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.

slide_325262_3114435_free

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.

shirburns

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.

ph16

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).

helen-baxendale-jez-c-self

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)

skywomenfilmtelevisionawards2011insidexa_k4zx920hl

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.’

Advertisements

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.

bddea1370bf8ce6247ad5e0ff77aecda

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.

42cec02fd5f80fe4f86df6e1d5329068

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.

jessicahynes

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.

nemesis_1_lg

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.

220px-three_sisters_cover_1901

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

st-peter-and-st-paul-church-northleach-oxfordshire-cotswolds-uk-ec8j3x

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.

x_5adc25d6

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

hyqieb0

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

f0155bf5d226e186e2be63cf427bd467

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).

 

Notes On The Body In The Library

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1942

Motive for Crimes: Wealth

Plot:

‘Is that you, Jane?’

Miss Marple was very much surprised.

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’s The King Copethua and The Beggar Maid in 1884. Now it is in Tate Gallery Britain, London, UK.

‘Yes, it’s Jane. You’re up very early, Dolly.’ Mrs. Bantry’s voice came breathless and agitated over the wires.

‘The most awful thing has happened.’

‘Oh, my dear.’

‘We’ve just found a body in the library.’

For a moment Miss Marple thought her friend had gone mad.

‘You’ve found a what?’

‘I know. One doesn’t believe it, does one? I mean, I thought they only happened in books. I had to argue for hours with Arthur this morning before he’d even go down and see.’

Miss Marple tried to collect herself. She demanded breathlessly: ‘But whose body is it?’

‘It’s a blonde.’

‘A what?’

‘A blonde. A beautiful blonde – like books again. None of us have ever seen her before. She’s just lying in the library, dead. That’s why you’ve got to come up at once.’

‘You want me to come up?’

‘Yes, I’m sending the car down for you.’

Miss Marple said doubtfully: ‘Of course,dear, if you think I can be any of comfort to you –‘

‘Oh, I don’t want comfort. But you’re so good at bodies.’

‘Oh, no, indeed. My little successes have been mostly theoretical.’

‘But you’re very good at murders. She’s been murdered, you see, strangled. What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean. That’s why I want you to come and help me find out who did it and unravel the mystery and all that. It really is rather thrilling, isn’t it?’

‘Well, of course, my dear, if I can be of any help to you.’

Highlights:

In 283 words the plot is summed up: Dolly Bantry is marching orders as an urgent matter arising: her family’s reputation is at stake. She realises what St. Mary Mead would think of the body of a young woman with somewhat tawdry and cheap appearance in their home. There is little her husband, Colonel Bantry, can do but shows his defiant silence.

Mrs. Bantry means business. Nonetheless it is unlikely that her presence nor her views would be listened to in the investigation and therefore this is where her old friend Miss Marple comes in. For the gentle spinster has a wide collection of village parallels which depict human behaviour and their reactions. She is then expected to produce a rabbit of out Mrs. Bantry’s hat, as concluded by Sir Henry Clithering who appears in the second half the story.

Furthermore, as the Chief Gossippers Miss Hartnell and Miss Wetherby set off to speculate on the suspects, Mrs. Bantry has taken her friend to stay at the Majestic Hotel no sooner than the victim is identified as a former dancer Ruby Keene.

Enter Basil Blake, the young man who lives near the Bantrys’ and is infamously associated with late night ‘wild parties’ – mind, a naked woman in the bath tub is quite shocking over seventy years ago. It seems fitting to suppose that he and Keene know each other, particularly that he’s been seen at the hotel. What is more, he later admits to have dumped the body in Gossington Hall.

The disabled but rich Conway Jefferson drives away the attention from Blake for a while. Having reported Keene for being missing ‘out of concern, Jefferson who stays in the hotel along with his son-in-law Mark Gaskell and his daughter-in-law Adelaide (see The Most Fascinating Character) is evidently besotted by Keene. He tells the police that he would have

Emma Williams as Ruby Keene in 2004’s adaptation

adopted the eighteen-year-old girl; a decision that has been met with opposition from both Mark and Adelaide owing to his father-in-law having only met her over a month ago. There is another thing, too (see The Twists below).

The domineering personality of Jefferson, which is in contrast to the tortoise-like Colonel Bantry is a deliberate droll, as well as the hurting pride of Inspector Slack (of St. Mary Mead police) shadowed by his superiors from two different counties in addition to the former Scotland Yard Inspector Sir Henry. The latter is conveniently a friend of Jefferson’s (being a millionaire) and Miss Marple ( ‘The old lady knows everything that goes on in the village, that’s true enough. But she’ll be out of her depth here,’ says Inspector Slack to Colonel Melchett).

The dynamics among the male characters is more intriguing with Raymond Starr, the tennis coach and Keene’s dancing partner, who makes a move to Adelaide for her money and the Maleficent Mark who is almost broke. Both Adelaide and Mark gather that despite their father-in-law’s life spirit, he won’t live long.

As things get tensed among the men, the second body is found in a quarry: a burnt body of a female’s in George Bartlett’s car. He is the last person to have danced with Keene before she decides to go back to her room in the night of the murder. Meanwhile, the teenage Pamela Reeves has not gone back after the Girls’ Guide Rally in the same night.

How the two murders are linked is for you, readers, to find out.

As far as I am concerned, the book often comes out in the top ten of Christie’s. I’d rather think this is unjustified, for The Moving Finger (published first in the US in July 1942) is as intriguing. Furthermore, as Gossington Hall is revisited in The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side (1962), the now widow Mrs. Bantry reunites with Miss Marple to solve the poisoning of Heather Badcock in front of a small audience at the former library (sadly it has been knocked down to make for an open plan floor when the house was sold to the actress Marina Gregg). Some similarities can be drawn from the latter book, for just as The Body… Christie dwells on the raw emotions that surge as a result of the victims who have upset the killers.

