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.

 

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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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)

 

 

 

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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….’

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 At Bertram’s Hotel

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1965

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Motive for Crime: ‘Adventure’

Plot:

Canon Pennyfather has missed his flight to Lucerne on November 19th, having mixed up the date. He decides to go back to Bertram’s where he still keeps a room at the hotel. As he opens the door past midnight, it astounds him to see something very strange but familiar. Two days later he is reported missing by his housekeeper.

A cover of Time featuring London, the Swinging City in the sixties.

Miss Marple notices that a fellow guest has developed a habit of greeting a number of guests wrongly; either she thinks she has known a face but they do not recognise her or she hardly makes of their presence in the Old World Charm of the hotel. The latter is the case of Lady Bess Sedgwick, of whom the guest has known since she was a girl. Lady Sedgwick’s staying is extraordinary, given as a celebrity she would have been anywhere but Bertram’s.

Ladislaus Malinowski’s flamboyant appearance but moreover is his enquiring about the aforementioned famous woman.  Miss Marple feels uncomfortable when she happens to spot Malinowski on separate occasions with Lady Sedgwick and a young pretty girl, Elvira Blake. It makes her wonder.

The Irish Mail Train Robbery in the early hours of 20th makes a big headline on the papers and brings Chief-Inspector Davy attention to Bertram’s. For a witness has described a man whose appearance seems to have matched with the missing canon. Meanwhile, at 3 am the female sleuth sees Pennyfather’s back as he leaves his room and goes down the stairs. ‘Why haven’t you told anyone this before?’ asks Davy. ‘Nobody asked me,’ she replies.

What connects a respectable London hotel, Malinowski, the clergyman with a robbery at a grand scale?

Highlights:

The Roadmaster in the sixties – a London icon.

In the swing sixties’ Britain, London is a different world. To Miss Marple the capital, as busy as ever, has changed. Yet the memories of her having come with her aunt as a young girl fill her with great excitement. Is Bertram’s still there? It comforts her to realise that time seems to stand still within the walls of the hotel – a short walk away from Piccadilly Circus. Quite miraculously so, in her view, that things remain the same.

Christie was in her mid-seventies when the book was published. Her character might have been much older than her yet a keen observer to her surroundings.  Furthermore, she appears to take a back seat from crime during her fortnight stay. There is not much about sleuthing until a day before she checks out; not until she is approached by Chief Inspector Davy (whom will be referred as ‘Father’) about the disappearance of Canon Pennyfather.

Nonetheless, it is the creation of Lady Bess Sedgwick (see her history in Clues) that is intriguing. Her portrayal as a ‘modern woman’ distinguishes her from the authoress’s previous female characters first and foremost. She is rebellious and her adventure with men (three times married) is not to be found in Anne Beddingfield, Tuppence Beresford, Bundle     and Lady Francesca Derwent. Besides, Lady Segwick has a daughter whose custody is with her late ex-husband Lord Coniston.

Be that as it may, she is envied by many and could have been a symbol of women liberation. I wonder if she might have been a ‘hot-headed feminist’ as Ariadne Oliver although politics does not seem to interest Sedgwick. When her path is crossed with an ‘old pussy’ Miss Marple in the hotel lift, little did I realise where it would have led to.

‘Father,’ a soon-to-be-retired Scotland Yard man in the last leg of his career reminds me of detective Len Harper who investigates the murder of Melissa Young in the BBC’s drama What Remains. There is unfortunately very little about the Inspector’s private life but his investigating a missing clergyman. Sounds a next-to-nothing task, does it? Just like Harper who comes back to the flat a number of times, ‘Father’ turns up with his enquiries which eventually puts a very efficient hotel receptionist Miss Gorringe (see The Most Fascinating Character) not at ease. His insistence to dig into the finance and the actual owner of the hotel brings him to Mr. Robinson, of whom he helps Thomas Beresford to clarify the identity of a murdered British agent (see Notes On Postern of Fate).

Ladislaus Malinowski might have been inspired by Gold Finger (1964) in which Sean Connery plays at 007 driving an Aston Martin.

Bearing in mind that the book was written before the Second Wave of Feminism at the end of sixties, it occurs to me a similar ‘liberating’ character to  Lady Sedgwick in Anna Wulf, Dorris Lessing’s protagonist in The Golden Notebook (1962). Is it appropriate to compare the two, given the difference in genre and the respective authoress’ style of writing?

I believe so. Putting aside both factors, age and personality and readers might see that both Christie and Lessing wrote about progressive women. More significantly is their worries, insecurities and being unhappy. Arguably, both Wulf and Lady Sedgwick also share those issues.

Wulf’s writer block and her disillusion towards Communism sound to mirror Lady Sedgwick’s want for different adventure. She more or less is her forties like Lessing’s. Christie’s character has a daughter she hardly knows while Lessing’s daughter, Jean, was looked after by her father after Lessing running away in fear of motherhood. Such is also the case with Sedgwick, who believes that it is for the best that her daughter Elvira Blake should know very little about her mother.

The above details can simply be coincidences; yet both Sedgwick and Wulf, regardless their social standing and free-spirited mind, still have to deal with the fact that they are mothers after all.

The subtleties of language Christie has deployed in comparison to Lessing’s lively and ‘brave’ descriptions on women are intriguing. Lessing was born in the same year with Christie’s only child and therefore the softer and wiser Christie about the expanding roles of women in the society. Lessing’s ‘fiery’ tone might have attracted a band of young women in their search of identity nevertheless.  By the same token, readers might notice equivalent sparks in the novels Christie wrote in the thirties’ and forties’ era. Yet, it fascinates me to think of whether Christie read Lessing’s novel and vice versa.

Lastly, this is the last book of Miss Marple Christie wrote. Hence the reminiscences and the clash between the new and old world order. To her loyal fans whom have grown old with the authoress, the topic of change would have been a sentiment shared by many. On the other hand, the younger generation may perceive the lengthy depictions of places and people as arduous, if not boring. And therefore the ball is over to you, readers, as to which side you prefer. Mind, it has nothing to do with age.

