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 The Moving Finger

Rate: 4 out of five

Year of Publication: 1943

Motive for Murder: Greed

 

Plot:

In a sleepy Lymstock, nothing untoward happened. Peace was the norm in the idyllic village: no wars, no bombs.  Until the first murder occurred.  The Symmingtons’ housemaid body was found cold in the downstairs’ cupboard with a blunt force trauma in her head. A week beforehand, Mona Symmington committe suicide.

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Chilham village in Kent, the filming location for fictitious Lymstock in 2006’s adaptation of Miss Marple series.

 

Anonymous hate letters had circulated, as the poison pen  spread scare among the villagers. Despite their being defiant about the letters, fears and anxiety increased being a target of abhorrent accusations.

In the meantime, Megan Hunter saw something on the day her mother died. A young girl of twenty, she was often seen wandering round the village either in her bike or on foot. Aimee Griffith disliked her idleness, whereas some had sympathy to the girl whose mother paid little attention to her.

She saw something she wasn’t supposed to see. As she realised what would happen next, it was nobody but her who could prevent it become materialised. Could she trust herself to take a high risk to save her life and others?

 

Highlights:

In today’s social media age, the tales of fake news and rampant finger pointing are ubiquitous; the internet trolls that spewed poisonous comments then propelled an issue to a much larger scale and onto a different level.

The devastating impact of hoaxes had also left imprints in Christie’s world; Elinor Carlisle receiving spiteful letters after her engagement in Sad Cypress(1940) and Dr. Charles Odfield asking for Poirot’s help to clear his name due to rumours about his poisoning his late wife in the Labours of Hercules (1947). If vile letters were exist in those books to flavour to a plot, in The Moving Finger the issue became the epitome of an abuse in words.

From the onset Christie put forward the various effects of libels for their respective recipients. To the brother and sister Jerry and Joanna Burton, such was an expression of alienation to foreigners that strengthens the villagers’ watchful glance towards them and their quiet sighing to their cosmopolitan behaviour. To Dick Symmington the solicitor, his reputation, having only opened his practice for a few years, was at stake.

Supposed the book was a blank painting canvass,  Christie then had morphed it into a Jackson Pollock ; the dialogues were the outpourings of characters’ mind while delivering blatant criticism on society.

I have noticed that the books Christie had written during the War may carry the homogenous spirit of being bold and fearless about life. They expose the worst in human’s nature that leave pins and needles sensations in their wake.

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London Children during The Blitz 1940

 

As far as I am concerned, Christie stayed put in London during the War. Her decision was made mainly because of her daughter, Rosalind Hick, whose first husband Hubert de Burgh Pritchard was on an active service an died in 1944.

Come what may, the book touched nothing about the War, although the apparent distress which engulfed Lymstock might have mirrored the uncertainty of the War. Clearly Christie banned any mention of it, but turned the sky of ostensibly picture-perfect setting of the countryside into a cloud of vultures circling an area where a carcass of crime is identifiable and the smell of it inevitable.

Enter the young village doctor Owen Griffith and the orphan Megan Hunter. Together with the Burtons Christie spun the plot around the four of them. Jerry seemed to be an extrovert version of Colonel Hastings; Joanna’s carefree attitude paralleled to Giselda Clement (Murder At The Vicarage) and Dr. Griffith might have been Dr. James Sheppard – only younger and more handsome.

As circumstances altered and characters changed, attention turned into Aimee Griffith, Owen’s older sister.  A semblance to Catherine Sheppard, Aimee was atypical spinster character in other books (see more on The Most Fascinating Character). Likewise, Mona Symmington could be likened to Mrs Ferrars (see Notes On The Murder of Roger Ackroyd).  By the same token, Mr. Ackroyd’s housekeeper Miss Russel had the same traits to Mrs Cane de Althorp  – their detecting ‘bad smell’ in people.

The plot saw Christie’s  marvelling at putting the right dose between feeding excitement and inducing sinister sentiments. Clues dropped in unexpected situations obscured in an ambiguous tone. Whilst it could be quite confusing at times, her sticking to Jerry’s viewpoint held together the loose ends.

