Notes On Nemesis

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1971

Motive for Murder: Love

 

Plot:

Jane Marple received a ‘hello’ from the other side. Jason Rafiel, her unprecedented ally in  Notes on A Caribbean Mystery, had laid out a murder mystery challenge prior to his death.

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Nemesis: the goddess of retribution. from  nemein (Greek): give what is due

His lawyer handed the sleuth a letter from the billionaire man:

You, my dear, if I may call you that, have a natural flair for justice, and that has led to your having a natural flair for crime. I want you to investigate a certain crime. I have ordered a certain sum to be placed so that if accept this request and as a result of your investigation this crime is properly elucidated, the money will become yours absolutely. I have set aside a year for you to engage on this mission. You are not young, but you are, if I may say so, tough. I think I can trust a reasonable fate to keep you alive for a year at least.

Despite her initial doubt, on accepting the mission Miss Marple realised that his teasing but intriguing letter had meant for her having to put on her Nemesis cap. Nonetheless she asked herself: what crime? Where did it happen? In what circumstances? For his somewhat baffling challenge had left her with no clues.

Until the second letter came, followed by a communication from a travel agent in London from Famous Houses and Gardens tour.

 

Let justice roll down like waters.

And rightenousness like an everlasting stream.

Amos.

 

Highlights:

‘The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration’

T.S. Eliot

 

It’s been three years since I read the book. I put it aside in the attic among other Christie’s I have collected while completing the challenge between 2013 and 2014. Having picked it up again, I was surprised I had underestimated the craft Christie had put into the plot. To begin with, I had missed a number of things regarding the chain of scenes leading to the unmasking of the perpetrator. Nevertheless, the second reading allowed me to realise more about the difference in Christie’s approach about her characters, the book’s measured pace and its denouement.

In my first reading,  the first chapter seemed a bit boring. No murder announced but  Miss Marple’s rambling. Little did I see the point of ‘wasting’ over a thousand words lamenting about paper delivery and her pastime perusing news. Another thousand words were then spent for pondering over a dead person whom she hardly knew. Her thoughts were then interrupted by her daytime carer who came into the scene followed by a Miss Bartlett; a stranger whom happened to pass her garden that day.

The lagging pace in the subsequent chapters made me rather impatient.  I flicked over the pages and skipped my reading to the introduction of the three sisters -Clotilde, Anthea and Lavinia- who live in a former grandeur the Old Manor House.

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1901’s cover of The Three Sisters, a play  by Anton Chekov. It tells the tale of a class struggle of the Muscovites Olga, Irina and Masha living in a provincial town.

I was glad Lavinia Glynne, one of the sisters, was Mr. Rafiel’s link to the puzzling crime. Still, I failed to regard the fact that Christie’s seemingly long winding narrations was actually deliberate. In the second reading, however, I supposed it was her way to engage readers with Miss Marple’s way of thinking; an old curious ‘pussy’ who would mean no harm to everyone. With this in mind, I put my Miss Marple cap on as the subplots opened some possibilities concerning the profiling of the murderer.

Furthermore, Christie abandoned the golden rule in writing ‘show not tell’ by detailing her protagonist’s mulling over the case in her head.  Doubtless anything was not left unturned, however, including her questioning £20,000 reward awaiting to her success.

Christie’s specialty in conjuring arresting minor characters, however, deserved more attention and applauds. Avid readers may recognise similarities in some of them – a former headmistress, a maid, an academic- but nobody was ever the same; not even a repeat for their Victorian peculiar and long names.

In fact, their role – no matter how trivial it was – was like her building a ‘machinery’ in the story.  An old gardener could be a nut; a young Emlyn Price a bolt; an aged housemaid a spanner and a childless widow an oil machine. Without their ‘working’ together there would not be the imaginary functional engine that formed an astounding ending.

Some might have speculated about Miss Marple as Christie’s tribute to Clarissa Miller (nee Boehmer), her beloved mother. Be that as it may, many things in Nemesis to my mind represented Christie herself: the wiser, the softer octogenarian woman; vivacious and still exciting. It was as if she sent the message for her generation:  ‘we still has got it, never lose it.’

Christie’s much experience in building up the climax lent itself to her plodding an old sorrow and massaging guilt which emerged to surface through the languages of plants, famous plays, the Bible and deceptions.

By the time Miss Marple understood most details of the murder, the cold and cunning killer had prepared for another killing. As the net was closing in, some twists were inevitable – more impending tricks ala Christie. Not only did Miss Marple apply a drastic method to make the killer confess, but also she had taken a calculated risk to expose herself to the murderer.

 

The Twists:

– Elizabeth Temple had an ‘accident’ while on a trip to Bonadventure (as part of the tour) that resulted in her being in a comma at Carristown Hospital

– Verity Hunt and Michael Rafiel planned to marry in secret

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Northleach Parish Church, Gloucestershire, UK: the filming location for Verity Hunt’s headstone in 1987’s Miss Marple Nemesis TV series

 

– Miss Cooke gave Miss Marple a whistle after the coffee at the Old Manor House

– Nora Broad was identified as Verity Hunt’s

 

Cast of Characters:

Sir Andrew McNeil (the Governor at Manstone Prison)

Anthea Bradbury-Scott (one of the Three Sisters)

Sister Baker (at Carristown Hospital)

Miss Bartlett (a stranger who passes Miss Marple’s garden)

Archdeacon Brabazon (Elizabeth Temple’s old friend)

Mrs Blackett (Nora Broad’s relative)

Mr. Broadribb (Mr. Rafiel’s lawyer)

Cherry  (Miss Marple’s carer)  and her husband

Clotilde Bradbury-Scott (one of the Three Sisters)

Esther Anderson (previously Walters, Mr. Rafiel’s ex secretary)

Sir James Lloyd (Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard)