 

The Twists:

– Miss Marple mistakens someone else as Canon Pennyfather

– Elvira Blake finds out what happened between Lady Bess Sedgwick and Michael Gorman in Ballygowlan

– Elvira Blake says to ‘Father’ and her mother about the first attempt of her life in Italy

-Lady Sedgwick has a change of heart about her relationship with her estranged daughter

Cast of Characters:

Superintendent Andrews (of Scotland Yard)

Lady Bess Sedgwick (Elvira’s estranged mother)

Mr. Bollard (a jeweller at Bond Street where Elvira goes to repair her watch)

Polly Walker stars as Lady Bess Sedgwick in 2007’s Miss Marple series for the novel adaptation onto television.

Bridget (Elvira’s friend)

Colonel Derek Luscombe (Elvira Blake’s guardian)

Dr. Edmund Whittaker (a scholar at SOAS, Canon Pennyfather’s acquaintance)

Elvira Blake (Lady Sedgwick’s daughter)

Chief Inspector Fred Davy (of Scotland Yard, known as ‘Father’)

Miss Gorringe (the hotel receptionist)

Henry (the hotel butler)

Mr. Humfries (the hotel manager)

Jane Marple

Ladislaus Malinowski (a motor car racer, Lady Sedgwick’s accomplice and Elvira’s lover)

Inspector McNeill (of Scotland Yard)

Mrs. McRae (the canon’s housekeeper)

Michael Gowan (Lady Sedgwick’s first husband)

Canon Pennyfather (a hotel guest, who misses a Biblical conference in Lucerne)

Archdeacon Simmons (the canon’s missing)

Richard Egerton (Elvira’s lawyer)

Robert Hoffman (a financier, with his brother Willhem own Bertram’s hotel)

Mr. Robinson (who gives the chief inspector the names of the owner of the hotel)

Sir Ronald Graves (Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard)

Rose Sheldon (the hotel chambermaid)

Lady Selina Hazy (Miss Marple’s acquaintance, a hotel guest)

Dr. Stokes (an ex-medical doctor, who examines the canon at Milton St. John)

Mrs. Wheeling (who finds the canon having been dumped at Mill St.John)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Miss Gorringe

Years of experience at Bertram’s make Miss Gorringe know all the clientele by heart, particularly the regulars. She greets every guest with the manner that suits each and every one’s social standing and distances herself from them. Needless to say, she does her role extremely well.

Her look is described as ‘frumpy but respectable; frizzled yellowish hair (old-fashioned tongs, it suggested), black silk dress, a high bosom on which reposed a large gold locket and a cameo brooch.

This efficient quiet woman understands the hotel like the back of her hands. Bertram’s is her life and doubtless she stays as her salary is more than satisfactory.

Nevertheless, there is not much about her details; age, forename, nationality and her life before Bertram’s. Did she start after the hotel’s refurbishment in 1955, which then has rendered it to its old glory? Did she come to Britain as a refugee? Was she Austrian, German or Swiss? Was she Jew or half English? Does she always have a blameless life, not having, for instance an illegitimate child or involved in a robbery?  Be that as it may, her English sounds natural without a tinge of foreign accent in it.

Initially, Canon Pennyfather’s missing does not bother her.  She answers ‘Father’’s enquiries promptly and tactfully. To the younger Detective-Inspector Campbell she even scolds him like a school mistress when the other has expressed  his hesitation about a small matter, albeit having implied that she might not have done her job properly.

It is of interest that she seems to have a soft spot to Henry the butler. I guess she falls for him. ‘I don’t know what we should do without Henry,’ she says to ‘Father’ with feeling. ‘He really is wonderful. He sets the tone of the place, you know.’

Then it is not quite the same when ‘Father’ returns a week afterwards after the canon has been found. She is beside herself and the police disconcert her. To what extent has she realised what has become of Bertram’s?

What fascinates me is that her demeanour does not suggest that she has been involved with the crime dealings at the hotel. Nonetheless, I believe she knows quite a few things. Or perhaps she is so ignorant and shields Henry and Mr. Humfries as any loyal subordinates would have done.

The shooting of Michael Gorman in front of the hotel eventually rattles her. Does it disturb her as she might have lost her job or because of her ‘little’ part in the gang?

It is difficult to say whether she is an accessory to crime. For her fate is not discussed nor is the hotel. Again, over to you, readers.

 

Clues:

Lady Selina Hazy to Jane Marple:

‘Extraordinary girl. Known her ever since she was a child. Nobody could do anything with her. Ran away with an Irish groom when she was sixteen. They managed to get her back in time – or perhaps not in time. Anyway they bought him off and got her safely married to old Coniston – thirty years older than she was, awful old rip, quite dotty about her. That didn’t last long. She went off with Johnnie Sedgwick. That might have stuck if he hadn’t broken his neck steeplechasing. After that she married Ridgway Becker, the American yacht owner. He divorced her three years ago and I hear she’s taken up with some Racing Motor Driver – a Pole or something. I don’t know whether she’s actually married or not. After the American divorce she went back to calling herself Sedgwick. She goes about with the most extraordinary people. They say she takes drugs…I don’t know, I’m sure.’

Chief Inspector Davy (CID)’s conversation with Lady Bess Sedgwick (BS), in the presence of Miss Marple:

CID: ‘…I mean how much did the death of Michael Gorman upset you?’

BS: ‘I was very sorry about it. He was a brave man.’

CID: ‘Is that all?’

BS: ‘What more would you expect me to say?’

CID: ‘You knew him, didn’t you?’

BS: ‘Of course. He worked here.’

CID: ‘You knew him a little better than that, though, didn’t you?’

BS: ‘What do you mean?’

CID: ‘Come, Lady Sedgwick. He was your husband, wasn’t he?’

BS: ‘You know a good deal, don’t you, Chief Inspector? I hadn’t seen him for –let me see – a great many years. Twenty – more than twenty. And then I looked out of the window one day, and suddenly recognised Micky.’

CID: ‘And he recognized you?’

BS: ‘Quite surprising that we did recognize each other. We were only together for about a week. Then my family caught up with us, paid Micky off, and took me home in disgrace. I was very young when I ran away with him. I knew very little. Just a fool of a girl with a head full of romantic notions. He was a hero to me, mainly because of the way he rode a horse. He didn’t know what fear was. And he was handsome and gay with an Irishman’s tongue. I suppose I really I ran away with him! I doubt if he’d have thought of it himself. But I was wild and headstrong and madly in love. It didn’t last long….The first twenty-four hours were enough to disillusion me. He drank and he was coarse and brutal. When my family turned up and took me back with them, I was thankful. I never wanted or hear from him again.