I find it fascinating that there is a sombre mood in The Body…, which is unlike its predecessor Evil Under The Sun (1941). First, whilst Poirot is confident with his grey cells to catch the perpetrators, Miss Marple has doubts and seems beside herself. Second, the setting from Jolly Rogers Hotel to St. Mary Mead pinpoints the authoress’s concerns regarding the news from the front. Christie might have written The Body… during the London Bombing and amidst the uncertainty of the situation. But she managed to carry on writing. Her observation to the era  which still upholds the Victorian values on men’s attitude towards women is hard hitting but honest.

What I like most from is the vulnerability of each character. Keene, for example, is not a nice girl full of life after all. ‘She likes butting in,’ says Peter Carmody, the son of Adelaide’s. As for Edward, Jefferson’s valet, Keene would have been quite a schemer in another five years (see Clues). Her contemporary is Elsa Greer (Five Little Pigs, 1943). Likewise, Adelaide Jefferson reveals something to Mrs. Bantry despite her looking composed and a woman with a class.

Lastly is Miss Marple’s comparing Jefferson and Keene’s relationship to the tale of King Copethua and the Beggar Maid. Jefferson is the kind-hearted ‘king’ while Keene is Penelophon the maid the king has spotted on the street and taken her to his court. The king in the tale marries her after a month, but in Christie’s world Keene is killed after a month’s dancing at the hotel.

I wonder what has inspired Christi to draw the parallels; is it her feeling fascinated by the painting or her favourite poet Lord Tennyson’s The Beggar Maid? I wonder whether it is none of those but to remind women of the seemingly delicate Penelophon but a feisty one as the king’s mistress in the court.

Moreover is Reeves’s daydreaming, which sounds like Aesop’sThe Milkmaid and Her Pail Fable (see Clues). Only for Christie the life of these women must end. And yet she has left readers to guess how both Keene and Reeves actually die.

Finally, ‘A Blonde In The Library’ would make a better title. What do you think?

The Twists:

  • Josie Turner’s face turns angry when she comes to identify Ruby Keene’s body at Gossington Hall
  • Conway Jefferson has left Ruby Keene £50,000 in a trust until she turns 25
  • Rubby Keene stops her dance with George Bartlett because of her feeling sleepy and having a subsequent headache
  • The finger nails of the body in the library are short and chipped, but not trimmed. Her dress is cheap and her make-up is tawdry.
  • Pamela Reeves has a meeting with Mark Gaskell prior to her death

 

Cast of Characters:

Adelaide Jefferson (Conway Jefferson’s daughter-in-law)

The Beggar Maid Her arms across her breast she laid; She was more fair than words can say; Barefooted came the beggar maid Before the king Cophetua. In robe and crown the king stept down, To meet and greet her on her way; ‘It is no wonder,’ said the lords, ‘She is more beautiful than day.’ As shines the moon in clouded skies, She in her poor attire was seen; One praised her ankles, one her eyes, One her dark hair and lovesome mien. So sweet a face, such angel grace, In all that land had never been. Cophetua sware a royal oath: ‘This beggar maid shall be my queen!’ Lord Alfred Tennyson

Albert Briggs (a labourer at Venn’s quarry where a body in a burnt car is found)

The Bantrys (Colonel Arthur and Dolly)

Basil Blake (the Bantrys’s neighbour)

Conway Jefferson (a magnate and disabled man)

Dinah Lee (Basil’s wife)

Edward (Jefferson’s valet)

Florence Small (Pamela’s friend)

George Bartlett (a hotel guest who dances the last with Keene)

Miss Hartnell (a resident at St. Mary Mead)

Superintendent Harper (of Radfordshire Police)

Dr. Haydock (the forensic doctor who examines the body in the library)

Sir Henry Clithering (the ‘jobbing gardener’ who attends the case in a personal capacity)

Hugo McLean (Adelaide’s man – with whom she wants to marry)

Josephine Turner (Ruby Keene’s cousin)

Lorrimer (the Bantrys’s butler)

Mark Gaskell (Jefferson’s son-in-law)

Colonel Melchett (the Chief Constable of Glenshire)

Dr. Meltcaff (the forensic doctor who examines the burnt body at the quarry)

Peter Carmody (Adelaide’s son)

Raymond Starr (Josie’s dancing partner at the hotel and a tennis coach)

Constable Palk (St. Mary Mead’s police constable)

Mr. Prestcott (the hotel manager)

The Reeves (Pamela’s parents)

Inspector Slack (Palk’s superior)

Miss Wetherby (a resident at St. Mary Mead)

The Most Fascinating Character: Adelaide Jefferson

‘I’ve never been Frank’s widow to him- I’ve been Frank’s wife’

Mrs. Jefferson to Dolly Bantry

Tara Fitzgerald, actress and director, as Addie in 2004’s TV adaptation of the book. She is playing in BBC’s The Musketeers Series.

The loyal and obedient daughter-in-law of Conway Jefferson, Adelaide is a widow when Jefferson’s late son Frank marries her. Hence the presence of Peter, a bright ten-year-old boy who provides Miss Marple with a crucial evidence.

A fatal accident extinguishes Frank’s life and Mark’s wife Rosamund but spares the old Jefferson – now is disabled from waist down.

Adelaide depends on her father-in-law financially. For he has no idea that his son has left Adelaide and Peter little money due to the bad investment. Because of Peter she puts up with Jefferson’s domineering personality and continues to do so until the Summer.

For a few years she has known Hugo Mc Lean, of whom has proposed her. But then she has made up her mind to tell Jefferson that she would accept his proposal and that means she would leave him. In the meantime, Raymond Starr has made advances to her although little does he know that she is not as rich as he has thought.