As expected, the subplots bore comparable details in her previous books. Nonetheless,  it takes a skilful writer with tricks up her sleeves to pinch a detail and combine it with others to create an entirely different setting. Halfway  I felt I could guess whodunit although I realised that the theatrical touch in it would only make sense as I turned to the last chapter.

Miss Marple remained behind the screen until the last five thousand words.  Meanwhile, some readers might have asked themselves whether the Burtons had been a one-off Tommy and Tuppence. Only in the end it explained the police’s involving Jerry in the investigation in spite of the fact he was a suspect.

To conclude, it is a Miss Marple book that deserves more recognition among Christie’s fans. It’s more than the craft of the plot, but a study of point of views: have we seen an issue in a bigger picture?

 

The Twists:

-Dick Symmington donated his old typewriter to the Women’s Institute

-Megan Hunter’s father was imprisoned for blackmail

-Aimee Griffith wrote the anonymous letter to Elsie Holland

– Joanna Burton received a hate letter that was intended for Emily Barton

– Mrs Dane Calthrop roped in help from an old friend: Miss Marple

– Emily Barton’s prayer book with ripped pages used by the Poison Pen in different anonymous letters was found in the Symmingtons’ downstairs cupboards

 

Cast of Characters:

– Mrs. Baker (Beatrice’s mum; Beatrice a housemaid at Little Furze)

– The Burtons (Joanna and Jerry)

– The Dane Calthrops (Reverend Caleb and his wife)

– Elsie Holland (a governess at the Symmingtons)

– Emily Barton (whose house Little Furze was rented out to the Burtons)

– Florence (Miss Barton’s former maid)

– Miss Ginch (Dick Symmington’s secretary in the law office)

– Inspector Graves (Scotland Yard)

– The Griffiths (Owen the village doctor and Aimee who ran girl’s guide)

– Marcus Kent (Jerry Burton’s doctor)

– Megan Hunter (Mona Symmington’s daughter from her first marriage)

– Superintendent Nash

– Partridge (the cook at Little Furze)

– Sergeant Perkins

– Mr Pye (the proud owner of Prior’s Lodge who has a penchant for antiques)

– The Symmingtons (Dick the lawyer and his wife Mona)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Aimee Griffith

Christie’s crime novels have a number of spinsters in them; from Miss Marple herself to Kirsten Lindstrom (Ordeal by Innocence); from Cecilia Williams (Five Little Pigs) to Nurse Jessie Hopkins (Sad Cypress).

Aimee Griffith is not just another one. In her most renowned book, Christie establishes Dr. Shepepard’s sister’s reputation being a chief gossip in King’s Abbot right from the beginning. On the contrary,  she introduces Aimee as just one of Jerry Burton’s encounters with the villagers without a hint of importance to her role. Her presence is more often due to her access to a typewriter the police have believed being used to type the poisonous letters.

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Jessica Hynes as Aimee Griffith in 2006’s Miss Marple series

 

She disapproves  Megan Hunter; her being the daughter of ‘the wrong un’ To Jerry Burton, Aimee is rather overwhelming. ‘Too much an Amazon for me,’ heremarks to Joanna once.

Unlike other fore-mentioned spinster characters, Aimee is good looking. She is comfortable in her own skin and bold, although she seems to be on guard with words and tends to keep her ideas to herself.

In her absence still there are echoes of her. She argues with Jerry about gender equality with  apparent franknesss. ‘It is incredible to you that women should want a career. It was incredible to my parents. I was anxious to study for a doctor. They would not hear of paying the fees. But they paid them readily for Owen. Yet I should have made a better doctor than my brother.’

The bombshell is then dropped when the police arrest Aimee for sending a warning letter to Elsie Holland. Worse, Aimee has denied having done it. Meanwhile, the police has realised she has held back information about two other suspects.

Things look pessimistic for her. Only Miss Marple who can help squash her charge with a huge favour from Megan.

 

Clues:

Jerry Burton (JB) and Aimee Griffith (AG) (after the inquest on the death of Mona Symmington):

AG; ‘ I was terribly sorry for Dick Symmington its all having to come put as it did at the inquest. It was awful for him.’

