Notes on Miss Marple’s Final Cases

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1979

Motive for Murder: wealth and revenge

 

Plot:

1.Sanctuary: Bunch opens the church to find a dying man at the altar. He mumbles his last word sanctuary and the other that sounds like her husband’s name: Julian, the vicar. When a man and a woman turn up and claim the deceased as their brother, Bunch starts to smell a rotten business in the stranger’s death. Particularly, they insist to take his shabby coat which is stained with blood as a memento.

 

dorchester2

Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire,UK is a filming set for A Murder Is Announced which features Reverend Julian Harmon and his wife Bunch.

2.Strange Jest: The benefactors to Matthew Rossiter’s will Charmian Stroud and Edward Rossiter are running out of time to solve  his late uncle’s riddle. They believe there’s been a buried treasure in Ansteys- the inherited home they love so much. Despite their effort they can’t find it. Being under the pressure to either foot the bill  or sell the property, they turn to Miss Marple for her insights on Victorian idiosyncrasies.

 

3.Tape-Measure Murder: Constable Palk is not supposed to touch anything in a crime scene. Yet he’s picked up a pin on his uniform, having come first to the crime scene. Mrs. Spenlow has been strangled in her home dressed in a kimono.Yet, as the saying goes: ‘see a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.’

4.The Case of the Caretaker: Harry Laxton comes back to his village a wealthy man. The prodigal son of Major Laxton has bought the Kingsdean estate where he spent his boyhood and rebuilt the house after his marriage to Louise, a rich Anglo-French woman. An orphan with considerable fortune, her happiness is put to a test when Mrs. Murgatroyd, the widow of the former caretaker whom lives in a corner of the estate threatens the other. Not long afterwards Louise falls off her horse and never regains consciousness.

5.The Case of the Perfect Maid: St. Mary Mead is buzzing with the enviable Mary Higgins. The Skinner sisters’ perfect maid is everybody’s dream. Is it too good to be true? Miss Marple visit them to find out more.

6.Miss Marple Tells a Story: An old friend, Mr. Petherick, comes with his client to consult the sleuth about Mr. Rhoderick’s case. For he’s been suspected to have stabbed his wife in her bed while they were staying at the Crown Hotel in Barnchester. What would she suggest the solicitor regarding the line of defence in the court?

7.The Dressmaker’s Doll: Alicia Coombe announces to her staff that she has given up the

man_in_the_mirror_by_xxvictorious54xx-d5ul3981

Who  is the man in the mir

use of the fitting-room. Nobody hesitates that the decision may come from a menacing-look puppet doll of the dressmaker that seems to occupy the place. Feeling the continual terrors of it, Alicia feels compelled in the end to throw it away. Despite her relief, will it stop bothering her?

 

8.In A Glass Darkly: On his best friend’s invitation a young man stays over at his home Badgeworthy. There he meets the other’s sister Sylvia Carslake and her fiancée Charles Crawley. To his horror, the man happens to see in  the mirror Sylvia’s being strangled in her bed by Crawley.

 

Highlights:

Published posthumously, the six stories of Jane Marple’s show the unwavering wits of Christie’s.  As for the two other stories, The Dressmaker’s Doll and In A Glass Darkly, their inclusion I believe has suggested their having been discovered with the others after Christie’s death in 1976. Other unknown short stories  emerge later on in Greenways;  While The Light Lasts and Problems At Pollensa Bay were released in 1990s.

In 2013 I bought a second-hand copy of 2002’s signature edition. In it there was another short story, A Greenshaw’s Folly. Two years later, however, I happened to get hold some 2006’s facsimile edition in crisp condition a National Trust second-hand bookshop. Interestingly, it does not contain Miss Marple’s finding the murder of Miss Greenshaw.

Having studied about Agatha Christie’s writings in the last four years, I have established a fair assumption that she might have written some at the same time; be they a scene of a play here and details for a short story there. In the meantime, she might have re-read her previously published books and therefore a subplot would have had a new lease of life with different character names and setting.

 

chrysanthemum_25

Bunch puts down the Chrysanthemums she has brought for the church to come closer to a huddled body on the chancel steps

Her ‘recycling’ a setting with a different twist for the plot is noticeable in this collection, too. First, Sanctuary featuring Reverend Julian Harmons and his wife Bunch will jog readers’ minds to A Murder Is Announced (1950). In the novel Bunch is acquainted with Miss Marple, whilst her curious nature in the short story makes her go for a day to meet the sleuth who stays at West’s home in London. It’s likely Tape-Measure Murder might have been drafted right after, punctuated by the naming of Laburnam Cottage in both stories.

 

During the writing, I supposed Christie was aware that she couldn’t omit the trio chief gossipers of St. Mary Mead. Nor should she have put them together in a piece. Hence in Tape-Measure Murder Miss Hartnell lives next to the victim Mrs. Spenlow; Miss Wetherby has her turn to further announce to the world about Lavinia Skinner’s accusing her maid Gladys to have stolen her jewellery and Miss Harmon is in the chemist when Harry Laxton introduces his wife Louise to Bella, his ex-girlfriend and the chemist’s daughter.

Next, there is a main theme running in the stories: jewellery robbery. In the difficult times between the two wars and post-second world war, crimes did occur to gain access to the valuables. With her craft Christie depicts the hardship which continued to engulf the UK right until in the sixties. The plot for At Bertram’s Hotel is based on The Great Train Robbery in 1963.

 

miss-pettigrew-thats-cocaine

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Christie is adept to a matter close to heart to many of her readers: the ongoing problems of domestic worker issue. I wonder what would have been her opinions about of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day and The Diary of A Provincial Woman, as the books share the same clinging-on sense of the tradition whilst at the same time they are aware of their financial constraint and labour shortage. Notwithstanding whether Christie had read the two books, she herself ‘empowers’ the likes of Gladys et all as a minor character with various roles. More importantly, Christie seems to stress that some maids may have more than meet the eye.

 

Christie brings in Doctor Haydock for The Case of The Caretaker suggests the possibility of Christie’s working on Sleeping Murder, too. In the former, he infers the murder of Louisa Haxton in his note to the sleuth. In the latter, it is Miss Marple who begs to prescribe him for a trip to a seaside to help Gwenda Halliday.

By the same token is the re-appearance of Mr. Petherick the solicitor (see also The Thirteen Problems). Perhaps it’s the same ‘madness’ to his clients to see a silver-haired woman and furthermore to consult her about the case. Mr. Rhoderick is unconvinced as to how Miss Marple’s twinkling eyes can drop a murder charge looming over him.

But Mr. Petherick himself utters to his old friend: ‘In a case of illness one likes two points of views – that of the specialist and that of the family physician. It is the fashion to regard the former as of more value, but I am not sure that I agree. The specialist has experience only in his own subject; the family doctor has, perhaps, less knowledge – but a wider experience.

In the absence of Miss Marple in the last two stories, Christie puts a stress on the pertaining sense of mystery which parallels to the story theme in The Hound of Death (1932). Her exploration into the unexplained occurrences and baffling phenomena underlines what her contemporaries try to grasp owing to the shocking  change of Europe’s political map and the global economy crises.

Lastly, it’s pitiful but understandable that Christie could be audacious in her dialogues but still adheres to the golden rule of  fiction as an escape. By shifting fears to uncertain future to objects, ie. a mirror and a lively-looking velvet doll she is being non-judgmental to things that might terror people’s mind.

Thus Alicia Coombe can loose her battle  against her illogical thoughts and the male narrator succumbs to the imagery in the mirror. In her frustration Alicia tries to persuade a girl to give the doll back to her and her refusal to do so is then summed up by Alicia’s talking to herself in the last sentence : ‘perhaps…perhaps that’s what she wanted all along… to be loved….’ All of a sudden I felt sympathy to her.

Be that as it may, it beats not In A Glass Darkly. The unnamed narrator takes readers to the summer 1914; the timing being a focal point. It’s universally acknowledged as the last happy memory for Christie’s generation; the great calamity in the Great War is then repeated in the Second World War.

The premonition he sees in the mirror along with the sombre mood of a survivor’s guilt are conspicuous. Did he know who he was afterwards? Can he trust his judgment? Finally, Sylvia’s polite response on his telling her what he’s seen the other day that leaves a lingering thought: ‘I’m sure you did if you say so. I believe you.’

What do you think?