Ruby Keene’s getting closer to Jefferson worries Adelaide. She does not like her for what she has been after; to Mrs. Bantry she concludes Keene as ‘a decided little gold digger.’ Furthermore she reveals her thinking of killing Keene to secure her son’s future. ‘Peter’s whole future depends on Jeff. Jeff practically looked on him as a grandson, or so I thought, but of course, he wasn’t a grandson. He was no relation at all. And to think that he was going to be – disinherited!’

When Mrs. Bantry tells Miss Marple about Adelaide’s relationship with Mc Lean and the fact that he is being devoted to the widow, here is Miss Marple’s response: ‘I know. Like Major Bury. He hang around an Anglo-Indian widow for quite ten years. A joke among her friends! In the end she gave in – but unfortunately ten days before they were married she ran away with the chauffeur! Such a nice woman, too and usually so well balanced.’

Did Miss Marple compare Adelaide to the Anglo-Indian widow? Did Adelaide know something else she wouldn’t tell?

Clues:

  • The victims in the words of the witnesses:
  • Ruby Keene

Josephine Turner to Colonel Melchett:

‘Her name was Ruby Keene – her professional name, that is. Her real name was Rosy Legge. Her mother was my mother’s cousin. I’ve known her all my life, but not particularly well, if you know what I mean. I’ve got a lot of cousins – some in business, some on the stage. Ruby was more or less training for a dancer. She had some good engagements last year in panto and that of sort of thing. Not really classy, but good provincial companies. Since then she’s been engaged as one of the dancing partners at the Palais de Danse in Brixwell – South London. It’s a nice respectable place and they look after the girls well, but there isn’t much money in it.

Now this is where I come in. I’ve been dance and bridge hostess at the Majestic in Danemouth for three years. It’s a good job, well paid and pleasant to do. You look after people when they arrive – size them up , of course- some like to be left alone and others are lonely and want to get into the swings of things….

I do a couple of exhibition dances every evening with Raymond. Raymond Starr – he’s the tennis and dancing pro. Well, as it happens, this summer I slipped on the rocks bathing one day and gave my ankle a nasty turn.’

Peter Carmody (PC) to Colonel Melchett and Superintendent Harper (SH):

PC: ‘Well, I didn’t like her much. I think she was rather a stupid sort of girl. Mum and Uncle Mark didn’t like her much either. Only Grandfather. Grandfather wants to see you, by the way. Edward is looking for you.’

SH: ‘So your mother and your Uncle Mark didn’t like Ruby Keene much? Why was that?’

PC: ‘Oh, I don’t know. She was always butting in. And they didn’t like Grandfather making such a fuss of her. I expect,’ said Peter cheerfully,’ that they’re glad she’s dead.’

SH: ‘Did you hear them – er- say so?’

PC: ‘Well, not exactly. Uncle Mark said: “Well, it’s one way out, anyway,” and Mum said: “Yes, but such a horrible one,” and Uncle Mark said it was no good being hypocritical.’

Edward the Valet to Sir Henry:

SH: ‘So you think Ruby Keene was a schemer?’

E: ‘She was quite inexperienced, being so young, but she had the making of a very fine schemer indeed when she’d once got well into her swings, so to speak! In another five years she’d have been an expert at the game!’

– Pamela Reeves

Florence Small(FS) to Miss Marple (MM):

MM: ‘What did Pam tell you?’

FS: ‘It was as we were walking up the lane to the bus – on the way to the rally. She asked me if I could keep a secret and I said “Yes,” and she made me swear not to tell. She was going t Danemouth for a film test after the rally! She’d met a film producer – just back from Hollywood, he was. He wanted a certain type, and he told Pam she was just what he was looking for. He warned her, though. Not to build on it. You couldn’t tell, he said, not until you saw a person photographed. It might be no good at all. It was a kind of Bergner part, he said. You had to have someone quite young for it. A schoolgirl, it was, who changes places with a revue artist and has a wonderful career. Pam’s acted in plays at school and she’s awfully good….’

‘So it was all arranged. Pam was to go into Danemouth after the rally and meet him at his hotel and he’d take her along to the studios (they’d got a small testing studio in Danemouth, he told her). She’d have her test and she could catch the bus home afterwards. She could say she’d been shopping, and he’d let her know the result of the test in a few days, and if it was favourable Mr. Harmsteiter, the boss, would come along and talk to her parents.

II. About The Copethua Complex :

Conway Jefferson to Superintendent Harper and Colonel Melchett:

‘So you must understand that, essentially, I’m a lonely man. I like young people. I enjoy them. Once or twice I’ve played with the idea of adopting some girl or boy. During this last month I got very friendly with the child who’s been killed. She was absolutely natural – completely naive. She chattered on about her life and her experiences – in pantomime, with touring companies, with Mum and Dad as a child in cheap lodgings. Such a different life from any I’ve known! Never complaining, never seeing it as sordid. Just a natural, uncomplaining, hard-working child, unspoilt and charming. Not a lady, perhaps, but thank God, neither vulgar nor – abominable word- ‘lady’like.’

I got more and more fond of Ruby. I decided, gentlemen, to adopt her legally. She would become –by law- my daughter. That, I hope, explains my concern for her and the steps I took when I heard of her unaccountable disappearance.’

III. A Crucial Clue

Peter Carmory to Miss Marple, Dolly Bantry and Sir Henry Clithering:

PC: ‘See, it’s a finger-nail. Her finger-nail! I’m going to label it Finger-nail Of The Murdered Woman and take it back to school. It’s a good souvenir, don’t you think?’

MM: ‘Where did you get it?’

PC: ‘Well, it was a bit of luck, really. Because, of course, I didn’t know she was going to be murdered then. It was before dinner last night. Ruby caught her nail in Josie’s shawl and it tore it. Mum cut it off for her and gave it to me and said put it in the wastepaper basket, and I meant to, but I put it in my pocket instead, and this morning I remembered and looked to see if it was still there and it was, so now I’ve got it as a souvenir.

