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.

 

miss-pettigrew-thats-cocaine

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

 

Cast of Characters:

In Sanctuary:

-Police Constable Abel

-Inspector Craddock

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

-Edwin Moss (who takes Bunch’s suitcase)

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

 

In Strange Jest:

-Charmian Stroud

-Edward Rossiter

– Jane Helier (Charmian and Edward’s friend)

 

In Tape-Measure Murder:

-Miss Hartnell

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

-Miss Pollit (a dressmaker)

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

-Inspector Slack

 

In The Case of The Caretaker:

-Miss Bell

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

-Doctor Haddock

-Miss Harmon

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

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

 

In The Case of The Perfect Maid:249824

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

-Mary Higgins (the perfect maid)

-Colonel Melchett (the chief constable)

-The Skinner sisters (Lavinia and Emily)

-Inspector Slack

-Miss Wetherby

 

In Miss Marple Tells A Story:

-Mrs. Carruthers ( a hotel’s guest)

-Mrs Granby (a hotel’s guest)

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

-Mr. Rhodes (Mr. Petherick’s client)

 

In The Dressmaker’s Doll:

-Alicia Coombe (a dressmaker)

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

-Mrs. Fox ( the cleaner)

-Sybil Fox (Alicia’s assistant)

 

In A Glass Darkly:

-Sylvia Carslake

-The narrator (Sylvia’s husband)

 

 

 

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Dulce Et Decorum Est

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

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

I began to read his words…

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

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

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

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

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

and right to die for your country.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Agatha Christie and Two Wars

Would Agatha Christie finish writing The Mysterious Affair At Styles, had the Great War not occurred?

It changes her life and her writing. Like so many others, her family life is impacted. She conveys her painful experiences and their circumstances in a number of plots and through her characters.

Agatha Christie’s VAD Identity Card.

After her whirlwind romance to Colonel Archibald Christie, the newlywed Agatha works  at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay and finds the secret of Bromide that will launch her name.

During many walks in Dartmoor she brews the sub-plots that will captivate her readers right until the end. Her meeting with the Belgian refugees paves the way to  the creation of a little man with an egg-shaped head Hercule Poirot.

Archie  comes back and sees his shy wife is rising to fame. The post-war years see he gradually withdraw himself from the public life and from Agatha, playing golf more often. He does not seem to appreciate either Agatha’s allusion of him in Captain Hastings, Poirot’s sidekick.

Furthermore, it concerns Agatha that the civilian life does not suit her husband. He has a job in the City, but he is unhappy. His feeling of ‘not fitting in’ is captured through the likes of Alexander Bonaparte Cust (see Notes On ABC Murders) and the charming but domineering David Hunter (see Notes On Taken At The Flood).

Meanwhile, she maintains her optimism towards their marriage. In 1922, the couple leaves the infant Rosalind in the care of her grandmother Clara and her aunt Madge for a ten-month voyage around the world to promote the British Empire Exhibition.

In the Introduction of The Grand Tour, a collection of Agatha’s letters to her mother, Mathew Prichard writes that the decision to go is a difficult one.

On the one hand, it is driven by Archie’s restlessness and dissatisfaction towards his job. On the other, Agatha is a keen traveller and she sees it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. It upsets her sister, however, that Agatha will not be able to meet her brother Monty on leave from Africa.

The Man In The Brown Suit (1922) is the fruit of the journey. Set in South Africa, the places mentioned is a reminder of the world that is about to change (Machonoland became Rhodesia in 1895, then eventually  Zimbabwe in 1980). The diarist Sir Eustace Pedler derives from Major Belcher, of whom is the member of the expedition.

In Murder In The Links (1924), Agatha incorporates Archie’s hobby into the plot. Also, Hastings finds his ‘Cinderella’; their chance encounter on the train has become the opening chapter.

By the same token, her creation of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford speaks volumes of the different Agatha before her separation and divorce. The adventurous and spontaneous Agatha fails to reach out to Archie. His state of mind is anyone’s guess nevertheless, for most probably it is only his wife who understands the extent of his suffering from the horrors of the war and depression. She does not reveal anything in public, although her discussing mental illnesses in her books may be related to Archie’s ‘issues.’

In Alexander Bonaparte Cust she portrays a traumatised ex-soldier. She puts him upfront as the main suspect. Surprisingly, Poirot sides with him despite the suggestive evidences and therefore Inspector Japp is not amused.

Donald Sumpter as AB Cust in 1992’s adaptation of Poirot series.

