cosmopolitan behaviour. To Dick Symmington the solicitor, his reputation, having only opened his practice for a few years, was at stake.

Supposed the book was a blank painting canvass,  Christie then had morphed it into a Jackson Pollock ; the dialogues were the outpourings of characters’ mind while delivering blatant criticism on society.

I have noticed that the books Christie had written during the War may carry the homogenous spirit of being bold and fearless about life. They expose the worst in human’s nature that leave pins and needles sensations in their wake.

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London Children during The Blitz 1940

 

As far as I am concerned, Christie stayed put in London during the War. Her decision was made mainly because of her daughter, Rosalind Hick, whose first husband Hubert de Burgh Pritchard was on an active service an died in 1944.

Come what may, the book touched nothing about the War, although the apparent distress which engulfed Lymstock might have mirrored the uncertainty of the War. Clearly Christie banned any mention of it, but turned the sky of ostensibly picture-perfect setting of the countryside into a cloud of vultures circling an area where a carcass of crime is identifiable and the smell of it inevitable.

Enter the young village doctor Owen Griffith and the orphan Megan Hunter. Together with the Burtons Christie spun the plot around the four of them. Jerry seemed to be an extrovert version of Colonel Hastings; Joanna’s carefree attitude paralleled to Giselda Clement (Murder At The Vicarage) and Dr. Griffith might have been Dr. James Sheppard – only younger and more handsome.

As circumstances altered and characters changed, attention turned into Aimee Griffith, Owen’s older sister.  A semblance to Catherine Sheppard, Aimee was atypical spinster character in other books (see more on The Most Fascinating Character). Likewise, Mona Symmington could be likened to Mrs Ferrars (see Notes On The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).  By the same token, Mr. Ackroyd’s housekeeper Miss Russel had the same traits to Mrs Cane de Althorp  – their detecting ‘bad smell’ in people.

The plot saw Christie’s  marvelling at putting the right dose between feeding excitement and inducing sinister sentiments. Clues dropped in unexpected situations obscured in an ambiguous tone. Whilst it could be quite confusing at times, her sticking to Jerry’s viewpoint held together the loose ends.

As expected, the subplots bore comparable details in her previous books. Nonetheless,  it takes a skilful writer with tricks up her sleeves to pinch a detail and combine it with others to create an entirely different setting. Halfway  I felt I could guess whodunit although I realised that the theatrical touch in it would only make sense as I turned to the last chapter.

Miss Marple remained behind the screen until the last five thousand words.  Meanwhile, some readers might have asked themselves whether the Burtons had been a one-off Tommy and Tuppence. Only in the end it explained the police’s involving Jerry in the investigation in spite of the fact he was a suspect.

To conclude, it is a Miss Marple book that deserves more recognition among Christie’s fans. It’s more than the craft of the plot, but a study of point of views: have we seen an issue in a bigger picture?

 

The Twists:

-Dick Symmington donated his old typewriter to the Women’s Institute

-Megan Hunter’s father was imprisoned for blackmail

-Aimee Griffith wrote the anonymous letter to Elsie Holland

– Joanna Burton received a hate letter that was intended for Emily Barton

– Mrs Dane Calthrop roped in help from an old friend: Miss Marple

– Emily Barton’s prayer book with ripped pages used by the Poison Pen in different anonymous letters was found in the Symmingtons’ downstairs cupboards

 

Cast of Characters:

– Mrs. Baker (Beatrice’s mum; Beatrice a housemaid at Little Furze)

– The Burtons (Joanna and Jerry)

– The Dane Calthrops (Reverend Caleb and his wife)

– Elsie Holland (a governess at the Symmingtons)

– Emily Barton (whose house Little Furze was rented out to the Burtons)

– Florence (Miss Barton’s former maid)

– Miss Ginch (Dick Symmington’s secretary in the law office)

– Inspector Graves (Scotland Yard)

– The Griffiths (Owen the village doctor and Aimee who ran girl’s guide)

– Marcus Kent (Jerry Burton’s doctor)

– Megan Hunter (Mona Symmington’s daughter from her first marriage)

– Superintendent Nash

– Partridge (the cook at Little Furze)

– Sergeant Perkins

– Mr Pye (the proud owner of Prior’s Lodge who has a penchant for antiques)

– The Symmingtons (Dick the lawyer and his wife Mona)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Aimee Griffith

Christie’s crime novels have a number of spinsters in them; from Miss Marple herself to Kirsten Lindstrom (Ordeal by Innocence); from Cecilia Williams (Five Little Pigs) to Nurse Jessie Hopkins (Sad Cypress).