Jason B. Rafiel ( the billionaire man, deceased)

Lavinia Glynne (one of the Three Sisters)

Michael Rafiel

Mr. Schuster (Mr. Broadribb’s partner at the law firm)

Dr Stokes (who looks after E Temple at Carristown Hospital)

An aged housemaid at the Old Manor House

An old gardener at the Old Manor House

A girl (Nora Broad’s schoolfriend)

People in Tour No.37 Famous Houses and Gardens:

Miss Barrow

Miss Bentham

Mr Caspar

Miss Cooke

Elizabeth Temple (a former headmistress of girls’ boarding school)

Emlyn Price

Miss Joanna Crawford

Miss Lumley

Mrs. Sandbourne (the tour guide)

Richard Jameson

Mrs Riseley-Porter

Colonel and Mrs Walker

Professor Wanstead

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Michael Rafiel

Jason Rafiel’s son was an incorrigible law breaker. He involved in a number of petty crimes.  His father employed his lawyers (Mr. Broadribb & Mr Schuster) to get Michael released from Court proceedings.

The tides turned when Verity Hunt, a girl whom he courted, disappeared. She was reportedly found beaten to death and her face disfigured six months later. With his father’s money Michael managed to escape the hanging and the prison and instead he was sent to Broadmoor.

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Bruce Payne as Michael Rafiel in 1987’s adaptation into Miss Marple series

 

He existed in the book through the eyes and the words of others whom mostly bore an accusing and negative tone. His father described him as  ‘a son who is morally sick’; an aged housemaid to Miss Marple (see Clues) ‘a wicked devil’ and to Clotilde Bradbury-Scott he was ‘a miserable,depraved delinquent; a man unworthy to my beautiful, splendid girl (Verity).’

Only the Governor at Manstone Prison who believed not that Michael had been a killer. To Professor Wanstead he had expressed his doubts about a young man – no more than a lad when he arrived- who seemed to be capable to had done other crimes but to take a person’s life.

I pictured Michael in my head a boy who grew up without a mother and a father who channelled his energy to grow money instead to put his best investment in his children. I conjured images of someone who was good looking but lonely; rich but hardly had nobody to talk. On the surface I saw a defiant, smirking face and yet inside a child who sought filial love and attentions.

Only when he was introduced to a Verity Hunt while staying at the Old Manor House did he wish to turn a new leaf. Naturally, noone trusted his words that he had nothing to do with her disappearance. Nor would he tell them that he and Verity had asked Archdeacon Brabazon to had married them.

For a fleeting moment he reminded me of Jacko Argyle (see Notes on The Ordeal of the Innocence). Michael, however, could never have been the other because he was purely innocent. Nonetheless I had a hunch that Michael might have had a touch of Colonel Christie in him: a man Clarissa Miller had disapproved for her daughter.

In the end, Michael got his free pardon.

I hoped he would take it as a second chance in life.

 

 

Clues:

–          Elizabeth Temple (ET) and Miss Marple (JM):

JM: ‘Being as old as I am now, I suppose that I can’t help feeling that early death means missing things.’

ET: ‘And I, having spent all my life amongst the young, look at life as a period of time complete in itself. What did T.S. Eliot say: “the moment of the rose and the moment of the Yew tree are of equal duration.” ‘

JM: ‘I see what you mean…A life of whatever length is a complete experience. But don’t you ever feel that a life could be incomplete because it has been cut unduly so?’

ET: ‘Yes, that is so.’

 

–          Miss Marple’s conversation with a housemaid at the Old Manor House:

Housemaid: ‘First one thing and then another. The dreadful plane accident – in Spain it was- and everybody killed. Nasty things, aeroplanes – I’d never go in one of them. Miss Clotilde’s friends were both killed, they were husband and wife – the daughter was still at school, luckily, and escaped, but Miss Clotilde brought her to live and did everything for her. Took her abroad for trips – to Italy and France, treated her like a daughter. She was such a happy girl – and a very sweet nature. You’d never dream that such an awful thing could happen.’

JM: ‘An Awful thing. What was it? Did it happen here?’

Housemaid: ‘No, not here, thank God. Though in a way you might say it did happen here. He was in the neighbourhood – and the ladies knew his father, who was a very rich man, so he came here to visit – that was the beginning..’

JM: ‘They fell in love?’

Housemaid: ‘Yes, she fell in love with him right away. He was an attractive-looking boy, with a nice way of talking and passing the time of day. You’d never think – you’d never think for one moment…’

JM: ‘There was a love affair? And it went wrong? And the girl committed suicide?’

Housemaid: ‘Suicide? Whoever now told you that? Murder it was, bare-faced murder. Strangled and her head beaten to pulp. Miss Clotilde had to go and identify her – she’s never been quite the same since. They found her body a good thirty miles from here – in the scrub of a disused quarry. And it’s believed that it wasn’t the first murder he’d done. There had been other girls. Six months she’d been missing. And the police searching far and wide. Oh! A wicked devil he was – a bad lot from the day he was born or so it seems.

They say nowadays as there are those as can’t help what they do – not right in the head, and they can’t be held responsible. I don’t believe a word of it! Killers are killers. And they won’t even hang them nowadays. I know as there’s often madness as runs in old families – there was the Derwents over at Brassington- every second generation one or other of them died in the loony bin……But this boy. Yes, he was a devil right enough.’

JM; ‘What did they do to him?’

Charwoman: ‘They’d abolished hanging by then – or else he was too young. I can’t remember it all now. They found him guilty. It may have been Bostol or Broadsand – one of those places beginning with “B” as they sent him to.’

JM: ‘What was the name of the boy?’

Housemaid: ‘ Michael – can’t remember his last name. It’s ten years ago that it happened – one forgets. Italian sort of name – like a picture. Someone who paints pictures – Raffle, that’s it..’