DB: ‘Disgusting.’

PC: ‘Oh, do you think so?’

Notes On Partners In Crime

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1929

Motive for Crimes: Wealth

Mission: Intelligence

Plot:

Tuppence’s thirst for adventure is fulfilled when Mr. Carter makes a surprise visit to the Beresfords’s home. He proposes Tommy taking over the now defunct ‘The International Detective Agency’ after the capture of Theodore Blunt, whose activities abroad are linked to a famous Russian agent ‘16.’ Tommy is to continue Blunt’s being a private detective while looks out for any blue letters with a Russian stamp on them. As soon as it turns up, the Beresfords must forward it to Mr. Carter.

Handling an array of interesting cases, from the missing girlfriend to an unbreakable alibi, the husband and wife are encountered with a series of fascinating and unprecedented events. Dangers also loom over them from their secret adversaries.

Franscesca Annis as Tuppence and James Warwick Tommy in 1983’s TV series.

Can the duo amateur sleuths accomplish the mission: to capture no. 16?

Highlights:      

Young Adventurers, Ltd.  makes a come back as ‘Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives’ – the couple’s slogan for the firm they run.  Six years after Jane Finn’s affair (see Notes On The Secret Adversary), Mrs. Beresford’s grey cells require exercise.  Playing her part as a demure but very effective secretary, Tuppence shows the same agility and perceptive mind tackling  a curious incident.

This second book of Tommy and Tuppence series has the same light-hearted touch of the sleuthing world as the previous one, published seven years earlier. Moving fast from one case to another, fourteen in total, their beguiling nature will thrill readers to no end. With sleeping enemies and a dangerous mission to achieve, some ‘hiccups’ are bound to happen along the way.

The husband might be the head of the firm, but the wife decides what matters. Or rather, a weary  husband who quietly disagrees the risky steps being taken by his indomitable wife. Nonetheless, she is apt in inventing the first case with a help of an old acquaintance; a good intention on her part that hurts a man’s pride. Tommy then scores in the second case, having found a way to prove the innocence of two people inspired Dr. John Thorndyke.  Summing up, he says: ‘My learned friend forgets. Thorndyke never tells until the last moment. Besides, Tuppence, you and your pal Janet Smith put one over on me last time. This makes us all square.’

Tuppence’s quick-thinking and Tommy’s cautious approach are the opposite attract that make the collaboration a success. Mind, Albert, the page boy Tuppence recruited to watch Rita Vandermeyer in The Secret Adversary comes handy when either of them are in tight places. Furthermore, every prospective client is fed with the agency’s credentials the moment they have stepped into the office. More importantly, his talk is as good as his act as he saves Tommy and Tuppence’s life on separate occasions.

The best aspect of the book is the duo’s humour in role-playing by enlisting various names in the crime genre. Taking his hat off after finding a missing pink pearl, Tommy wears another as Father Brown in The Man In The Mist, being the American McCarthy, trying his hand as Holmes in the mix-up of the US Ambassador’s kitbag on board a liner and Desmond Okewood. Meanwhile, although Tuppence is either Watson or Hastings, she seems to have more imagination than the sidekicks and takes an unexpected move when the net is closing in for No. ’16.’

Father Brown, GK Chesterton’s empathetic character has been adapted on the BBC and the new series were broadcast last January 2013. Mark Williams stars as the protagonist.

My favourite case is The Curious Telegram (I invent the title myself).  A Pole explorer who has returned having been away for two years’ expedition feels something is amiss when he received a telegram from his fiancée. Why didn’t she wish to meet him? After he leaves the office Tuppence points out that the county’s name has been written on the county’s name, which is not a common practice. Her hunch finally leads to the discovery of the ‘missing fiance’ whom has checked herself in into a clinic in Essex.  Furthermore, the scene in which Tuppence looks into the room by climbing the ladder will recall readers’ mind to the similar doing of hers while indentifying Jane Finn’s whereabouts in a nursing home. Above all, what amuses me is not the strange premises, but the very reason as to why the explorer’s fiancée has hidden herself in such establishment.

Full of Christie’s dry wits and humour, this book is nevertheless was written during an extremely difficult time in her life. Kudos to her, quadruple thumbs-up that she kept on writing and most significantly that not an iota of resentment is drawn against the opposite sex. In fact, she encourages the equal partnership between a man and a woman. As far as I am concerned, her hinting at her ordeal is expressed through the Beresfords’s stressing of not taking a divorce case.

In fact, she sent the message of her resilience in the ending. After Tuppence regains her consciousness, Tommy says,‘… we’re going to give it up now, aren’t we? ‘Certainly we are.’ He gives a sigh of relief. ‘I hoped you’d be sensible. After a shock like this..’ ‘It’s not the shock. You know I never mind shocks.’ He murmurs, ‘A rubber bone – indestructible.’ ‘I’ve got something better to do. Something ever so much more exciting. Something I’ve never done before.’ Another project, anyone? You bet.

Lastly, I wish there were more details about No. ’16.’ Who is the agent? As this is not deliberated, I hardly believe she might have been Countess Vera Rossakoff, Poirot’s so-called woman. In the following I omit The Most Fascinating Character owing to her being the perfect criminal and on a par with the fellow whodunits in Sad Cypress, After The Funeral and By The Pricking of My Thumbs (see my respective Notes on the three novels).

The Details of each case in the order of their appearance:

1.       The Missing Girlfriend:

Plot: A man in love is astounded by the sudden disappearance of a woman, of whom he has taken interest in. As usual he waits for her outside a hat shop where she works, but she has not came to work that day. He then seeks her in her lodging and she has not come back the night before.

In despair, he turns to the agency, having remembered about its advertisement on the paper mentioned by the woman. Can Tuppence keep her promise to find her in twenty-four hours?