 

Cast of Characters:

In Sanctuary:

-Police Constable Abel

-Inspector Craddock

-The Eccless (husband and wife, claiming to be the deceased’s family)

-Edwin Moss (who takes Bunch’s suitcase)

-The Harmons (Reverend Julian and his wife Diana,a.k.a. Bunch)

 

In Strange Jest:

-Charmian Stroud

-Edward Rossiter

– Jane Helier (Charmian and Edward’s friend)

 

In Tape-Measure Murder:

-Miss Hartnell

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable of St. Mary Mead)

-Miss Pollit (a dressmaker)

-Constable Palk (who comes to a crime scene the first time)

-Inspector Slack

 

In The Case of The Caretaker:

-Miss Bell

-Clarice Vane (Doctor Haddock’s niece, Louise’s friend)

-Doctor Haddock

-Miss Harmon

-Mrs. Murgatroyd (lives in a corner of the Kingsdean estate)

-the Laxtons (Harry and his wife Louisa who live in Kingsdean)

 

In The Case of The Perfect Maid:249824

-Edna (Miss Marple’s maid and Gladys’s cousin)

-Mary Higgins (the perfect maid)

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable)

-The Skinner sisters (Lavinia and Emily)

-Inspector Slack

-Miss Wetherby

 

In Miss Marple Tells A Story:

-Mrs. Carruthers ( a hotel’s guest)

-Mrs Granby (a hotel’s guest)

-Mr. Petherick (a solicitor preparing for the case, Miss Marple’s friend)

-Mr. Rhodes (Mr. Petherick’s client)

 

In The Dressmaker’s Doll:

-Alicia Coombe (a dressmaker)

-Mrs. Fellows-Brown (Alicia’s client who tries on a dress)

-Mrs. Fox ( the cleaner)

-Sybil Fox (Alicia’s assistant)

 

In A Glass Darkly:

-Sylvia Carslake

-The narrator (Sylvia’s husband)

 

 

 

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 Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

I wish Mrs. McGinty as attractive as this woman!

Rating: 4 out of five

Year of Publication: 1952

Motive for Murder: Identity

Plot:

‘Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

Down on her knees just like I.

Poirot’s splendid evening is interrupted by the presence of Superintendent Spence. He begs the detective to save the neck of a man whom the policeman has believed did not give his landlady a fatal blow on the back of her head. Nonetheless, James Bentley is remarkable. He is indifferent to the guilty verdict and unenthusiastic of being freed. Poirot wonders whether he cares to thank the upright superintendent whose conscience has told him that an innocent man may be hanged in three weeks’ time.

Over five months ago Mrs. McGinty was found by her next door neighbour in the parlour of her cottage. Lying on the floor, she had been dead for twenty-four hours. Her bedroom was in a mess; the floorboards were prised up and the little saving she had had underneath was gone. She had no family but a niece.

What other facts can the sleuth possibly unravel from the death of a cleaner? His curiosity prevails nevertheless. As he gets to know the five families where she used to go in in Broadhinny, he does not spot something amiss from them. Not until he finds out that the deceased bought a bottle of ink in the post office two days before her death does he began to think to whom the letter was written. By nature, she did not write much.

When he looks at her belongings, he unwraps a pair of her shoes and notices that the newspaper used dated three days before her death. The middle page of one of them was cut off. What news was she being interested at?

Meanwhile, the murder weapon has not been identified yet – other than something like a meat copper with a very sharp edge.

It is to the forgotten crimes Poirot seeks the answer.

Highlights:

Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

Holding her hand out just like I.

Christie’s opposition towards capital punishment seems to be the focal point of the plot. On the one hand is a scrupulous police officer who has grown uneasy that a wrong man is likely to be sent to the gallows. On the other is a convict whose nonchalant behaviour irritates Poirot. The victim herself is  very intriguing, for what a simple woman like Mrs. McGinty might have done to be killed?

As for Poirot, there is no ‘glamour’ in the case; the deceased is a farmer’s daughter who earns her wage from being a charwoman in some homes. She does not leave much for the only relative, nor would the sleuth think of the niece the murderess.

Yet Mrs. McGinty likes to know people’s affairs. She is similar to Wilhemina Lawson (Dumb Witness, 1940) and Miss Gilchirst (see Notes On After The Funeral), of whom listen at the doors and checks the drawers for secret letters. What kills Mrs. McGinty is a faded photograph nevertheless.

Given her personality, the sleuth believes that the investigation must focus on the villain.‘….It is in the murderer and not the murdered that the interest of this case lies. Someone who wanted – what? To strike down Mrs. McGinty? Or to strike down James Bentley?’ The authoress puts forward three options to consider: is she the target? Is he the target? Did she die to incriminate him?

In the meantime, let’s postpone further thinking of the above choices. For Poirot faces a predicament staying at the Summerhayes’s home, the only guest house available in the village. Forget small inconveniences but the hostess’s disastrous cooking. And it is not better in the local pub, either. Moreover is being hit by an apple core on the cheek while walking on the country lane one afternoon. ‘Why, it’s M. Poirot,’ exclaims Ariadne Oliver. After sixteen years they are reunited (see Notes On Cards On The Table).

Still believes that a woman should be the Head of Scotland Yard, she drives in the village in order to save her Finnish detective character from being further ruined by Robin Upward, a promising playwright. For his idea for the adaptation of her novel into the stage is rather absurd to her mind. I wonder if Mrs. Oliver’s agitation might have been the reflection of the authoress’s about Alibi?

Be that as it may, I feel her appearance adds little to the plot. As hilarious as usual, she claims the village doctor as the most likely person to have done in Mrs. McGinty in a cold blooded manner. Furthermore, it gives chills to the bones when she realises that a murder to her hostess, Mrs. Upward, could have been carried out while she was sitting in the car outside the home.

A Victorian sugar cutter, the murder weapon found at the Summerhayes’s home.

Two bodies are not good news. To have found the missing murder weapon is a triffle thrilling nevertheless (see the illustration on the right box).  It is preceded by an attempt at Poirot’s life (‘Splendid news. Someone tried to kill me..’ he says to Superintendent Spence on the phone right after the incident).

The fascinating aspect Christie has brought up in the story is reactions of people towards a seemingly harmless article on the newspaper. Despite its accuracies and facts are exaggerated,  the piece has awakened a killer. At least a desire to kill in one of the pleasant inhabitants of Broadhinny.  As for a curious Mrs. McGinty, one of the photographs stirred her memory of having seen the same one in one of the homes to which she goes. And yet, there are the forgotten children of the victims of the bygone crimes.

As far as I am concerned the book sounds to start the reference to some famous Victorian murder cases. In the book the imaginary Eva Kane seems to resemble Kate Webster. In her later novel By The Pricking of My Thumb (1968), the children killer might have had a touch of the notorious Mary Ann Cotton, whose crimes spanned for twenty years. Likewise, Dead Man’s Folly (1956), Elephants Can Remember (1972) and Hallowe’en Party (1969) also explores the personal background of the criminals, whom get off scot-free due to lack of evidences.

Here is the killer that is far from being hidden nor kept in the dark by the authoress; a cat among the pigeons whose masks himself well. But for fragments of conversations heard by chance, Poirot would not have been able to know his identity. Then an old story book with the killer’s real name on it is discovered.

The use of force in the killing method suggests the sex of the killer. Although the diversions have been put in place by different assumptions, the strength deployed is a necessity. For the killer wants to ensure that the ‘danger’ has been eliminated. And there is an element of timing, too. In Christie’s books, such a methodical approach shows a brain behind it.

I least like the fact that Mrs. Oliver is there because of her profession, not her personality. For I am impartial about her; my favourite partner in crime of Poirot’s. I am not disappointed that her instinct is misleading, but for her wasting the time feeling frustrated to an overconfident male playwright. Yet, for whom the criticism Christie aimed at?

The hanging of Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans – the last dead penalty in Britain before the abolishment in the Parliament in 1969.

Lastly, has she been successful to make her points heard about the flaws in capital punishment? Halfway is on the verge of dropping the case. What keeps his going is Maude Williams (see The Most Fascinating Character), Bentley’s ex-colleague who takes too great an interest to the case. Does she say correctly that she has been driven by her feelings to the nonchalant convict?

On the other hand, supposing the implementation of capital punishment might help prevent the overcrowded of prisons in the UK nowadays, what would Christie have had to say?

On the whole, read the book with clear conscience, for justice is to whomever deserves, n’est-ce pa?

 

The Twists:

Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

‘Like this…’

 

1964’s film adaptation of the book featuring Miss Marple. In all fairness, Poirot did not die yet at that time.

