Notes On By The Pricking Of My Thumbs

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1968

Motive for Murder: Insecurity (to children) and Identity

Plot: ‘Was it your poor child?’ asked Mrs. Lancaster. She was  looking at the fireplace in the sitting room at Sunny Ridge as she enquired Mrs. Beresford, whom looked perplexed with the other’s remark as a result.

Tommy and Tuppence went to the nursing home to visit to Tommy’s great aunt Ada Fanshawe. Three weeks later they went back  for Miss Fanshawe’s funeral.

When Tuppence was in Aunt Ada’s room sorting out her effects, she was drawn to a small oil painting of a house adjacent to a canal. Apparently it was given by Mrs. Lancaster. Tuppence asked Tommy for another trip so she could ask her whether she would have wanted the painting returned. To her dismay, the other had left the home a week beforehand. Her departure intrigued Tuppence.

Furthermore, she remembered to have seen the house once from the train.  As her tracking Mrs. Lancaster did not come to fruition, she was convinced that if she had found the house then she would have found Mrs. Lancaster. Hot on her trail, along the way she met a “friendly witch”, found a dismembered doll in a chimney of an old house and discovered a cold case of children murders.

Little did Tuppence realise that she was about to uncover a criminal gang. At the same time, she had fallen into a trap set by a serial killer, whom was still at large after many years.

 

Highlights:

 By The Pricking of My Thumbs, something wicked this way comes

 2nd witch in Macbeth, Act IV scene 1.

Macbeth and The Witches by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

Having mixed bitumen in the paint, Sir Joshua aimed to create a wet effect on the surface as the lights reflected upon it. His experiment caused the darkening throughout the painting – over 200 years already and counting. Now part of the National Trust Collection, it is hung in the Square Dining Room in Petworth House, West Sussex, England.

Meet a touch of The Sittaford Mystery and Murder Is Easy with a hint of Third Girl and 4.50 From Paddington in the background. The plot combined two of Christie’s 1930s smashing crimes peppered with Ariadne Oliver’s imagination and Miss Marple’s amusing memory of her railway journey.

To begin with, Tuppence’s aptness would remind readers a lot of Emily Trefusis (The Sittaford Mystery); the latter only being much younger. Next, Tuppence’s reminiscence about the house in the painting to Tommy was similar to Miss Marple’s recollection of seeing a girl throwing a doll to a man who was sleeping in another train . Thirdly, Mrs. Copleigh’s , the owner of B&B where Tuppence stayed at Sutton Chancellor was very much like Mrs. Curtis (The Sittaford Mystery). Their knowledge on local gossips and constant chattering were equally entertaining. Lastly, the ending when Tuppence eventually faced the killer. Her struggle for not to be the next victim was near enough  to the ex-fiance of the self-made peer (Murder Is Easy) as she wrestled her life against a psychopath.

Moving on, someone had been watching Tuppence’s move in the village. Like Ariadne Oliver in Third Girl, she was then hit on the head and regained consciousness in the hospital. Unlike Mrs. Oliver, Tuppence was not doing her detective job at the time she was knocked off in the church yard. Instead, she merely helped the vicar to find a child’s grave .

In the story, somebody had to die because she recognised a killer on the loose. When this was passed on to Tommy’s great aunt, sadly she had to pay with her life. Likewise, Lavinia Pinkerton (Murder Is Easy)’s number was up in a hit-and-run accident on her way to report the face of the killer to Scotland Yard.

Everything was tranquil at Sunny Ridge – or was it? Not until the nursing home’s doctor alerted Tommy about his suspicion concerning the death of Mrs. Moody of overdose morphine. By the time Tuppence had lay unconscious in the church ground.

What might have delighted Christie’s fans perhaps were the comeback of duo husband and wife Tommy and Tuppence Beresford;  twenty-seven years after the wartime N or M (1941).

Why Macbeth?

I was much fascinated with the quote used from Macbeth. What was very special about?

Certainly there was a “Lady Macbeth” and a witch – a friendly one. It was the impression in Tuppence’s head when she met “the witch” woman for the first time. Moreover, who were then the other two witches in the plot?

Also, what was the prophecy the authoress offering? At the end of the story, it was rather unusual that Christie let quite a few of some “loose ends” remained unanswered. It was as if she left the homework for readers.

With this in mind I came across an article about the discovery of Lauren Olivier’s screenplay of Macbeth, which did not make into a picture. The project was abandoned in 1958, following which the actor claimed that there were no surviving scripts.

It contained some alterations from the original Macbeth. One of them was Lady Macbeth had a miscarriage, which mirrored with the sad occurrence to Vivien Leigh. More importantly, it fit with one of Christie’s characters although “she” terminated the foetus; the decision which haunted her later on.

Did Christie have any knowledge about the loss? She might have been, owing to her wide circles of distinguished people from a wide range of professions. Did she feel it was appropriate to base a character upon Ms. Leigh after her death in 1967?

In Olivier’s  Macbeth,  it concluded with a fight between Macbeth and Macduff. In Christie’s version, it was a fight between two women.

Who was Macbeth in the novel do you think?

The Twists:

– The dismembered doll found in the chimney at the House on the Canal

Featured in "Call A Midwife" drama series on BBC - at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Prefab house; one of the legacies of the sixties era. Tuppence passed some of them during her search of the House on the Canal.

