Rating: four out of five
Year of Publication: 1971
Motive for Murder: Love
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.
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.
‘The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration’
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.
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.
– 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
– 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)
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:
Elizabeth Temple (a former headmistress of girls’ boarding school)
Miss Joanna Crawford
Mrs. Sandbourne (the tour guide)
Colonel and Mrs Walker
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.
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.
– 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….’