JM: ‘Michael Rafiel?’

Housemaid: ‘ That’s right! There was a rumour as went about that his father being so rich got him wangled out of prison. An escape like the Bank Robbers. But I think as that was just a talk…’

 

–          Miss Crooke (C) to Jane Marple during the coffee at the Old Manor House:

C : ‘Oh, do forgive me Miss Marple, but really do you know, I shouldn’t drink that if I were you. Coffee, I mean, at this time of night. You won’t sleep properly.’

JM: ‘Oh,do you think so?’ I am quite used to coffee in the evening.’

C : ‘Yes, but this is very strong, good coffee. I should advise you not drink it.’

JM: ‘I see what you mean….’

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Dulce Et Decorum Est

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I picked up an English essay of my eldest for his school assignment. In the pages there were his teacher’s scribbles containing rooms for improvement.

I didn’t often read his homework, for I trusted him with the responsibilities. Also, I understood English had not been his forte – not because he loved Maths, but I quietly believed that he had not been taught properly about literature at his primary school. Ouch.

I began to read his words…

The following was an excerpt from his analysis on ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen.

‘The second stanza corybantic start of ‘Gas! Gas!’ instantly puts you into the scene. When all the men are struggling to put on their ill-fitting masks onto their faces just in time. Owen then cleverly describes that one man wasn’t able to put his mask in time and died in a horrific way, using the simile “like a man in fire or lime”. He conveys his feelings of being helpless to a victim of gas attack. It is shown when he (Owen) says, and I quote from the poem, “In all my dream before mg helpless sight, He plunges at me guttering, choking, drowning’ displaying through the use of active verbs, that he relives the events almost every night. This is an example of ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ when someone witnesses a person or people who have died before their eyes and thinks that they could not have whilst could not have, even if they tried. He carries on by saying that the victim looked like he had seen the devil and his face was writhed. He finishes by saying that he resents the fact that people believe the lie, “Dulce et Decorum est, Pro Patrio Mori.”

A long quote. It would have been incomplete had I excluded the rest and stopped after the third sentence.

Corybantic. The use of active verbs. The lie told in the Latin words that meant ‘it is sweet

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Wilfred Owen was killed in action a week before the Armistice.

and right to die for your country.’

I agreed with his teacher that ‘corybantic’ is a fantastic word for a twelve year old (at the time he submitted the assignment). To my mind it was  much more than just ‘fantastic.’

At his age, I wished I could have had written such a paragraph that summed up the consequences of a propaganda. Moreover, I was fascinated that we seemed to have shared the hindsight that World War I could have been prevented to occur.

Readers,  he was the boy I mentioned in About Christie’s Fan. Now a teenager, he would reason that his Lego collection was a better companion than a trip with his mother to a museum.  For during the period of reading Christie’s books I used to ramble about the Great War that was far from great to my children. I had taken him and his sisters to various sites in London and England that still bore all the hallmarks of the two world wars. Consequently, he  was used to my talking randomly about the changing map of Europe in the aftermath, No Man’s Land or derogatory terms like ‘the Hunts.’ Personally, trying to make sense every young life taken and wasted from every corner of England was very tough.

During the journeys my children looked bored and inattentive towards their mother’s ‘interest.’ Little did I realise that they might have learnt a thing or two.

After reading his essay I felt somehow having raving mad about the subject proved to be useful. I hoped he began to see to the geometrical aspects of words and their wonderful symmetry, of which were as fine as Fibonacci numbers.

I believe it’s a mum’s jobs to ‘keep raving.’ Keep telling your children what you did, what you observed, what mistakes you made, what you learnt from the ‘saints’ and the ‘rudes’ ones in life. Keep saying your (proper for their age) jokes, your (not too serious) worries and your fears.

Often I thought mine wouldn’t have noticed, but maybe I was wrong.  They had. They had taken in your passion. Your tones of voice. Your viewpoints. Your responses. Your reactions. Your conclusion.

I began to believe my son actually liked English. Perhaps he liked English more than he thought. His promising essay (that then earnt him level 7B) meant  I ought to give him more appreciation to his hard work.

I’d better find more of his essays (while pretending hoovering his room).

 

Notes On They Do It With Mirrors

Rating: 4 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1952

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

Ruth Van Rydock has a premonition about her sister. But she can only trust Jane Marple to investigate the matter. While persuading her old school friend to take up the case, Van Rydock has written to their friends Carrie Louise about the sleuth coming to stay at Stonygates.

‘I tell you I don’t know,’ says Van Rydock to Miss Marple. ‘And that’s what worries me. I’ve just been down there- for a flying visit. And I felt all along that there was something wrong. In the atmosphere –in the house –I know I’m not mistaken…’

Miss Marple hasn’t time to put up her feet; a few days after her arrival the murderer strikes. Carrie Louise’s stepson is found dead at his desk – a revolver nearby. Two other bodies follow with their heads crushed by stage counterweights.

In the meantime, an allegation of Carrie Louise’s being poisoned is revealed. Much as the sleuth wishes not to involve her friend in the investigation, Miss Marple can’t see other way to solve the murders without Carrie Louise. And she has to be quick: before the killer strikes again.

Highlights:

‘We’re all mad, dear lady. That’s the secret of existence. We’re all a little mad.’

Dr. Maverick to Miss Marple

Borstal boys doing Physical Training in the yard. Wales, 1950s.

It’s a full house at Stonygates, Carrie Louise’s home. Not only does she live with her daughter, her granddaughter and her husband, her two stepsons, but also non-family members which consist of psychiatrists and ex-young offenders. For the Victorian Mansion is used as a rehabilitation institution running by Lewis Serrocold, Carrie’s third husband.

