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.
Yet it is Tiglath Pileser, which shows Miss Marple how the plot was executed.
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.
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 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)
Edmund Swettenham (Mrs. Swettenham’s son)
George Rydesdale (Chief Constable at Middlershire)
Miss Hinchcliffe (lives at Boulders with Miss Murgatroyd)
Julia Simmons (Letitia’s distant cousin)
Julian Harmon (the Vicar)
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?
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.’