Aimee Griffith is not just another one. In her most renowned book, Christie establishes Dr. Shepepard’s sister’s reputation being a chief gossip in King’s Abbot right from the beginning. On the contrary,  she introduces Aimee as just one of Jerry Burton’s encounters with the villagers without a hint of importance to her role. Her presence is more often due to her access to a typewriter the police have believed being used to type the poisonous letters.

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Jessica Hynes as Aimee Griffith in 2006’s Miss Marple series

 

She disapproves  Megan Hunter; her being the daughter of ‘the wrong un’ To Jerry Burton, Aimee is rather overwhelming. ‘Too much an Amazon for me,’ heremarks to Joanna once.

Unlike other fore-mentioned spinster characters, Aimee is good looking. She is comfortable in her own skin and bold, although she seems to be on guard with words and tends to keep her ideas to herself.

In her absence still there are echoes of her. She argues with Jerry about gender equality with  apparent franknesss. ‘It is incredible to you that women should want a career. It was incredible to my parents. I was anxious to study for a doctor. They would not hear of paying the fees. But they paid them readily for Owen. Yet I should have made a better doctor than my brother.’

The bombshell is then dropped when the police arrest Aimee for sending a warning letter to Elsie Holland. Worse, Aimee has denied having done it. Meanwhile, the police has realised she has held back information about two other suspects.

Things look pessimistic for her. Only Miss Marple who can help squash her charge with a huge favour from Megan.

 

Clues:

Jerry Burton (JB) and Aimee Griffith (AG) (after the inquest on the death of Mona Symmington):

AG; ‘ I was terribly sorry for Dick Symmington its all having to come put as it did at the inquest. It was awful for him.’

JB: ‘But surely you heard him say that there was not a word of truth in that letter – that he was quite sure of that?’

AG: ‘Of course he said so. Quite right. A man’s got to stick up for his wife. Dick would. You see, I’ve known Dick Symmington a long time.’

JB: ‘Really? I understood from your brother that he only bought this practice a few years ago.’

AG: ‘Oh yes, but Dick Symmington used to come and stay in our part of the world up north. I’ve known him for years. I know Dick very well…. He’s a proud man, and very reserved. But he’s the sort of man who could be very jealous.’

JB: ‘That would explain why Mrs. Symmington was afraid to show him or tell him about the letter. She was afraid that, being a jealous man, he might not believe her denials.’

AG: ‘Good Lord. DO you think any woman would go and swallow a lot of cyaniade potassium for an accusation that wasn’t true?’

JB: ‘The coroner seemed to think it was possible. Your brother, too…’

AG: ‘Men are all alike. All for preserving the decencies. But you don’t catch me believing that stuff. If an innocent woman get some foul anonymous letter, she laughs and chucks it away. That’s what I….would do.’

JB: ‘I see. So you’ve had one, too.’

 

Dick Symmington(DS) and Megan Hunter(MH):

MH: ‘I would like to speak to you, please. Alone.’

DS: ‘Well, Megan, what is it? What do you want?’

MH: ‘I want some money.’

DS: ‘Couldn’t you have waited until to-morrow morning? What’s the matter, do you think your allowance is inadequate?’

MH: ‘I want a good deal of money.’

DS: ‘You will come of age in a few months’ time. Then the money left you by your grandmother will be turned over to you by the public trustee.’