Carrie is the opposite of Van Rydock; the rich and glamorous Ruth versus a demure and introvert younger sister. On the one hand, Ruth believes that the other ‘has lived right out of this world’ as well as has a tendency to marry a ‘crank’ – men with ideals. On the other hand, Carrie Louise thinks highly of men with ideas of giving back to the society and a noble cause.

Things seem normal when Miss Marple arrives. Carrie Louise is the same personae the other has known for fifty years. The sleuth notes that ‘Carrie Louise seems secure, remote at the heart of a whirlpool- as she had been all her life.’

The next day brings a drastic change with the appearance of Christian Guildbrandsen, Carrie Louise’s stepson from her first husband. His presence delights Mildred his half sister, but triggers a chain of events which results in his being murdered.

In Carrie Louise Christie creates a unique protagonist. Everything revolves around her. People who live under the same roof call Carrie differently. Christie steers her readers to rely on the authority of the sleuth’s memories in understanding  Carrie.

Interestingly, Christie challenges readers to question the credence of Miss Marple’s views about the other. Is she right about Carrie Louise being in her ‘dreamy world’? The sleuth becomes fascinated towards Carrie’s opinions on certain suspects which look ambiguous and even raise doubts if her judgement is sound. Only towards the end does Miss Marple begin to realise that her perception about Carrie Louise is highly influenced by Ruth’s. Then Miss Marple admits of her knowing very little about Carrie Louise.

Meanwhile, Christie draws attention to Mildred Sete (see The Most Fascinating Character). Her simmering anger and jealousy to her attractive niece Gina Hudd makes Mildred instantly a suspect. Gina’s mother is adopted and she dies when Gina is small (along with her husband). Carrie Louise adores her only granddaughter and has taken up the responsibility of being Gina’s guardian.

In Inspector Curry,  Christie conjures up an intelligent but playful police officer. He likes saying remarks without thinking further about the impacts on others. His comment about a stage performance to Alex Restarick gives readers clues to the motive of Restarick’s being murdered shortly afterwards. ‘…The illusion is in the eye of the beholder, not in the self itself. That, as I say, is real enough, as real behind the scenes as it is in front.’

Little does Curry realise  Restarick’s having an Eureka moment because of  the above words. For it’s become clear in his mind how Christian’s murder have been cleverly done. If only he would’ve known how dangerous his knowledge had been.

The stage counterweights (left) who ends life of Alex Restarick and Ernie Gregg.

What’s more, Christie puts her sleuth in an awkward situation. She is the last person to speak to Alex Restarick before his body and Ernie Gregg’s are found. Moreover, she does nothing after Restarick tells her about Inspector Curry’s remark (See Clues).

Furthermore, it is rather unusual for Miss Marple’s being in the wrong stick of judgment about people. For at the beginning she criticises Carrie Louise ‘being up in the clouds’ about Stephen Restarick -Alex’s brother- falling head over heels to Gina. Only towards the end does Miss Marple realise her misinterpreting her host’s responses and undermining her views on some issues.

What does not alter  is the sleuth’s firm confidence to handle the investigation alone. Of which is a contrast to Ariadne Oliver when she begs –orders, to be precise- Hercule Poirot to come immediately to Nasse House (see Notes On Dead Man’s Folly).

As for the motive of the murderer, Christie gives hints at it in the first two chapters which have a touch of of The Shawshank Redemption (1993) and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1936). In my second reading I chuckle at the thought of  Ruth lays out all facts that is ample for Christie’s avid readers to guess whodunit. Mathew Prichard, should you read this, would you concur?

For it is not uncommon Mathew’s grandmother plots as she writes. In a number of her books she places the perpetrators right from the beginning. Her most famous book, the cardinal of a criminal novel, is an exemplary example.

Anyhow, I enjoy the merging of the sub-plots into a neat denouement. Edgar Lawson, Ernie Gregg and Walter Hudd play their respective parts – the supporting actors, if you like – to make the book a very good show. An incorrigible liar, an ex-con and a foreigner are perfect ingredients for  a not-too-gruesome crime story.

Last but not least, I’d like to comment Rosie Powell’s review of They Do It With Mirrors : ‘….I did not find the setting of a Victorian manor converted into a home for delinquent boys that intriguing. I suppose one has to blame Christie for creating this setting in the first place. I suspect that she was out of her league…’

I beg to differ. Christie puts forward a question on the efficiency of such an institution – ahead of her time. Yet she expresses her disagreement lightheartedly through Ruth’s comparison between charity and fashion. ‘Well, there’s a fashion in philanthropy too. It used to be education in Gulbrandsen’s day.But that’s out of date now. The State has stepped in. Everyone expects education as a matter of right – and doesn’t think much of it when they get it! Juvenile Deliquency – that’s what is the rage nowadays…’ Bearing in mind it is ‘spoken’ by the American Mrs. Van Rydock …

Nevertheless, I agree  with Powell that Christian’s murder ‘did not seem particularly complicated.’ Yet, why don’t we try to depict a moment that engage all the senses that it happens not according to our belief? Christie’s fond of plays clearly affect her inclusion of  ‘theatrical effect’ in a number of scenes in this book.

What do you think?

 

The Twists:

– Gina’s mother Pippa is the daughter of a convicted criminal

– Carrie Louise is right about Edgar Lawson and Lewis Serrocold

-Christian Gulbrandsen’s suicide letter is fake

-Gina chooses Walter Hudd over Stephen Restarick and they move back to the U.S.A.

