Rating: 4.5 out of five
Year of Publication: 1962
Motive for Murder: Hatred and Money
Plot: Heather Badcock buys a new blue taffeta dress for a very special occasion: meeting Marina Gregg, a famous actress. She and her husband host St. John’s Ambulance’s Summer Fete on the grounds of their new home at Gossington Hall.
The quiet St. Mary Mead is awakened by the prospect of sighting a celebrity. Among the guests of honour on the day is Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple’s old friend. They are coming for a small reception in the house.
On the landing the host and the hostess receive their guests. When Heather Badcock finally comes face to face with her favourite actress, there are words she has spoken that seem to shock the other. Further on, she was seen to stare at a picture on the wall opposite, still giving Badcock her frozen look.
The day after Mrs. Bantry telephones Miss Marple. For Badcock’s cocktail was apparently spiked; in front of others her body flopped onto the floor and her heartbeat stopped. She died from an overdose of Calmo, an anti-depressant drug. Who would have poisoned the woman in public?
A few days beforehand Miss Marple happened to meet the deceased. She remembers Badcock telling her about meeting the actress in her youth in Bermuda. Suddenly, Badcock reminds the female sleuth of someone she used to know.
It is fairly to say that I might be a little biased here about the book rating. First, the killing of Heather Badcock is swift and fantastic from the murder plot’s point of view. Secondly, the circumstances of the murders – yes they repeat, don’t they- are not as intriguing as Christie’s interpretation of Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot. Thirdly, I personally like various domestic scenes and senior moments that are both amusing or bewildering.
The geriatric theme in the book, described in great length, is unprecedented. It sets apart from other Miss Marple’s books in which she is now in a situation where she is confined at home due to her age. Having been perceived too old to live independently by Dr. Haydock, a carer is required: a Mrs. Knight. Unfortunately her employer is not pleased with her in the least. Furthermore, she can no longer do anything in the garden –no bending, no stooping, no digging; enough to frustrate her. Fortunately the presence of a young cheerful cleaner Cherry Baker lightens the situation. Yet the woman does not see eye to eye with Mrs. Knight. Hence small disputes over trivial matters. Add Baker’s singing while vacuuming within the earshot of the other and the sighing from Miss Marple becomes more often.
In Christie’s work aging issues adds flavour to her stories. In the early days of her success, Poirot’s retirement comes to a halt after a few weeks growing vegetable narrow (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926). Another plan is ended when the sleuth then commits to twelve cases in The Labours of Hercules (1947). He ‘moans’ to Ariadne Oliver about his age when a young woman turned up at his flat and on seeing him saying ‘you’re too old…(to help her with the case)’ in Third Girl (1968).
Anyhow, Miss Marple has never been young since she appeared in Tuesday’s Crime Club series in 1927. In the book, she sends her obedient carer on useless errands and slips out for a walk towards rows of new houses on the other part of the village – so called ‘Development’. It is while in the neighbourhood she meets Heather Bradcock after falling over outside her home.
Dolly Bantry’s account on Badcock’s murder in addition to Miss Marple’s impression on the deceased intrigues her to work on the case. Dermot Craddock is now a Chief-Inspector and they are reunited once more, just as in the good old days, when his godfather introduced him to the ‘super pussy’ in A Murder Is Announced (1950).
What is more, a dead body in Gossington Hall once more. This time is on the landing area. The former residence of the Bantrys is now owned by the actress and her director husband, Jason Rudd, owing to its location near a film studio where she has been filming. To the actress, Gossington Hall is her ‘Camelot.’
As a major character, Marina Gregg resembles Louise Leidner (Murder In Mesopotamia, 1936) and Rita Vandermeyer (The Secret Adversary, 1922). To begin with, the three women are very beautiful, middle-aged, risk-taking and seem to be deeply unhappy despite their privileges. Also, they are in a crossroads in their life.
There are quite a few similarities between Miss Gregg and Dr. Eric Leidner’s wife. While one is portrayed as The Lady of Shallot, the other is Christie’s imagination of Keats’s La Belle Sans Da Merci.
Credits are due for this approach of imagery to a personae. For Christie has given spirit anew to the respective poems in terms of its symbolism and similes. The book title, taken from a line in Tennyson’s poem, appears to pinpoint the timing of Lancelot’s reflection in the mirror as he approaches. The mirror crack’d from side to side, “The curse comes upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…
I would rather think that Marina Gregg could have been La Belle Sans Da Merci in its true sense nevertheless. By the same token, I am in two minds about Louise Leidner being a woman without mercy. Admittedly, she is ruthless and selfish, but her feeling frightened with the death threats she has received is genuine. As for Gregg, she has abandoned three children she adopted, having felt ‘bored’ about them. Children as publicity stunt only? (how we have heard a lot about this!).
The ending suggests that Jason Rudd might have poisoned his wife in her sleep. A similar sad ending to the life of Louise Leidner’s and Rita Vandermeyer’s; having been killed by the men who loved them. Can love be as cruel as Christie imagined?
Yet there is something in Miss Marple’s verdict about the case that I cannot fathom. It concerns an illness Heather Badcock had when she went to see Marina Gregg in Bermuda many years before. Miss Marple said that Badcock specifically had mentioned the name to Gregg.
As a result, I scanned the relevant pages to find the name but did not succeed. And therefore I am puzzled. Readers, can you help? It is a crucial clue, as it helps make sense of things. More importantly, the name will confirm its association with the picture Marina Gregg was looking beyond her ardent fan at that time.