Hastings : ‘We know a fair amount about him.’

Poirot : ‘We know nothing at all! We know where he was born. We know he fought in the war and received a slight wound in the head and that he was discharged from the army owing to epilepsy. We know that he lodged with Mrs. Marbury for nearly two years. We know that he was quiet and retiring – the sort of man that nobody notices. We know that he invented and carried out an intensely clever scheme of systemised murder. We know that he made certain incredibly stupid blunders. We know that he killed without pity and quite ruthlessly. We know, too, that he was kindly enough not to let blame rest on any other person for the crimes he committed. If he wanted to kill unmolested – how easy to let other persons suffer for his crimes. Do you not see, Hastings, that the man is a mass of contradictions? Stupid and cunning, ruthless and magnanimous – and that there must be some dominating factors that reconcile his two natures.’   

We know nothing at all… Is it possible, I wonder, whether the sentence is actually Agatha’s thoughts about Archie’s mind? She knows nothing at all that Archie will leave her; knows nothing at all the reason behind his being unsupportive after Clara’s passing and knows nothing at all why their marriage does not work.

 

What she knows of, Tommy and Tuppence will grow old together and Poirot and Hastings’s friendship will last.

 

In the Second World War, Agatha’s son-in-law’s life is claimed. Mrs. Folliat (see Notes On The Dead Man’s Folly) loses her husband before the War broke and her two sons in the process. Three death duties are enough to make her sell the estate. ‘So many things are hard, Mr. Poirot,’ she said, now living in the lodge at the outskirt of her former home.  This seems to mirror what the authoress must have been through when selling Ashfield in 1938.

In spite of the difficult times, Agatha marvels at channelling tragedies to her advantage. For writing is her refuge and her comfort. A vocation.

In the Epilogue of her archaeological memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) she writes:

‘For after four years spent in London in war-time, I know what a very good life that was, and it has been a joy and refreshment to me to live those days again…Writing this simple record has been not a task, but a labour of love. Not an escape to something that was, but the bringing into the hard work and sorrow of today of something imperishable that one not only had but still has!’

 

 

 

Notes On While The Light Lasts

Rating: 4.7 out of five

Year of Publication: 1997

Motive: Wealth, jealousy and rage

Highlights:  This book comprises nine short stories appeared in different magazines in the UK between 1924 and 1932; two of them then became an entree and a main course in The Adventure of Christmas Pudding (1960 – see the Notes).  Twenty-one years after the authoress’s passing, HarperCollins UK decided to republish the other seven stories with their respective context and reflections on Christie’s work explained by Tony Medawar, one of her ardent fans. As a result, his insights on her work and the extent of personal life exposed in the stories provide the new readers with a flavour of Christie’s complicated plot and her writing style in plain English.

Christmas Adventure and The Mystery of Baghdad Chest are the original versions of The Adventure of Christmas Pudding and The Mystery of Spanish Chest the above mentioned 1960’s book. For they have the same plot in which the Belgian detective solves a delicate matter of jewel theft and the framing of Major Rich for the stabbing of his best friend. Although the details are not altered, in The Mystery of Baghdad Chest Arthur Hastings accompanies Poirot in the investigation and therefore it is written in a first-person account style.

Moreover, in Christmas Adventure, central heating system is not invented yet; Poirot seems to be contented with the sound of crackling fire amidst the cold in December. He needs no persuasion to spend Christmas among strangers while catching a gang of thieves; he gets a generous commission after all. All the same, it is the tradition of a homemade Christmas pudding and the joy of solving a dilemma in love; the latter is a touch on the part of the authoress known by many of her fans.

In The Mystery of Baghdad Chest, Hastings’s thoughts and accounts set the tone of the story. For instance, his little frustration concerning the Belgian’s pride about his reputation and the way he responds to the English stiff upper-lip attitude. And how about Poirot’s remarks of his missing the other dearly in Christmas Adventure?  ‘….Sometimes, when we were together, this friend made me impertinent, his stupidity enraged me; but now he has gone, I can remember only his good qualities….’ he says to Evelyn Haworth.

What fascinates me is Christie’s decision to change  ‘Baghdad’ to ‘Spanish’. On the one hand, the former is a cradle of civilisation, which also speaks volumes about her interest in archaeology and her long-standing appreciation to its study immortalised in Come, Tell Me How You Live (see the Notes) . Why Spanish then, I wonder? Was it because of her travelling to the country?