– Ruth Van Rydock’s premonition is unjustified

 

Cast of Characters:

Alexis Restarick (Carrie Louise’s stepson from second husband)

Arthur Jenkins (the last person who sees Ernie Gregg alive)

Mr. Baumgarten

Carrie Louise Serrocold (the wife of Lewis Serrocold)

Christian Gulbrandsen (Carrie Louise’s stepson from first husband)

Inspector Curry

PC Dodgett

Edgar Lawson (who works at the institution)

Ernie Gregg (an ex-offender living in the institution)

Gina Hudd (Carrie Louise’s granddaughter, Pippa’s daughter)

Juliet Bellever (companion and secretary to Carrie Louise)

Sergeant Lake

Lewis Serrocold (Third husband of Carrie Louise)

Dr. Maverick (a live-in psychiatrist at the institution)

Mildred Strete (nee Guldbransen) ( Carrie Louise’s child from first husband)

Ruth Van Rydock  (Miss Marple’s school friend)

Stephen Restarick (Alexis’s brother)

Walter Hudd (Gina’s husband)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mildred Srete (nee Gulbrandsen)

After her husband’s passing, the widow of Canon Srete goes back to her childhood home Stonygates.

Mildred is Carrie Louise’s only biological child. Her mother brings her into the world after a surprise pregnancy at a later age. Three years before her birth, Mildred’s parents have adopted a girl, Pippa. Attractive and extrovert, she is an opposite side of a coin to Mildred, of whom has a plain look of her father but inherits the introvert trait of Carrie Louise.  Her mother’s dotting on Pippa and her elder sister’s beauty create distance between Mildred and her mother. Mildred hates Pippa and after her death Mildred turns her dislike to her pretty niece.

Gina’s vivacity and beauty emulate her late mother and they only enrage Mildred more. She accuses her niece of trying to poison Carrie Louise and rants at Gina about the nature of Pippa’s adoption.

It is worth considering whether Mildred-Carrie Louise’s relationship mirrors Agatha-Rosalind. Christie is far from close to Rosalind Hicks, in spite of her daughter refers the other as ‘kind and loving.’ But Hick gets on with Max Mallowan, altough she has never joined the Mallowans’ excavation journeys in Syria and Irak. Moreover, Hicks pursues her own hobbies and interests in the absence of her mother’s travelling.

Be that as it may, Christie settles the misunderstanding between Mildred and Carrie Louise in a moving way – from one widow to another. In a letter to her aunt Mrs. Van Rydock Gina sums it up‘…And they went away together into the house, Grandam [Carrie Louise] looking so small and frail and leaning on Aunt Mildred. I never realized, until then, how fond of each other they were. It didn’t show much, you know, but it was there all the time.’

 

Clues:

Ruth Van Rydock to Jane Marple:

‘….Well, Lewis was a very suitable person for her [Carrie Louise] to marry. He was the head of a very celebrated firm of chartered accountants. I think he met her first over some questions of the finances of the Gulbrandsen Trust and the College. He was well off, just about her own age, and a man of absolutely upright life. But he was a crank. He was absolutely rabid on the subject of the redemption of young criminals.’

Conversation between Gina Hudd (GH) and Jane Marple (JM):

GH:

JM: ‘No, never. I’ve heard a great deal about it, of course.’

GH: ‘A short of Gothic monstrosity. What Steve [her husband] calls Best Victorian Lavatory Period. But it’s fun, too in a way. Only of course everything’s madly earnest, and you tumble over psychiatrists everywhere underfoot. Enjoying themselves madly. Rather like Scout-masters, only worse. The young criminals are rather pets, some of them. One showed me how to diddle locks with a bit of a wire and one angelic-faced boy gave me a lot of points about coshing people.

It’s the thugs I like best. I don’t fancy the queers so much. Of course Lewis and Dr. Maverick think they’re all queer – I mean they think it’s repressed desires and disordered home life and their mothers getting off with soldiers and all that. I don’t really see it myself because some people have had awful home lives and yet have managed to turn out quite all right.’

JM : ‘I’m sure it is all a very difficult problem.’

GH : ‘It doesn’t worry me much. I suppose some people have these sort of urges to make the world a better place. Lewis is quite dippy about it all – he’s going to Aberdeen next week because there’s a case coming up in the police court – a  boy with five previous convictions.’

JM : ‘The young man who met me at the station? Mr. Lawson. He helps Mr Serrocold, he told me. Is he his secretary?’

GH: ‘Oh, Edgar hasn’t brains enough to be a secretary. He’s a case, really. He used to stay at hotels and pretend he was a V.C. [Victorian Cross] or a fighter pilot and borrow money and then do a flit. I think he’s just rotter. But Lewis goes through  a routine with them all. Makes them feel one of the family and gives them jobs to do and all that to encourage their sense of responsibility. I daresay we shall be murdered by one of them these days.’

Miss Marple didn’t laugh.

Alex Restarick (AR) to Jane Marple:

AR: ‘I must say that that was a very penetrating remark of the Inspector’s [Curry]. About a stage set being real. Made of wood and cardboard and stuck together with glue and as real on the unpainted as on the painted side. The illusion is in the eyes of the audience.’

JM: ‘Like conjurers. They do it with mirrors, I believe, the slang phrase.’

A Touch of Irak and Gertrude Bell

From The Gate of Shiraz in Parker Pyne Investigates (1934) to her archaeological memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946), to Death Comes to An End (1944), there is ample evidence of Agatha Christie’s being besotted with the Middle East.

Christie takes a photograph of an Assyrian ivory statue in Nimrud, Irak.