Cast of Characters:  Lawrence St. Vincent (the client) and Jeanette (a.k.a. Janet Smith)

The Twist: Miss Smith is an ex-nurse, of whom Tuppence acquainted during the Great War and now works in a hat shop

2.       The Missing Pink Pearl:

Plot: A guest’s valuable pearl is missing when she stays at the Kingston-Bruces’s home, The Laurels. Beatrice Kingston-Bruce steps into Blunt’s Detectives office recommended by Lawrence St. Vincent, of whom happens to know the family and was at the house at that time.

Having heard the brief of the case, Tuppence notices that the young woman has not told her everything.

Cast of Characters:

– Elise (Lady Laura’s maid)

– Gladys Hill (the parlour maid at the Kingston Bruces’s house The Laurels)

-Mrs. Hamilton Betts (American, the owner of the pink pearl who stays at The Laurels)

-The Kingston-Bruces (father, mother and Beatrice the daughter)

-Lady Laura Barton (a guest staying at The Laurels)

– Mr. Rennie (Beatrice’s friend)

The Twist: Beatrice and Mr. Reinnie suspect one another for stealing the pearl

3.       The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger

Plot: A doctor describes strange occurrences about the letter and the false summon he had to Tommy and Tuppence. Nonetheless, the client’s eyes somehow glance at a blue envelope arrived moments before. After he left, the couple examines the Russian stamp on it whereby number sixteen appears.

As promised, Tommy goes to the client’s house in Hamsptead at night. Little does he know what awaits him there.

Cast of Characters:

Dr. Charles Bower (a.k.a Carl Bauer)

Inspector Dymchurch

The Twist: Tommy inadvertently pockets a silver cigarette case engraved  ‘Francis from Tuppence’ that is supposed to be Tuppence’s present for her friend’s wedding

4.       The Three Arts Ball

Plot: In a costume party Tuppence realises that a woman, dressed as The Queen of Heart,  has been stabbed with a small dagger and is barely alive. ‘Bingo did it…,’ she says in a strained whisper and shortly afterward dies. She refers to Captain Hale, the deceased’s husband’s best friend.

Franscesca Annis as Tuppence is resplendent in the twenties’ dress

The next day, the deceased’s husband, Sir Arthur Merivale comes over to ask Tuppence about his late wife’s last words. For he had no idea that his late wife would have come to the party.

Did the captain kill her?

Cast of Characters:

Sir Arthur Merivale (the husband)

Lady Merivale (the deceased)

Captain’Bingo Hale (the main suspect)

The Twist: Sir Arthur jumps off the window of the agency’s office

5.       The Curious Telegram

Plot: A North Pole explorer turns up at the agency with a telegram in his hand. For he does not believe that it is from his fiancée, of whom upon his return after two years’ expedition has apparently not very keen to see him. Has she really gone to Monte Carlo for week as written on it?

Cast of Characters:

Gabriel Stavansson (the explorer)

The Honorable Hermione Crane (the fiancée, previously Mrs. Leigh Gordon)

Dr. Horriston (who runs The Grange, a clinic at Maldon, Essex)

The Twist: Mr. Stavansson dislikes a fat woman

6.       Blindman’s Bluff

Plot: A middle-aged man approaches Tommy and Tuppence’s table while they have lunch at the Blitz. Introducing himself as Duke of Blairgowie, he wants to consult them on the matter of the disappearance of his sixteen-year-old’s niece. Furthermore, he will give Tommy a lift back to the office while Tuppence, introduced as Miss Gange is left behind to arrange other matters.

In the car Tommy finds out that the man is an impostor, who knows his real name and the mission Blunt’s Detectives. What will Tommy do?

Cast of Characters:

–          Duke of Blairgowie

–          Captain Harker (the ‘Duke’’s companion)

–          Gregory (the chauffeur)

The Twist: The ‘Duke’ does believe that ‘Mr. Blunt’ is blind

7.       The Man In The Mist

Plot: Still wearing a parson’s outfit after solving a case, Tommy bumps into an old acquaintance, who happens to be in the same hotel in which the Beresfords were having tea. The other man introduces Tommy to his companion, a famous actress Gilda Glen. Presently she sends a letter to Tommy, asking for him to come to her dwelling at The White House.

Meanwhile, Tuppence is acquainted with a poet, of whom is the erstwhile boyfriend of Miss Glen. He remarks on her current relationship with a richer man. ‘And if she sells herself to that muck cheap, Leconbury – well, God help her. I’d as soon kill her with my own hands.’

When Tommy and Tuppence comes at the house at the agreed time, little do they know that the actress has already been killed. More importantly, they have met the murderer before entering the house.

Cast of Characters:

Ellen (Mrs. Honeycott’s maid)

James Reilly (the poet)

Miss Gilda Glen

Mrs. Honeycott (Glen’s sister, with whom she stays at The White House)

Marvyn Estcourt (a.k.a. ‘Bulger,’ the Beresfords’s acquaintance)

The Twist: Gilda Glen was married young at seventeen and now seeks divorce from her first husband to be able to remarry

8.       The Crackler

Plot: A case of counterfeit money brings the couple to a distinguished London club where the transactions allegedly have taken place before the forged notes brought across the English Channel. A certain man in position and power is suspected although nothing can be associated with the crime at a big scale.

The live and parties in the roaring twenties’ Britain.

When the party ends, Tommy, posing as a well-to-do young man with money to burn, follows his new friend, Mr. Reilly to Whitecapel. Through some dingy alleys Tommy goes straight into a lion’s den, which is the factory where the notes are produced. Can he escape in one piece?

Cast of Characters:

–          Hank Ryder (a rich American man)

–          The Laidlaws (a Major and French wife, Marguerite)

The Twist: Tommy has instructed Albert to follow him on a motorcycle if he goes with Ryder. The faithful ‘assistant’ then promptly alerts Inspector Marriot.