CID: ‘Did your family know that you were married to him?’

BS: ‘No’

CID: ‘You didn’t tell them?’

BS: ‘I didn’t think I was married.’

Notes On The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Years of Publication: 1960

Motive for Murder: Wealth, Hatred, Obsession

Plots:                     

‘Don’t Eat None of The Plum Pudding. One As Wishes You Well’

On the Christmas Eve, Hercule Poirot finds a note on his bed with the above words scribbled on it. He is a guest of the Laceys, of whom are neither friends nor acquaintance. For there is a mission: to reveal the identity of a Jewel thief and find the historic ruby of a nation.  A heavenly Christmas Pudding of  the family’s cook presented for the Christmas dinner and a parlourmaid, who ruined one of the puddings are all it takes to solve the ruby whereabouts.

Mrs. Margharita Clayton is introduced by Lady Chatterton, a friend of Poirot’s, for Clayton has been in ‘trouble.’ Her husband was found dead in a Spanish Chest at the home of the Claytons’ friend, Major Charles Rich. In the previous night the husband and wife were supposed to come to the Major’s party but Arnold Clayton declined in the last minute. Furthermore, Margharita had a motive to have wanted her husband die: she and Major Rich are in love. She intends to find the murderer nevertheless to clear up Major Rich’s name, driven by her firm belief that he could not have done it. As for Poirot, Mrs. Clayton is like Desdemona; attracting men and driving them mad at the same time. What is more, there is a third person he has not considered before as a suspect.

A Lady’s companion sees Poirot concerning the dead of her employer’s husband, Sir Reuben. She was sent in order to persuade him to take on the case. For Lady Astwell vaguely believes that her late husband was hit on the back of his head by his efficient secretary, Owen Trefusis. With no proof nor evidence backs up her idea, will Poirot proceed?

North Gate – a block of luxurious flats overlooking Regent’s Park in St. John’s Wood, NW8 London. An inspiration to Northway, W8 – the home of Benedict Farley?

A phone call from Dr. Stillingfleet about the death of an eccentric millionaire refreshes Poirot’s mind to his having seen Benedict Farley a week beforehand.  He told the sleuth about the recurring  dream he’d had: that he would shoot himself at 3.28pm. Poirot’ asking to inspect the room at that time was refused. Before he left, Farley wanted the typed letter sent for the appointment to be returned. Poirot’s mistake in handing in the wrong letter is the beginning of his unmasking a near-perfect plot for murder. Had it not been for his laundress, Farley’s murder would have been easily perceived as a suicide:  a dream fulfilled.

During a dinner in a Chelsea restaurant, Mr. Bonnington draws Poirot’s attention to a regular customer who is referred as the ‘Old Father Time.’ When a few weeks later Henry Gascoigne is reported died in his home, the cause of death sounds natural. Nobody benefits from his death, for his being a penniless pensioner and had no children. Not until the will of Arthur’s, his  estranged twin brother’s emerge does it interest Poirot.  Henry would have had inherited Arthur’s fortune, for hours prior to Henry’s death Arthur had died. Poirot’s meeting with the twins’ nephew, Dr. George Lorrimer, sheds further light upon the inheritance issue.

Lastly, a recluse woman is shot with an arrow at the back of her neck.  Jane Marple’s nephew’s wife’s cousin is a witness; from the window she saw the other ask for help while felt hopeless, having been locked in her room.  Meanwhile, on the other room, Mrs. Creswell, the housekeeper, was also being locked in. Miss Marple’s curiosity is aroused due to the appearance of a police constable whom helped the women get out of their respective rooms. And also because Marple remembers his nephew saying about the deceased’s remark about police.’ If you want to know the time, ask a policeman,’ she said. There is something nagging about ‘police’ that set out the female sleuth to solve the mystery.

Highlights:

Six plots, six bite-sized crimes for readers to enjoy. Christie is the cook.

Christmas Pudding, a sumptuous desert consumed in the Christmas Dinner

A main course, the Adventure of the Christmas Pudding story, is put at the front to coincide with the festive mood. The good old traditional English Christmas; a home-made Christmas pudding by the Laceys’ cook that retains a custom of everyone in the house coming out to stir the pudding and make their wish. Everyone did, except Poirot, for it was done a day before he came.

Furthermore, two other stories, the Mystery of the Spanish Chest and Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds are related to food. The three others interestingly touch about subconscious mind. In The Dream, did a repeated nightmare seal someone’s fate? Can a woman’s instinct be trusted in The Under Dog?

More importantly, can a woman’s appearance be mistakened by another? As often the case in Christie’s books, the crimes are all intime – they were carried out by an insider.

An 18th century Spanish Chest

In the Mystery of the Spanish Chest, “Othello” reappears (see also Notes On Cat Among The Pigeons); in the story Christie focuses on Desdemona. Othello’s wife is a fascinating character; she is devoted to her husband and perceives Cassio as a platonic friend. On the other hand, Cassio adores her and will pander to her wish. It is most interesting how Poirot tells Mrs. Clayton about herself by referring to Desdemona on the telephone,’….She (Desdemona) loved her husband with the romantic fervour of hero worship, she loved her friend Cassio, quite innocently, as a close companion…I think that because of her immunity to passion, she herself drove men mad….’ For he has achieved to tell Margharita what she was like without her feeling offended about it. At any rate she did not understand him in the least.

The Under Dog takes longer to solve. Unlike the others, it is not premeditated and the murderer is someone that is as normal as others. Yet anger might be a lethal weapon and obedience has its limit. Discussing matters, the crime undertaken is a chilling one. To begin with, Lily Margrave, Lady Astwell’s companion, is reluctant to describe the circumstances of Sir Reuben’s killing –knocked out by a green baize tuber. Next, she is somehow uneasy and Poirot comes to realise her clever ways in  persuading him not to investigate the case. As Poirot eventually finds out the reason, Margrave has a motive and opportunity for murder. Nonetheless, does she have the criminal temperament?