Intrepid like-minded English women before her have crossed the Sahara and spent nights in the wilderness of the desert, but none turns the wonders of the ancient cultures of Assyrians and Egyptians into a crime fiction. In her memoir, Christie’s account on her journeys accompanying her husband captures the lives of the people and their customs with great fondness and respect. And if she’d had to choose her favourite place, it would have been Irak. For Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and They Came to Baghdad (1951) become the everlasting memories of her fascination towards the country. In the later book she dedicates it to ‘friends in Irak and Syria.’  What’s more, in Murder Is Announced (1953),  she names the priest’s dog Tiglath Phileser after an Assyrian King. The ‘wise’ and ‘clever’ canine creature helps Miss Marple work out as to the execution-style murder has been carried out in the house of Letitia Blacklock. If there was another woman who would match her  passion, it would be Gertrude Bell. BBC 4’s Book of the Week: Queen of the Desert, which highlights her major role in the formation of the Republic of Irak, unearths an indomitable but intriguing personae ahead of her time. Bell is the choreographer behind the installation of Faisal I of Irak  in 1921. Her  work for the Arab Bureau during the First World War I gathering intelligence for the British Imperial government leads to her post as the Oriental Secretary under  Sir Percy Cox. In the meantime, she reaches out to Faisal. Her excellence in Arabic and Farsi, as well as her wide networking with the tribal leaders and the chieftains, are indispensable to the success of British campaign after the Ottoman Empire relinquishes its power in Irak and Arabia in 1917. At that time Irak is an uncharted territory; for thousands years Arabs have recognised it merely as ‘al iraaq,’ a vast land consists of three former-Ottoman provinces namely Mosul, Basra and Baghdad. In Greek it is called ‘Mesopotamia: ‘between the rivers’ (the Tigris and the Euphrates). Unbeknown to her, there was a secret pact between Britain and France to divide authorities in the region rich in oil but ruled largely by tribal laws. Her plan for Faisal as the Pan-Arab king has been thwarted. Much as she believes such pact is an ill-informed decision, Bell does not step back. She then manages to cajole Faisal into claiming a kingdom in a region he has no bearings and root.   Bell’s involvement in the Near East starts in Tehran. She stays with her stepmother’s sister, the wife of British Minister Frank Lascelles, in her attempt to find a suitor. She falls in love with one there, but Hugh Bell disagrees to their union in marriage. Her heart bleeds when she receives a telegram about his death, eight months after she was back in London. Despite her heartache,  Persian Pictures (1894) is published.  The Desert and the Sown (1907)  follows, enriched by three-hundred photographs she has taken about people, landscape and agriculture of different regions of Syria and Palestine. The Thousand and One Churches (1909), co-authored with William Mitchell Ramsay,is considered as a seminal archaeological work about the first Christian settlement in Turkey. Contrary to Bell, Christie’s interest towards the Middle East is a slow-burning one. Clara Miller brings her twenty-year old daughter Agatha to Cairo for her formal ‘coming-out’ into the society in the winter 1910. Unfortunately, the young Agatha is more into dances and parties, being oblivious to any archaeological artefacts and history. She does not warm up to Sphinx and the pyramids. In her biography (1976) she writes: “Mother tried to broaden my mind by taking me to the Egyptian Museum, and also suggested we should go up the Nile to see the glories of Luxor. I protested passionately with tears in my eyes the wonders of antiquity were the last thing I cared to see.” In 1915, the then-newlywed Mrs. Christie might not have heard about Bell.Nor would she have come across the three books the other had written. Little did Christie realise thirteen years later she would board the Orient Express from London to Baghdad like Bell 36 years before. Her last-minute decision to have cancelled the Caribbean trip had a huge impact to  her life and writing. Due to her leg injury, her journey back to London is accompanied by a twenty-six year old junior archaeologist Max Mallowan. She returns to Irak as his wife in 1931, a year before the country declares itself as an independent kingdom. Mrs. Mallowan brings her  typewriter and the sounds of the clanking keys of her typing is part of life in a dig.   When Murder in Mesopotamia is out in print,Bell has long gone.She dies in the early hours in her Baghdad home two days before her 58th birthday ; in the same summer The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has catapulted the shy Mrs. Christie into the limelight. Christie’s portrayal of the atmosphere in the imaginary Tell Yamrijah  would have thrilled Bell a lot. Just as Christie, Bell is familiar and passionate about the hard work being carried out during an excavation. It would have tickled her that the plot suggests a former spy has been among the members of the team. Had they met, both women would have had a lot to share and discuss. On the one hand, Bell could have told Christie about the flowering Daffodils in her Baghdad’s garden and her friendship with King Faisal. On the other hand,Christie would have intrigued Bell with the usage of lotion cream to recover an intricate Assyrian ivory small statue. When I wrote Notes on They Came to Baghdad during the marathon reading in 2013, little did it occur to me that Irak has left an indelible mark in Christie. A plan to sabotage an international peace conference held in the capital is well under way and it will be unstoppable unless the evidence of it being presented in time. Why  a peace conference, I wondered. The answer perhaps is not a clear-cut one.It seems to me the book challenge the views regarding the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, seen as more phenomenal  and much more popular than the discovery of Ur. Instead of the Valley of the Kings Christie suggests Baghdad:the cradle of civilisation. And therefore peace ought to be where everything begins. What would have Bell had to say  had she been alive to read Christie’s books? First, she might have recalled the depiction of the British agent Carmichael in They Came… among a league of men in  her circle. Next, she might have seen resemblances of her boss Sir Peter Cox in Corbie, and maybe a little of herself in Victoria Jones. Both Bell and Christie might have something in common after all. They have encounters in connection to the Armenian genocide . In Iraq and Gertrude Bell’s The Arab’s MesopotamiaPaul J. Rich quotes Bell catching a glimpse of the horrors  in Damascus. For she has witnessed the Kurds, being ordered by  the Turks, rounding up the Armenians and taking them to different places. Later they are killed.  In the memoir,Christie recollects  her visit to the Yezidi Sheikh of the Sinjar, whom gives shelter to hundreds of Armenians fleeing from the prosecution. Also, the story of the amiable Aristide, the Armenian driver whose taxi is hired for an  arduous journey from Beirut to North Syria.  At the age of seven Aristide is thrown into a deep pit with his family and other Armenian families. Whilst his father, mother, two brothers and sisters are burnt alive, his life is spared. Found and saved by  the Anaizah Arabs, he is then brought up as one of them.  This 15th September will mark 125 years of Christie’s birth. Queen of the Desert starring Nicole Kidman will also be in the cinemas in the UK this autumn. Whilst Christie has been a household name for over eighty years, Bell’s has only  came up in the last twenty years. Alas, the first woman who receives a First in Modern History from Oxford gets her dues.

