Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

This book, which I read for Joy's Anything Agatha challenge, is described on the cover as "Miss Marple's Last Case" and is a good solid example of its genre. The Reeds are recently married; Gwenda, originally from England but having lived most of her life in New Zealand, arrives in advance of her husband to buy a house, and falls in love with both Dillmouth, a town on the south coast, and the house she discovers there. From the start, however, the house and its garden seem oddly familiar, and when she dreams of witnessing a murder there, she enlists the help of Miss Marple. Ever wise, Miss Marple urges the young couple to forget all about it, but they ignore her advice, and before long they are in pursuit of Gwenda's own past and the dreadful deed she believes she may have witnessed as a child. Fearing the worst, Miss Marple persuades her doctor that she needs a restful holiday visiting Dillmouth, where at least she can keep a watchful eye on events: "My life," she tells the young people, "has so few excitements. I hope you won't think me very inquisitive, if I ask you to let me know how you progress?"

If Miss Marple were not an expert in the art of dissembling, she would long since have been despatched by one of the murderers she tracks down. It is her mildness, even her dodderiness, which makes her such a compelling character, and we are always aware that it is the person who sits in the background and keeps quiet, who sees most. One of the joys of Christie's writing of her detective is the sparing use of words – Miss Marple is not given to long speeches, but her words are always telling, and precise, and the nuance delicate. This book is a must for all who hold Miss Marple dear.

(The picture, by the way, is of the 1991 TV production of Sleeping Murder, starring Joan Hickson - the definitive version, as far as I am concerned.)

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