9.       The Sunningdale Mystery

Plot: Over lunch the Beresfords discuss the murder of Captain Anthony Sessle on the links. He was stabbed with a woman’s hatpin.  The last person to have seen him alive is his friend and partner in the insurance company, Hollaby. According to him the deceased was seen talking to a woman when he reached the sixth hole first. Afterwards it was noticed that the captain’s luck in the game changed and he left after the eighth hole.

A week later Dorris Evans is charged with the murder. To the police she said to have met Sessle at the cinema and had been invited to his bungalow Sunningdale, when there was nobody there. Moreover, she did not know that he was married. He then suggested their taking a stroll; she was walking  on the outskirt of the golf course when suddenly he brandished a revolver. They were then in a fight and she managed to free herself.

Whose story is the truth?

 Cast of Characters:

–          Mr. Hollaby (the deceased’s friend and partner at The Porcupine Assurance Co)

–          Mrs. Sessle

–          Mr. Hollaby’s son

The Twist: Dorris Evan never sees the body of Sessle’s

10.   The House of Lurking Death

Plot: Tommy’s attention is drawn to the headlines on newspaper:

‘Mysterious Poisoning Case. Deaths From Fig Sandwiches.’

For the victim, Lois Hargreaves, came the day before describing a box of chocolates she had received which contained a small dose of arsenic; enough to cause illness but not a fatal one.

Arrived in the village where Hargreaves used to live, Tommy and Tuppence interviews the doctor about the poisoning. At first they suspect Hargreave’s stepbrother, who benefits from her death. Nonetheless he also died on the same day despite having occurred on a separate occasion. Then, to the deceased’s friend who happened to stay over at the time of the tragedy.

Not until Tuppence meets another inhabitant of the house then she realises how the murderer has done it so far.

Cast of Characters:

–          Dr. Burton (the village doctor)

–          Hannah (the maid at Thurnly Grange)

–          Miss Logan (Lois’s late aunt’s companion)

–          Lois Hargreaves (the client, who inherits Thurnly Grange)

–          Mary Chilcott (Louise’s friend who stays over)

The Twist: Hannah keeps a textbook belong to Miss Logan in her room

An alley in East End London in 19th century. It is through one of these Tommy walks through with Mr. O’Reilly

  1. 11.   The Unbreakable Alibi

Plot: Mr. Montgomery Jones accepts a challenge from Una Drake to solve the mystery of her being at London and Torquay at the same time, on the same day. For he tries to impress her but does not feel to have the skills to explain the plausibility of the impossible.

Cast of Characters:

Mr. Le Marchant (Una’s friend who dines with her at the Savoy)

Mr. Montgomery Jones (the client, recommended by L.St. Vincent)

Mrs. Oglander (who sits next to Una’s table at the Savoy)

The receptionist, the chambermaid at the Castle Hotel in Torquay

The Twist: Miss Drake has a twin sister, who arrived in England from Australia

  1. 12.   The Clergyman’s Daughter

Plot: A priest’s daughter has inherited from a wealthy paternal great aunt, along with a big house. A man puts an offer to it, which she refuses. Then strange things occur, which suggests that her home is haunted.

Dr. O’Neill, whose great interest to the curious happenings in the house, is willing to buy the house for solving its mystery. What makes him increase his offer by £150?

While doing the search, Tuppence discovers a riddle among the great aunt’s papers:

My first you put on a glowing coal

And into it you put my whole

My second really is the first

My third mislikes the winter blast

What does it suppose to mean?

Cast of Characters:

Monica Deane (the client)

The gardener

The Twist: Miss Deane notices that Dr. O’Neill and the previous man who makes an offer to the house have the same gold tooth.

  1. 13.   The Ambassador’s Boots

Plot: Two identical kitbags with the same initials swap owners on board of Nomadic liner; one belongs to a senator and the other to the US Ambassador in Britain. Intriguingly, the senator denies having had the item among his luggage.

When enquired as to the content of the bag, the ambassador says that there were boots inside. ‘Silly case, this. Boots – you now. Why boots?’ asks Tuppence. ‘All wrong. Who wants other people’s boots?’

In their interview with the ambassador’s valet, he tells them that a woman happened to feel queer  outside his master’s cabin. He took her inside and left her alone to fetch a doctor, which took some time. Nonetheless, a witness came forward, saying that she actually pretended to be fainted and was seen to have slipped something in the lining of the ambassador’s boot.

Cast of Characters:

Cicely March (the witness, a.k.a. Ellen O’Hara)

Randolph Wilmott (the US Ambassador)

Richards (Wilmott’s valet)

The Twist: The valet sees a tin of bath salts in the senator’s kitbag

  1. 14.   The Man Who Was No.16

Plot: When Tuppence realises that the leaf of the office calendar is days forward, Sunday 16th,  she thought Albert has made a mistake. The evidence in the wastepaper basket is a contrast. Shortly afterwards a Russian prince goes in, of whom, after an exchange of secret phrases with Tommy, comes clean about his identity.

While the prince takes Tuppence for lunch, Tommy meets Mr. Carter to brew the plan. For he realises that the prince is no.16. Having understood what Tuppence has risked, the Chief reassures the other that his wife is in safe hands; that two agents have been assigned to follow her and No.16 into the prince’s hotel suit. Then all of a sudden they lose track of their targets.

Cast of Characters:

Prince Vladiroffsky (the Russian prince)

Mrs. Van Synder (American, who occupies suit No.318)

The Twist: The Prince is not no. 16

Notes On Sparkling Cyanide

Rating: 4.3 out of five

Year of Publication: 1945

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

Two sparkling wine glasses; two deaths occur in the book. After Rosemary Barton, who’s next?

Iris Marle reflects a tragic event nearly a year ago; the death of her elder sister, the attractive and extrovert Rosemary Barton. She invited five people to come for her birthday dinner, during which all of a sudden her face became blue and convulsed after drinking the wine. Presently cyanide was found in her handbag and her death was deduced as a suicide case.