Isle of Man, UK

In The Edge, The Lonely God and While The Light Lasts romance and crime blend, which make a good contrast to a blackmailing case in The Actress and the ghostly feeling in The House of Dreams. What is more is Christie’s aptness capturing substantial changes in English society and various moral dilemma that emerge in the aftermath of the Great War. While The Light Lasts tells readers about a woman having to face a husband she thought had died, The Edge pinpoints the practicality of adultery as an excuse for the bleak economy of Great Britain that hit both the Upper Class and the Lower one. Likewise, Jake Levitt sees an opportunity having come across a famous personality in The Actress.  In a nutshell, the respective protagonists in these stories find themselves in catch twenty-two; whichever option they choose bear their distinctive consequences.

The least favourite story is The House of Dreams. I cannot understand what the recurring dream of a man’s means and later how it relates to his being unlucky in love. To many he is perceived as a failure despite coming from an old family background with dwindling wealth.  Be that as it may, I respect him sticking to his principle.

Among the stories, Manx Gold becomes my most favourite one. Myles Mylecharane, the dead protagonist, intrigues me most and therefore my choice as The Most Fascinating Character. Juan and Fenella must go on a treasure hunt in Isle of Man to prove their worthy of inheriting their eccentric uncle’s four chests of gold.

Within Wall perhaps Medawar’s least favourite story, owing to its ‘somewhat ambiguous’ plot and the symbols Christie has used in the story. ‘”The golden apple within their hands” – whose hands, and what does the ‘golden apple’ symbolize?”’ he writes in the afterword.

To my mind, rather than imagining a far-fetched thing, I believe that first of all, the answer is in the riddle. Second of all, if he had understood the legend of The Apple of Hesperides he would have learnt what the ‘golden apple’ signifies. Third of all, had he pondered the last paragraph in the story, he would have realised the extent of Christie’s subtleness on love.

‘Within a wall as white as milk, within a curtain soft as silk, bathed in a sea of crystal clear, a golden apple doth appear’

The riddle for Alan Everald from his daughter

Be that as it may, I cannot help feel a sympathy towards Jane Haworth – her love to someone else’s husband. A love not consummated but manifested in a way whereby the struggling painter can work as he wishes and supports his family. Frankly speaking, perhaps only a few men who can understand Haworth’s stand on the matter.

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson is Agatha Christie’s favourite

Lastly, the use of the title from a line in Tennyson’s war poem in the closing story is undoubtedly clever. If anything, it serves as a bitter reminder of the war shadowing the lives of ordinary people. When a man is found dead from gunshots in a dark shed at a tobacco estate in South Africa, it is quickly dismissed as a suicide. For it has been perceived that his state of mind is imbalanced filled with memories of the war. That is disturbing; the fact that society becomes judgmental instead of helping the men who served their country.  The question is: will a troubled head make someone want to take their life? Most significantly is the realisation that the crimes people can get away having targeted the right victims. It recurs in ABC Murders (see the Notes) in which the killer is almost successful to have blamed an innocent man for the dead bodies found with an ABC railway map near them.

To conclude, this collection of short stories is the window to Christie’s world. It is highly recommended to anyone who wishes to study the authoress’s writing style and the significance an era can add to story.

 ‘While the light lasts I shall remember, and in the darkness I shall not forget.’

Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson

Plots , Cast of Characters and The Twists in the order of appearance:

  1. The House of Dreams (published in Sovereign magazine in January 1926)

Plot:

John Segrave is attracted to Allegra Kerr, having met her through Maisie Wetterman, his boss’s daughter.  Nonetheless, he understands Maisie’s feelings for him; it seems to be being the son-in-law of a City financier is a plausible option regarding his financial difficulty. Yet his heart has set for Kerr, of whom then refuses his proposal on the grounds of insanity in her family.

Meanwhile, he has had unusual recurring dreams of a white house standing on a high ground. A strangely beautiful place he wants to enter.

What is the relationship between Segrave’s dream and his love to Kerr? What becomes of them?

Cast:

Allegra Kerr (Maisie’s  friend)

John Sergrave (the son of Sir Edward Segrave, an old family who has lost its wealth)

Maisie Wetterman (Rudolf’s daughter)

Rudolf Watterman (a City financier, John’s boss)

The unnamed doctor in West Africa

The Twist: John Segrave dies in West Africa

2. The Actress (published in the Novel magazine in May 1923)

Plot: Olga Stormer, a well-known actress, reads a blackmail letter and thinks of a plan to rid of the sender.  She asks her manager to phone a junior actress who wants to be Stormer’s understudy. She also replies the letter, in which she agrees for the blackmailer to come over to her flat at one night.

