Halloween Bingo 2020: The First Week (+1 Day)

This year’s Halloween Bingo started a lot more promising than last year’s with a strong joint entry in Michael Connelly’s Bosch and Ballard series, and in fact, not one of the books I read earned less than a four-star rating — with the standout being Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, which turned out to be a perfect choice for the “Psych” square.

 

The “Week 1” Books


Michael Connelly: The Night Fire

My bingo pre-read and a very welcome return to Los Angeles — or at least, the version thereof that constitutes the world of Connelly’s characters, which however only ends up making the city a major character of its own in addition to the humans living in it.

Harry Bosch may not officially be a cold case investigator any longer, but that doesn’t stop him from seeking justice for those who died without their murderers ever having been brought to justice; particularly if he is handed the relevant file by the widow of his own recently-deceased mentor.  He ropes in Ballard, and I loved seeing that it was she who was first to tumble to what was wrong with that long-dead investigation.  (I’m also relieved that, for the time being at least, Connelly doesn’t seem to be planning to make a couple out of them.)  Two other investigations keep our two protagonists busy at the same time, both concerned with more recent deaths.  The ending relies a bit too much on coincidence for my liking (for however much Connelly may be protesting that there is no such thing — and of course, in his writer’s mind there isn’t, since he’s the one who plotted the whole thing out to begin with, but from the characters’ / from inside the story’s perspective, it still remains a case of protesting too much); yet, by and large, a more than solid entry in the series.  It also would seem to explain, incidentally, why Connelly decided to focus on Jack McEvoy for a change again for his next book (Fair Warning), as there are recent developments in Bosch’s (and potentially Mickey Haller’s and Maddie’s) lives that he’ll likely will want to take some time developing.

 


Joy Ellis: They Disappeared

Before starting this book, I’d said I hoped Ellis was done with the serial killer plots, as I had a feeling she was at risk of turning into a one trick pony that way — well, let’s say I both did and didn’t get my wish.  (Several gruesome deaths, yes, but not a mentally diseased mind behind them.)  I loved that Ellis had the courage to give us a fresh perspective on IT whiz Orla Cracken: There’s always a risk associated with making a character heretofore so unapproachable and shrouded in secrecy as her more accessible, but Ellis pulled it of very well for the most part … even though I’m only half convinced by the part of “Orac”‘s past that is explored most in depth here: surely, based on the feats we’ve seen her perform in the past (and based on what we now know about her training), this should be a mystery that Orac herself should have been able to solve long ago — and on her own?  Be that as it may, though, it was interesting to see another character being included in this particular series’s sweep of Ellis’s authorial focus.  I also liked the setting she picked for this book — “urban exploration” — which seems almost tailor-made for her sort of books; even if her protagonists (who are all cops, after all) have a somewhat too tolerant (if not, downright gushing) attitude to that occupation, which is prohibited for a reason, after all.

Big spoiler warning for a previous non-series book, however: While I think it’s fair to say that any reader reading the Jackman & Evans series as such out of order does so at their peril (and this is true for this particular book, too, as it provides — or would seem to provide — a definite ending for one of the past several books’ major narrative strands, so it should definitely be read after everything from The Guilty Ones onwards by anyone wanting to avoid spoilers in that regard), I’m still a bit miffed to see this book also containing a major spoiler for a recent stand-alone by Ellis, which I haven’t read yet and had been planning to get to later this year (Guide Star).  I’m fine with authors setting all of their various series in the same universe (Michael Connelly does the same thing, after all), and as long as this merely meant swapping supporting characters (like Dr. Wilkinson) or cross-references in dialogue, I haven’t had a problem with this  sort of thing in Ellis’s case so far, either.  But the main characters from Guide Star have, it would seem, fully been integrated into the Jackman & Evans series, and Ellis apparently couldn’t find a way of doing that without giving away that other book’s conclusion, as it constitutes a major premise of the events in They Disappeared.  Shame.

 


Margery Allingham: More Work for the Undertaker

The thirteenth book in the Campion series; one of the few I hadn’t read yet and thus, a proximate choice for the “13” bingo square.  In tone, I find that the post-WWII stories are markedly darker than the series’s very first entries, which by and large is all to the good, however; even if they don’t quite reach the heights of The Case of the Late Pig, Police at the Funeral, or Death of a Ghost.  The story is typically wacky and also a typical entry in the series in other respects (characters, setting, etc.) nevertheless, culminating in a rather outré / macabre chase (the clue is in the title) … and introducing a character who will feature as a light in other post-WWII episodes as well (now that Stanislaus Oates has made it all the way to the top of the apple tree), the theatrically / oratorically-gifted D.I. Charlie Luke.