-Mrs. Upward lies to Poirot about her having seen the photograph of Lily Gamboll

-A smell of Mrs. Carpenter’s perfume in the living room of Mrs. Upward’s after the body is found

-Maureen Summerhayes is adopted, just like Robin Upward

-Maude Williams sees a man trying to get into Mrs. Wetherby’s barred windows using a ladder

-James Bentley forms the impression that Mrs. McGinty was talking about Mrs. Upward in relation to the newspaper article

-Maude Williams is Robin Upward’s half sister

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. McGinty’s dead. How did she die?

Sticking her neck out just like I

Mrs. Upward to Poirot

-Ariadne Oliver (the crime novelist who comes to stay with the Upwards)

-Mrs. Bessie Burch (Mrs. McGinty’s niece)

-Mrs. Elliot (the next-door neighbour who finds Mrs. McGinty’s body)

-James Bentley (the convict)

-Maude Williams (James’s friend who works at an estate agent office)

-Pamela Horsefall (the journalist who writes the article on the Sunday Comet)

-Mr. Scuttle (the partner at Messrs Breather & Scuttle, where James used to work)

-Superintendent Spence

-Mrs. Sweetiman (the woman at the post office)

Mrs. McGinty’s clients:

– The Carpenters (the husband, Guy, is an MP candidate and the wife, Eva)

-The Hendersons( a stepfather, a hypochondriac mother and the daughter Deidre)

-The Rendells (the husband a doctor and the wife Shelagh)

-The Summerhayes (the husband Johnnie and the wife Maureen)

-The Upwards (the mother an elderly, the son Lawrence is a playwright)

-Mrs. Wetherby

The Most Fascinating Character: Maude Williams

She approaches Poirot in a cafe and introduces herself after hearing his interview with Mr. Scuttle. Her look is described as ‘a very healthy young woman, with a full buxom figure that Poirot approved. About thirty-three or four and by nature dark-haired, but not one to be dictated by nature.’

Sarah Smart stars as Maude Williams in 2008’s Poirot series on ITV

She believes James Bentley is innocent. Initially Poirot thought her a woman whom has been in love to a very unimaginative man. If anything, she firmly stands for what she has chosen to believe.

A chance remark that brings a sudden note of bitterness in her voice makes him see her in a different light. More importantly is her slipping of the tongue about a fact that neither him nor Superintendent Spence has ever told anyone: what became Eva Kane after the trial of Dr Craig.

‘Evelyn Hope..?’

‘What’s that?’ she asks .

‘So you know that name?’

‘Why-yes…It’s the name Eva Whatshername took when she went to Australia. It-it was in the paper – the Sunday Comet.’

‘The Sunday Comet said many things, but it did not say that. The police found the name written in a book in Mrs. Upward’s house.’

‘Then it was her,’ she exclaims,’and she didn’t die out there…Michael was right.’

Convinced that her solid interest is to the above name, not Bentley’s freedom, he nonetheless must find out what she has meant that ‘Michael was right.’

Personally she is much useful a sidekick than Mrs. Oliver. For she has provided the sleuth with information about the murderer’s movement; without her understanding its importance in the first place.

In the end Poirot must ask her the truth. ‘Your real name is Craig?’ She nods.

‘I was brought up by some cousins – very decent they were. But I was old enough when it all happened not to forget. I used tothink about it a good deal. About her. She was a nasty bit of goods all right – children know! My father was just – weak. And besotted by her. But he took the trap. For something, I’ve always believed, that she did. Oh yes, I know he’s an accessory after the fact – but it’s not quite the same thing, is it? I always meant to find out what had become of her. When I was grown up, I got detectives on to it. They traced her to Australia and finally reported that she was dead. She’d left a son – Evelyn Hope he called himself.’

Thus her having applied a typist job at Broadhinny. This was done after having heard from a friend, a young actor, Michael that ‘Evelyn Hope’ had come from Australia.

Readers, I must stop here.

Clues:

I cannot think of any intriguing nor fascinating remarks. Nonetheless you should try this: http://www.funtrivia.com/playquiz/quiz2288361a337e8.html

Notes On Death On The Nile

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1937

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot:

On a Nile steamer a honeymoon couple are among other passengers; she is The Girl Who Has Everything and he simply the luckiest man. As a matter of fact, their marriage has become a sensation in the media. For everybody thought she would have married a suitor.  Not even her best friend, Jacqueline Bellefort, who introduced Linnet to her ex-fiancee, Simon Doyle. As far as Bellefort is concerned, Linnet has taken away Doyle from her.

Furthermore, Bellefort appears to have followed them since they started from England, turning up at every place. Needless to say, Mrs. Doyle is infuriated, particularly when the other is spotted on the boat despite her husband’s attempt to have registered them for the cruise under an assumed name.

One night, a row breaks between Bellefort and Doyle. Minutes to midnight, a shot is fired. Simon’s leg is injured. The next day Linnet’s maid finds the lifeless body of her mistress in the cabin. She has died from a bullet in the head. The doctor estimates that the time of death is between midnight and two am.

No doubt either Bellefort nor Linnet’s husband could have murdered her. Nonetheless, Bellefort shot him before midnight and afterwards was sedated and attended by a nurse. As for Doyle, he would not have been able to walk with a wounded leg to the deceased’s cabin and killed her. Thus, is there anyone else who has the motive to kill the deceased?

On the night before the cruise, she tells Poirot about Bellefort’s threat to finish her and Simon off. On the other hand, the sleuth asks Bellefort to stop her act. ‘Go home, Mademoiselle. You are young; you have brains, the world is before you.’

A few days afterwards the second body is found: the maid has been strangled and there are bundles of Franc notes on her body.

Would there be the third one before the boat berth at Wadi Halfa?

Highlights:

Aswan, South Egypt

The characters: An alcoholic, a communist and sinister young man, a woman who plots a murder to the minute details, a doctor, a haughty but kleptomaniac aristocrat, an heiress, a greedy maid, an archaeologist, an Austrian doctor, a haughty American woman, a young lord in disguise, another young man who steals for fun, a witty elderly woman and an accomplice to the murderer. Do I list them all?

The subplots: a jewellery forgery, the mystery of the missing velvet scarf of Van Schuyler’s and the deceased’s diamond, the unmasking of a provocateur, the blackmailing, the embezzlement of trust funds and the other triangle of romance to match the claim of ‘a very elaborately worked out plot.’ I see.

Perhaps it is only me who feel inundated by the sheer number of them – not to mention the other details of the ancient Egypt sites along the way.

To begin with, the characters remind me of their resemblances in the other Christie’s novels.  The mother and son Allertons remind me of the Chesters (Problem At Pollensa Bay). Mrs. Allerton is Mr. Satterthwaite in dress, Poirot’s female sidekick whom is as composed as Jane Plenderdeith (Murder In The Mews) but with an agreeable sense of fashion. The protagonist Linnet Doyle (nee Ridgeway) has a touch of Arlene Marshall about her attitude while her husband Simon and Jacqueline Bellefort can be likened to the Redferns (Evil Under The Sun). Miss Van Schuyler is Mrs. Upward (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead) and her cousin Cornelia Robson is as kind and as vague as Mrs. Summerhayes. Mr. Ferguson is the spiteful young scientist Alec Legge (Dead Man’s Folly) and Oliver Manders (Three-Act Tragedy). Signor Guido Richetti is Father Lavigny (Murder In Mesopotamia). Please tell me if this is not confusing enough.

Furthermore, the subplots are tangled affairs, which two or three of them could have been omitted without making the whole plot less satisfactory. The reunion between Colonel Race and Poirot trigger my asking if there was a need for these men to have been in another collaboration again (as they have been in the previous Cards On The Table). For Mrs. Allerton is sufficient as another brain to the case. In addition of her worrying about her son being attracted to a wrong girl, she is inevitably involved in the matter of the alcoholic Mrs. Otterbourne. And, if there was not a

Abu Simbel Temples was built by Pharaoh Ramses II in 1257 BCE; two temples carved out of solid rocks. It is on the west bank of the Nile in Aswan.

In the later book of Christie’s published a few years afterwards, much similarities are noticed in spite of different setting, names and the making of a convincing alibi. The victim is carefully chosen, the killers have a sound alibi and Poirot is also featured. The only difference is that the killer and her accomplice have run the plot before and succeeded. On the other hand, Linnet Doyle’s killer is a first-time plotter and bound for mistakes.

What makes the plot exciting is the witness accounts of having heard two different shots. Besides, the assumption that the murder weapon was thrown into the sea afterwards.  Yet, during the search Poirot finds a small revolver in Rosalie Otterbourne’s handbag, which is the same type of the murder weapon but later on it disappears.