As planned, Jake Levitt enters her flat, thinking of his having had Stormer in his hands. What he does not expect in the least is to find a body of a woman beneath the black velvet curtains hanging at the window. ‘Oh, my Gord! You’ve killed her!’ cries Stormer’s maid later.

What will Levitt do next?

Cast:

Jake Levitt (the blackmailer)

Miss Jones (Olga’s secretary)

Olga Stormer (the actress, a.k.a. Nancy Taylor)

Syd Danahan (Olga’s manager)

The Twist: the body is Margaret Ryan, the would-be understudy, who has the same colour of hair and style like Stormer’s

3. The Edge (published in the Pearson’s Magazine in February 1927)

Plot:

When a woman comes across the handwriting of a woman’s with a different name in an inn, her suspicion of the other’s character is vindicated. More importantly, she realises it is the way to win over the heart of the other’s husband, of whom she dearly loves. An affair is something he cannot tolerate –if she chooses to speak about it.

Yet she lets the other know of such knowledge and the two women meet to establish an understanding of the situation. She holds her tongue for a while, but when the news of their going abroad reaches her later she changes. ‘I advise you to tell your husband yourself….otherwise, I shall,’ she says to the other while they have a walk at The Edge – the cliff beneath them.

As they part, the other turns her head and waves a hand gaily to her, then she runs on gaily, lightly, as a child might run, out of sight….

Cast:

Clare Halliwell (an orphan, Gerald’s childhood friend)

Sir Gerald Lee (the owner of the Grange, a mile away from Halliwell’s cottage)

Nurse Lariston (a nurse at a mental ward)

Vivien Lee (nee Harper, Gerald’s wife)

The Vicar

A hotel receptionist at County Arms in Skippington

The Twist: Clare Halliwell survives

4. Christmas Adventure (published as The Adventure of Christmas Pudding on The Sketch on 12th December 1923)

Plot: A murder hunt is initiated following the appearance of a great detective. Nancy Cardell is to die and Poirot will find her in the snow. Oscar Levering agrees to be ‘the murderer’ and leaves his boot prints for the detective to see.

Meanwhile, Poirot opens a note for him written by an illiterate hand: ‘Do not eat any plumpudding.’ Be that as it may, he eats a slice of it during the Christmas dinner. That before Rogers Endicott roars: ‘Confound it, Emily! Why do you cook put glass in the puddings?’

It is an extraordinary glass: a ruby stone.

Cast:

Annie (the maid)

Daisy, the kitchen maid in Downtown Abbey Series, which reminds me of Annie the maid.

Charles Pease (Eric and Johnnie’s school friend)

Emily Endicott (the elderly aunt)

Eric Endicott (Nancy’s younger brother)

Evelyn Haworth (Emily’s older niece, who is engaged to Oscar)

Granges (the butler)

Jean Endicott (Emily’s niece)

Johnnie Endicott (Nancy and Eric’s sibling)

Nancy Cardell (Emily’s niece)

Oscar Levering (Evelyn’s fiancé)

Roger Endicott (the eldest nephew of Emily’s)

The cook 

The Twist: The note Poirot has received was written by Annie

5. The Lonely God (published in the Royal Magazine in July 1926)

Plot:

In the British Museum the statue of a little ‘lonely god’ has two ‘worshippers’; a man and a woman who meets one another at the spot and fall in love. He, the moment he has seen her looking at the god in her black skirt and she, when he shows her a handkerchief that is not hers. Then he manages to take her for tea and proposes.

There is no more from her but a letter of apologies saying that she would never be able to marry him.  Feeling dejected, he channels his despair onto a canvas after reading a fairy story in a magazine by chance. A great painting of a Princess surrounded by her court, her reclining in a divan with the face turns away. Yet her eyes fix at a little grey stone idol in a dark and shadowy corner. A Lonely Princess looking at a Lonely Little God is hung in the Academy and the mysterious side of it draws more attention from the public.

Will she ever see the painter again?

The British Museum where Frank Oliver and the Princess in disguise meet.