Christie, England’s First Female Serial Killer and a Wren

The book, published in 1973, brings attention about her a century later.

In 1873 Mary Ann Cotton is sent to the gallows in Durham Jail. She’s been charged with the murder of a seven-year-old boy, her step son. Nevertheless, the forty-one-year-old nursemaid maintains her innocence until her last breath. Arthur Appleton’s book brings attention about her a century later.

She’s hanged as traces of Arsenic has been found in her victim. What’s more, evidence mounts of her having done the same to at least 15 others. In fact, the number could be 21 in total.

Suddenly West Auckland is shaken by a serial killer in its midst: a seemingly harmless miner’s daughter who allegedly has ended life her four husbands, her lovers, her mother, her step children, and her own ones. Although she’s more murderous than Jack the Ripper, little is known about her outside North East of England.

Fast forward to 19th February 1941. In Tenby Kathleen Skin can see the blazes from Swansea after the bombardments. Over three days the Luftwaffe has dropped 800 explosives and 35,000 incendiaries have fallen on the city bringing about raging fires, destroying its ancient centres, killing and injuring hundreds of people.

Kathleen Skin in her Wren uniform

Infuriated, she realises her days as a nanny is over. She takes a day off work to undertake health tests in order to join the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS). She passes them, but not until in the very last one she finds out she’s failed due to her weight. A few pounds more are all she needed on the scale to meet the minimum six stones requirement. That day she comes back dejected, preparing food for the baby’s dinner in a sombre mood.

These women, a Britain’s first female serial killer and eventually a ‘Wren’ heroine, live in different periods, but they mirror some female characters in Christie’s books. Did she ever hear about Mary Ann, I wonder? Did she ever meet one in the Women’s Forces, her source of inspiration for Lynn Marchmont (see Notes on Taken by The Flood)?

A women serial killer is highlighted in By The Pricking of My Thumbs (1968), which features the duo Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. A painting Tuppence has inherited from her late aunt Ada then arises Tuppence’s curiosity. For later she notices something amiss on it and so her adventure begins.

Furthermore, the authoress’s fascination about a cold-blooded murderess’s state of mind gives way to the rise of them, notably in Lord Edgware Dies (1933), Peril At End House (1932) and After The Funeral (1953). Although the murderess Tuppence helps unearth doesn’t pay her dues, her crimes ring the same bell as Mary Ann’s.

Skin’s true account of life during the last War is re-told in The Girls Who Went to War. Before she can realise her dream to be a Wren, she has a stint in the Land Army. Unlike Marchmont, Skin isn’t posted abroad. The dream to see the world subsides after the VE Day, as Skin is back to ‘Civvy Street’ and retrains as a teacher. Likewise, Marchmont is demobbed and home in Spring 1946 after two and a half years ago spent overseas.

Mary Ann fits in Christie’s adage ‘anyone can be a murderer.’ Nobody at that time could believe such crimes had been carried out in return of insurance money. Moreover is Mary Ann’s manipulation to men, a trait that would remind avid readers to a famous King’s Counsel Mr. Mayherne being played at in The Witness of Prosecution.

Life after the Service will never be the same for both Skin and Marchmont, albeit there is a delayed wedding to consider. For Marchmont, the untimely death of a super rich uncle Gordon Cloade affect her and her cousin/fiancée Rowley; their being drifted apart as Marchmont is drawn to the attractive David Hunter, with whom she feels the connection while sharing their wartime experiences. As for Skin, the strange behaviour of her fiancée Arnold concerns her a lot.

Arsenic poisoning is not much mentioned in Christie’s books, for she prefers the uses of poisonous plants, such as Foxgloves and Strychnines and drugs, ie. trinitrines, prussic acid and Bromides. Nevertheless, Mary Ann goes Scot free many times with a common method of administering Arsenic in tea. The deaths of those children in her care are referred as ‘gastric fever,’ which bear similar symptoms. A doctor who releases the death certificates to some children is already suspicious and the allegations are proven following the exhumation of the bodies.

Christie captures well Marchmont’s mixed feelings about adjusting to civilian life, but she might be over the top having written in the book: ‘….wonderful to be out of uniform, to be able to get into a tweed skirt and a jumper – even if the moths had been rather too industrious during the war years!’

For the WRNS navy blue uniform is considered at the top of the fashion. Designed by Edward Molyneux, its straight streamlined jacket is envied compared to the belted waists and pleated pockets of the ATS’s and WAAF’s. Not to mention the Wrens are allowed to wear a pair of black stockings, a privilege indeed to show their feminine side. And therefore Marchmont should have been very proud wearing her uniform and the much-admired tricorne hat.

Christie might have heard the WRNS recruitment is the hardest of the three Women’s Forces and regarded as the classiest. Perhaps for those reasons she has chosen Marchmont to be a Wren. Thumbs up to Christie who has brought up the least-mentioned symbol until recent of the Women’s Forces whose contributions to the War effort are significant. In this post-war novel she also reflects about her loss, having received a War Office Telegram for her daughter’s first husband.

Fiction and real life can be inexplicably interwoven, but at the same time they can be very contrasting. Skin might not be as lucky in love as Marchmont, but she sees the world after all by taking a job as a teacher in Malaysia. In the next few decades she lives in Asia and Africa.

Meanwhile, Mary Ann Cotton brings the secrets of the true extent of her crimes into her grave while in Christie’s world Felicie Bault (The Fourth Man, see Notes on The Hound of Death) is the nearest character I can think of. I begin to doubt whether Mrs. Lancaster is as ‘daring’ as Mary Ann nonetheless.