 


Nicholas Blake: The Beast Must Die

Wow. What a stunner. Blake (aka Cecil Day Lewis) messes with the reader’s mind literally from page 1, and being fully aware of the fact still doesn’t mean you’ll be up to what he is doing — or at least not all of it.  Even to begin talking about the plot would mean giving away half  the twists, so let’s just say it concerns a writer’s search for the reckless driver who mowed down his little son a few months earlier, as well as a family dominated by a bullying patriarch (and his equally bullying mother).  And from outright suggestions of lunacy to characters deliberately disguising their identities — or their innermost nature and / or intentions — to a myriad other ways in which Blake indulges in his cat-and-mouse game with the reader’s mind (authorial / narrative perspective, sequencing — the whole kit and caboodle), this is one big screwed-up joy ride … for those of us who like this sort of thing every so often, that is.

Side note 1: If you’ve read any of Blake’s other Nigel Strangeways books before (particularly any of the early ones), forget everything you’ve seen there.  Even though this book features both the Strangeways couple (Nick and Georgina) and Inspector Blunt, it is anything but a typical entry in the series (and all the better for it).

Side note 2: If you are interested in sailing, you may particularly enjoy this story.  It also probably helps to be familiar with the lingo  — which I am not, but I could follow along nevertheless, and during the one crucial scene set on a boat, I was just too glued to my speakers to pause listening in order to embark on an online search for the meaning of individual terms.

 


Agatha Christie: The Thirteen Problems

Audio revisit courtesy of Joan Hickson’s narration, both for Halloween Bingo and as part of the Agatha Christie Centennary celebration of her first novel (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) — and I find I’m drawn to these stories more and more with every time I’m revisiting them. Review HERE.

 

Currently Reading


Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson, aka Anne Meredith): Death in Fancy Dress

Country house mystery meets Wuthering Heights, with rather enjoyable effects (though more for the reader than for the main characters).  I’ll probably finish this either tonight or tomorrow morning.

 

The State of the Card

Master Update Post: HERE

 

My Markers


Read             Called                   Read & Called   Read = Called

Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty — Question for 08/12 (Day 12): Classic Crime and Classic Horror Recommendations?

Late to today’s party and most of my really big favorites have already made an appearance in other folks’ posts, so I figured I’ll just list mine and showcase at the top of my post some of the books that haven’t yet been highlighted by others.  By bingo category, with suspense and mysteries together in one block and an extra block for the children’s books instead:

 

MYSTERIES / SUSPENSE
Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey series, especially the Wimsey & Vane subseries / quartet
Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes series
Agatha Christie: Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy & Tuppence series, The Witness for the Prosecution, The Mousetrap, And Then There Were None, Crooked House, Towards Zero, The Sittaford Mystery
Patricia Wentworth: Miss Silver series
Ngaio Marsh: Roderick Alleyn series
Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair
John Dickson Carr: The Hollow Man
Anthony Wynne: Murder of a Lady
Mavis Doriel Hay: The Santa Klaus Murder
Georgette Heyer: Envious Casca
Robert van Gulik: Judge Dee series
Georges Simenon: Maigret series
Graham Greene: The Third Man
John Mortimer: Rumpole series
Ruth Rendell: Inspector Wexford series
P.D. James: Inspector Dalgliesh series
Dennis Wheatley: Who Killed Robert Prentice?
Q. Patrick: File on Fenton and Farr
Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors
Rex Stout: Nero Wolfe series
Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep
Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon
Cornell Woolrich: Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black
James M. Cain: Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Dudley Ball: In the Heat of the Night
Mario Puzo: The Godfather
Neil Simon, H.R.F. Keating: Murder by Death

 

SUPERNATURAL (FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION), DYSTOPIA
William Shakespeare: The Tempest
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
George Orwell: 1984
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Sheri S. Tepper: The True Game
Alfred Lord Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott

 