– Great Aunt Ada’s letter in the secret drawer of Great Uncle William’s desk

– The boat in the painting

– The Perrys’ York and Lancaster red and white stripe roses

-The Priest Hole

Cast of Characters:

Miss Ada Fanshawe (Tommy’s great aunt)

Albert (the Beresfords’ servant)

Alice Perry (Amos’s wife – the friendly witch)

Amos Perry (Alice’s husband; both lived at the back of the House on the Canal)

Mr. and Mrs. Copleigh (the B&B’s owner at Sutton Chancellor)

Deborah Beresford (Tommy and Tuppence’s daughter)

Mrs. Emma Boscowan (a sculptor and the ex-wife of Bosowan, an artist who painted the House on the Canal)

Mrs. E. Moody (Miss Fanshawe’s fellow resident at Sunny Ridge)

Mr. Eccles (the lawyer to Mrs. Lancaster’s relative)

Ivor Smith (a private investigator – Tommy’s old friend)

Major General Sir Josiah Penn (Tommy’s acquaintance whom he met at a conference)

Mrs. Julia Lancaster (Miss Fanshawe’s fellow resident at Sunny Ridge)

Dr. Murray (the doctor at the nursing home)

Nellie Bligh (Sir Peter’s former secretary)

Nurse O’Keefe (worked at Sunny Ridge)

Miss Packard (the matron/superintendent at Sunny Ridge)

Sir Philip Starke (the owner of the House on the Canal).

Mrs. Prudence Beresford (a.k.a. Tuppence)

The Vicar of Sutton Chancellor

Tommy Beresford (Tuppence’s husband)

The Most Fascinating Character: Ada Fanshawe

Ada Fanshawe with her feistiness and short-fused temper was easily perceived as a difficult elderly. Yet Nurse O’Keefe called her a gran old lady; her appreciation to her charge’s sharp mind. Likewise, her old fling Sir Josiah Penn recalled her as “pretty as a picture. Sprightly, too! Gay! Regular tease…’ Tuppence reckoned Ada’s glee for outliving her old friends.

Certainly Ada had the wits about her, which her great nephew had not the least idea. What a fur stole could tell about a woman for a man, anyhow? Funnily enough, many would have found it hard to believe either contrasting or uncomprehending accounts from strangers concerning a relative.

Through Aunt Ada Christie seemed to have tickled readers’ mind to realise senior moments from a different light. The authoress talked about the issue of arrangement for a nursing home at length in the first chapter.  According  to her, not only was it a matter of choosing the right one but also thinking of the alternative should the choice be underappreciated or even rejected. Although in the story she made aunt Ada’s nursing home a comfortable one. Besides, she was a lucky one as she could afford it.

Nowadays, as more people in the UK live longer, the issue has shifted to cost rather than choice.    And it was not so much about the prospect of being poisoned or having overdosed at the premises that was worrying but neglect and abuse in the hands of the staff.

I sincerely hope these would not make aunt Ada turn in her grave.

 

Clues:

Alice Perry:

‘…Miss Marchment I think it was, but it might have been something else. – you wouldn’t believe the things I used to make up about her. Really, I suppose, I hardly ever saw or spoke to her. Sometimes I think she was just terribly shy and neurotic. Reporters’d come down after her and things like that, but she never would see them. At other times I used to think – well, you’ll say I’m foolish-I used to think quite sinister things about her. You know, that she was afraid of being recognized. Perhaps she wasn’t an actress at all. Perhaps the police were looking for her. Perhaps she was a criminal of some kind. It’s exciting sometimes, making things up in your head….’

Mrs. Copleigh:

‘I daresay as you(Tuppence)’ll have read about it all the papers at the time. Let’s see, near as possible it would have been twenty years ago. You’ll have read about it for sure. Child murders. Little girl of nine years old first. Didn’t come home from school one day.Whole neighbourhood was out searching for her. Dingley Copse she was found in. Strangled, she’d been. It makes me shiver still to think of it. Well, that was the first, then about three weeks later another. The other side of Market Basing, that was. But within the district, as you might say. A man with a car could have done it easy enough.’

‘And then there were others. Not for a month or two sometimes. And then there’d be another one. Not more than a couple of miles from her, one was; almost in the village, though.’

‘All I say is there was something that wasn’t right about Sir Philip. He was too fond of children, I think, and it wasn’t in a natural kind of way’.

Mrs. Emma Boscowan:

‘Well, that boat wasn’t there, not when I saw it last. William never painted that boat. When it was exhibited there was no boat of any kind.’

Mrs. Julia Lancaster:

‘I wondered. I thought perhaps you (Tuppence)’d come for that reason. Someone ought to come some time. Perhaps they will. And looking at the fireplace, the way you did. That’s where it is, you know. Behind the fireplace’.

Prudence Beresford:

‘It’s just a feeling I have – something to do with time. Time goes at different pace in different places. Some places you come back to, adn you feel that time has been bustling along at a terrific rate and that all sorts of things will have happened – and changed….’

Nurse O’ Keefe:

‘Oh, she (Ada) was that (had been a tartar), indeed. But she had a grand spirit. Nothing got her down. And she was no fool either. You’d be surprised the way she got to know things. Sharp as a needle, she was.’

The Vicar:

‘..Somebody wrote to me. A Major Waters, he asked if by any possibility a child had been buried here. I looked it up in the parish register, of course, but there was no record of any such name, All the same, I came out here and looked round the stones…’

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