JB: ‘But surely you heard him say that there was not a word of truth in that letter – that he was quite sure of that?’

AG: ‘Of course he said so. Quite right. A man’s got to stick up for his wife. Dick would. You see, I’ve known Dick Symmington a long time.’

JB: ‘Really? I understood from your brother that he only bought this practice a few years ago.’

AG: ‘Oh yes, but Dick Symmington used to come and stay in our part of the world up north. I’ve known him for years. I know Dick very well…. He’s a proud man, and very reserved. But he’s the sort of man who could be very jealous.’

JB: ‘That would explain why Mrs. Symmington was afraid to show him or tell him about the letter. She was afraid that, being a jealous man, he might not believe her denials.’

AG: ‘Good Lord. DO you think any woman would go and swallow a lot of cyaniade potassium for an accusation that wasn’t true?’

JB: ‘The coroner seemed to think it was possible. Your brother, too…’

AG: ‘Men are all alike. All for preserving the decencies. But you don’t catch me believing that stuff. If an innocent woman get some foul anonymous letter, she laughs and chucks it away. That’s what I….would do.’

JB: ‘I see. So you’ve had one, too.’

 

Dick Symmington(DS) and Megan Hunter(MH):

MH: ‘I would like to speak to you, please. Alone.’

DS: ‘Well, Megan, what is it? What do you want?’

MH: ‘I want some money.’

DS: ‘Couldn’t you have waited until to-morrow morning? What’s the matter, do you think your allowance is inadequate?’

MH: ‘I want a good deal of money.’

DS: ‘You will come of age in a few months’ time. Then the money left you by your grandmother will be turned over to you by the public trustee.’

MH: ‘ You don’t understand. I want money from you. Nobody’s ever talked to me much about my father. They’ve not wanted me to know about him. But I do know he went to prison and I know why. It was for blackmail!

‘Well, I am his daughter. And perhaps I take after him. Anyway, I am asking you to give me money because… if you don’t….’

Notes On Nemesis

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1971

Motive for Murder: Love

 

Plot:

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

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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 They Do It With Mirrors

Rating: 4 out of 5

Year of Publication: 1952

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot:

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

Dr. Maverick to Miss Marple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

 

The Twists:

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

– Carrie Louise is right about Edgar Lawson and Lewis Serrocold

-Christian Gulbrandsen’s suicide letter is fake

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

– Ruth Van Rydock’s premonition is unjustified

 

Cast of Characters:

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

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

Mr. Baumgarten

Carrie Louise Serrocold (the wife of Lewis Serrocold)

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

Inspector Curry

PC Dodgett

Edgar Lawson (who works at the institution)

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

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

Juliet Bellever (companion and secretary to Carrie Louise)

Sergeant Lake

Lewis Serrocold (Third husband of Carrie Louise)

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

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

Ruth Van Rydock  (Miss Marple’s school friend)

Stephen Restarick (Alexis’s brother)

Walter Hudd (Gina’s husband)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Mildred Srete (nee Gulbrandsen)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Clues:

Ruth Van Rydock to Jane Marple:

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

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

GH:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Marple didn’t laugh.

Alex Restarick (AR) to Jane Marple:

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

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

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 A Caribbean Mystery

Rating: four out of five

Year or Publication: 1964

Motive for Murder: Wealth

Plot: Mr.Rafter is not an amiable fellow; the nearly octogenarian English man speaks in a forthright manner, barks orders and does not care less for small talks with the guests in Golden Palm Hotel. But he is very rich.

When a guest dies mysteriously, it is to him Miss Marple turns to; after all there is more than one can do when they have money in their hands.  Then a maidservant is stabbed and she knows too well that another life is in imminent danger.

Meanwhile, rumours have it that Lucky Dyson married her husband Greg just over a month after the demise of his first wife, Gail. Prior to her death Lucky was Gail’s carer during her illness. More importantly, Lucky was in charge of the other’s medicine. Gail’s death results in Greg having inherited a vast fortune. Did Greg have nothing to do with Gail’s death?

