‘A doctor’s life, I always think, is so noble and self-sacrificing’
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.
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 tart, Yorkshire pudding and roast beef, ginger cakes, peach flan and chicken curry were greatly appreciated but not the mushroom soup unfortunately. I wondered whether Christie the latter was her least favourite food?
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.
‘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.
‘It’s no business of his [the family doctor]. Let him stick to pills and powders and National Health [NHS]’.
‘It wasn’t the mushrooms. They were perfectly all right’.
‘…None of my sons are good. Crowd of vultures, waiting for me to die, that’s their real occupation in life…’
‘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 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