Cast: Frank Oliver (the man) and the unnamed Princess

The Twist: the lonely princess wishes the little god to help her

6. Manx Gold (published in the Daily Dispatch in May 1930 as five instalments of stories)

Plot:

Myles Mylecharane’s grandfather has made a fortune from smuggling; four chests of gold hidden in Isle of Man. His grandson writes to his great nephew Juan and niece Fenella before his death, stating that he has left them the gold as long as they can find them. Meanwhile, there are two other relatives who also have been informed about the treasure by the lawyers and therefore have the same chance.

With the clues given, how fast the duo can find all of the treasure before the other two?

 

Cast:

Ewan Corjeag (Fenella’s distant relative – the competitor)

Fenella Mylecharane

Juan Farakar

Dr Richard Fayll (Fenella’s other distant relative – the competitor)

Mrs. Skillicorn (Myles’s housekeeper)

The Twist: Ewan Corjeag has fallen off the ladder outside Myles’s house and dies as a result of his head having hit a stone.

7. Within A Wall (published in the Royal Magazine in October 1925)

Plot: A struggling portrait artist, Alan Everard is a genius and he will be reluctant to carry out a commission for a rich people’s resemblance on canvas.  When he finds out that his daughter’s godmother gives his wife, Isobel, a cheque of £100 for the child, it enrages him. For he knows Jane Haworth is poor.

Then she dies. It even astounds him to realise that for the last four years Haworth has given money to his family. Why?

Cast:

Alan Everard (the portrait artist)

George  (the narrator, Alan’s friend)

Jane Haworth (Alan’s daughter’s godmother, of whom he make a sketch)

Isobel Loring (Alan’s wife)

Mrs. Lempriere (a reputable art critic, a friend of Alan’s)

Winnie Everard (Alan and Isobel’s child)

The Twist: Jane Haworth dies from influenza and pneumonia a month after she gives the last cheque

8. The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest (published in the Strand Magazine in January 1932)

Plot:

A small dinner party at Major Rich turns as a murder investigation the next day when the body of his friend, Clayton, is found the Baghdad Chest, a piece of furniture the major brought back from the East. Marguerita Clayton, the deceased’s wife, makes a plea to Poirot to prove the major’s innocence. ‘You mean – why I’m so sure? Well, but I know. I know Major Rich so well,’ she replies in response to the sleuth’s question ‘why did Major Rich not kill Mr. Clayton?’

Will Poirot want to believe the woman’s instinct?

Cast:

Lady Alice Chatterton (Poirot’s acquaintance who introduces him to Mrs. Clayton)

Burgoyne (Major Rich’s valet/manservant)

Mr. Clayton (Marguerita’s husband)

Major Jack Curtiss (Clayton’s friend)

Marguerita Clayton

Major Rich (the Claytons’s friend)

The Spences (Major Rich’s friends)

The Twist: Burgoyne notices that the screen that cuts off the draught in Major Rich’s bedroom door has been moved to the left and obscured the chest. The door opens to the room where the party took place.

9. While The Light Lasts (published in the Novel Magazine in April 1924)

The 1909 stamp of Rhodesia while it is still under the British Empire

Plot: It is hot and humid at a tobacco estate outside Rhodesia, South Africa. Deidre Corzier accompanies her husband on a tour around the plantations. Of all places, she thinks of her first husband who was killed in the War.

In a shed where the dry leaves are hung, the pungent smell is overpowering. She is about to leave the shed when a voice calls out her name. She stops dead because there is only one who would have said it in such a way.

Tim Nugent, her first husband, has not died after all.

Cast:

Deidre Corzier (George’s wife)

George Corzier (Deidre’s second husband)

Tim Nugent (Deidre’s first husband)

Mr. Walters (the manager of the tobacco estate)

The Twist: Tim Nugent seems to have committed suicide at the tobacco estate

The Most Fascinating Character: Myles Mylecharane

Eccentric but ingenious, Mylecharane is an uncle Fenella has only seen on two occasions. As one of his four remaining relatives he has instructed his lawyer to give her a letter after his death. It reads as follows:

My dear Fenella and Juan (for I take it that where one of you is the other will not be far away! Or so gossip has whispered),

You may remember having heard me say that anyone displaying a little intelligence could easily find the treasure concealed by my amiable scoundrel of a grandfather. I displayed that intelligence  and my reward was four chests of solid gold – quite like a fairy story, is it not?

Of living relations I have only four, you two, my nephew, Ewan Corjeag, whom I have always heard is a thoroughly bad lot, and a cousin, a Doctor Fayll, of whom I have heard very little, and that little not always good.