MH: ‘ You don’t understand. I want money from you. Nobody’s ever talked to me much about my father. They’ve not wanted me to know about him. But I do know he went to prison and I know why. It was for blackmail!

‘Well, I am his daughter. And perhaps I take after him. Anyway, I am asking you to give me money because… if you don’t….’

Notes On Nemesis

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1971

Motive for Murder: Love

 

Plot:

Jane Marple received a ‘hello’ from the other side. Jason Rafiel, her unprecedented ally in  Notes on A Caribbean Mystery, had laid out a murder mystery challenge prior to his death.

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Nemesis: the goddess of retribution. from  nemein (Greek): give what is due

His lawyer handed the sleuth a letter from the billionaire man:

You, my dear, if I may call you that, have a natural flair for justice, and that has led to your having a natural flair for crime. I want you to investigate a certain crime. I have ordered a certain sum to be placed so that if accept this request and as a result of your investigation this crime is properly elucidated, the money will become yours absolutely. I have set aside a year for you to engage on this mission. You are not young, but you are, if I may say so, tough. I think I can trust a reasonable fate to keep you alive for a year at least.

Despite her initial doubt, on accepting the mission Miss Marple realised that his teasing but intriguing letter had meant for her having to put on her Nemesis cap. Nonetheless she asked herself: what crime? Where did it happen? In what circumstances? For his somewhat baffling challenge had left her with no clues.

Until the second letter came, followed by a communication from a travel agent in London from Famous Houses and Gardens tour.

 

Let justice roll down like waters.

And rightenousness like an everlasting stream.

Amos.

 

Highlights:

‘The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration’

T.S. Eliot

 

It’s been three years since I read the book. I put it aside in the attic among other Christie’s I have collected while completing the challenge between 2013 and 2014. Having picked it up again, I was surprised I had underestimated the craft Christie had put into the plot. To begin with, I had missed a number of things regarding the chain of scenes leading to the unmasking of the perpetrator. Nevertheless, the second reading allowed me to realise more about the difference in Christie’s approach about her characters, the book’s measured pace and its denouement.

In my first reading,  the first chapter seemed a bit boring. No murder announced but  Miss Marple’s rambling. Little did I see the point of ‘wasting’ over a thousand words lamenting about paper delivery and her pastime perusing news. Another thousand words were then spent for pondering over a dead person whom she hardly knew. Her thoughts were then interrupted by her daytime carer who came into the scene followed by a Miss Bartlett; a stranger whom happened to pass her garden that day.

The lagging pace in the subsequent chapters made me rather impatient.  I flicked over the pages and skipped my reading to the introduction of the three sisters -Clotilde, Anthea and Lavinia- who live in a former grandeur the Old Manor House.

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1901’s cover of The Three Sisters, a play  by Anton Chekov. It tells the tale of a class struggle of the Muscovites Olga, Irina and Masha living in a provincial town.

I was glad Lavinia Glynne, one of the sisters, was Mr. Rafiel’s link to the puzzling crime. Still, I failed to regard the fact that Christie’s seemingly long winding narrations was actually deliberate. In the second reading, however, I supposed it was her way to engage readers with Miss Marple’s way of thinking; an old curious ‘pussy’ who would mean no harm to everyone. With this in mind, I put my Miss Marple cap on as the subplots opened some possibilities concerning the profiling of the murderer.

Furthermore, Christie abandoned the golden rule in writing ‘show not tell’ by detailing her protagonist’s mulling over the case in her head.  Doubtless anything was not left unturned, however, including her questioning £20,000 reward awaiting to her success.

Christie’s specialty in conjuring arresting minor characters, however, deserved more attention and applauds. Avid readers may recognise similarities in some of them – a former headmistress, a maid, an academic- but nobody was ever the same; not even a repeat for their Victorian peculiar and long names.

In fact, their role – no matter how trivial it was – was like her building a ‘machinery’ in the story.  An old gardener could be a nut; a young Emlyn Price a bolt; an aged housemaid a spanner and a childless widow an oil machine. Without their ‘working’ together there would not be the imaginary functional engine that formed an astounding ending.