Personally, the most fascinating thing in the book is a suspect’s name: Owen Trefusis. Readers, do you remember the mysterious Mr. Owen who bought Soldier Island (And Then There Were None, 1939)? Further on, Emily Trefusis, the driving force behind the unmasking of an unassuming killer? (see Notes on Why Didn’t They Ask Evans).  If you recall about the details, you will find the solution faster.

 As I finished reading, I could not decide which story I liked best. Each of them is unique and seems to jog readers’ mind towards previous cases seen from a different angle. The downside of this book  is there is only a Miss Marple’s case.  

Miss Marple’s first image when appeared as Christie’s short story in ‘Tuesday’s Night Club Murder’ on a paper in 1927 (later on compiled in he Thirteen Problems).

When I start this ‘Christie In A Year’challenge I did not know Jane Marple very much. Her image mostly came from the ITV series of Marple’s. Nonetheless, the more I read about her, the more I understand her ways of the world. In Greenshaw’s Folly, she knows that Joan West’s niece, Louisa Oxley, has never met Miss Greenshaw. How? Just by looking at Miss Greenshaw’s rockery garden. For a gardener’s eyes understands better: that there is a difference between someone who does weeding and someone who cannot differentiate between alpine plants and weeds. Likewise, in Sleeping Murder he likens the murderer to binweed – a weed that overtakes a plant and extremely hard to rid of. 

Christie’s succinct style and the red herrings she drops sometimes make a story more difficult to read. She has no problem in pacing the story but a post-reading feeling that a few words –important clues they are- are overlooked easily. Take the example of a simple object that holds a clue as to how the killing is done. In The Dream Poirot explained, ‘After all, if this object (a black stuffed cat) were found what would anyone think– that some child had wandered round here had dropped it.’ In an another book, published much earlier, a villain describes a suicide to appear like a murder. ‘My hand, protected with a handkerchief, will press the trigger. My hand will fall to my side, the revolver, pulled by the elastic, will recoil to the door, jarred by the door-handle it will detach itself from the elastic and fall. The elastic, released, will hang down innocently from the eyeglasses on which my body is lying. A handkerchief lying on the floor will cause no comment whatever.’ Can you see what I mean?

Well, I suppose the best thing is just to ‘enjoy’ the crimes as they are. It is worthwhile to read them after all.

The Twists:

The precious Ruby stone determines the future of a prince in an imaginary rich country of Christie’s

-The ruby is found in the Christmas pudding for the New Year’s one

-Poirot receives a warning letter in his bedroom on the Christmas Eve

-Arnold Clayton hides himself in the Spanish Chest and creates a hole at one of the corners for air

-Arnold Clayton receives a telegram of high importance that he must leave for Scotland

-Lily Margrave comes out after midnight to see her brother, Humphrey Naylor

-Victor Astwell sits in his room with the door open and does not see Charles Levenson pass after ten minutes to midnight

-Old Father Time comes to dine in the restaurant on a Monday night, instead of his usual Tuesdays and Thursdays

-On a Monday night he orders food that is out of his habit (he dislikes blackberry tart and thick soup)

-Poirot finds a black stuffed cat below the window of Bernard Farley’s room

-Bernard Farley was short-sighted and hated cats

-Miss Greenshaw’s will does not state Mrs. Cresswell as the beneficiary but Alfred – the gardener

-Alfred Pollock leaves for lunch at 12.25

Cast of Characters:

  1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding:

Annie  (the housemaid)

Bridget (Emmeline’s great niece)

Colin (the Laceys’s grandson)

David Welwyn (the Laceys’s old friend)

Desmond Lee-Wortley (Sarah’s boyfriend)

Diana Middleton (Emmeline’s cousin)

Emmeline Lacey (Sarah’s grandmother)

Horace Lacey (Emmeline’s husband)

Mr. Jesmond (a mediator for a future ruler of a country in the Far East)

Michael (Collin’s friend, who stays with the Laceys for Christmas)

Sarah Lacey (the Laceys’s granddaughter)

2. The Mystery of The Spanish Chest:

Arnold Clayton (the deceased, Margharita’s husband)

Major Charles Rich (the host of the party)

Lady Chatterton (Margharita’s and Poirot’s friend)

Hercule Poirot

Jeremy Spence (Linda’s husband)

Jock McLaren (the Claytons’ oldfriend)

Linda Spence (Jeremy’s wife, Margharita’s friend)

Margharita Clayton (Arnold’s wife)

Inspector Miller (taking charge in the case)

William Burgess (Major Rich’s manservant)

3. The Under Dog:

Lady Astwell (Sir Reuben’s wife)

Dr. Cazalet (the hypnotist)

Charles Leverson (Sir Reuben’s nephew)

Miss Cole (the manageress at the Mitre)

George (Poirot’s manservant)

Gladys (the maid)

Miss Langdon (the manageress at the Golf Hotel)

Lily Margrave (Lady Astwell’s companion)

Detective-Inspector Miller (of Abbots Cross police)

Owen Trefusis (Sir Reuben’s secretary)

Parsons (the butler)

Sir Reuben Astwell (Lady Astwell’s husband)

Victor Astwell (Sir Reuben’s brother)

4. The Dream

Inspector Barnett (of local police)

Benedict Farley (the eccentric London millionaire who had the same dream)

Mr. Conworthy (Benedict’s secretary)

Joanna Farley (Bernard’s only daughter)

Dr. Stillingfleet (Poirot’s friend, who contacts the sleuth about his appointment with the deceased)

5. Four-And-Twenty Blackbirds

Dr. George Lorrimer (Anthony and Henry’s nephew)

Henry Bonnington (Poirot’s friend, who dines with him at the Chelsea restaurant)

Henry Gascoigne  (a.k.a. Old Father Time, Anthony’s twin brother)

Hercule Poirot

Dr. MacAndrew (Henry’s doctor)

6. Greenshaw’s Folly

Alfred Pollock (Miss Greenshaw’s gardener)

Mrs. Cresswell (Katherine Greenshaw’s housekeeper, Nat Fletcher’s mother)

Horace Bindler (an Art collector, Raymond West’s acquaintance)

Jane Marple (Raymond’s aunt)

Joan West (Raymond’s wife)

Katherine Greenshaw (Mrs. Cresswell’s and Louisa’s employer)

Louisa Axley (Joan’s niece, employed by Miss Greenshaw to edit her grandfather’s diaries)

Raymond West

Inspector Welch (of a local police)

The Most Fascinating Character: N/A

Clues:

1. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding

Emmeline Lacey:

‘..But you see she (Sarah Lacey) has taken up with this Desmond Lee-Wortley and he really has a very unsavoury reputation. He lives more or less on well-to-do girls. They seem to go quite mad about him. He very nearly married the Hope girl, but her people got her made a ward in court or something. And of course that’s what Horace wants to do. He says he must do it for her protection. But I don’t think it’s really a good idea, M. Poirot. I mean, they’ll just run away together and got to Scotland or Ireland or the Argentine or somewhere and either get married or else live together without getting married. And although it may contempt of court and all that – well, it isn’t really an answer, is it, in the end?…..’

2. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest

Linda Spence (to Hercule Poirot):

‘Arnold was an extraordinary person. He was bottled up, if you know what I mean. I think he did know. But he was the kind of man who would never have let on. Anyone would think he was a dry stick with no feelings at all. But I’m sure he wasn’t like that underneath. The queer thing is that I should have been much less surprised if Arnold had stabbed Charles than the other way about. I’ve an idea Arnold was really an insanely jealous person.’

‘Jock? Old faithful? He’s a pet. Born to be the friend of the family. He and Arnold were really close friends. I think Arnold unbent to him than to anyone else. And of course he was Margharita’s tame cat. He’d been devoted to her for years.’

3. The Under Dog

Lady Astwell (under hypnotist):

‘…Lily keeps looking out of the window, I don’t know why. Now Reuben comes into the room; he is in one of his worst moods to-night, and bursts out with a perfect flood of abuse to poor Mr. Trefusis. Mr. Trefusis has his hand round the paper knife, the big one with the sharp blade like a knife. How hard he is grasping it; his knuckles are quite white. Look, he has dug it so hard in the table that the point snaps. He holds it just as you would hold a dagger you were going to stick into someone. There, they have gone out together now. Lily has got her green evening dress on….’

4. The Dream

Hercule Poirot (to Dr. Stillingfleet):

‘My laundress was very important. That miserable woman who ruins my collars, was, for the first time, in her life, useful to somebody. Surely you see-it is so obvious. Mr. Farley glanced at that communication –one glance would have told him that it was the wrong letter – and yet he knew nothing. Why? Because he could not see it properly!’

5. Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds

Dr. MacAndrew (to Hercule Poirot):

‘If it’s the nephew, Lorrimer, you suspect, I don’t mind telling you here and now that you are barking up the wrong tree. Lorrimer was playing bridge in Wimbledon from eight-thirty until midnight. That came out at the inquest.’

6. Greenshaw’s Folly

Conversations between Louisa Axley (LA) and Mrs. Cresswell(C):

C: ‘Come and let me out, Mrs. Oxley. I’m locked in.’

LA: ‘So am I.’

C: ‘Oh dear, isn’t it awful? I’ve telephoned the police. There’s an extension in this room, but what I can’t understand, Mrs. Oxley, is our being locked in. I never heard a key turn, did you?’

LA: ‘No, I didn’t hear anything at all. Oh dear, what shall we do? Perhaps Alfred might hear us.’

C: ‘Gone to his dinner as likely as not. What time is it?’

LA: ‘Twenty-five past twelve.’

C: ’He’s not supposed to go until half past, but he sneaks off earlier whenever he can.’

LA:’Do you think-do you think-‘

Notes On A Pocket Full of Rye

Rating: Four out of five

Year of Publication: 1953

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye

Inside Rex Fortescue’s pocket is a handful of rye. He has been pronounced died from poison.

Four and twenty black birds baked in a pie

 A few months before four dead black birds were found in the library at his home, Yewtree Lodge.

When the pie was opened the birds began to sing

and shortly afterwards inside a pie

Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King

 

The King was in his counting house counting out his money

Rex, Latin for a king, owns a large and thriving firm based in the City

The queen is in the parlour, eating bread and honey

A day after his death, Adelle Fortescue, his second wife, dies from cyanide in her tea while eating buttered scones and honey

The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,

Gladys Martin, the parlourmaid at Yewtree Lodge, goes outside the house, having seen someone

                   When there  came a little dickey bird and nipped off her nose              

And hours later is found strangled under the washing line. A washing peg is on her nose.

Highlights:

Remember the Leonides in Crooked House? Rex Fortescue is the equal to Aristide Leonides; they are shrewd businessmen whose descendants would benefit from their death. If Grandpa Leonides was poisoned with his eye drops in the insulin injection, Fortescue’s marmalade has been tampered with taxine, the poison substance found in Yew berries. Whilst  Aristide’s death was fast, taxine takes a few hours to complete. Furthermore, both men individually have a second wife- a much younger one- who married them for the wealth and commit adultery. Yet Aristide’s wife survived him and got the inheritance. Moreover, a sister-in-law who came to live in the house to look after the children after the deaths of the men’s first wife. As the deaths shake the ground beneath respective families, old feud between them emerge and fear escalates, having realised that a murderer is at large among them.

And forget not the domestic staff, for dangers are lurking over them as well. The Leonides’s long-standing cook’s chocolate drink was poisoned, whereas it  Gladys, the parlourmaid, is strangled having just worked for the Fortescues for over two months.

With those similarities it is the motives that are distinctive. The nursery rhyme is perhaps merely a touch, just as the ‘ding dong bell’ poem, which appears in Hallowe’en Party and N or M. Furthermore, the murderer is not the same person who puts blackbirds in a pie. More importantly, there is ‘Mr. Brown’ in sight, ie. a mastermind of the murders.

As regards to the authoress’s choice of the nursery rhyme, there seems to be a certain attachment on it.  In the 1929’s short story ‘Sing a Song of Six Pence’ it came up firstly and later on in another short story published as part of Adventures of Christmas Pudding. Was it the song or the interpretations behind it, to which she had been drawn?

The “queen” is Adelle Fortescue in Christie’s world

The family feud theme in the book can be referred to Christie’s previous novel Death Comes As The End. The bitter rivalry between Percival and Lance, Rex’s sons, are quite like Imhotep’s Yahmose and Sobek. Miss Ramsbottom, Percival and Lance’s elderly aunt, has ears and memories like Esa, Imhotep’s mother.  What is missing is the cunning Nofret. Although Adelle Fortescue might be as attractive as the young concubine, Mrs. Fortescue does not stir arguments and bully people the way Nofret did. Besides, Percival’s wife, Jennifer, is nothing like , Yahmose’s wife, who undermined her husband but became frightened after Nofret’s death.