My estate proper I am leaving to you and Fenella, but I feel a certain obligation laid upon me with regard to this ‘terasure’ which has fallen to my lot solely through my own ingenuity. My amiable ancestor would not, I feel, be satisfied for me to pass it on tamely by inheritance. So I, in my turn, have devised a little problem.

There are still four ‘chests’ of treasure (though in a more modern form than gold ingots or coins) and there are to be four competitors- my four living relations. It would be fairest to assign one’chest’ to each – but the world, my children, is not fair. The race is on the swiftest – and often the most unscrupulous!

Who am I to go against Nature? You must pit your wit against the other two. There will be, I fear, very little chance for you. Goodness and innocence are seldom rewarded in this world. So strongly do I fel this that I have deliberately cheated (unfairness again, you notice!). This letter goes to you twenty-four hours in advance of the letters to the other two. Thus you will have a very good chance of securing the first “treasure” – twenty-four hours’ start, if you have any brains at all, ought to be sufficient.

The clues for finding this treasure are to be found at my house in Douglas. The clues for the second “treasure” will not be released till the first treasure is found. In the second and succeeding cases, therefore, you will all start even. You have my good wishes for success, and nothing would please me better than for you to acquire all four “chests,” but for the reasons which I have already stated I think that most unlikely. Remember that no scruples will stand in dear Ewan’s way. Do not make the mistake of trusting him in any respect. As to Dr Richard Fyall, I know little about him, but he is, I fancy a dark horse.

Good luck to you both, but with little hopes of your success,

Your affectionate Uncle,

Myles Mylecharane’     

Those lines, long they appear to be, tells readers a lot about this enigmatic character. I love the letter.

Notes On The Secret Adversary

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1922

Motive for Murder: Identity/Betrayal

Plot: At the end of the Great War the political map in Europe alters a great deal. A wave of change swipes across Britain;  the Labour is growing from strength to strength and the economy is bleak.

It is five years after Germans torpedoed the Lusitania in the Atlantic. Among the dead passengers was a British agent, who had brought with him a draft of treaty from the US. Such document would have been beneficial to Britain at the war time. Now it will easily be used to topple the incumbent government.

As a result, the hunt for the document continues. For both opposing sides have realised that before the agent died, he had handed it over to a young American woman, Jane Finn, who was rescued and arrived safely in England.

Apparently her memory has been affected by the shock: she cannot remember anything before 7th May 1915, the day the Lusitania sinking. Consequently, nobody can retrace the document until she recovers.

Tommy Beresford and Prudence Crowley – the making of the duo detectives

In the meantime, a mere chance of having heard scraps of conversations on the street leads the young Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Crowley to be involved in the ‘Jane Finn Affair’. When they accept the assignment from Mr. Carter to get the document, little do they know of what their enemies are capable.  Despite Mr. Carter’s warning on their ruthlessness, the pair are determined to carry out their plan. Time is essential, for  Tommy and Tuppence just have a fortnight: they have to hand it in to Mr. Carter before the Labour Strike on 29th.

But beforehand they must find who Mr. Brown is.

 

Highlights:

The second novel of Christie’s sees the making of Tommy and Tuppence. They formed Young Adventures, Ltd.  after bumping into one another on a tube station.  Over tea and toast they were lamenting about the gloomy prospect for romance and job and therefore being ‘self-employed’ to take tasks to find ‘anything’ sound s like the most suitable option presently. The rest is the couple’s respective adventures to find out where Jane Finn is and reveal the identity of Mr. Brown.

The Ritz, Piccadilly London, where Tommy, Tuppence and Julius are based while finding Jane Finn’s whereabouts

I fancy Prudence Crowley as the young Christie herself;  Tuppence’s hastiness, temper, wittiness and indomitable spirit. For a number of engaging dialogues in the book seem to have a natural flow and lighthearted . In spite of discussing serious issues,  the carefree attitude of Tuppence’s of discussing the convenient option of marrying a rich husband and her having no qualms criticising her ‘war time experience’  as an ex-V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) to Tommy is refreshing. Unlike Christie, the future Mrs. Beresford  is not shy; her being forthright is not quite Victorian, bearing in mind that she an Archdeacon’s daughter.  I imagine Christie would not have allowed herself to air her personal views liberally – even in a circle of friends. Be that as it may, the opportunity for revelations await in her heroine. Quite what writing stories are all about.

Furthermore, I wonder if some details about Tommy Beresford might have derived from  Archibald Christie, the ex-husband. Moreover,  Tommy and Tuppence’s partner in crime Julius P. Hershemmeir, the American millionaire who claims to be Jane Finn’s cousin, is the authoress’s fond memories of her late father.

