A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

A Caribbean Mystery

Information

GoodreadsA Caribbean Mystery
Series: Miss Marple #10
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1964

Summary

While vacationing in St Honoré, Miss Marple learns of the death of a fellow guest. The authorities assume it was Major Palgrave’s health that gave out, but was Palgrave actually ill? What was it he was saying to her just the night before? Miss Marple tests her wits once again as she tries to uncover who wanted the Major dead, and why.

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Review

A Caribbean Mystery adds a bit of novelty to the Miss Marple series by moving the amateur detective from her home turf of the village of St. Mary Mead to a tropical island. However, human nature, according to Miss Marple, is much the same everywhere. So when a guest at her hotel dies overnight, Miss Marple’s mind begins working. The authorities believe the death was natural, but Miss Marple believe something is wrong. Watching Miss Marple baffle the local police force is always rewarding, though, in this case, the culprit is unusually obvious from the start, making A Caribbean Mystery a bit more lackluster than other books in the series.

The fun of reading a Miss Marple mystery is, of course, that everyone overlooks Miss Marple because she is an elderly woman and they thus believe that 1) she is none too bright and 2) her gentle mind could never conceive of such shocking things as murder. The joke, of course, is that Miss Marple’s age is precisely what gives her the edge she needs. She has experience. She knows people. And she knows how the world works. Yes, some things change, and Miss Marple might lament the passing of old traditions, but human nature remains the same. And Miss Marple’s mind is as keen as ever.

Unfortunately, in A Caribbean Mystery I did not particularly feel like I needed Miss Marple’s keen mind. Though it feels gratifying to solve a mystery, often the best mysteries are the ones I could not figure out, but that seem inevitable once the solution is revealed. In this book, however, I knew who the murderer was right away. The rest of the book was just Miss Marple trying to figure it out, and I was baffled that she seemed so much less certain than herself than usual. One recurring theme through the series is that Miss Marple is pretty sure who it is, but wants further proof or to catch them in the act. Here, she does not seem to fully consider the true culprit until it is almost too late. Considering the nature of the crime she is trying to prevent, that seems odd because her options are more limited than usual.

Even so, a Miss Marple mystery always remains a pleasant read. I enjoy matching wits with Christie and watching Miss Marple confound the authorities time and again. I eagerly await Miss Marple’s next case.

3 Stars

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side

Information

Goodreads: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
Series: Miss Marple #9
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Publication Date: 1962

Summary

Heather Badcock is meeting her idol, the film star Marina Gregg, when suddenly she seems overcome by an illness. In a few minutes, she is dead. Poison is the cause, but was it meant for Heather or for Marina? Miss Marple matches wits once again with a killer as she tries to uncover the real motive behind the murder.

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Review

The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side takes on a more somber tone than previous installments in the series, as Miss Marple finds herself aging and treated as a child by her disrespectful caregiver. Even though her mental faculties are as keen as ever, Miss Marple has to face the fact that her physical health is not quite what it once was. And that times are changing. Many of her old friends are gone, the village has grown with the addition of a new Development, and family-owned shops are being replaced by supermarkets. Miss Marple’s personal struggles receive almost equal weight to the murder mystery, adding a personal touch that is sometimes missing in other books, when her musings about the old days are treated a bit more like a joke. Indeed, I would say that Miss Marple’s aging gives the story more interest than the murder mystery, which lacks enough clues to make it truly engaging.

Miss Marple has always been a grand protagonist because she challenges stereotypes about the elderly. Ageism is rampant in many societies–despite the fact that everyone faces the possibility of growing old one day–and Christie’s Miss Marple books have always subtly challenged it by presenting readers with an old woman who whose wits are sharper than anyone else’s around her. But The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is not subtle. In this story, Miss Marple is even older than previously–the book is full of wistful mentions of her former cases, her former friends. And she is, while not bedridden, practically forbidden to leave her house, and at the mercy of a caregiver who treats her like she no longer has the ability to think clearly or make decisions for herself. The worst of it is that, the more she is treated with contempt, the more Miss Marple seems to start to wonder if perhaps she is not a bit too old, if perhaps she ought to give in. Readers, of course, know that Miss Marple can still vie intellectually with the best of them. But Miss Marple, as an old woman, is not allowed to speak for herself; there is no one to listen. The others always know better.