George Barton has received two strange letters stating that his late wife was murdered.  Casting his mind back to a night at The Luxembourg, he recalls seeing her body sprawl forward on the table – lifeless. Only an hour before she looked so lovely despite a little thin in the face after a bout of influenza. The suicide verdict was suggested owing to depression that might have occurred in the recovery.

If the letters were right, who would have murdered her?

He decides to recreate the scene by inviting the same people in the same restaurant. Little does he realise what awaits him after the light comes on.

 

Highlights:

What begins a story? An event or a viewpoint? A motive or a sentiment? A character or a group of people?

In the book, does it begin with a seventeen-year-old Irish’s remembrances? Or by the two letters, thought at first as a cruel joke, which trigger Barton’s idea of reconstruction of the incident?

Women’s dress in the forties. Rosemary Burton would have looked marvellous in one of the dresses. The simple lines have made a come back in the recent years.

I am inclined to choose the latter option.  The arrival of the first anonymous letter makes the widower enquire himself something whose answer he has actually known: why should Rosemary have killed herself? That concludes the long first chapter in which the phantom of Rosemary Barton starts to shape.

The plot, centred round the circumstances of Rosemary’s suicide, elaborates the extent of conformity among people. Oftentimes someone ought to agree what others in the group have accepted as the truth. In the event of Mrs. Barton’s demise, the evidences and the motive lean towards suicide. Although Irish and Barton smell a rat, they rather keep it to themselves. Not until the letters appear is the verdict contested.

On the one hand, Irish knew because six months afterwards she discovered a love letter her elder sister had written in the pocket of her gown. Clearly, not to her husband but a lover of whom Rosemary called him ‘Leopard.’ On the other, Barton understood her will to live and more importantly the realisation of a third person in the marriage.  Now, supposing he chose to ignore the letters and move on.

Here is a quiet pleasant man with means whose curiosity is driven by love and jealousy. When he explains about his plan to his old acquaintance, who is none other than Colonel Race, the colonel refuses to participate.  For something is bound to happen, much he has learnt at Mr. Shaitana’s dinner party (Cards On The Table). Will Barton accomplish what he wants to reveal?

While the victim is an unfaithful wife and ‘ornamental woman’, it is Lucilla Drake who steals the show (see The Most Fascinating Character). A stepsister to the Marle sisters’s father, she is a priest’s widow who has been invited by Barton to make home with him while looks after Irish. What is more, she is Irish’s only next of kin, which means that Drake will inherit the other’s immense wealth on her death. Such does not come into light until much later – at least to Colonel Race- as the turns of the events render Irish’s position to be the next murder target.

What is fascinating about the pot is its clarity in the second reading. Put aside the usual red herrings Christie has planted throughout, a number of beguiling remarks will emerge along with some scenes that are open to interpretations. At best, it makes the book is much more interesting than what the reviews have suggested without the presence of neither Monsieur Poirot nor Miss Marple to save the day.

For in Yellow Iris (see Notes On Problem At Pollensa Bay), a short story published in 1937, a distress phone call makes Poirot go immediately to a French restaurant where the American Barton Russel has booked a table to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his wife’s death. Just as Rosemary, Irish Russel dies from cyanide.  Her husband believes a foul play nevertheless and declares his intention to unmask the killer by recreating the scene. Is he right that Irish was poisoned? Meanwhile, the unexpected guest the Belgian comes to realise the real goal of the dinner.

Furthermore, it is a personal belief that the book was plotted and written around the same time as Five Little Pigs (1943). Rosemary’s personality seems to resemble Elsa Greer and Caroline Crale Irish Marle.  Just like Elsa, Rosemary falls for a married man, Stephen Farraday.  Moreover, both women are willing to ‘claim their prize’; Rosemary  tells Stephen days before the party that she would have come clean about them to her husband. Likewise, Elsa does not take ‘no’ for an answer from Amyas Crale, but overhears his saying to his wife that Elsa is just a muse – nothing more, nothing less.

Most importantly is the likeness of the murderers’ profiles in both novels.  Ruthless and domineering, they are incorrigible manipulators, masters in the art of deception and capable of persuading others to help them achieve.

Among a good many things in the book, I have not been able to understand Colonel Race’s role in the case. I am in the dark as to his contribution.  Looking back, in the three other books in which he is featured –The Man In The Brown Suit, Cards On The Table, Death On The Nile– I have realised that I faced the similar issue.  In spite of his being personally involved owing to George Barton and interviewing a reliable witness, his role can be substituted by any minor characters. Besides, I tend to think that his collaborator, the enigmatic Anthony Browne plays second fiddle brilliantly. He assists the somewhat ‘dazed’ Holmes by preventing another murder.  It does help that Race understands Browne’s background, although this needs clarification in the end due to the witness’s account which is in favour to Browne.

Lastly, this war-time era book fails to mention the dreadful and frightening occurrences at that time. Call it my lack of empathy as I come from a post-war generation, but the damning reality of the War does intrigue me. Or was it the publisher’s wish to have omitted terrible things for fear of bringing discomfort to readers? While I appreciate the obliteration of the War, it lingers at the back of my mind a nagging fact about air raids: what if the birthday party had to be cancelled in the last minute?

 

The Twists:

‘Moral: Every murderess was a nice girl once!’