Time is essential as Lucky is found drowned in the small hours.

 

Highlights:

The clear blue sky and the peaceful surrounding of the imaginary St. Honore do not put Miss Marple’s mind at ease any more. Thousand miles away from England, she feels alone.  Not only does she try to find a murderer among the hotel guests but also a dangerous killer who already got away with his crimes. Moreover, who would trust her saying that Major Palgrave was about to show her a snapshot of a murderer earlier in the day before he died?

Enter Mr. Rafter, an unlikely partner in crime. Miss Marple sees a shrewd mind and wealth beyond his rude addressing that come handy. The rest is a collaboration of minds as they compare notes and take actions against someone who blends himself well among the guests.

The plot sees Christie’s attention to detail and her mastering the art of gossiping.  The opening chapter is intriguing although it appears to be a mere dialogue between two hotel guests. Its significance lies on the fact that Major Palgrave is then killed and it is to Miss Marple to whom he spoke.

Furthermore, what makes the scene tickle readers’ ‘little grey cells’ is how stories spread through the grapevines and more importantly gossiping is part of human nature – not women’s in particular. Then Major Palgrave does it; yet as a character he is an unreliable voice. To Mr. Rafter there is no mentioning about the snapshot and he is quite sure about it.

The Major’s death apparently is the reason to believe in some truths in his tales. Then Miss Marple’s inquiry into the questionable photograph comes to nothing, for there are not any images among the Major’s personal items.

And how about Victoria Johnson’s story? The maidservant notices that a bottle of tablets for high-blood pressure is in the Major’s room a day after his death. For she is not aware of it before.  Besides, she knows to whom it belongs. Is that what triggers her killing? Or perhaps her seeing the opportunity to blackmail the murderer?

Knowledge can be such a dangerous thing, especially the one which comes with the full realisation long after it is done. To my mind the subplot on the Dysons goes well as a reference to the actual murderer plus the confession of an accessory (see Clues).

What holds the story is the dynamic between Miss Marple and Mr. Rafter. Splendid as it is, it is also comical. On the one hand is a disabled man bound in the wheelchair, who does seem eccentric at face value but generous at heart. On the other is an ‘old pussie’ who is able to put aside her feelings and make ‘allowances’  to the other’s forthright manner. (see the dialogue in the right box).

Miss Marple (Julie McKenzie) and Mr. Rafiel (Anthony Sher) in 2013’s novel adaptation for television. “We’ve been discussing the murder here,” said Mr. Rafter.  Esther Walters looked slightly startled. She turned her head towards Miss Marple. “I’ve been wrong about her,” said Mr. Rafter, with characteristic frankness. “Never been much of a one for the old pussies. All knitting wool and tittle-tattle. But this one’s got something. Eyes and ears, and she uses them.” Esther Walters looked apologetically at Miss Marple, but Miss Marple did not appear to take offence. “That’s really meant to be a compliment, you know,” Esther explained. “I quite realise that,” said Miss Marple. “I realise, too, that Mr. Rafter is privileged, or thinks he is.” “What do you mean—privileged?” asked Mr. Rafter. “To be rude if you want to be rude,” said Miss Marple. “Have I been rude?” said Mr. Rafter, surprised. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you.” “You haven’t offended me,” said Miss Marple, “I make allowances.”

 

Esther Walters comes into the scene; a loyal secretary who knows how to handle her employer.  You will see later why I have chosen her as The Most Fascinating Character; partly because she represents a sort of woman that is a world apart from the glamorous Lucky Dyson or the quiet intelligent Miss Preston. Nonetheless, there is more about her than just being a secretary to a millionaire.

As regards to the twists in the plot, Lucky Dyson’s death will remind readers to Cora Lansquenet (After The Funeral). For at first Dyson is perceived as another woman –the intended victim- due to similar height and build, until Miss Marple notices Dyson’s hair colour. As for Lansquenet, nobody realises that it is not her until Helen Abernethie realises the way the other turns her head in the wrong way.

