It’s another Agatha Christie novel so there were no real surprises in terms of quality and expectations. It has the usual issues that I have with Miss Marple novels and unfortunately, it was another one of those crime novels where I was racing to the end so I could find out what happened and go to another book, but I thoroughly liked the critique on human nature.
The problem with Miss Marple is that (well in the ones I’ve read anyway) is that unlike Poirot, she doesn’t take centre stage and guide the investigation, instead relying on the officers in charge of the case. She also has a tendency to disappear half way through the plot and come back with some huge revelation. My personal preference is for the detective to take control of the investigation and keep all the suspects on their toes.
There were also too many characters and subplots which made it difficult to keep track of the motives (but that could also be due to my decreasing level of interest as the novel wore on and on so I won’t hold that against it). Nevertheless, the crime was interesting with suitable twist and a denouement that neatly ties up the problem, Agatha Christie style.
And although this can’t be helped, this novel really is a reflection of its time. From the incredibly racist attitudes towards Eastern European refugees, to the fact that being a secretary to a financier is considered a glamorous and intellectual career for woman, and the constant but unintentionally hilarious mentions of pussies (because I’m still twelve years old):
‘I’ve got something for you, Henry,’ said the Chief Constable.
‘Authentic letter from an old Pussy. Staying at the Royal Spa Hotel. Something she thinks we might like to know in connection with this Chipping Cleghorn business.’
‘The old Pussies,’ said Sir Henry triumphantly. ‘What did I tell you? They hear everything. They see everything. And, unlike the famous adage, they speak all evil. What’s this particular one got hold of?’
Rydesdale consulted the letter.
‘Writes just like my old grandmother,’ he complained. ‘Spiky. Like a spider in the ink bottle, and all underlined. A good deal about how she hopes it won’t be taking up our valuable time, but might possibly be of some assistance, etc., etc. What’s her name? Jane – something – Murple – no, Marple, Jane Marple.’
‘Ye Gods and Little Fishes.’ Said Sir Henry, ‘can it be? George, it’s my own particular, one and only, four-starred Pussy. The super Pussy of all old Pussies. And she has managed somehow to be at Medenham, Wells, instead of peacefully a home in St Mary Mead, just at the right time to be mixed up in a murder. Once more a murder is announced – for the benefit and enjoyment of Miss Marple.’
It’s quite an interesting snapshot of the time period and it really is case of the more things change, the more things stay the same. This is definitely not a critique on the novel itself.
But what I did really admire most of all was Agatha Christie’s assessment on how humans can justify murder in their own lives which was more pronounced in the denouement which really made up for a lot of the other failings and for me, this was very much the saving grace. For some reason, this moment from Miss Marple when she’s trying to explain (not justify) the motive of the murderer really resonated with me:
People with a grudge against the world are always dangerous. They seem to think life owes them something…It’s what’s in yourself that makes you happy or unhappy.
And here I think that these little soundbites of wisdoms work very well when delivered by an elderly spinster that’s lived her whole life in quiet villages because it’s believable. I don’t think you need to have lived a pack-filled life to gain wisdom when there’s plenty of going-ons in any situation if you look hard enough, don’t isolate yourself, and have genuine curiosity about people.
Overall, I didn’t really like the novel but that is generally the case for me with Miss Marple novels since I like my detectives to be a force of nature. It’s still an Agatha Christie novel which is the equivalent of a ‘Law and Order’ episode in terms of reliability and content, so would recommend.