All of this gives The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side a bit of a melancholy air, as if Miss Marple is ready to say goodbye not only to solving mysteries but also to life. I admit I was more concerned about her emotional wellbeing than I was about the mystery, which lacked enough clues to make it really intriguing. The police turn up plenty of possible suspects, but I knew who the culprit was from the first. I just could not figure out the motive–and I do not know that there were really enough clues that I could have figured it out. Readers need Miss Marple to explain it all at the end. But my favorite mysteries do not rely on the detectives pulling out some obscure knowledge at the end, to cause wonder and surprise.

Still, I think The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side will be one of my favorite Miss Marple stories for the sensitivity and empathy with which it depicts aging. Christie, at the time of publication, would have been 72, and perhaps feeling herself the doubts of those around her. How long could she keep going? Would her writing still be up to par? Not often do the concerns of the aging get so much attention in literature. It is refreshing to see Christie remind readers that Miss Marple, even if seemingly funny with her old-fashioned ways, is still human and still worthy of respect.

4 stars

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

The Moving Finger

Information

GoodreadsThe Moving Finger
Series: Miss Marple #4
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1942

Summary

After an accident, Jerry Burton retires to the village of Lymstock along with his sister Joanna to recover. The doctor’s orders, after all, say that he should go somewhere boring where nothing ever happens. But something does happen. Villagers are receiving anonymous letters, each one accusing the recipient of the most scandalous deeds. Then one recipient dies in an apparent suicide. Neighbor is set against neighbor as all wonder who the poisonous letter writer could be.

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Review

After reading The Body in the Library, I was pleased to find that Agatha Christie returns to the first person narration in The Moving Finger. This time, however, the story is told by one Jerry Burton, a young man who retires to the countryside in order to heal in a quiet place away from excitement. Jerry should prove a witty and keen narrator, being an outsider in a small town, but, somehow, his account lacks charm. Though he may look at the locals as oddities, he never really seems to get them. So, while the mystery proves enticing, the flavor of the narration ends up lacking.

It is strange to me that Jerry Burton, as the narrator, should feel so lifeless. He is a carefree young man with money and independence, who can simply choose to move to a new place for a few months and observe the local going-ons. He should be interesting! Instead, he is the least interesting character in the book. For awhile, I could not even remember his name.

Jerry’s accounts of the other characters add a bit of color to his story, though he does not seem particularly perceptive. He draws some amusing character sketches, and readers know which locals he dislikes and which he finds entertaining, and which he actually enjoys. On the whole, however, Jerry really has no idea how life in Lymstock works, and gets very little chance to learn since he is partly an invalid. But the charm of the Miss Marple stories is really all the people who make village life fascinating! I wanted more local color than Jerry was able to provide.

Miss Marple, one should note, cannot really save the story by adding her own keen observations because she only appears towards the very end. As usual, an acquaintance of hers enlists her to solve the mystery and save the day before the village can devour itself in an agony of venom and suspicion. Miss Marple comes through, of course, but it would be more fun to see more of her detective work.

The Moving Finger is a worthy addition to the Miss Marple stories, and a mystery that will no doubt puzzle many a reader. I enjoyed trying to solve the case, and found I could not. Still, I am not sure this one will be one of my favorites. I think a Miss Marple story ought to have a bit more Miss Marple!

4 stars

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library

Information

GoodreadsThe Body in the Library
Series: Miss Marple #3
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1942

Summary

One morning, the Bantrys awake to find a girl dead in their library. No one in the household knows who she is. To stop the local gossip, Mrs. Bantry enlists the help of her old friend Miss Marple, who must solve the case before the scandal ruins the Bantrys’ reputations forever.

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Review

The Body in the Library is my second Miss Marple novel, and I had no idea what to expect. While Murder at the Vicarage is told in first person by the vicar, this follow-up takes a turn by presenting the case in third person inside. Perspective shifts between Miss Marple and the inspectors on the case remove some of the charm found in a more personal account, while also making some of the story feel a bit redundant. While I still enjoyed the mystery, The Body in the Library probably will not end up on the top of my favorites list.