Some might have speculated about Miss Marple as Christie’s tribute to Clarissa Miller (nee Boehmer), her beloved mother. Be that as it may, many things in Nemesis to my mind represented Christie herself: the wiser, the softer octogenarian woman; vivacious and still exciting. It was as if she sent the message for her generation:  ‘we still has got it, never lose it.’

Christie’s much experience in building up the climax lent itself to her plodding an old sorrow and massaging guilt which emerged to surface through the languages of plants, famous plays, the Bible and deceptions.

By the time Miss Marple understood most details of the murder, the cold and cunning killer had prepared for another killing. As the net was closing in, some twists were inevitable – more impending tricks ala Christie. Not only did Miss Marple apply a drastic method to make the killer confess, but also she had taken a calculated risk to expose herself to the murderer.

 

The Twists:

– Elizabeth Temple had an ‘accident’ while on a trip to Bonadventure (as part of the tour) that resulted in her being in a comma at Carristown Hospital

– Verity Hunt and Michael Rafiel planned to marry in secret

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Northleach Parish Church, Gloucestershire, UK: the filming location for Verity Hunt’s headstone in 1987’s Miss Marple Nemesis TV series

 

– Miss Cooke gave Miss Marple a whistle after the coffee at the Old Manor House

– Nora Broad was identified as Verity Hunt’s

 

Cast of Characters:

Sir Andrew McNeil (the Governor at Manstone Prison)

Anthea Bradbury-Scott (one of the Three Sisters)

Sister Baker (at Carristown Hospital)

Miss Bartlett (a stranger who passes Miss Marple’s garden)

Archdeacon Brabazon (Elizabeth Temple’s old friend)

Mrs Blackett (Nora Broad’s relative)

Mr. Broadribb (Mr. Rafiel’s lawyer)

Cherry  (Miss Marple’s carer)  and her husband

Clotilde Bradbury-Scott (one of the Three Sisters)

Esther Anderson (previously Walters, Mr. Rafiel’s ex secretary)

Sir James Lloyd (Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard)

Jason B. Rafiel ( the billionaire man, deceased)

Lavinia Glynne (one of the Three Sisters)

Michael Rafiel

Mr. Schuster (Mr. Broadribb’s partner at the law firm)

Dr Stokes (who looks after E Temple at Carristown Hospital)

An aged housemaid at the Old Manor House

An old gardener at the Old Manor House

A girl (Nora Broad’s schoolfriend)

People in Tour No.37 Famous Houses and Gardens:

Miss Barrow

Miss Bentham

Mr Caspar

Miss Cooke

Elizabeth Temple (a former headmistress of girls’ boarding school)

Emlyn Price

Miss Joanna Crawford

Miss Lumley

Mrs. Sandbourne (the tour guide)

Richard Jameson

Mrs Riseley-Porter

Colonel and Mrs Walker

Professor Wanstead

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Michael Rafiel

Jason Rafiel’s son was an incorrigible law breaker. He involved in a number of petty crimes.  His father employed his lawyers (Mr. Broadribb & Mr Schuster) to get Michael released from Court proceedings.

The tides turned when Verity Hunt, a girl whom he courted, disappeared. She was reportedly found beaten to death and her face disfigured six months later. With his father’s money Michael managed to escape the hanging and the prison and instead he was sent to Broadmoor.

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Bruce Payne as Michael Rafiel in 1987’s adaptation into Miss Marple series

 

He existed in the book through the eyes and the words of others whom mostly bore an accusing and negative tone. His father described him as  ‘a son who is morally sick’; an aged housemaid to Miss Marple (see Clues) ‘a wicked devil’ and to Clotilde Bradbury-Scott he was ‘a miserable,depraved delinquent; a man unworthy to my beautiful, splendid girl (Verity).’

Only the Governor at Manstone Prison who believed not that Michael had been a killer. To Professor Wanstead he had expressed his doubts about a young man – no more than a lad when he arrived- who seemed to be capable to had done other crimes but to take a person’s life.