GOTHIC & HORROR
William Shakespeare: Macbeth
Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Daphne Du Maurier: Rebecca
Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
Charles Dickens: Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, The Signalman
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Canterville Ghost
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone
Theodor Storm: Der Schimmelreiter (The Dykemaster)
Edith Wharton: Ghost Stories
Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, The Mask of the Red Death
Bram Stoker: Dracula
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Shirley Jackson: The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS
Otfried Preußler: The Little Witch, The Little Ghost
Robert Arthur, et al.: The Three Investigators series
T.H. White: The Sword in the Stone
Wilhelm Hauff: Fairy Tales

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1934689/halloween-bingo-2019-preparty-question-for-08-12-day-12-classic-crime-and-classic-horror-recommendations

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic

Should come with several prescriptions / warning labels


The first caveat, obviously, being “don’t ever try this at home.”  Most of the poisons Harkup discusses are much harder to obtain these days than in Agatha Christie’s time, so for most of them the risk of being used as a murder weapon may have been mitigated in the interim, but that’s not true for all of them — belladonna, phosphorus, opiates, ricin, and thallium are still scarily easy to obtain (or distill) if you know how and where, and the story of Graham Young (aka the stepson from hell) is a chilly reminder that (1) it may not actually be a particularly wise idea to present your 11 year old son with a chemistry set for Christmas for being such a diligent student of the subject — particularly if he has taken a dislike to your new spouse — and (2) there are still poisons out there, thallium among them, that are but imperfectly understood and may, therefore, be misdiagnosed even today.

My second caveat would be to either read this book only after you’ve finished all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories that are discussed here, or at least, let a significantly enough amount of time go by between reading Harkup’s book and Christie’s fiction. (Obviously, if you’re just reading this one for the chemistry and have no intention of picking up Christie’s works at all, the story is a different one.)

There are exactly two instances where Harkup gives a spoiler warning for her discussion of the books by Agatha Christie that she is using as “anchors” for the poisons under discussion (morphine / Sad Cypress and ricin / Partners in Crime: The House of Lurking Death), and in both instances, my feeling is that she is using the spoiler warning chiefly because she is expressly giving away the identity of the murderer.

In truth, however, several other chapters should come with a massive spoiler warning as well; not because Harkup is explicit about the murderer (she isn’t), but because she gives away both the final twist and virtually every last detail of the path to its discovery.  As Harkup herself acknowledges, a considerable part of Agatha Christie’s craft consists in creating elaborate sleights of hand; in misdirecting the reader’s attention and in creating intricate red herrings that look damnably convincingly like the real thing.  But in several chapters of A Is for Arsenic, Harkup painstakingly unravels these sleights of hand literally down to the very last detail, making the red herrings visible for what they are, and even explaining just how Christie uses these as part of her elaborate window dressing.  The effect is the same as seeing a conjurer’s trick at extreme slow motion (or having it demonstrated to you step by step) — it completely takes away the magic.  Reading Harkup’s book before those by Christie that she discusses in the chapters concerned makes you go into a later read of those mysteries not only knowing exactly what to look for and why, but also what to discard as window dressing — the combined effect of which in more than one instance also puts you on a direct trail to uncovering the murderer.  This applies to the chapters about hemlock (Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect — see my corresponding status update), strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), and Veronal (Lord Edgware Dies); as well as, arguably, though perhaps to a lesser degree, to the chapter about belladonna (The Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull).  In fact, in at least one of these chapters (Veronal) she as good as discloses both the murderer and the final twist before she’s ever gotten to a discussion of the drug used in the first place.

As a result, Harkup’s book loses a half star in my rating on this basis alone, and I’m left with one of the odd entries in my library where I’m checking off the “favorite” box for a book that I’m not rating at least four stars or higher.  Because the fact is also that I immensely enjoyed Harkup’s explanations just how the poisons used in Christie’s novels work (and where they occur naturally / what they derive from), which has both increased my already enormous respect for Christie’s chemical knowledge and the painstaking way in which she applied that knowledge in her books, and also served as fascinating background reading and a chemistry lesson that is both fun and instructive.  I just know that this is one of the books I will come back to again and again in the future, not only when revisiting Christie’s catalogue but also when reading other books (mysteries and otherwise) involving poison — from the beginning of this read, I’ve had repeated flashbacks to books by other writers (and I’m gratified that Harkup hat-tips at least one of them, Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain, in her discussion of thallium, even if I’d also have liked at least a little word on the effect of the embalming procedure described Marsh); and I’m fairly certain that my future mystery reads involving poisons will prompt some considerable fact-checking at the hands of A Is for Arsenic.