Finally, was Marina Gregg inspired by Vivian Leigh ? If you know what I mean.
To sum up, the book has become my most favourite of Miss Marple’s to date.
-Marina Gregg looks at a picture of the reproduction of Giacomo (Giovanni?) Bellinis’s ‘Laughing Madonna’ hung on the opposite wall while receiving Heather Badcock on the landing
– Gladys Dixon, who was serving drinks during the reception, says to Miss Marple’s cleaner woman that Heather Badcock deliberately spilled her cocktail on her new dress
– Marina Gregg’s coffee is tampered with arsenic poison
-Gladys Dixon goes on holiday as soon as she has talked to Miss Marple
-Arthur Badcock, Heather’s husband, was Marina Gregg’s first husband. Later he is arrested for murder
-Lola Brewster once threatened Marina Gregg with a pistol
The Most Fascinating Character: Jason Rudd
Known to his wife as ‘Jinks’, he is Marina Gregg’s latest husband. The famous film director has a clown’s big sad mouth; far from being the handsome Lancelot. According to Mrs. Bantry, his appearance is not a match to his wife’s outstanding beauty. Nonetheless, he has a pleasant voice and an impenetrable mind, just as a ‘Mr. Brown’ in The Secret Adversary. Moreover, his words are guarded well and therefore his self-control baffles the Chief-Inspector Dermot Craddock.
He has been married to Gregg for two years when they bought Gossington Hall and moved into it. He adores her and has loved her since they were young. Most probably at the time when her career started to take off whilst he was not a big name yet. Then Gregg married to other men before settling down with Rudd. The truth is that he has not given up despite Marina Gregg’s insecurities and madness.
Unbeknown to him, his wife was married before her Hollywood days and then left him to become an actress. The ex-husband has changed his name and reside in St. Mary Mead a few years before Gregg and Rudd’s presence in the village. Also, he was among the guests in the small reception on the Fete day.
During their marriage Rudd feels the immense responsibility to protect Gregg’s feelings. For the actress has suffered from depression for many years and cannot accept the fact that her only son from previous marriage is disabled.
In the meantime, Ella Zielinsky, his Social Secretary, loves Rudd. She has worked with him before his marrying Gregg. Yet her hating Rudd’s wife is due to her making things difficult for her husband. Furthermore, Zielinsky is able to conclude the writer of death threat notes to Gregg.
Having been aware with the continual conflicts between two women, he I suppose has tried his best to balance the situation. He loves his wife, but his secretary is indispensable. Yet Zielinsky dies a few weeks after Badcock’s death and it gives Rudd a big shock: he knows who did it.
What’s the end of a man who has been tortured by the woman he loves?
Cast of Characters:
Ardwyck Fenn (Marina’s old friend, an old admirer who turns up at the reception)
Arthur Badcock (Marina’s first husband, Heather Badcock’s husband)
Dolly Bantry (Miss Marple’s old friend, the former owner of Gossington Hall)
Cherry Baker (Miss Marple’s cleaner woman)
Chief-Inspector Dermot Craddock
Ella Zielinsky (Jason Rudd’s secretary)
Inspector Frank Cornish
Gladys Dixon (Cherry’s friend, who works at a film studio where Rudd is directing)
Dr. Gilchirst (Marina’s doctor, who stays in Gossington Hall)
Giuseppe (the Italian butler at Gossington Hall)
Hailey Preston (Jason Rudd’s Public Relation Officer)
Dr. Haydock (Miss Marple’s doctor and an old friend – first appeared in The Murder At The Vicarage)
Heather Badcock (Arthur’s wife, the Secretary of St. John’s Ambulance in Much Benham)
Jason Rudd (Marina’s husband)
Lola Brewster (ex-wife of Eddie Groves, Marina’s former husband)
Margot Bence (Marina’s adopted daughter)
Sergeant William Tiddler (a police who is into films and celebrity world)
Ella Zielinsky (to Dolly Bantry):
‘…You’ve got to keep her (Marina Gregg) happy, you see; and it’s not really easy, I suppose, to keep people happy. Unless-that is-they-they are….
It’s more her ups and downs are so violent. You know- far too happy one moment, far too pleased with everything and delighted with everything and wonderful she feels. Then of course some little thing happens and down she goes to the opposite extreme.’
Dolly Bantry (to Miss Marple):
‘She [Marina Gregg] had a kind of frozen look, as though she’d seen something that- oh, dear me, how hard it is to describe things. Do you remember the Lady of Shallot? The mirror crack’d from side to side: “The doom has come upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…’
Heather Badcock (to Miss Marple):
‘She [Marina Gregg] and her husband. I forget his name- he’s a producer, I think, or a director – Jason something. But Marina Gregg, she’s lovely, isn’t she? Of course she hasn’t been in so many picture of late years – she was ill for a long time. But I still think there’s never anybody like her. Did you see her in Carmanella? And the Price of Love, and Mary of Scotland? She’s not so young any more, but she’ll always be a wonderful actress. I’ve always been a terrific fan of hers. When I was a teenager I used to dream about her. The thrill of my life was when there was a big show in aid of the St. John’s Ambulance in Bermuda, and Marian Gregg came to open it. I was mad with excitement, and then on the very day I went down with a temperature and the doctor said I couldn’t go. But I wasn’t going to be beaten. I didn’t actually feel too bad. So I got up and put a lot of make-up on my face and went along. I was introduced to her and she talked to me for quite three minutes and gave me her autograph. It was wonderful. I’ve never forgotten that day.’