I pictured Michael in my head a boy who grew up without a mother and a father who channelled his energy to grow money instead to put his best investment in his children. I conjured images of someone who was good looking but lonely; rich but hardly had nobody to talk. On the surface I saw a defiant, smirking face and yet inside a child who sought filial love and attentions.

Only when he was introduced to a Verity Hunt while staying at the Old Manor House did he wish to turn a new leaf. Naturally, noone trusted his words that he had nothing to do with her disappearance. Nor would he tell them that he and Verity had asked Archdeacon Brabazon to had married them.

For a fleeting moment he reminded me of Jacko Argyle (see Notes on The Ordeal of the Innocence). Michael, however, could never have been the other because he was purely innocent. Nonetheless I had a hunch that Michael might have had a touch of Colonel Christie in him: a man Clarissa Miller had disapproved for her daughter.

In the end, Michael got his free pardon.

I hoped he would take it as a second chance in life.

 

 

Clues:

–          Elizabeth Temple (ET) and Miss Marple (JM):

JM: ‘Being as old as I am now, I suppose that I can’t help feeling that early death means missing things.’

ET: ‘And I, having spent all my life amongst the young, look at life as a period of time complete in itself. What did T.S. Eliot say: “the moment of the rose and the moment of the Yew tree are of equal duration.” ‘

JM: ‘I see what you mean…A life of whatever length is a complete experience. But don’t you ever feel that a life could be incomplete because it has been cut unduly so?’

ET: ‘Yes, that is so.’

 

–          Miss Marple’s conversation with a housemaid at the Old Manor House:

Housemaid: ‘First one thing and then another. The dreadful plane accident – in Spain it was- and everybody killed. Nasty things, aeroplanes – I’d never go in one of them. Miss Clotilde’s friends were both killed, they were husband and wife – the daughter was still at school, luckily, and escaped, but Miss Clotilde brought her to live and did everything for her. Took her abroad for trips – to Italy and France, treated her like a daughter. She was such a happy girl – and a very sweet nature. You’d never dream that such an awful thing could happen.’

JM: ‘An Awful thing. What was it? Did it happen here?’

Housemaid: ‘No, not here, thank God. Though in a way you might say it did happen here. He was in the neighbourhood – and the ladies knew his father, who was a very rich man, so he came here to visit – that was the beginning..’

JM: ‘They fell in love?’

Housemaid: ‘Yes, she fell in love with him right away. He was an attractive-looking boy, with a nice way of talking and passing the time of day. You’d never think – you’d never think for one moment…’

JM: ‘There was a love affair? And it went wrong? And the girl committed suicide?’

Housemaid: ‘Suicide? Whoever now told you that? Murder it was, bare-faced murder. Strangled and her head beaten to pulp. Miss Clotilde had to go and identify her – she’s never been quite the same since. They found her body a good thirty miles from here – in the scrub of a disused quarry. And it’s believed that it wasn’t the first murder he’d done. There had been other girls. Six months she’d been missing. And the police searching far and wide. Oh! A wicked devil he was – a bad lot from the day he was born or so it seems.

They say nowadays as there are those as can’t help what they do – not right in the head, and they can’t be held responsible. I don’t believe a word of it! Killers are killers. And they won’t even hang them nowadays. I know as there’s often madness as runs in old families – there was the Derwents over at Brassington- every second generation one or other of them died in the loony bin……But this boy. Yes, he was a devil right enough.’

JM; ‘What did they do to him?’

Charwoman: ‘They’d abolished hanging by then – or else he was too young. I can’t remember it all now. They found him guilty. It may have been Bostol or Broadsand – one of those places beginning with “B” as they sent him to.’

JM: ‘What was the name of the boy?’

Housemaid: ‘ Michael – can’t remember his last name. It’s ten years ago that it happened – one forgets. Italian sort of name – like a picture. Someone who paints pictures – Raffle, that’s it..’

JM: ‘Michael Rafiel?’