Be that as it may, Christie marvels at her depiction of Linnet Doyle (see Clues for her profile). There is so much about her, just like Simeon Lee (see Notes On Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) expressed by a number of minor characters of admiration, jealousy and concerns about her confidence and ruthlessness. On the one hand, she is used to the idea of getting everything she wants, which includes a man in particular. On the other, despite the envy, there is little about an orphan lonely girl who has ruined the live of the only friend she had. Thus, what punishment can it be than an ‘execution’ to redeem her sin of ‘taking a poor man’s one ewe lamb’ as Poirot put it?

Moreover is the authoress’s deliberation on the part of the other two protagonists Jacqueline Bellefort and Simon Doyle. The dynamics among the three of them are well executed and the triangle of love is stronger than Triangle at Rhodesia (see Notes On Murder In The Mews) and Sad Cypress.

The most fascinating thing discussed here is the authoress’s notion that genes may play part in making someone a murderer. For studies show that emotions such as fear can be passed down to children and grandchildren in the genes rather than simply by witnessing and copying behaviour. Nonetheless, can the thesis also be applied for a ‘crime gene’?

Anyhow, it seems to me that she has delivered her promise for readers to ‘escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crimes in the confines of an armchair.’ In this not so-winter-wonderland weather in the UK I dream of the smell of warm air, the sun glinting on the Nile, the bobbing of the boat on the calm river and an excursion to Abu Simbel Temples and Temple of Kom Ombo. I would not have minded the heat in the least!

Hercule Poirot visit Elephantine island before going on the cruise heading for Wadi Halfa.

The Twists:

–         The small revolver Jacqueline Bellefort used for shooting Simon Doyle has gone missing

–         Linnet Doyle mistakenly reads a telegram for Signor Richetti with some vegetable words in it.

–         Mrs. Otterbourne recognises the person who came into Louise Borgeout’s cabin

–         Borgeout happens to have woken up on the night of the murder and looked out of the cabin, during which she saw the person who entered her mistress’s cabin and left shortly afterwards

–         Rosalie Otterbourne denies having had a .22 mm revolver.

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. Allerton (Timothy’s mother)

Andrew Pennington (Linnet’s US lawyer)

Dr. Bessner (an Austrian doctor, a bachelor who attends Simon after being shot)

Miss Bowers (Miss Van Schuyler’s nurse)

Mr. Burnaby (the landlord of Three Crowns, a local who observes about an heiress’s appearance Linnet Ridgeway in Malton-under-Wode).

Charles Windesham (a suitor for Linnet)

Cornelia Robson (Miss Van Schuyler’s poor cousin)

Monsieur Gaston Blondin (the proprietor of Chez Ma Tante, where Poirot sees Jacqueline and Simon together as they sit at the next table)

Mr. Ferguson (a.k.a. Lord Dawlish)

Fleetwood (the ex-boyfriend of Linnet’s former maid, who is prevented from having married the maid. He happens to be one of the crews in the boat)

Hercule Poirot

The 1978’s film starring Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth, sitting between Colonel Race (David Niven) and Maria Van Schuyler (Bette Davis).

Jacqueline de Bellefort (Linnet’s old friend and the ex-fiancee of Simon)

James Fanthorp (the lawyer who is assigned to shadow Linnet on board of the steamer)

The Honorary Joanna Southwood (Linnet’s friend)

Signor Guido Richetti (an Italian archaeologist)

Linnet Doyle (nee Ridgeway, half American who has inherited huge wealth from her mother)

Louise Borgeout (Linnet’s French maid)

Marie Van Schuyler (Cornelia’s rich and snob cousin who takes her to a trip to Europe and Egypt)

Mrs. Salome Otterbourne (Rosalie’s mother, a ‘chick-lit’ novel author)

Simon Doyle (Linnet’s husband, Jacqueline’s ex-fiance)

Sterndale Rockford (Pennington’s partner at the solicitor office)

Timothy Allerton (Joanna’s cousin)

Colonel Race (Poirot’s sidekick, who appears in Cards On The table and The Man In The Brown Suit)

Rosalie Otterbourne (the daughter of Mrs. Otterbourne)

William Carmichael (James’s uncle who orders him to take a trip to Egypt to keep an eye on Linnet Doyle)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Ferguson/Lord Dawlish

Alastair Mackenzie stars as Ferguson in 2004’s adaptation of the novel. Ferguson character does not appear in 1978’s film nonetheless.

First noticed by Poirot, he is described as ‘ a tall, dark-haired young man, with a thin face and a pugnacious chin. He was wearing an extremely dirty pair of grey flannel trousers and a high-necked polo jumper singularly unsuited to the climate.’ To Mrs. Allerton he is ‘our anti-capitalist friend.’

When he talks, his remarks are quite cynical to some people. Linnet Doyle is a person ought to be shot and Dr. Bessner is an old pompous bore. Yet, he is genuinely frustrated towards Cornelia Robson’s submission to her domineering cousin growing fondness to the doctor.

Not until a search by Poirot and Colonel Race into each passenger cabin does his true identity come into light. The young Lord Dawlish sounds to be on a mission to be a commoner. Although he fails in his attempt to be one with Poirot’s wincing at his sartorial choice and a signet ring found in his drawer. An Oxford graduate, he is drawn to communism. It is suggestive that he might have been one of the idealistic young people who joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in the thirties. Needless to say, he is a symbol of rebellion.

As any other young man, he finds love unexpectedly in a seemingly meek woman, Robson. She is riled by his criticism to the doctor, which actually means well. Soon he understands that the other is a competitor to win her heart and it confuses him a lot. Just like Mrs. Doyle, he believes that his way of thinking is better than others. This kind of arrogance does not recognise failure.

Towards the end of the book, he knows he is losing the battle and therefore is resigned to ask her hand in marriage to Maria Van Schuyler. Yet he has neither strategy nor tactic to make the haughty woman accept him. Her response to his proposal is a foregone conclusion. ‘There is such a thing as social position, Mr. Ferguson.’

Robson’s sudden presence in the scene puts things into perspective. ‘If-if I liked you, I’d marry you no matter who you were,’ she says to Ferguson. ‘But you don’t like me?’ he replies. ‘I-I think you’re just outrageous. The way you say things…The things you say…I-I’ve never met anyone the least like you. I –‘

(Readers, this is one of my favourite scenes in the book. Robson stands up to him and her cousin, showing the courage that she never thought she had).

Poor Ferguson. I hope he has learnt that the old doctor has a sporting spirit in him; a man of experience who understands the game he is in.

Nevertheless, I wonder if Van Schuyler would have changed her mind about Ferguson after Poirot had told tells her about his vast fortune and upbringing.

 

Clues:

On Jacqueline Bellefort:

Linnet Ridgeway (to Joanna Southwood):

‘…We were together at a convent in Paris. She’s had the most terrible bad luck Her father was a French Count, her mother was American – a Southerner. The father went off with some woman, and her mother lost all her money in the Wall Street crash. Jackie was left absolutely broke. I don’t know how she’s managed to get along the last two years.’

Hercule Poirot:

‘…You have chosen, Mademoiselle, the dangerous course… As we here in this boat have embarked on a journey, so you too have embarked on your own private journey – a journey on a swift moving river, between dangerous rocks, and heading for who knows what currents of disaster…’

On Linnet Doyle:

Simon MacCorkindale as Simon Doyle and Lois Chiles as Linnet Doyle in the 1978’s film.

A local man (to Mr. Burnaby):

‘It seems all wrong to me – her looking like that. Money and looks –it’s too much!If a girl’s as rich as that she’s no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker….Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’

Mrs. Allerton (in response to Poirot’s remark: ‘That would be like the Queen in your Alice in Wonderland, “Off with her head.”’)

‘Of course. The divine right of monarchy! Just a little bit of the Naboth’s vineyard touch…’

Jacqueline Bellefort:

‘But you are a queen, Linnet! You always were. Sa Majeste, la reine Linnette. Linette la blonde! And I-I’m the Queen’s confidante! The trusted Maid of Honour.’

to Poirot: ‘…I loved Linnet…I trusted her. She was my best friend. All her life Linnet has been able to buy everything she wanted. She’s never denied herself anything. When she saw Simon she wanted him- and she just took him.’

Joanna Southwood:

‘You know, Linnet, I really do envy you. You’ve simply got everything. Here you are at twenty, your own mistress, with any amount of money, looks, superb health. You’ve even got brains!…’

Rosalie Otterbourne (to Poirot):

‘I’m odious. I’m quite odious. I’m just a beast through and through. I’d like to tear the clothes off her back and stamp on her lovely, arrogant, self-confident face. I’m just a jealous cat- but that’s what I feel like. She’s so horribly successful and poised and assured.’

