Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Idol House of Astarte by Agatha Christie

From The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories - story first published 1932, this collection 2003, new edition with illustrations by Andrew Davidson 2012








‘The Goddess of the Moon’ cried Diana. ‘Oh do let us have a wild orgy tonight. Fancy dress. And we will come out here in the moonlight and celebrate the rites of Astarte’…

Diana Ashley’s suggestion of a fancy-dress party that evening was received with general favour. The usual laughing and whispering and frenzied secret sewing took place, and when we all made our appearance for dinner there were the usual outcries of merriment… Richard Haydon called himself a Phoenician sailor, and his cousin was a brigand chief….




Suddenly we came out into the open clearing in the middle of the grove and stood rooted to the spot in amazement, for there, on the threshold of the Idol House, stood a shimmering figure wrapped tightly round in diaphanous gauze and with two crescent horns rising from the dark masses of her hair.

‘My God!’ said Richard Haydon, and the sweat sprang out on his brow.

But Violet Mannering was sharper.

‘Why it’s Diana’ she exclaimed. ‘What has she done to herself? Oh she looks quite different somehow!’



observations: In an entry earlier this year I explained how I came to see this edition, and why for once the physical book is more important than the words – thank you to The Folio Society, whom I strongly recommend, and who are responsible for the picture.

This is a straightforward Christie short story: the situation in which a young man dies is described to Miss Marple and she solves the crime apparently by magic. But no – beware of magic! Christie does an admirable line in having things both ways: she often uses myths, séances, spiritualism and in this case ancient religions as a way to create a creepy tension, but then the solution will depend on your ignoring all that. As she says: ‘one looks at the facts and disregards all that atmosphere of heathen goddesses which I don’t think is very nice.’ (In fact I think the last 7 words were put in by Christie just because they are funny: Marple isn’t taken in by these things, but she is far from prim and prissy, and is totally unshockable.)

The fancy dress theme is well done, a clue tucked in there along with the vision of the Neolithic hut dwellers ‘explaining the sudden lack of hearth-rugs.’ (So here’s Stig of the Dump one more time to illustrate that one:) 



Links on the blog: Agatha Christies all over the place – click on the label below. Fancy dress is another favourite blog theme – try here, here, here and here. Earlier this week, The Goldfinch's Pippa was dressed in diaphonous gauze too.

The first illo is from The Folio Society and used with their kind permission, while the brigand is an Argentine gaucho from Wikimedia Commons as featured in the past in a Charles Darwin entry
.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned this story. Haven't read it in ages, but it is a good one. And I agree that it shows Miss Marple for the canny, wise and quite pragmatic puzzle-solver that she is, despite that 'fluffy' exterior. And you know, I like the way that fancy dress is woven through her stories (I'm thinking of Victory Ball and a few others...)

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    1. Thank you for the reminder about The Victory Ball, I'd forgotten one, and should go entry-hunting there.

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    2. I love Christie's short stories and this is one of my favourites. And, of course, Miss Marple has it all worked out. Perfect.

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    3. yes it's a good one. Sometimes a Miss Marple story is exactly what you need.

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  2. Love this story, especially read by Joan Hickson. The "sacred grove" must be Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor.

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    1. Oh that's interesting - I didn't know that, presumably somewhere within striking distance of Christie's holiday home at Greenway?

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  3. I'll have to read something by her next year, just don't expect me to change the habits of a lifetime.

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    1. The Christie fans will convert you by fair means or foul.

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  4. I have not read any Christie short stories but I have a book of Tommy and Tuppence stories that I will read soonish. Then I will see if I feel like moving on to other Christie short stories.

    I have several books of short stories (usually chosen for the cover) and I don't even like short stories. So I have got to try some and convert myself.

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    1. I'm not generally a big one for short stories either, but I do like Christie's ones more than most....

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