The “maid” is Gladys Martin

What is most interesting is the dark horse in the plot. She plays a substantial part although she remains in the background throughout. Nonetheless, she is not an equal to Henet, a two-faced servant in the Imhotep household. Instead she is a nice girl, who would not attract many men and therefore will be flattered by one.

How the female sleuth knows well about the girl is for readers to find out in the book. Evidently, the triple murders in Yewtree Lodge make Miss Marple leave her St. Mary Mead for Baydon Heath in the outer part of London. Such move is moving to my mind – for Miss Marple’s care to one of the victims and her apparent anger to what the perpetrator had done. Yes, it irks the gentle elderly woman and she expresses it well to the Chief-Inspector Neele.

It is worth mentioning here the dynamic between Miss Marple and Neele. Christie builds up his character first as he investigates the case with Sergeant Hay; searching the house and interviewing members of family and the staff while two murders then happen under his nose. He is more or less Charles Hayward, Sophia Leonides’s future husband; a smart man who is nonetheless bewildered at the turns of the events. Unlike Inspector Dermot Craddock, he has not been acquainted with Miss Marple prior to the case although he has been aware of her ‘assistance’ to Scotland Yard. No sooner has she arrived at the crime scene than she points out the angle of the case to the above-mentioned nursery rhyme. ‘You really must make inquiries about blackbirds. Because there must be blackbirds!’ she emphasises. Further on, the inquiries towards ‘blackbirds’ produce surprising finding, for it reveals about the Mackenzies and the possibility of revenge to Rex Fortescue from the surviving member of the family (see The Most Fascinating Character).

In this regard Neele has a similar attitude to Craddock; open minded and having attention to details. From a man’s viewpoint, Miss Marple’s suggestion of following the trail of a nursery rhyme is unheard of, but they are willing to try her idea about the keyword ‘blackbird.’ As Neele comes to the conclusion of the case, he is still puzzled by the fact that evidences refer to a male suspect in the family. On the other hand, he has realised that the blackbird in the pie is not a man’s job. Is Miss Marple wrong or has she misled him?

In the end, the blackbird thing is merely a smoke screen to a much simpler affair that will surprise readers.

 

The Twists:

– A marmalade jar is found in the shrubbery

-Gladys Martin is restless and puts her best nylon (a pair of stockings) the day Lance Fortescue comes to tea at Yewtree Lodge

-Inspector Neele found newspaper cuttings about truth drugs used by Russians in Gladys’s room

-Adelle Fortescue dies without inheriting her late husband’s fortune due to the term in the will that she must survive him for at least a month before claiming her money

-Mary Dove sees a man disappear round the yew hedge before the dark before the second murder occurs

-Gladys Martin sent a letter to Miss Marple, of whom reads it later when she came back from Baydon Heath (when the case is solved)

Cast of Characters: 

A. The Fortescues:

Adelle (Rex’s second wife, thirty years his junior)

“The Queen Was In The Parlour Eating Bread And Honey” by Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904)

Effie Ramsbottom (Rex’s sister-in-law)

Elaine (the youngest girl)

Jennifer (Percival’s wife)

Lance (the prodigal son returning home after eleven years with his new wife)

Patricia (Lance’s wife, married to Lance for six months)

Percival (the eldest son, a senior partner in his father’s City firm)

Rex (the head of the family)

B. The Staff at Yewtree Lodge:

Mr. and Mrs. Crump (a butler and a cook)

Ellen Curtis (the housemaid)

Gladys Martin (the new parlourmaid)

Mary Dove (the housekeeper)

Others:

Gerald Wright (Elaine Fortescue’s fiancé)

Sergeant Hay

Jane Marple ( Miss Ramsbottom’s guest at Yewtree Lodge)

Chief-Inspector Neele (of Scotland Yard)

Vivian Dubois (Adelle Fortescue’s lover)

The Most Fascinating Character: Jennifer Fortescue

She is the eldest son’s wife and lives in Yewtree Lodge in a separate wing with her husband. She is an ex-hospital nurse and came to know Percival Fortescue when she took a job to nurse him. She reminds of  Nadine Boynton (Appointment With Death) due to their similar circumstances. Moreover, both women are unhappy;  Mrs. Boynton having to cope with her tyrant mother-in-law while Jennifer’s husband lacks attention to her and the rest of the family have given her their cold shoulders.

To Inspector Neele’s eyes, Jennifer is ‘a mediocre type of woman and not very happy. Restless, unsatisfied, limited in mental outlook, yet she might have been efficient and skilled in her own profession of hospital nurse. Though she had achieved leisure by her marriage with a well-to-do man, leisure had not satisfied her…’

Jennifer has not had the same spirit like Nadine’s nevertheless. Nadine loved her husband but having felt trapped by the marriage and therefore wanted to leave the family. She then told him that she had left for Jefferson Cope, a family’s friend, in the family holiday in Petra, Jordan. Jennifer, however, sounds to accept the fact that she must stay. Is it a fatalistic attitude on her part?

Nor does she agree with Adelle Fortescue, owing to her unfaithfulness and splashing her husband’s money. Yet Jennifer knows one thing: that Adelle has made a will weeks before her death.

The twist about Percival’s wife lies in her past. For her real name is Suzie Mackenzie, the daughter of the man whose death in East Africa was mysterious after he went to Tanganyika with Rex Fortescue to investigate a mine. The late Rex told his sister-in-law that Mackenzie had died from fever. Mackenzie’s wife then accused him to have swindled her husband and let him die there. More importantly, she told her two children afterwards that they must revenge his father’s life.

What has become her in the end? Do you think she is ‘the dark horse’  in the story?