Simon Doyle (to Poirot):

‘My dear Monsieur Poirot, how can I put it? It’s like the moon when the sun comes out. You don’t know it’s there any more. When once I’d met Linnet – Jackie didn’t exist.’

On Simon Doyle:

Jacqueline Bellefort:

To Miss Ridgeway: ‘…He’s big and square an incredibly simple and boyish ad utterly adorable! He’s poor – got no money. He’s what you call “county” all right –but very impoverished county- a younger son and all that. His people come from Devonshire. He loves the country and country things. And for the last five years he’s been in the City in a stuffy office. And now they’re cutting down and he’s out of a job. Linnet, I shall die if I can’t marry him! I shall die! I shall die! I shall die…’

To Poirot: ‘Simon didn’t care a damn about her (Linnet)! I talked a lot to you about glamour, but of course that wasn’t true. He didn’t want Linnet. He thought of her good-looking but terribly bossy, and he hated bossy women! The whole thing embarrassed him frightfully. But he did like the thought of her money.’

Notes On Dead Man’s Folly

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1956

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot:

During a fete, Marlene Tucker strangled by a cord and the hostess, Lady Hattie Stubbs disappears amidst a Murder Hunt at the grounds of Nasse House. Surely, it is not how Ariadne Oliver wanted to be; a real body found by her and Hercule Poirot.

Earlier in the day, Lady Hattie looks upset after receiving a letter from a distant cousin. More importantly, she is frightened of him. ‘I don’t want to see Etienne (De Sousa). He’s bad. He’s always bad. I’m afraid of him,’ she says to Poirot.

Is there a reason to believe that De Sousa’s presence has something to do with the murder of a harmless teenage girl? Has Hattie been hiding or kidnapped, perhaps – killed?

The lack of motive and evidence leave police feeling baffled. As for the sleuth, it is not until some time does he realise that Mrs. Oliver’s murder game plot holds significant clues to the case. Yet, it dawns on Poirot that not only does he have to deal with a cunning criminal, but three; of whom have prepared the killings to their minute details.

 

Dead Man’s Folly Casts in its 2013’s adaptation into Poirot Series on ITV. Zoe Wanamaker (on the right) plays the witty Mrs. Oliver.

 

Highlights:

The fifties’ England is arguably a difficult era with the shadows of the war still loom over many people and the hardship continues. For some old families, death duties hit them the hardest as their homes and lands must be sold, having resigned to lose everything after many generations living in the same place or as landlords. ; a number of them become.

To Amy Folliat, it is not the loss of wealth that is unacceptable but what has become some of the old houses after the change of ownership; hotels with a swarm of foreigners and tourists in summer. And she is determined that Nasse House, the house she used to live until the deaths of her two sons in the war, will not be turned into a busy youth hostel like others.

She is the last one standing; an elderly woman who now rents the lodge from the Stubbsess, the new owner.

Remember Mrs. Bantrys, Miss Marple’s old friend, who is in a similar situation?  Gossington Hall (home of the Bantrys’s) is the crime scene in The Body In The Library (1932). It is then sold to a Hollywood star, Marina Gregg, whom then refurbishes it and agrees for a village fete to be held in its grounds (The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side – see the Notes).

If Folliat seems to be unhappy about the situation, Mrs. Bantry’s sounds quite unsentimental. She accepts change and moves on; two things Folliat have found very difficult to begin with. This is where things start to shape.

Next, her relationship with Lady Hattie Stubbs.  The younger woman used to be under the other’s care and Folliat is fond of her. “Hattie is a dear good child,” she says, despite the fact that Hattie appears to be a little simple in mind. Nonetheless, Miss Brewis differs. Sir George’s secretary believes that her boss’s wife is not quite as slow as a snail when it comes to thinking (see Clues). As for Michael Weyman, her behaviour arouses curiousity on his part. He remarks to Poirot: ‘For some reason she likes playing the dim nitwit. I don’t know why…’

Miss Brewis might be biased in her views nevertheless. Being in love with Sir George, it is clear that she has been jealous to Hattie; “a woman who would never understand him (her husband) – his abilities.” Besides, Brewis does not like the other as well. Furthermore, what is intriguing is Weyman’s, who is neither interested in Hattie nor cares about giving criticism to the tennis pavilion project, of which he has been commissioned.

The grandeur design of 17th century era immortalised at a Folly in Stowe Landscape Garden, Buckinghamshire, England, UK

Then, there is still the host, Sir George Stubbs. He is a self-made man ‘the new rich’ who has bought title and status entailed being extremely wealthy. He reminds me of Gordon Ragg, a middle-aged man and a media magnate engaged to his much younger secretary Bridget Conway (Murder Is Easy – see the Notes). To the ‘old pussy’ Mrs. Folliat and Mrs. Masterton he is perceived as a complete vulgarian but liked in the community; happily playing the role of a county squire. To Weyman, Sir George is ‘a silly ass’ who has had a Folly done at a spot far from the house where nobody will come to admire it.

Opposing viewpoints and myriad impressions about a character are the strong points of the book. Christie the puppet master performs a wonderful performance, playing with the tricks of the brain to deceive readers – away from whodunit. Amidst the confusion concerning the motive, important clues are provided in mere words and gestures whose significance would be realised in the second reading.

The ‘distressed’ Mrs. Oliver and the ‘bloodhound’ Mrs. Masterton nearly steal the show with the authoress’s brilliant depiction of two contrasting personalities; one is the creator of the murder game and modern whilst the other is not about look but has influence over the influential men. And all the same, both smells something fishy but cannot point their fingers exactly towards what it is.

In the meantime, the police’s attention are drawn to Etienne De Sousa, the mysterious cousin. According to Lady Hattie, she knows his coming to the house when his letter arrived at breakfast. On the other hand, in his interview with Poirot he said that he had written to the Stubbsess three weeks prior to his presence. Who is one to believe? If Hattie lies, what are her reasons? Likewise, what makes De Sousa lie to the detective?

As The Most Fascinating Character, I have chosen Amanda Folliat. It is not an obvious choice because I had Alec Legge in mind (see Cast of Characters). Yet, the more I think about the role she plays, the more I realise that she is indeed a fascinating character. First and foremost, she holds the key to the case . Second of all, her opening up to Poirot at the beginning about her family and the Stubbsess are quite arresting. Which elderly women who are not keen at telling the past to anyone? And why to the Belgian, not the police? Is it because he is a foreigner or has she been aware of the sleuth’s reputation and as a friend of Mrs. Oliver?  There is more about this woman that meets the eye as the same credits go to Esa, Imhotep’s mother (Death Comes As The End – see the Notes).

My criticism about the plot, however, lies at the huge amount of private knowledge the suspects shared with Poirot. Take the example of Marylin Tucker, the younger sister of Marlene, who tells him about the money her elder sister got from blackmailing a very dangerous person. The detective comes to see the family a month after the murder, after the inquest. I wonder why such information cannot be obtained by the local police from the family? Did they ask the wrong questions? Or, did they not listen well?

On the one hand, the success of Poirot is due to his nagging sense of ‘a gap’ in the case and apparently the great work of his grey cells. On the other, an outsider like the sleuth has the advantage of seeing matters clearer without judgment. To this virtue, I suppose, whereby the authoress stands. What do you think?

As mentioned previously, Alec Legge is an enigmatic character. For he happens to rent a cottage and stays there with his smart wife, Sally, on ‘doctor’s order.’ When Tucker is killed, they have been at the cottage for a month.  What is fascinating is the curious case of Alec’s nervous breakdown; a young intelligent man who looks sane.  Until the end, Christie keeps readers in the dark about them, but a hint of Sally being attracted to Weyman.

Alan Turing – the head of the code breakers at Bletchley Park who died in 1952.

From whom does Christie derive Alec? His being in the shell makes Sally suffer and drive them apart. In the closing chapter readers know who he really is; an atom scientist who is fear of something or someone. His predicament might be similar to the brilliant Mathematician Alan Turing, who was committed suicide in 1952 – see the photograph on the right.

Lastly, in Spring 2013, I was at the boathouse in Greenway. It beggars belief that such a serene spot has inspired a crime fiction; a lateral idea that only reminds many that murders may happen in the unimaginable places.

On the whole, Dead Man’s Folly is a joy to read, ponder and re-read; a case of love, of despair and of justice that pinpoints the human nature in the face of adversity.