Christie is apt to catch the mood of her readers. The political upheavals in Europe, Russia and Turkey  provide the background for the plot with blossoming romance in between. At any rate the book is a clean break from her debut, written during the Great War; in which her words are more guarded and subtle in delivering refugee issues and war heroes. Although there is no criticism about the British Judicial System – that a suspect cannot be trialled twice- in Tommy and Tuppence’s first case but quick pacing and twists that makes it a page turner.

After the first reading I am intrigued as to what Mr. Christie thought of his being portrayed as a jobless war hero and whether he read the manuscript. Personally I believe his wife meant well; her wish that their marriage should have been a sport and partnership was a wonderful notion. The  dynamic in their relationship is fantastic, as their personality appear to complement one another.  On the one hand, Tuppence is frustrated about Tommy’s ‘slowness.’  On the other, she admires his cool-headed personae under a great pressure while acts accordingly when his plan is mature.

Is there anything behind Matisse’s Marguerite in a Soho house where Tommy is detained by Mr. Brown’s gang?

The plot speaks volumes about the authoress’s growing confidence in her voice. Yet I notice that there seems to be quite a few coincidences that guide Tommy and Tuppence through the investigation. To begin with, it was a Mr. Whittington, one of the gang, who gave the clue about Jane Finn and Rita.  Next, Mr. Carter, a senior figure in British politics answers their advertisement about ‘information about Jane Finn.’ What was the chance that a small advertisement found its way to a high-rank politician?  Thirdly,  Sir James Peel Edgerton turning up at Rita’s abode; during which Tuppence played her undercover part as a domestic help in the flat. Sir James,  a famous King’s Counsel,  became Tommy-Tuppence-Julius’s invaluable ally. Nevertheless, did it ever occur to one of them how did he know Rita?  Fourthly, their introduction to Mr. Hersheimmer, who also responded to their advertisement.  Tommy and Tuppence appeared to have easily taken a stranger’s story without a background checking. Supposing he was indeed a millionaire; but when the American claimed to be Jane Finn’s cousin, weren’t the pair amateur sleuths ought to have checked his story first? What do you think, readers?

The most interesting scene to my mind is when Tuppence has managed to stall Rita disappearing from her flat with the help of Albert. Afterwards Rita has a heart attack and Tuppence, Mr. Heinsheimmer and Sir James have to stay in the flat overnight to take care of her. Meanwhile, Tuppence is told to get some sleep but refuses. As the night draws on, she says to Sir James: ‘I can’t help it. I know Mr. Brown’s somewhere in the flat! I can feel him.’  He responds: ‘With due deference to your feelings, Miss Tuppence, I do not see how it is humanly possible for anyone to be in the flat without our knowledge.’

Dialogues aside, Christie’s  idea about  ‘women’s instincts’ is at the heart of the matter. ‘Heart’ versus ‘head,’ which one to believe in a situation? More importantly, Tuppence’s objection for sleeping. For she senses that something unfortunate might happen due to sleeping (and oversleep – more common the case is). This notion is fascinating as it might have emanated from some old literatures, which sees sleeping as an opportunity to relinquish power. Particularly if it is a figure of power who is asleep. For instance, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban promises that Prospero’s afternoon nap is the right moment in which to murder him and seize his books. Likewise, the downside of sleeping is also highlighted in the children’s tales (Sleeping Beauty, anyone?).

On the whole, the Secret Adversary works a magic for a feel good factor to Christie’s growing readers. In spite of having just a dead body, the touch of espionage, betrayal and over-ambition play more significant aspects in the plot. Tuppence is the first of Christie’s adventure-seeking young female protagonists while Tommy is a laid-back male character who watches and wraps things up nicely in the end.

The Twists:

-Rita Vandermeyer dies from overdose of sleeping tablets the next morning

-Tommy and Julius’s retracing document see that it has been replaced by two blank sheets of paper by Mr. Brown

-Julius keeps the photograph of Annette in his room; she is a French girl who helps Tommy escaped from the gang’s house in Soho

-Julius proposes to Tuppence.