Clues:

Effie Ramsbottom (to Lance Fortescue):

‘No – I mean that silly little parlourmaid. She’s been twitching and jumping like a rabbit all day. “What’s the matter with you?” I said. “Have you got a guilty conscience?” She said,”I never did anything – I wouldn’t do a thing like that.” “I hope you wouldn’t,” I said to her, “but there’s something worrying you now, isn’t there?” Then she began to sniff and said she didn’t want to get anybody in trouble, she was sure it must be all a mistake. I said to her, I said,”Now, my girl, you speak the truth and shame the devil.” That’s what I said. “You go to the police,” I said, ”and tell them anything you know, because no good ever came,” I said, “of hushing up the truth, however unpleasant it is.” Then she talked a lot of nonsense about she couldn’t go to the police, they’d never believe her and what on earth should she say? She ended up by saying anyway she didn’t know anything at all.”

Gladys Martin (to Inspector Neele):

‘I didn’t do anything. I didn’t really. I don’t know anything about it.’

Lance Fortescue (to his wife Patricia):

‘I’ve wondered if it wasn’t Percival who was behind that cheque business – you know, when the old man kicked me out – and was he mad that he’d given me a share in the firm and so he couldn’t disinherit me! Because the queer thing was that I never forged that cheque – though of course nobody would believe that after that time I swiped funds out of the till and put it on a horse. I was dead sure I could put it back, and anyway it was my own cash in a manner of speaking. But the cheque business- no. I don’t know why I’ve got the ridiculous idea that Percival did that – but I have, somehow.’

Mary Dove (to Inspector Neele):

‘I should hardly advise you to go too much by all I’ve told you. I’m a malicious creature.’

Notes On The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side

Rating: 4.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1962

Motive for Murder: Hatred and Money

Plot: Heather Badcock buys a new blue taffeta dress for a very special occasion: meeting Marina Gregg, a famous actress. She and her husband host St. John’s Ambulance’s Summer Fete on the grounds of their new home at Gossington Hall.

The quiet St. Mary Mead is awakened by the prospect of sighting a celebrity. Among the guests of honour on the day is Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple’s old friend.  They are coming for a small reception in the house.

On the landing the host and the hostess receive their guests. When Heather Badcock finally comes face to face with her favourite actress, there are words she has spoken that seem to shock the other. Further on, she was seen to stare at a picture on the wall opposite, still giving Badcock her frozen look.

The day after Mrs. Bantry telephones Miss Marple. For Badcock’s cocktail was apparently spiked; in front of others her body flopped onto the floor and her heartbeat stopped. She died from an overdose of Calmo, an anti-depressant drug. Who would have poisoned the woman in public?

A few days beforehand Miss Marple happened to meet the deceased. She remembers Badcock telling her about meeting the actress in her youth in Bermuda. Suddenly, Badcock reminds the female sleuth of someone she used to know.

There she weaves by night and day A magic web with colours gay. She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the ‘curse’ may be, And so she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shallot.

Higlights:

It is fairly to say that I might be a little biased here about the book rating. First, the killing of Heather Badcock is swift and fantastic from the murder plot’s point of view. Secondly, the circumstances of the murders – yes they repeat, don’t they- are not as intriguing as Christie’s interpretation of Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot. Thirdly, I personally like various domestic scenes and senior moments that are both amusing or bewildering.

The geriatric theme in the book, described in great length, is unprecedented. It sets apart from other Miss Marple’s books in which she is now in a situation where she is confined at home due to her age. Having been perceived too old to live independently by Dr. Haydock, a carer is required: a Mrs. Knight. Unfortunately her employer is not pleased with her in the least. Furthermore, she can no longer do anything in the garden –no bending, no stooping, no digging; enough to frustrate her. Fortunately the presence of a young cheerful cleaner Cherry Baker lightens the situation. Yet the woman does not see eye to eye with Mrs. Knight. Hence small disputes over trivial matters.  Add Baker’s singing while vacuuming within the earshot of the other and the sighing from Miss Marple becomes more often.

In Christie’s work aging issues adds flavour to her stories. In the early days of her success, Poirot’s retirement comes to a halt after a few weeks growing vegetable narrow (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926). Another plan is ended when the sleuth then commits to twelve cases in The Labours of Hercules (1947). He ‘moans’ to Ariadne Oliver about his age when a young woman turned up at his flat and on seeing him saying ‘you’re too old…(to help her with the case)’ in Third Girl (1968).

Anyhow, Miss Marple has never been young since she appeared in Tuesday’s Crime Club series in 1927. In the book, she sends her obedient carer on useless errands and slips out for a walk towards rows of new houses on the other part of the village – so called ‘Development’. It is while in the neighbourhood she meets Heather Bradcock after falling over outside her home.

Dolly Bantry’s account on Badcock’s murder in addition to Miss Marple’s impression on the deceased intrigues her to work on the case. Dermot Craddock is now a Chief-Inspector and they are reunited once more, just as in the good old days, when his godfather introduced him to the ‘super pussy’ in A Murder Is Announced (1950).

What is more, a dead body in Gossington Hall once more. This time is on the landing area. The former residence of the Bantrys is  now owned by the actress and her director husband, Jason Rudd, owing to its location near a film studio  where she has been filming.  To the actress, Gossington Hall is her ‘Camelot.’

Lindsay Duncan as Marina Gregg in the novel adaptation for the TV series of Miss Marple’s (2010)

As a major character, Marina Gregg resembles Louise Leidner (Murder In Mesopotamia, 1936) and Rita Vandermeyer (The Secret Adversary, 1922). To begin with, the three women are very beautiful, middle-aged, risk-taking and seem to be deeply unhappy despite their privileges. Also, they are in a crossroads in their life.

There are quite a few similarities between Miss Gregg and Dr. Eric Leidner’s wife. While one is portrayed as The Lady of Shallot, the other is Christie’s imagination of Keats’s La Belle Sans Da Merci.

Credits are due for this approach of imagery to a personae. For Christie has given spirit anew to the respective poems in terms of its symbolism and similes. The book title, taken from a line in Tennyson’s poem, appears to pinpoint the timing of Lancelot’s reflection in the mirror as he approaches. The mirror crack’d from side to side, “The curse comes upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…

I would rather think that Marina Gregg could have been La Belle Sans Da Merci in its true sense nevertheless. By the same token, I am in two minds about Louise Leidner being a woman without mercy. Admittedly, she is ruthless and selfish, but her feeling frightened with the death threats she has received is genuine. As for Gregg, she has abandoned three children she adopted, having felt ‘bored’ about them. Children as publicity stunt only? (how we have heard a lot about this!).