The Twists:

-Old Merdell’s  remark to Poirot: ‘Always be Folliats at Nasse’

-Miss Brewis sees Lady Hattie slip out of the house at night before the fete

-Loose soil is found underneath the Folly, which triggers cracks on its foundation

-Amanda Folliat lies about her younger son whom was killed in Italy during the war

-Sir George Stubbs is seen to have shouted at an Italian girl who trespasses a day before the fete

-Sir George is a bigamist

– Marlene Tucker is Old Merdell’s granddaughter

-Michael Weyman expresses his surprise of knowing that Lady Stubbs asked Miss Brewis to have brought a tray of cake and tea for Marlene Tucker down at the boathouse

 

Cast of Characters:

‘You know those lines of Spenser’s? Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas, ease afterwar, death after life, doth greatly please….

(Amanda Folliat)

 

Alec Legge (Sally’s husband, the atom scientist)

Amanda Brewis (Sir George’s secretary and the housekeeper of Nasse House)

Amanda Folliat (the former owner of Nasse House who now lives at the lodge)

Ariadne Oliver (Poirot’s sidekick, a crime novelist)

Inspector Bland (of local chief constable)

Constable Bob Hoskins

Etienne De Sousa (Hattie’s distant cousin from West Indies)

Sir George Stubbs (the owner of Nasse House, Hattie’s husband)

Lady Hattie Stubbs (Sir George’s wife)

Hercule Poirot

Captain Jim Warburton

Marlene Tucker (Old Merdell’s granddaughter)

The Matersons (the husband is a local M.P. and the wife is a shrewd woman)

Michael Weyman (an architect whose presence at Nasse is to build a tennis pavilion for Lady Stubbs, Sally’s friend)

Old Merdell (who has been working at Nasse House since he was a boy, Marlene’s maternal grandfather)

Sally Legge (Alec’s wife and Michael Weyman’s friend)

Mrs. Tucker (Marlene’s mother)

Major Werall (The Chief Constable of the County)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Amanda Folliat

Recently I saw a programme on which it focuses on women behind bars; some of them are interviewed by Trevor Mc Donald in high security jails in the US. One of the interviewees is Sarah Jo Pender, who escaped in 2008 with the help of an officer. To the prison warden who has known her quite some time, Pender was one of the best manipulators the other had ever seen in her career spanning over 20 years.

Sinead Cusak gives a brilliant potrayal of Amanda Folliat in 2013’s Poirot series

To my mind, Amanda Folliat is on a league with Pender. If she made her boyfriend pull the trigger in 2000, Folliat persuades Hattie to marry Sir George so Nasse House would not have become something else.

To Poirot, she describes at length her relationship with Hattie.

‘I know her very well, you see. For a short time she was under my care.’

‘I did not know that,’ said Poirot.

‘How should you? It is in a way a sad story. Her people had estates, sugar estates, in the West Indies. As a result of an earthquake, the house there was burned down and her parents and brothers and sisters all lost their lives. Hattie herself was at a convent in Paris and was thus suddenly left without any near relatives. It was considered advisable by the executors that Hattie should be chaperoned and introduced society after she had spent a certain time abroad. I accepted the charge of her…..’

What emerges from that is Folliat’s filial affection to the other. Further on, she expresses her bitter feeling having lost the ownership of the house and lands. Old Merdell, who has known her since her coming to live in the house as a child, meets Poirot and tells him how she has been through a lot but taken it on the chin. Then comes his peculiar remark that ‘Always be Folliats at Nasse’, which is confirmed by Mrs. Masterton despite her saying the similar sentence as a joke.

I would like to highlight the fact that she is not the murderer, nor does she want anybody killed. As a result, the girl’s killing has shocked her a lot. Although she eventually realises the motive, unfortunately she keeps the knowledge to herself.  Not until Poirot forces her to acknowledge it does she speak and ask Poirot to leave her to think about it afterwards.

Her mixing up past and present tense while speaking about Hattie sounds natural at first due to her aging. The inconsistency continues nonetheless and Poirot becomes to wonder. For there has to be some reason behind it. To readers the clues are  described by Folliat’s gestures.

I suppose keeping secrets are extremely tiring and quite a lonely business. She  does not seem to have friends and Mrs. Masterton is not Folliat’s cup of tea. Sarah Legge is much younger and unlike Hattie in character, while the Stubbsess’s guest, Ariadne Oliver, may have been too contemporary to Folliat’s way of thinking. The book does not say anything about Folliat’s friends, either.

To date, Folliat is a favourite among my collection of Christie’s Most Fascinating Characters. Her words linger in my head. ‘You see, as I told you [Poirot], Hattie is completely suggestible. Anyone she is with at the time can dominate her.’

Clues:

Michael Weyman to Ariadne Oliver and Hercule Poirot about the Folly:

‘Top of that grassy bank by the house – perfect natural setting. But no, these tycoon fellows are all the same – no artistic sense. Has a fancy about a “Folly,” as he calls it, orders one. Looks round for somewhere to put it. Then, I understand, a big oak tree crashes down in a gale. Leaves a nasty scar. “Oh, we’ll tidy the place up by putting a Folly there,” says the silly ass. That’s all they ever think about, these rich city fellows, tidying up! I wonder he hasn’t put a beds of red geraniums and calceolarias around the house! A man like that shouldn’t be allowed to own a place like this!’

‘It’s bedded down in concrete. And there’s loose soil underneath – so it’s subsided. Cracked all up here – it will be dangerous soon…Better pull the whole thing down and re-erect it on the top of the bank near the house. That’s my advice, but the obstinate old fool won’t hear of it.’

 

Miss Brewis to Hercule Poirot:

‘Lady Stubbs knows perfectly well exactly what she is doing. Besides being, as you said, a very decorative young woman, she is also a shrewd one.’

 

Amanda Folliat to Hercule Poirot:

‘Sir George, though he is a self-made man and –let us face it – a complete vulgarian, is kindly and fundamentally decent, besides being extremely wealthy. I don’t think he would ever ask for mental companionship from a wife, which is just as well. Hattie is everything he wants. She displays jewels and clothes to perfection, is affectionate and willing, and is completely happy with him. I confess that I am very thankful that that is so, for I admit that I deliberately influenced her to accept him. If it had turned out badly –her voice faltered  a little- it would have been my fault for urging her to marry a man so many years older than herself…’

 

Michael Weyman to Inspector Bland:

‘I should say she [Lady Stubbs] knows which side her bread is buttered better than most. A very ornamental young woman and knows how to make the most of it.’

‘But mentally not very active? Is that right?’ says the Inspector.

‘Depends what you mean by mentally. I wouldn’t describe her as an intellectual. But if you’re thinking that she’s not all there, you’re wrong. I’d say

Notes On The Mystery Of The Blue Train

Rating: three out of five

Year of Publication: 1928

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

On the Blue Train Ruth Kettering travels with an extremely precious stone in her jewellery bag. Heading for the French Riviera, she has planned a secret rendezvous with an old flame, of whom her father, the American millionaire, despises.

In another compartment it is the first journey abroad for Katherine Grey whilst next to hers a small man with an egg-shaped head and magnificent moustache is a regular customer.

Derek Kettering is with his mistress, Mirelle. Only when the train is approaching Paris does he realise that his estranged wife is also on the same train. Late at night he then slips into Ruth’s compartment.

The next morning, no sooner has Grey got off the train than she is called as a witness to Mrs. Kettering’s murder. What is more, she recognises Derek as the man she saw going into Ruth’s compartment on the night of the murder.

As Poirot sets off to investigate the case, his attention is drawn to the statement made by the deceased’s maid whom accompanied her on the journey. To the police she has described a mysterious man who stood on the platform outside the train when it had stopped in Garde du Lyon. Was it Derek that the maid saw? Or, was he a different man -the killer?

Meanwhile, Ruth’s jewellery bag has gone missing, so does the red ruby. Later when Mirelle is spotted wearing it and Derek benefits from Ruth’s death, his arrest becomes inevitable.

Only Poirot who believes on his innocence. Yet he has to know first the owner of a  cigarette case found in the crime scene with a “K “initial on it. Can he do it?

The French Riviera; a popular destination or winter getaway for English

 

Highlights:

Concerning the choice of the crime scene, the book can be perceived as the earlier version of The Murder In The Orient Express (1934) and its subsequent success of Death In The Clouds (1936).

Now about the plot. Much as it is a marvellous one, I am not sure in what direction Christie’s focus  actually is. Is it about a jewel thief and his conflict of interest, ie. his falling for a woman? Is it an extremely rich father whose “little surprise” for his only daughter worth half a million dollars? Or perhaps is it about a woman seeing the world for the first time and then happened to be “in the thick of it” – the recurring theme for Christie’s heroines?