-Tommy gives Mr. Carter a note that can only be opened in the eve of the Labour Strike on 29th

-Tommy is shown a note with Tuppence’s handwriting but the sender’s name is  ‘Twopence’

-A black pocket book is found in Sir James Peel Edgerton’s coat following his death

-Jane Finn’s screaming about going back to ‘Marguerite’

 

Cast of Characters:

Albert (Tommy and Tuppence’s ally, the boy that works in South Adley Mansions, a block of flats in Mayfair where Rita Vandermeyer lives)

Boris Ivanovitch  (a.k.a. Count Stepanov, Rita’s friend, part of the gang)

Mr. Carter (a handler of the Young Adventurers, a senior figure in British government)

Sir James Eel Edgerton (a famous King’s Counsel, Mr. Carter’s old friend)

Jane Finn (a.k.a. Annette, to whom Davern trusted the draft of treaty to be handed to the Ambassador of the US in London)

Julius P. Hersheimmer (Jane Finn’s cousin, an American millionaire)

Rita Vandermeyer (a.k.a. Margueritte, ex-actress, on board of the Lusitania with Jane Finn and is part of the gang with the knowledge about Mr. Brown)

Prudence Cowley (a.k.a. Tuppence – the heroine, Tommy’s partner in the Young Adventurers, Ltd)

Tommy Beresford (a war hero, Tuppence’s partner)

Mr. Whittington (part of the gang)

 

The Most Fascinating Character: Rita Vandermeyer

She happens to be on board of the Lusitania with Jane Finn. Allegedly, she saw the British agent Danvers had approached Jane Finn and suspected that he had passed the document to the young woman at that time. After their arrival in England Vandermeyer took Finn under her wing and placed her in a nursing home owing to Finn’s memory loss and severe trauma.

With the aid of passenger list supplied by Mr. Carter,  Tuppence is then able to trace Rita’s address. Tuppence is able to penetrate into the other’s flat by way of Albert’s recommendation as a maid. A few days later Tuppence’s cover is revealed. ‘Are you going to poison me?’ she asks Rita. ‘Perhaps.’ ‘Then I shan’t drink it (a glass of water )….’  ‘Don’t be a little fool! Do you really think I want a hue and cry for murder out of me? If you’ve any sense at all, you’ll realize that poisoning you wouldn’t suit my book at all. It’s a sleeping-draught, that’s all….’

In her brief presence in the book, Rita’s remarks say a lot about her. She does not seem to be a ruthless woman, for her intention to just sedate Tuppence instead of killing her. Furthermore, I believe her being involved in the gang is because of Mr. Brown – the Mastermind himself. Besides, her motive is money. No sooner has Tuppence offered Mr. Heishemmer’s £100,000 to betray the gang than she accepts.

The mystery lies in her relationship with Mr. Brown. She knows who he is – unlike Boris Ivanovitch and Mr. Whittington. It is not clear how they met; yet I gather they have known each other long before the Lusitania (I wonder whether Mr. Brown ‘planted’ her on the liner to watch Danvers’s movement).

From Tuppence’s point of views readers understand his charisma and power and  therefore his control over someone. Rita seems to be under his spell; she would do whatever he asked. More importantly, she loves the man. She is not a fool and might have realised the fact that he had used her to his own advantages. But love has blinded her. And just as Jason Rudd (The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side), she protects him. She has masked his identity, even to her friend Boris.

Perhaps he is right about her. ‘You are a clever woman, Rita; but you are also a fool! …Be guided by me, and give up [the different name of Mr. Brown].’ It is intriguing how instinct works without someone realising it.

If there are traits of her character in Christie’s later books, Louise Leidner (Murder In Mesopotamia) and Marina Gregg (The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side) are the exemplary examples.

 

Clues:

Annette’s screaming (to Tommy Beresford):

‘This is a terrible house. I want to go back to Marguerite. To Marguerite. To Marguerite!’

 

Boris Ivanovitch (to Rita Vandermeyer):

‘Money – money! That is always the danger with you, Rita. I believe you would sell your soul for money. I believe-,’ He paused, then in a low, sinister voice he said slowly:’Sometimes I believe that you would sell –us!’

 

Prudence Cowley (to Sir James Peel Edgerton):

‘I can’t help it. I know Mr. Brown’s somewhere in the flat! I can feel him.’

 

Rita Vandermeyer (to Boris Ivanovitch):

‘You forget, Boris, I am accountable to no one. I take my orders only from – Mr. Brown.’

‘Reassure myself, my dear Boris. He (Sir James Peel Edgerton) suspects nothing. With less than you usual chivalry, you seem to forget that I am commonly accounted a beautiful woman. I assure that is all that interests Peel Edgerton.’