In terms of the ending, it reminds me of the similar scene in A Murder Is Announced in which Miss Marple’s ‘little game’ is put in order. Mr. Rafter’s valet, Arthur Jackson, plays part in it although –again, surprisingly- he befriends the murderer. As the curtain falls in which a cunning plot is revealed, there is a lot of similarities about it compared to Patrick Redfern’s (Evil Under The Sun) and Michael Rogers’s (Endless Night).

 

The Twists:

-Major Palgrave does not have problems with his blood pressure

-The murderer removes a snapshot of himself from the Major’s wallet

-Edward Hillingdon is an accessory to the murder of Gail Dyson, Greg’s first wife

-Mr. Rafter grants £50,000 for Esther Walters in his will

-Lucky Dyson was meeting Arthur Jackson on the beach at the time she was murdered

-Arthur Jackson’s snooping in the Kendals’ room results in his suspicion about Molly’s face cream

 

Cast of Characters:

-Arthur Jackson (English, Mr. Rafter’s valet and masseur)

-Inspector Daventry (a constable in Jamestown)

-Colonel Edward Hillingdon (Evelyn’s husband)

-Esther Walters (Mr. Rafter’s secretary)

-Evelyn Hillingdon (Edward’s wife)

-Jane Marple

-Canon Jeremy Prescott (English)

-Joan Presscott (English, the Canon’s sister)

-Dr. Graham (a retired doctor in the island)

-Greg Dyson (American, who writes on butterflies, Lucky’s husband)

-‘Lucky’ Dyson (American, Greg’s second wife)

-Molly Kendal (English, Tim’s wife, who runs the hotel with her husband)

-Tim Kendal (English, Molly’s wife)

-Mr. Rafter (an English millionaire, who vacations in St. Honore every year)

-Dr. Robertson (the young doctor in the island)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Esther Walters

She is a widow who is employed by Mr. Rafter as his secretary. She follows his annual holiday to Caribbean and tends to his whims and tantrums. Although her employer is frequently rude to her, she does not seem to take notice and simply carries on her duties. Perhaps it is the generous salary and Mr. Rafter’s paying of her daughter’s school fee that make her bear his treatment.

To Miss Marple Mr. Rafter explains who Walters is as follows:

” She’s a good girl. First-class secretary, intelligent, good-tempered, understands my ways, doesn’t turn a hair if I fly off the handle, couldn’t care less if I insult her. Behaves like a nice nursery governess in charge of an outrageous and obstreperous child. She irritates me a bit sometimes, but who doesn’t?

There’s nothing outstanding about her. She’s rather a commonplace young woman in many ways, but I couldn’t have anyone who suited me better. She’s had a lot of trouble in her life. Married a man who wasn’t much good. I’d say she never had much judgement when it came to men. Some women haven’t. They fall for anyone who tells them a hard luck story. Always convinced that all the man needs is proper female understanding. That, once married to her, he’ll pull up his socks and make a go of life! But of course that type of man never does.

Anyway, fortunately her unsatisfactory husband died, drank too much at a party one night and stepped in front of a bus. Esther had a daughter to support and she went back to her secretarial job. She’s been with me five years. I made it quite clear to her from the start that she need have no expectations from me in the event of my death. I paid her from the start a very large salary, and that salary I’ve augmented by as much as a quarter as much again each year. However decent and honest people are, one should never trust anybody. That’s why I told Esther quite clearly that she’d nothing to hope for from my death. Every year I live she’ll get a bigger salary. If she puts most of that aside every year—and that’s what I think she has done—she’ll be quite a well-to-do woman by the time I kick the bucket. I’ve made myself responsible for her daughter’s schooling and I’ve put a sum in trust for the daughter which she’ll get when she comes of age. So Mrs. Esther Walters is very comfortably placed. My death, let me tell you, would mean a serious financial loss to her.”

 

As for Miss Marple, she notices that Walters is a kind of woman without sex appeal (in Miss Marple’s young days the other is  someone that ‘lacks come-hither in her eye’). The one who would not make a man turns his head and will be flattered when one does.