The answer can be either and you might suggest another option, too. Surely it does not matter as in a fiction there should be a room of imagination for the readers and Christie is quite good about it. Yet, I am not sure what went on in Christie’s mind having decided to give her piece of mind about divorce and having a second chance for women. It was a brave move on her part, for it might have been still a taboo to talk about divorce, particularly if it was the bitter one as hers. In the story Ruth Kettering goes to Nice for her annual winter getaway while her millionaire father Rufus Van Aldin has laid a divorce proposal for her good-for-nothing husband Derek Kettering after ten years of their marriage. Does the number ring a bell to you, readers?

It is the layering of issues and their underneath problems that are most impressive about the plot. For it speaks volumes of Christie’s skill as a story teller.  The protagonist, Katherine Grey, is mature and sensible. It is interesting that she is older than her predecessors Anne Beddingfield or Bundle (Seven Dials Mystery). In fact, her age is similar to Christie’s at that time. Be that as it may, our heroine’s intention of turning a new leaf as a ‘free woman’ after ten years being a companion to a wealthy woman (of whom then leaving all her money to the other) is met with a challenge: she falls in love with the main suspect of Ruth Kettering’s killing.

What interests me is  Christie’s personification of Grey, who represents a new generation of women in England  after the Great War. More women became more independent and a number of them broke the mould by going to work and had their own money. A trip to a couture dressmaker,  splashing money to stay in Savoy and a ticket by a luxurious train highlighted are a few examples of  the changing attitude of women in the late twenties.

In the midst of it are three women at the crossroads of their life. Ruth Kettering is torn between her fear to a loving father and her desire to be with a man she used to love. Katherine Grey must choose between Major Knighton and Derek Kettering. Mirelle ponders over whether to continue with the penniless Derek.

James D’Arcy stars as Derek Kettering in 2005’s adaptation into a TV series

To some extent I feel that the book has more romance than murder. Although at the same time I am amazed to have realised the effect of a person’s demise to others –regardless the circumstances. Take the example of Rufus Van Aldin, who finds out about his late daughter’s unknown will to her husband and her rebellious plan of meeting the man Van Aldin has disagreed – Armand Comte de la Roche. He is also a suspect and he has a motive to want Ruth die, for he is the one who persuaded her to bring the red ruby on the train.

As it is often the case in Christie’s books, the murderer remains in the shadow. With Christie, it is sometimes hard to weigh up a character although the information about them is seemingly sufficient. Is a thief a killer? Is the killing driven by a spur-of-the-moment rage or a result of a meticulous plan? Is a womaniser different from a woman killer?

At the end of the day, consider it a plus to guess the murderer correctly but an advantage to have something to think about the “ageless” and “timeless” factors of human behaviour. The occurrences in Christie’s days still ring true nowadays in 21st century.

 

The Twists:

-Derek Kettering refuses Rufus Van Aldin’s divorce proposal

– Ruth has made an unknown will to her father in which she would leave all her money to her husband

– Ruth Kettering’s maid, Ada Mason, is to stay in Paris and wait for her mistress’s instruction

-Ada Mason has worked for over two months before the murder occurs; just as Major Knighton to Rufus Van Aldin as his secretary

-Ruth Kettering takes the ‘Heart of Fire’ with her on the Blue Train

Cast of Characters:

Ada Mason (Ruth Kettering’s maid)

Armand the Comte de la Roche

Monsieur Carrege (of French police)

Commissary Caux (of French police)

Charles Evans (a.k.a. Chubby, Lady Rosalie’s younger husband)

Hon. Derek Kettering (Van Aldin’s son-in-law, Helen’s husband)

Mr. Goby (Rufus’s informant)

Mr. and Mrs. Harrison (Katherine’s good friends in the village)

Hercule Poirot

Joseph Aarons (Poirot’s acquaintance, an expert in people with “dramatic profession”)

Katherine Grey (an ex-companion to Mrs. Harfield, to whom the other’s wealth is left in her will)

Major Knighton (Van Aldin’s secretary)

Lenox Tamplin (Lady Rosalie’s daughter)

Mirelle (a Parisian dancer, Derek’s lover)

M. Papolous (the jewellery dealer, an acquaintance of Poirot’s)

Lady Rosalie Tamplin (Lenox’s mother, a cousin of Katherine’s; with whom she stays in her villa)

Pierre Michel (the train’s attendant)

Rufus Van Aldin (the American millionaire, Ruth’s father)

Ruth Kettering (Van Aldin’s only daughter, Derek’s wife)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Joseph Aarons

He is one of Poirot’s valuable informants that will be at the sleuth’s service when required. Just as Mr. Goby, the Jew is able to provide minute details about a person in question and their movement.

I would like to quote his remark about Aarons: ‘I said to myself, “If you want to know anything about the dramatic profession there is one person who knows all that is to be known and that is my old friend, Mr. Joseph Aarons.’

A good judge of character, Aarons is amiable and courteous. From him readers know something else about Mirelle – not her bad temper, I assure you. Significant the fact may seem that Poirot has to rearrange his facts about the case once more.

It is intriguing that he appears nearly in the end and he is introduced after the background check of another passenger in the Blue Train; the owner of the cigarette case with a “K” initial. Moreover, at a point when the jewel thief has achieved his clever plan.

What’s the point, you may ask? Actually, Aarons is the best twist Christie can offer while the murderer is still at large.

 

Clues:

Hercule Poirot to Katherine Grey:

‘I have asked you a question about major Knighton, now I will ask you another. Do you like Mr. Derek Kettering?’

‘I hardly know him,’ said Katherine.

‘That is not an answer, that.’

‘I think it is.’

He looked at her, struck by something in her tone. Then he nodded his head gravely and slowly.

‘Perhaps you are right, Mademoiselle. See you, I who speak to you have seen much of the world, and I know that there are two things which are true. A good man may be ruined by his love for a bad woman – but the other way holds good also. A bad man may equally be ruined by his love for a good woman.’

Katherine looked up sharply. ‘When you say ruined…’

‘I mean from his point of view. One must be whole-hearted in crime as in everything else.’

‘You are trying to warn me,’said Katherine in a low voice. ‘Against whom?’

Pierre Michel to Poirot and M. Caux:

‘It was after we had left the Gare du Lyon I came along to make the beds, thinking that Madame [Ruth Kettering] would be at dinner, but she had a dinner-basket in her compartment. She said to me that she had been obliged to leave her maid behind in Paris, so that I only need make up one berth. She took her dinner basket into the adjoining compartment, and sat there while I made up the bed; then she told me that she did not wish to be wakened early in the morning, that she liked to sleep on…’

Rufus Van Aldin and Ruth Kettering:

‘I want to tell you one thing, Dad;  you are wrong about Armand – the Comte de la Roche, I mean. Oh, I know there were several regrettable incidents in his youth – he has told me about them; but- well, he has cared for me always. It broke his heart when you parted us in Paris, and now –‘

She was interrupted by the snort of indignation her father gave.

‘So you fell for that stuff, did you? You, a daughter of mine! My God!’ He threw up his hands. ‘That women can be such darned fools!’

Ruth Kettering to Katherine Grey:

‘I don’t know – I don’t know [meeting Armand Comte de la Roche]. Ever since I left Victoria I had a horrible feeling of something – something that I can’t escape.’

She clutched convulsively at Katherine’s hand.

‘You must think I am mad talking to you like this, but I tell you I know something horrible is going to happen.’

Notes On Endless Night

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1967

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

A boy and girl story; Michael Rogers marries a ‘poor rich little girl’ Ellie Guteman – the heiress of an American millionaire. The girl fell for him the moment she sets her eye on him at Gypsy’s Acre. The boy then asked her out.

A Romeo and Juliet story; the marriage is strongly opposed. On the one hand, there is Mrs. Rogers, Michael’s mother. On the other is Ellie’s ‘cloud of vultures’; a stepmother who is a trophy wife, her guardian/lawyer, the personal banker and a cousin. All keeps their eye on her – or rather, her huge fortune.

A lovers’ tale: Ellie and Michael settle down in their dream house. Then accidents begin to occur. She sprains her ankle and something nearly falls on her. One day she goes out riding after breakfast and does not come back.

 

Highlights:

Here is the book in Christie’s later years with a touch of a ghost story interwoven in the crime. The first chapter is intriguing with a local tale about ‘The Towers,’ a non-inhabitant old ruin, which the villagers call it Gypsy’s Acre. A premises where all kinds of accidents happen, having believed them as a result of the curse done by the Gypsies; some kind of revenge on their part having been evicted from the land many years ago. Such belief stays and is then manipulated to execute a meticulous crime, which involves a target victim.