Housemaid: ‘ That’s right! There was a rumour as went about that his father being so rich got him wangled out of prison. An escape like the Bank Robbers. But I think as that was just a talk…’

 

–          Miss Crooke (C) to Jane Marple during the coffee at the Old Manor House:

C : ‘Oh, do forgive me Miss Marple, but really do you know, I shouldn’t drink that if I were you. Coffee, I mean, at this time of night. You won’t sleep properly.’

JM: ‘Oh,do you think so?’ I am quite used to coffee in the evening.’

C : ‘Yes, but this is very strong, good coffee. I should advise you not drink it.’

JM: ‘I see what you mean….’

Dulce Et Decorum Est

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I picked up an English essay of my eldest for his school assignment. In the pages there were his teacher’s scribbles containing rooms for improvement.

I didn’t often read his homework, for I trusted him with the responsibilities. Also, I understood English had not been his forte – not because he loved Maths, but I quietly believed that he had not been taught properly about literature at his primary school. Ouch.

I began to read his words…

The following was an excerpt from his analysis on ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen.

‘The second stanza corybantic start of ‘Gas! Gas!’ instantly puts you into the scene. When all the men are struggling to put on their ill-fitting masks onto their faces just in time. Owen then cleverly describes that one man wasn’t able to put his mask in time and died in a horrific way, using the simile “like a man in fire or lime”. He conveys his feelings of being helpless to a victim of gas attack. It is shown when he (Owen) says, and I quote from the poem, “In all my dream before mg helpless sight, He plunges at me guttering, choking, drowning’ displaying through the use of active verbs, that he relives the events almost every night. This is an example of ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ when someone witnesses a person or people who have died before their eyes and thinks that they could not have whilst could not have, even if they tried. He carries on by saying that the victim looked like he had seen the devil and his face was writhed. He finishes by saying that he resents the fact that people believe the lie, “Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Patrio Mori.”

A long quote. It would have been incomplete had I excluded the rest and stopped after the third sentence.

Corybantic. The use of active verbs. The lie told in the Latin words that meant ‘it is sweet

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Wilfred Owen was killed in action a week before the Armistice.

and right to die for your country.’

I agreed with his teacher that ‘corybantic’ is a fantastic word for a twelve year old (at the time he submitted the assignment). To my mind it was  much more than just ‘fantastic.’

At his age, I wished I could have had written such a paragraph that summed up the consequences of a propaganda. Moreover, I was fascinated that we seemed to have shared the hindsight that World War I could have been prevented to occur.

Readers,  he was the boy I mentioned in About Christie’s Fan. Now a teenager, he would reason that his Lego collection was a better companion than a trip with his mother to a museum.  For during the period of reading Christie’s books I used to ramble about the Great War that was far from great to my children. I had taken him and his sisters to various sites in London and England that still bore all the hallmarks of the two world wars. Consequently, he  was used to my talking randomly about the changing map of Europe in the aftermath, No Man’s Land or derogatory terms like ‘the Hunts.’ Personally, trying to make sense every young life taken and wasted from every corner of England was very tough.

During the journeys my children looked bored and inattentive towards their mother’s ‘interest.’ Little did I realise that they might have learnt a thing or two.

After reading his essay I felt somehow having raving mad about the subject proved to be useful. I hoped he began to see to the geometrical aspects of words and their wonderful symmetry, of which were as fine as Fibonacci numbers.

I believe it’s a mum’s jobs to ‘keep raving.’ Keep telling your children what you did, what you observed, what mistakes you made, what you learnt from the ‘saints’ and the ‘rudes’ ones in life. Keep saying your (proper for their age) jokes, your (not too serious) worries and your fears.

Often I thought mine wouldn’t have noticed, but maybe I was wrong.  They had. They had taken in your passion. Your tones of voice. Your viewpoints. Your responses. Your reactions. Your conclusion.

I began to believe my son actually liked English. Perhaps he liked English more than he thought. His promising essay (that then earnt him level 7B) meant  I ought to give him more appreciation to his hard work.

I’d better find more of his essays (while pretending hoovering his room).