She’s dead and she’s rotten
Lying in bed with her eyes wide open
Sing? Sing? What song should I sing?
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up in string
Where? Where? She’s up in the air
And now their selling puddings for a penny pair

Readers, would you turn Mary Ann’s life into a novel?

————–

‘The Hand That Smoothed The Pillow’ about the Victorian killer’s life was presented by her descendant Theresa Musgrove. Duncan Barrett (co-author with Nuala Calvi) discussed about their newly-launched book The Girls Who Went to War. The two events were part of Finchley Literary Festival from 20th to 24th May 2015.

The Sinking of Lusitania: Is It All German’s Fault?

‘It was 2 p.m on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915. The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed. The women and children were being lined up awaiting their turn. Some still clung desperately to husbands and fathers; others clutched their children closely to their breasts. One girl stood alone, slightly apart from the rest. She was quite young, not more than eighteen. She did not seem afraid, and her grave, steadfast eyes looked straight ahead’   

The Secret Adversary begins with a scene in the aftermath of the shinking liner, in which an American man trusts a stranger, his fellow citizen, with a highly confidential document. Tommy and Tuppence then are involved in the hunt of it, which, if the enemy gets it first, would bring down the incumbent Tory government.

British newspapers condemn the tragedy as ‘The Hun’s Most Ghastly Crime’ and Woodrow Wilson is also quick to state: ‘no warning, that an unlawful and inhumane act will be committed can possibly be accepted as an excuse or palliation of that act.’ Among the deads are 128 Americans.

Likewise, Christie’s aforementioned words are filled with the sentiment against Germans. The pain is still raw  when the book is published in 1922. It is a little wonder the copies have been sold like hot cakes, despite the hardship most people in Britain have experienced in the post-war years.

Over a century later, Saul David, a historian, asks: can the blame be pointed entirely to Germans?

In his article for May’s History magazine he argues that British government should also be held responsible for the loss of 1,198 lives including 94 children (out of 1,959 passengers and crews).

The advertisement on the New York Times on 1st May 1915

On 1st May 1915, the German embassy in Washington D.C. advertises in the New York Times to remind ‘travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage’ that ‘vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or ay of her allies, are liable to destruction’ in the war zone ‘adjacent to the British Isles’ and that any travellers who crossed by such means did so ‘at their own risk.’

1,257 people who have embarked on the Lusitania on the same day from Liverpool ignore it.

Meanwhile, the British Admiralty has issued secret guidelines to merchant skippers: to ‘avoid headlands, near which submarines routinely lurked and found their best hunting’; to steer ‘a mid-channel course’; to operate at ‘full speed’ and to zigzag rather than sail in in a straight line.

Captain William Turner

On 5th May at 10.30 pm The British Admiralty begins to broadcasting a messae at regular intervals to all ships that a U-boat is active in the Irish Channel. Few hours earlier U-20 has sunk a small three-masted schooner off the south coast of Ireland. The next day it sinks two merchant ships off Ireland.

On 6th Mayat 7.52 pm Captain Turner of the Lusitania receives a wireless signal that submarines are ‘active off south coast Ireland.’ Five more warnings are then received.

On 7th May at 8 am he orders the speed to be decreased from 21 to 18 knots, and then to 15 due to the fog.

As the fog is cleared, at 10 am the speed is increased to 18 knots instead of the maximum 21 knots.

At 1 pm the captain orders the fixing of the ship’s position, a laborious process that takes two hours and requires a steady course, constant speed and proximity to land.

At 2.10 pm Kapitanleutnant Scwieger strikes the starboard side of the Lusitania beloow the bridge, causing two explosions.  The Lusitania sinks in 18 minutes.

Kapitantleutnant Walther Schwieger

Watching through his periscope, Schwieger remembers ‘an unusually heavy detonation’ followed by ‘very strong explosion cloud.’ In his diary he writes:

‘The ship stops immediately and quickly heels to starboard, at the same time diving deeper in the bows. She has the appearance of being about to capsize. Great confusion on board, bots being cleared and part lowered to water. They must have lost their heads. Many boats crowded come down bow first or stern first in the water, and immediately fill and sink…Submerge to 24 metres and got to sea. I could not have fired a second torpedo into this throng of humanity attempting to save themselves’ 

If his words are taken into account, is the above prologue possible to occur? Eighteen minutes are very quick from the moment the torpedo hits the ship; there wouldn’t have been enough warning for every passengers, let alone a brief conversation between Jane Finn and Danvers. For Scwieger’s notes imply that 761 survivors are rescued by the boats in the water. And therefore Danvers might have died before he met Finn whilst Finn could not have stood on the ship awaiting the rescue.

Furthermore is the fact that only one torpedo launched. Apologising to the loss of life of the U.S. citizens, the kaiser’s government states that such action is justified in response to the royal Navy’s blockade of the German  coast (causing starvation) and because the Lusitania carries large quantities of war materials in her cargo. The latter is strongly denied  by the British government and its successors.

In 2008  it is confirmed more than 4 million .303 rifle bullets and tons of munitions -shells, powders, fuses and gun cotton- found in ‘unrefrigerated cargo holds that were dubiously marked cheese, butter and oysters.’ Some conclude that these have caused the second explosion, although in 2012 scientific tests at a US government-funded research facility in California challenge the deduction. The second explosion might be a boiler explosion which does not bring about significant damage.

Is Christie a victim of either of a propaganda or trial by the press? What would be her views had she read the contrasting facts?

For all its worth, it has given the desired effect to persuade the American public in favour of the US declaring war on Germany in April 1917.

At the end of the day, it remains that the UK government ought to own up for their part in the unnecessary casualties. As David remarks: ‘A German U-Boat may have fired the fatal shot. But it was British actions that both justified that aggression and helped the torpedo find its mark.’

What do you think?

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?’