As in her previous books, Christie’s approach in using folklores and superstitions to induce her readers to want more seems to be matured over the years. This book in particular speaks volumes about her skill in that respect  and more importantly its purpose to introduce readers to the narrator, Michael Rogers. A man with a big dream yet has no means to afford a piece of land and a ruin that looks down to a breath taking scenery of sea and ships. Until he meets Ellie.

As a narrator Rogers is unique. He is a dreamer and he dreams to own the property and the land and built his dream house on it. In doing so his remembrances move not in an orderly fashion, for they seem to be a dream that is not over yet. Such is not the case as he introduces Fenella Guteman, ie. Ellie. As their relationship blossom, they get married and Rogers has to deal with myriad characters in Ellie’s life, the dreamy-like tone of his alters. The shocking sensation of Ellie having managed to meet his mother-in-law behind Roger’s back is genuine and for the first time there is another side of him readers come to realise. He is caught off guard and clearly worries about a number of things.

William Blake (1757-1827), a Romantic poet. The phrases quoted in ‘Auguries of Innocence’: Man was made for joy and woe; and when this we rightly know, thro’ the world we safely go

Furthermore, as if Rogers is not interesting enough, Christie adds phrases from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. Perhaps it is inevitable that when either a poem or a Shakespearean play is incorporated in Christie’s crime then the plot bears some clues as to the direction of the plot – with difficulty in some parts, I am afraid.

In most cases, the authoress follows the interpretation closely. Yet it is her selection of words in Blake’s poem that is most fascinating. What is more, there is an invitation to see it from a different angle. In this context, Rogers appears to entice Ellie about Gypsy’s Acre; the augury of living in a dream house ‘happily ever after.’

Michael’s mother, Mrs. Rogers, is a minor character that plays significant part to tell readers about her son’s character. Nonetheless, here lies the question: is she a reliable voice? Or is she a jealous mother who is over-cautious when it comes to her only son’s well-being? Moreover, there is also a question of the mother and son relationship (see Clues). Is she dominant? Is she afraid of her son? Is she mad herself? The readers could not be certain, bearing in mind that she does not have a voice other than what her son conveys in their dialogues.

As the world is seen through the eyes of Rogers, I cannot help remember Dr. James Shepperd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926). They do not resemble one another but their self-control is similar. Christie recycling a character is second to none that none of them is the same – be it their appearance, sex or behaviour.

What I am not clear about the plot is whether Ellie was deemed to be the second major character. Or was it Greta, an au pair that has been Ellie’s companion and friend for four years? (see The Most Fascinating Character).  Besides, I am in two minds about Ellie myself; whether she is an intelligent but naive millionaire or an ignorant young woman madly in love? For instance, after they were married, what is her intention to warn her husband that he would likely be ‘bought’ to divorce her? Was it genuine concern on her part or a warning?

The most important question personally is the whodunit. Readers, when does your suspicion begin? Could you guess his identity through other characters? Probably find him out owing to some curious behaviour of his? For all it is worth, subtleness and sensitivity become the cue;  a cliché, a nod or a head turning like a bird – those non-verbal languages.

Above all, I wonder whether there are some parts of younger Christie in Ellie. A sweet girl who is in love. An orphan with a lot of money. A sensible business woman who needs a friend. Did she find it in her husband? Or in Greta, whose great influence to Ellie is the chief concern of her guardian, Andrew Lippincot?

Finally, Michael and Ellie is not  Tummy and Tuppence given their contrast and the fact that readers know more the Beresfords much better. All the same, By The Pricking Of My Thumbs was published a year after Endless Night and readers would notice their difference in nature. I wonder what message the authoress had in mind through the portrayals of the Rogers and the Beresfords.

 

Some are born to Sweet Delight; Some are born to Endless Night

The Twists:

– Ellie Gutteman meets Mrs. Rogers, Michael’s mother, in secret after she has got married

– Stanford Loyd is the ex-husband of Claudia Hardcastle, Ellie’s neighbour

-Claudia Hardcastle is Rudolf Santonix’s stepsister, an architect who designs Ellie and Roger’s house

-Greta has known Michael Rogers prior to her working for Ellie

-The police find a woman’s lighter with a “C” initial on it in the Folly – a rendezvous place in Gypsy’s Acre

Cast of Characters:

Andrew Lippincot (Ellie’s guardian and a lawyer who sees things for Ellie)

Claudia Hardcastle (Ellie’s neighbour and friend, Lloyd’s ex-wife)

Cora Van Stuyvesant (Ellie’s stepmother)

Esther Lee (a Gypsy woman, who lives in a cottage near Gypsy’s Acre)

Fenella Guteman (a.k.a. Ellie, Michael’s wife)

Greta Andersen   (Ellie’s companion and confidante)

Sergeant Keene (who investigates Ellie’s death)

Tom Hughes, who will star as Michael Rogers in the television adaptation of the book as part of Miss Marple series – still filming (latest news on 27 March 2013).

Michael Rogers (Ellie’s husband)

Major Phillpot (Kingston Bishop’s Judge of Peace)

Rudolf Santonix (an architect who designs Ellie and Michael’s house)

Mrs. Rogers (Michael’s mother)

Dr. Shaw

Stanford Llyod (Ellie’s personal banker, Hardcastle’s ex-husband)

William R. Padoe (a.k.a. Uncle Reuben, Ellie’s cousin)

The Most Fascinating Character: Greta

She is German and first mentioned by Ellie. In her words she says, ‘She helps me. She’s on my side. She arranges so I can do things and go places. She’ll tell lies for me. I couldn’t have got away to come down to Gypsy’s Acre if it hadn’t been for Greta. She’s keeping me company and looking after me in London while my stepmother’s in Paris. I wrote two or three letters and if I go off anywhere Greta posts them every three or four days so that they have a London postmark.’

Ellie’s attachment to Greta is evident; her being a friend and confidante in the last four years she works for the other. Greta remains in the shadow nevertheless until she has to come to live with Ellie following the accident of her spraining the ankle.

What readers understand about her mainly comes from Rogers. On the one hand, he seems to admire to Greta’s efficiency and skills. On the other, he wants her not to be the third person in their marriage; he objects Ellie’s idea of inviting Greta to their wedding and had a heated argument overheard by Ellie. The latter view is also shared by Andrew Lippincot during their conversation in  Claridge’s. The subject of the companion being broached, Lippincot remarks,’..I don’t think that the influence Greta has over Ellie is a very desirable one…’

Mysterious Greta seems to be, she is a minor character that is curiously being mentioned a number of times. It is as if Rogers knows her well somehow, but is inclined to keep a distance at her at the same time.

Who is she actually – on Ellie’s side or Michael’s?

 

Clues:

Rudolf Santonix (to M. Rogers):

‘You damned fool…Why didn’t you go the other way?’

Michael Rogers (about Ellie):

‘….I felt a priggish distaste for the corruption of modern society in its richer phases. There had been something so little-girl-like about Ellie, so simple, almost touching in her attitude that I was astonished to find how well up she was in worldly affairs and how much she took for granted. And yet I knew that I was right about her fundamentally. I knew quite well the kind of creature that Ellie was. Her simplicity, her affection, her natural sweetness. That didn’t mean she had to be ignorant of things. What she did know and took for granted was a fairly limited slice of humanity. She didn’t know much about my world, the world of scrounging for jobs, of race-course gangs, and dope gangs, the rough and tumble dangers of life, the sharp-Aleck flashy type that I knew so well from living amongst them all my life. She didn’t know what it was to be brought up decent and respectable but always hard up for money, with a mother who worked her fingers to the bone in the name of respectability, determining that her son should do well in life. Every penny scrimped for and saved, and the bitterness when your gay carefree son threw away his chances or gambled his all on a good tip for the 3.30.

Dialogues between Mrs. Rogers and Michael Rogers:

R: ‘Is it a girl, Micky?’

MR: I didn’t meet her eyes I looked away and said, ‘In a way’

R: ‘What kind of a girl is she?’

MR: ‘The right kind of me’

R: ‘Are you going to bring her to see me?’

MR: ‘No’

R: ‘It’s like that, is it?’

MR: ‘No, it isn’t. I don’t want to hurt your feelings but- you’re not hurting my feelings. You don’t want me to see her in case I should say to you “Don’t”. Is that it?‘

R: ‘I wouldn’t pay any attention if you did’

MR: ‘Maybe not, but it would shake you. It would shake you somewhere inside because you take notice of what I say and think. There are things I’ve guessed about you – and maybe I’ve guessed right and you know it. I’m the only person in the world who can shake your confidence in yourself. Is this girl a bad lot who’s got hold of you?’

R: ‘Bad lot?’ I said and laughed. ‘If you only saw her! You make me laugh.’