Be that as it may, Walters is a dark horse. She is a decent woman that will not make a pass at a woman’s husband and leers at a ‘potential.’ She craves for  attention nevertheless and she falls for one as soon as it is bestowed upon her. And who wouldn’t, having learnt that she will inherit £50,000 upon the death of Mr. Rafter – sooner or later?

Clues:

 

Conversations between Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon:

“I helped her to commit a murder—”

 

The words were out. There was silence. Evelyn stared at him. “Do you know what you are saying?”

 

“Yes. I didn’t know I was doing it. There were things she asked me to get for her—at the chemist’s. I didn’t know—I hadn’t the least idea what she wanted them for. She got me to copy out a prescription she had . . .”

 

“When was this?”

 

“Four years ago. When we were in Martinique. When—when Greg’s wife—”

 

“You mean Greg’s first wife—Gail? You mean Lucky poisoned her?”

 

“Yes—and I helped her. When I realised—”

 

Evelyn interrupted him. “When you realised what had happened, Lucky pointed out to you that you had written out the prescription, that you had got the drugs, that you and she were in it together? Is that right?”

 

“Yes. She said she had done it out of pity—that Gail was suffering—that she had begged Lucky to get something that would end it all.”

 

“A mercy killing! I see. And you believed that?”

 

Edward Hillingdon was silent a moment, then he said: “No—I didn’t really—not deep down. I accepted it because I wanted to believe it—because I was infatuated with Lucky.”

 

“And afterwards—when she married Greg—did you still believe it?”

 

“I’d made myself believe it by then.”

 

“And Greg—how much did he know about it all?”

 

“Nothing at all.”

 

“That I find hard to believe!”

 

Edward Hillingdon broke out: “Evelyn, I’ve got to get free of it all! That woman taunts me still with what I did. She knows I don’t care for her any longer. Care for her? I’ve come to hate her! But she makes me feel I’m tied to her by the thing we did together.” Evelyn walked up and down the room then she stopped and faced him.

 

 

Major Palgrave talking to Miss Marple:

Major Palgrave speaks to Miss Marple about showing a snapshot of a murderer.

 

“Lots of chaps talking at the club one day, you know, and a chap began telling a story. Medical man he was. One of his cases. Young fellow came and knocked him up in the middle of the night. His wife had hanged herself. They hadn’t got a telephone, so after the chap had cut her down and done what he could, he’d got out his car and hared off looking for a doctor. Well, she wasn’t dead but pretty far gone. Anyway, she pulled through. Young fellow seemed devoted to her. Cried like a child. He’d noticed that she’d been odd for some time, fits of depression and all that. Well, that was that. Everything seemed all right. But actually, about a month later, the wife took an overdose of sleeping stuff and passed out. Sad case.” Major Palgrave paused, and nodded his head several times. Since there was obviously more to come Miss Marple waited. “And that’s that, you might say. Nothing there. Neurotic woman, nothing out of the usual. But about a year later, this medical chap was swapping yarns with a fellow medico, and the other chap told him about a woman who’d tried to drown herself, husband got her out, got a doctor, they pulled her round—and then a few weeks later she gassed herself. Well, a bit of a coincidence—eh? Same sort of story. My chap said: ‘I had a case rather like that. Name of Jones—(or whatever the name was)—What was your man’s name?’ ‘Can’t remember. Robinson I think. Certainly not Jones.’ Well, the chaps looked at each other and said it was pretty odd. And then my chap pulled out a snapshot. He showed it to the second chap. ‘That’s the fellow,’ he said. ‘I’d gone along the next day to check up on the particulars, and I noticed a magnificent species of hibiscus just by the front door, a variety I’d never seen before in this country. My camera was in the car and I took a photo. Just as I snapped the shutter the husband came out of the front door so I got him as well. Don’t think he realised it. I asked him about the hibiscus but he couldn’t tell me its name.’ Second medico looked at the snap. He said: ‘It’s a bit out of focus—but I could swear—at any rate I’m almost sure it’s the same man!’ Don’t know if they followed it up. But if so they didn’t get anywhere. Expect Mr. Jones or Robinson covered his tracks too well. But queer story, isn’t it? Wouldn’t think things like that could happen.”

 

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-‘