The ending suggests that Jason Rudd might have poisoned his wife in her sleep. A similar sad ending to the life of Louise Leidner’s and Rita Vandermeyer’s; having been killed by the men who loved them. Can love be as cruel as Christie imagined?

Yet there is something in Miss Marple’s verdict about the case that I cannot fathom. It concerns an illness Heather Badcock had when she went to see Marina Gregg in Bermuda many years before. Miss Marple said that Badcock specifically had mentioned the name to Gregg.

As a result, I scanned the relevant pages to find the name but did not succeed. And therefore I am puzzled. Readers, can you help? It is a crucial clue, as it helps make sense of things. More importantly, the name will confirm its association with the picture Marina Gregg was looking beyond her ardent fan  at that time.

Finally, was Marina Gregg inspired by Vivian Leigh ? If you know what I mean.

To sum up, the book has become my most favourite of Miss Marple’s to date.

 

The Twists:

Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna And The Child

-Marina Gregg looks at a picture of the reproduction of Giacomo (Giovanni?) Bellinis’s ‘Laughing Madonna’ hung on the opposite wall while receiving Heather Badcock on the landing

– Gladys Dixon, who was serving drinks during the reception, says to Miss Marple’s cleaner woman that Heather Badcock deliberately spilled her cocktail on her new dress

– Marina Gregg’s coffee is tampered with arsenic poison

-Gladys Dixon goes on holiday as soon as she has talked to Miss Marple

-Arthur Badcock, Heather’s husband, was Marina Gregg’s first husband. Later he is arrested for murder

-Lola Brewster once threatened Marina Gregg with a pistol

The Most Fascinating Character: Jason Rudd

Known to his wife as ‘Jinks’, he is Marina Gregg’s latest husband. The famous film director has a clown’s big sad mouth; far from being the handsome Lancelot. According to Mrs. Bantry, his appearance is not a match to his wife’s outstanding beauty. Nonetheless, he has a pleasant voice and an impenetrable mind, just as a ‘Mr. Brown’ in The Secret Adversary.  Moreover, his words are guarded well and therefore his self-control baffles the Chief-Inspector Dermot Craddock.

He has been married to Gregg for two years when they bought Gossington Hall and moved into it. He adores her and has loved her since they were young. Most probably at the time when her career started to take off whilst he was not a big name yet. Then Gregg married to other men before settling down with Rudd. The truth is that he has not given up despite Marina Gregg’s insecurities and madness.

Unbeknown to him, his wife was married before her Hollywood days and then left him to become an actress. The ex-husband has changed his name and  reside in St. Mary Mead a few years before Gregg and Rudd’s presence in the village. Also, he was among the guests in the small reception on the Fete day.

During their marriage Rudd feels the immense responsibility to protect Gregg’s feelings. For the actress has suffered from depression for many years and cannot accept the fact that her only son from previous marriage is disabled.

In the meantime, Ella Zielinsky, his Social Secretary, loves Rudd. She has worked with him before his marrying Gregg. Yet her hating Rudd’s wife is due to her making things difficult for her husband. Furthermore, Zielinsky is able to conclude the writer of death threat notes to Gregg.

Having been aware with the continual conflicts between two women, he I suppose has tried his best to balance the situation. He loves his wife, but his secretary is indispensable. Yet Zielinsky dies a few weeks after Badcock’s death and it gives Rudd a big shock: he knows who did it.

What’s the end of a man who has been tortured by the woman he loves?

Cast of Characters:

Ardwyck Fenn (Marina’s old friend, an old admirer who turns up at the reception)

Arthur Badcock (Marina’s first husband, Heather Badcock’s husband)

Dolly Bantry (Miss Marple’s old friend, the former owner of Gossington Hall)

Cherry Baker (Miss Marple’s cleaner woman)

Chief-Inspector Dermot Craddock

Ella Zielinsky (Jason Rudd’s secretary)

Inspector Frank Cornish

Gladys Dixon (Cherry’s friend, who works at a film studio where Rudd is directing)

Dr. Gilchirst (Marina’s doctor, who stays in Gossington Hall)

Giuseppe (the Italian butler at Gossington Hall)

Hailey Preston (Jason Rudd’s Public Relation Officer)

Dr. Haydock (Miss Marple’s doctor and an old friend – first appeared in The Murder At The Vicarage)

Heather Badcock (Arthur’s wife, the Secretary of St. John’s Ambulance in Much Benham)

Jane Marple

Jason Rudd (Marina’s husband)

Lola Brewster (ex-wife of Eddie Groves, Marina’s former husband)

Margot Bence (Marina’s adopted daughter)

Sergeant William Tiddler (a police who is into films and celebrity world)

Clues:

Ella Zielinsky (to Dolly Bantry):

‘…You’ve got to keep her (Marina Gregg) happy, you see; and it’s not really easy, I suppose, to keep people happy. Unless-that is-they-they are….

It’s more her ups and downs are so violent. You know- far too happy one moment, far too pleased with everything and delighted with everything and wonderful she feels. Then of course some little thing happens and down she goes to the opposite extreme.’

Dolly Bantry (to Miss Marple):

‘She [Marina Gregg] had a kind of frozen look, as though she’d seen something that- oh, dear me, how hard it is to describe things. Do you remember the Lady of Shallot? The mirror crack’d from side to side: “The doom has come upon me,” cried the Lady of Shallot…’

Heather Badcock (to Miss Marple):

‘She [Marina Gregg] and her husband. I forget his name- he’s a producer, I think, or a director – Jason something. But Marina Gregg, she’s lovely, isn’t she? Of course she hasn’t been in so many picture of late years – she was ill for a long time. But I still think there’s never anybody like her. Did you see her in Carmanella? And the Price of Love, and Mary of Scotland? She’s not so young any more, but she’ll always be a wonderful actress. I’ve always been a terrific fan of hers. When I was a teenager I used to dream about her. The thrill of my life was when there was a big show in aid of the St. John’s Ambulance in Bermuda, and Marian Gregg came to open it. I was mad with excitement, and then on the very day I went down with a temperature and the doctor said I couldn’t go. But I wasn’t going to be beaten. I didn’t actually feel too bad. So I got up and put a lot of make-up on my face and went along. I was introduced to her and she talked to me for quite three minutes and gave me her autograph. It was wonderful. I’ve never forgotten that day.’