In the month of Valentine’s Day, the Tuesday Night bloggers, a group of crime fiction fans doing a themed entry each week, could really only go with the theme of
As ever, Bev at My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.
And Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery is collecting the links this month.
For my first entry I looked at Love in Agatha Christie.
Then I looked at James Bond in Love.
This week I am going back to the sainted Agatha, to consider:
The Other Side of Love in Agatha Christie
Nemesis (1971) and Sleeping Murder (1976)
First of all, those publication dates are misleading – Christie wrote Sleeping Murder during WW2, along with the last Poirot book, Curtain, and held them both back, intending them to be published at the end of her career.
This blogpost will be slightly spoileresque – I will not be revealing murderers, but will be talking about the plot in a way that I consider would only be a spoiler if you were halfway through the books, or intended reading them in the next week. Otherwise, you are safe.
I started on Nemesis recently, and was sufficiently struck by a certain similarity to Sleeping Murder that I re-read that one too. In both cases, the problems revolve round one person having an inappropriate love for another. They end up killing the love object in order to stop them from getting away: they are not in a position to offer the loved one a proper relationship. The women in my previous post may be unorthodox or adulterous, or in love with someone less than perfect, but they are all in love with a vaguely eligible man of roughly the right age.
There may be other Christies with this theme – the wrong sort of love - though I can’t think of any. She spread her motives round a lot: money, revenge, the desire for something likely (a new partner) or unlikely (teashops and - you know, the motive in Crooked House), fear of the discovery of a different crime. But these two share this rather creepy idea.
Nemesis is an oddity. It follows on from A Caribbean Mystery – published seven years earlier, events taking place 18 months before this book, and frankly both of them read as though they belong in the 1950s. Jason Rafiel from the first book has died, and left Miss Marple a bequest, while setting her a challenge: to right a wrong. He writes to her:
If you prefer to continue knitting, that is your decision. If you prefer to serve the cause of justice, I hope that you may at least find it interesting. Let justice roll down like waters. And righteousness like an everlasting stream.[This reminded me of my favourite line about Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver:
She has solved many difficult cases besides being an extremely expert knitter.]Of course Miss Marple accepts the challenge, and off she goes on a luxury coach tour of English houses and gardens, looking for trouble. This promises well, with a good look round the coach at the varied participants – who has something to hide, who knows each other? It’s a scene Christie always does well – another good example comes in Death on the Nile. But then the action settles in one place and pretty much stalls. There are endless conversations going on for pages during which one item of relevance is revealed. Miss Marple, bizarrely, stays in a hotel, moves to a private house, goes back to the hotel, goes back to the same house – there are endless scenes of packing and unpacking, and we are told who is carrying the suitcase, but it is all painfully irrelevant. We hear Miss Marple’s views on how Macbeth should be staged, and by now that’s relatively interesting.
I also like the detail that after someone has died, Miss Marple
laid aside the baby’s pink coat which she had previously been engaged in knitting and substituted a crocheted purple scarf. This half-mourning touch went with Miss Marple’s early Victorian ideas of tactfulness in the face of tragedy.There is a fairly awful discussion about an accusation of rape, though the situation is so bizarrely unrecognizable – a temptress, a very young woman, luring in a young man and virtually forcing him to have sex before making the accusation on her mother’s sayso - that you just have to shake your head and move on.
With all these problems, still the book has an elegiac tone and the central romance is touching and very very sad.
‘Why did she die?’ said Miss Marple.
[Miss Temple's] voice was bitter and tragic. ‘Love….’
As a detective story, Sleeping Murder is much better, reflecting its earlier date of writing. There is an onward thrust about it: this happens and then that happens, and then everyone thinks of someone else to go and see.
A young woman suddenly remembers a traumatic incident from her childhood – an extremely creepy scene, glimpsed through the banisters, of a strangled woman, an unrecognized figure looming over her. Miss Marple comes and helps Gwenda and her husband Giles, and they untangle another sad and complex story.
A problem with Curtain was that Christie didn’t root it in its time because she didn’t know when it would be published – I think she decided she didn’t care with Sleeping Murder, and you certainly wouldn’t think it was set in 1976. Everyone has a comfortable post-war life and house, there are servants everywhere, and Gwenda goes to see Gielgud act.
One infuriating feature of both these books is that no-one can remember names. I realize this is possibly realistic, but Christie goes overboard, every conversation is full of ‘I can’t remember his name, did it begin with an E?’ – but it is pointless, there is no reason for it, it’s not a clue. So for example in Nemesis someone thinks Verity Hunt might have been called Verity Hunter – but there is no conclusion drawn from this, it is just annoying. And it seems particularly stupid when in other books Christie makes small differences in names very important (A Murder is Announced, Peril at End House.)
A Clothes in Books favourite is clothes detection, and Lily the maid in Sleeping Murder is on top form when it is claimed her mistress has run off:
‘there’s a suitcase gone and enough to fill it – but they’re the wrong things…She took an evening dress, her grey and silver - but she didn’t take her everning belt and brassiere, nor the slip that goes with it, and she took her gold brocade evening shoes, not the silver strap ones. And she took her green tweed… but she didn’t take that fancy pullover and she took her lace blouses that she only wears with a town suit. Oh and her undies too, they were a job lot.’Wonderful stuff.
There are TV films of both these books in the Geraldine McEwan series, and both have wildly altered plots and but actually are great fun in a gothic, over the top way, with marvellous casts. And, intriguingly, Daffodil Tours from the book of Sleeping Murder, with its bright yellow buses, is borrowed for the TV Nemesis.
I love William Orpen’s paintings, particularly his portraits, and often use them on the blog. He is also just about the only modern (1878-1931) painter ever mentioned by Agatha Christie - see this blog entry for details. So I have chosen a couple of his wonderful pictures to show the young women of these books, and the child Gwenda.