Anthony Browne

 

–          Anthony Browne has met Victor Drake in prison under the name Tony Morelli

–          Ruth Lessing is in love with George Barton

–          Stephen Farraday is the ‘Leopard’

–          Betty Archdale hears Browne threatens Mrs. Barton for not mentioning his other name

–          Cyanide is slipped into Irish’s handbag in the powder room

–          The waiter at the Luxembourg  picks up Irish’s handbag on the floor during the cabaret show and mistakenly puts it onto George Barton’s seat

–          George Barton is not meant to be killed

–          Victor Drake never leaves England for Brazil

 

Cast of Characters:

Lady Alexandra Kidderminster (a.k.a. Sandra Farraday, married to Stephen)

Anthony Browne (Rosemary’s friend, who falls for Irish)

Betty Archdale (the ex-maid at the Bartons, who gives notice after Rosemary’s death)

Christine Shannon (a woman who sits next to the table of George’s party)

George Barton (Rosemary’s husband)

Giuseppe Bolsano (the head of waiters at the Luxembourg)

Colonel John Race (George’s long-standing acquaintance)

Lord and Lady Kidderminster (Sandra’s parents)

Irish Marle (Rosemary’s younger sister, George’s sister-in-law)

Chief Inspector Kemp (Colonel Race’s friend, who investigates the death)

Lucilla Drake (Irish’s distant aunt, Victor’s mother)

Mary Rees-Talbot (Colonel Race’s acquaintance, the current employer of Betty Archdale)

Rosemary Barton (nee Marle, Irish’s elder sister)

Ruth Lessing (George’s secretary)

Stephen Farraday (Sandra’s husband, Rosemary’s lover)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Lucilla Drake

Motherhood comes late to her; she meets Reverend Caleb Drake when she is nearly forty. Their marriage lasts only for two years and she is left a widow with an infant son, Victor.

Susan Hampshire gives a star performance as Lucilla Drake in 2003’s novel adaptation into TV series

Since then he has become the apple of her eye. She is anxious about him at all times, of whom a source of grief and a constant financial drain. A touch of Michael Rogers (Endless Night), Victor in fact gives troubles to his mother despite being clever and charming. Nonetheless, whilst Michael Rogers‘s mother is fully aware of her son’s wickedness, the other woman believes that most people misunderstand Victor.

Interestingly, her much biased attitude to her only son does not make her like everyone. For she dislikes Ruth Lessing, the indispensable secretary who wishes to be the future Mrs. Barton. Drake watches the other’s movements and ensures Lessing would not take a step too far.

Personally Drake is a triumph of a character of Christie’s, given to a number of facets about her. Her seemingly clumsiness and her feeble mind mirror Gerda Christow (The Hollow). The tendency to deviate from the main subject during conversations bears similarities  to Caroline Armory, Sir Claude’s elder sister in Black Coffee.

It is up to readers to decide whether Drake is either empty-headed or a very perceptive woman. Generally she is a good judgment of people;  her observation to Lessing is a fine example. Furthermore, no sooner has she met Anthony Browne than she dislikes him. She seems to have gathered the fact that the man is in love with her charge and vice versa. If they are married then she will have lost the fortune. After all, in Christie’s books I never meet a fool for a reverend’s wife.

It surprises me a little, however, that she might not be a kind person. According to Betty Archdale, Drake gives her hard time of obtaining a reference after giving her notice. Drake points out to the maid the unkind remark made and that she often broke things in the house. I wonder if Drake realised the other’s cleverness, of whom also suspected something in the death of her mistress Rosemary?

In the end, Mrs. Drake draws attention to some weak points in the book. Supposing she has deceived everyone, convincing them that she is just a simple person. I wonder if she knows somehow that her son never boards on a ship heading for Sao Paulo. Perhaps she might not have recognised him in London streets, but did she ever see a stranger with a particular gesture only a mother understands? If ‘no’ for the these, did she recognise him in the restaurant where she dined with George Barton and four others?

 

Clues:

The two letters George Barton has received:

The first:

‘YOU THINK YOUR WIFE COMMITTED SUICIDE. SHE DIDN’T. SHE WAS KILLED.’

The second:

‘YOUR WIFE ROSEMARY DIDN’T KILL HERSELF. SHE WAS MURDERED.’

 

Conversations between Victor Drake (VD) and Ruth Lessing(RL):

VD: ‘You’ve been with Barton some time, haven’t you, Miss Lessing?’

RL: ‘Six years.’

VD: ‘And he wouldn’t know what to do without you. Oh yes, I know all about it. And I know all about you, Miss Lessing.’

RL: ‘How do you know?’

VD: ‘Rosemary told me.’

RL: ‘Rosemary? But – ‘

VD: ‘That’s all right. I don’t propose to worry Rosemary any further. She’s already been very nice to me – quite sympathetic. I got a hundred out of her, as a matter of fact.’

RL: ‘You –  That‘s too bad of you, Mr. Drake.’

VD: ‘I’m a very accomplished sponger. Highly finished technique. The matter, for instance, will always come across if I send a wire hinting at imminent suicide.’

RL: ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’

VD: ‘I disapprove of myself very deeply. I’m a bad lot, Miss Lessing. I’d like you to know just how bad.’

RL: ‘Why?’

VD: ‘I don’t know. You’re different. I couldn’t play up the usual technique to you. Those clear eyes of yours – you wouldn’t fall for it. No, “More sinned against that shining, poor fellow,” wouldn’t cut any ice with you. You’ve no pity in you.’

RL: ‘I despise pity.’

VD: ‘In spite of your name? Ruth is your name, isn’t it? Piquant that. Ruth the ruthless.’

RL: ‘I’ve no sympathy with weakness!’

VD: ‘Who said I was weak? No, no, you’re wrong there, my dear. Wicked perhaps. But there’s one thing to be said for me.’

RL: ‘Yes?’

VD: ‘I enjoy myself. Yes, I enjoy myself immensely. I’ve seen a good deal of life, Ruth. I’ve done almost everything. I’ve been an actor and a storekeeper and a waiter and an odd job man, and a luggage porter, and a property man in a circus! I’ve sailed before the mast in a tramp steamer. I’ve been in the running for President in a South American Republic. I’ve been in prison! There are only two things I’ve
never done, an honest day’s work, or paid my own way.’