For some reason, I had supposed that Miss Marple mysteries might be told in turn by various locals who know the keen spinster. I was not expecting the shift to third person in this book, and I found it much less engaging than the vicar’s narrative, which includes many insightful and witty character observations. The trouble is that Miss Marple, as an amateur sleuth, does not possess the resources of the police force and has to pursue her own lines of investigation. So, to ensure that readers understand how Miss Marple put her case together, the book will often describe how the police uncover information or evidence, and then switch to a chapter of Miss Marple finding out the same thing through her own means. Perhaps readers are meant to be charmed by how Miss Marple uses her wits to uncover clues, in contrast to the official way of doing things. But it all feels rather redundant.

Aside from this, however, the book contains the usual witty characterizations from Christie that make her books shine. Mrs. Bantry’s excitement over having an actual murder in her house, while quite inappropriate, also seems awfully true to life. As does a young boy’s fascination with the murder and his desire to collect mementos to show to his friends. People are not always pretty, but Christie is willing to show all their facets in a way that still feels incredibly modern. Change a few details about how life used to be, and such a story feels like it could be set in the present day.

While I am not convinced that The Body in the Library is a book I shall reread, I enjoyed testing my wits against Christie’s once more. Her works tend to surprise me more often than not, and I love reading mysteries where I have to remain in suspense until the very end. I certainly shall keep on reading through the Miss Marple stories, ready to see an overlooked spinster beat the professionals once again.

4 stars

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

At Bertram's Hotel

Information

Goodreads: At Bertram’s Hotel
Series: Miss Marple #11
Source: Library
Published: 1965

Official Summary

An old-fashioned London Hotel is not quite as reputable as it makes out! When Miss Marple comes up from the country for a holiday in London, she finds what she’s looking for at Bertram’s Hotel: traditional decor, impeccable service and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer. Yet, not even Miss Marple can foresee the violent chain of events set in motion when an eccentric guest makes his way to the airport on the wrong day!

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Review

I’ve enjoyed every Agatha Christie novel I’ve read so far, but At Bertram’s Hotel is a new experience for me because it is my first Miss Marple mystery. Christie’s Poirot is a classic intelligent, perceptive detective, and Tommy and Tuppence are brave and vivacious young adventurers willing to take risks to find the information they want.  So I was intrigued to read a book where the protagonist is, in many ways, not actually the protagonist.  Miss Marple notices things and has a sharp memory, but she is not actually solving the case in At Bertram’s Hotel.  That role actually belongs to a police chief who is more from the Poirot mold, while Miss Marple’s observations are integral to his being able to solve the case.  This seemed a unique spin on Christie’s mystery structure, and I’m intrigued as to whether this is true for all the Miss Marple books.

I also found it unusual that it is not immediately clear for much of the novel what exactly the mystery is, what exactly the police—and readers—are trying to solve.  There are people at the hotel doing unusual things, but much of the book is spent with the reader attempting to figure out what it actually is they are doing and what might be the crime.  Basically, “What is wrong?” is the mystery itself, more than “Who did the wrong thing?”  I’m not sure it was my favorite set-up for a mystery, but I found it unique, and, as usual, Christie delivered an outcome I was not really expecting.

I also thought the setting and atmosphere were wondering in At Bertram’s Hotel, something a bit hit-or-miss with her novels for me.  Here, however, Christie vividly portrays a respectable hotel with impeccable service that somehow masterfully balances both the old and the new.  Guests feel as if they’re stepping back in time, while still being offered modern amenities.  I admit it, I wish I could visit this hotel.  And apparently the muffins are delicious!

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend readers start with At Bertram’s Hotel as their first Christie novel, perhaps because it seems quieter than some of the others, but it is a very strong mystery and better than many non-Christie mysteries I’ve read.  She delivers engaging hard-to-solve mysteries so consistently that it’s hard for me to imagine she would ever write a book I didn’t enjoy and admire.

4 stars Briana