Which in turn brings us back to caveat No. 1, I suppose … don’t ever try this at home!

 

Comments on Individual Chapters:
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1706879/should-come-with-several-prescriptions-warning-labels

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Podcasts: Shedunnit & The Guardian

Harkup on Christie’s training and the way she used her knowledge in her novels:

 

Harkup on Thallium:

 

Harkup on the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast:

 

Other Podcasts

Martin Edwards: The Golden Age of Murder


The early history of the Detection Club, told by its current president and first archivist.  Martin’s knowledge of both Golden Age detective fiction and the lives of its writers is downright encyclopedic, and he tells a multi-faceted story very compellingly.  At times I had the feeling that he was taking his own conjecture a bit too far (I will, e.g., have to explore Anthony Berkeley’s and E.M. Delafield’s writing for myself before I wholly buy into his theory about their relationship, what they may have meant to each other, and how it is reflected in their novels), and there were things, chiefly relating to Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, that I was already familiar with; but by and large, wow, what a read.

(ETA: I ultimately concluded that, based on their writings — hers especially — I find it unlikely that E.M. Delafield and Anthony Berkeley ever were more than good friends.)

 

Status Updates

67 of 528 Pages

Some basic background on where some of the chief movers and shakers of the Detection Club were in the 1920s (and how those events were going to impact their future lives) to get us started — I knew the stuff about Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, but the chapter on Anthony Berkeley was interesting.  Still wondering why Ngaio Marsh never was elected to membership, not even honorary, it appears … it can’t have been her being a native New Zealander; Helen Simpson was Australian by birth (and both she and Marsh lived in England), and John Dickson Carr was American.

I’ve decided I’m going to count this towards the Free Square of the Detection Club bingo … what with Eric the Skull making an appearance there, it feels only right.  (Besides, it’s the logical follow-up to using Edwards’s Story of Classic Crime for the center square of the Halloween Bingo.)

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1610479/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-67-out-of-528-pages

 

107 of 528 Pages

Finished Part 1 last night — Part 2 will be “The Rules of the Game.”  So far, the structure seems to be similar to that of the beginning of The Story of Classic Crime (a few chapters on the origins of it all, then moving on to an exploration to what it all meant in terms of writerly approach), except that the focus is on the writers themselves here instead of specific books, and on the Detection Club itself of course — and on putting it all into the context of the era. For a 500-page, tiny-print brick it reads quickly, and so far II’m enjoying the ride and the insight into what the early 20th century writing and publishing world was like.

Interesting tidbits on marketing and writerly self-promotion in particular. Would these authors have enjoyed the changes that social media have brought in recent years?  I think Berkeley in particular would have hated them — Christie not so much, perhaps, at least not initially; she’d have been quick to capitalize on the marketing potential, although one wonders what she’d have done about her “no photographs” rule; and if she hated the tabloids of her day, a Facebook / Twitter sh*tstorm might well have convinced her to leave marketing to her publisher after all.  Sayers would likeky have seen the marketing potential, too, but she’d probably have found it an even greater challenge than Christie to maintain her privacy … hmm.  One thing is certain, self-governed authors’ associations aiming at the promotion and monitoring of a certain level of class and substance in writing seem to be more called for today than ever before!

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1610818/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-107-out-of-528-pages

 

210 of 528 Pages

Dear BBC, I’m sure somewhere in your sound archives you still have the recording of the two broadcasts of Behind the Screen and The Scoop.  Could you please, please, pretty please make that available again to mystery lovers?  (And could the estates of the participating authors please, pretty please consent to the publication?)  Sayers and Christie reading their contributions to these two round robins — man, I’d give (almost) anything to be able to hear that, even if Christie hurried through hers like the proverbial horse on the run.

Hmmm, that whole eugenics thing does make me look a bit differently at R. Austin Freeman and J.J. Connington, however — hooray for Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and (it has to be said — of course) G.K. Chesterton for upholding basic humanity there. I hope future generations won’t have cause to look back at our time and view the whole cloning debate in similarly stark tones.  And I do have a feeling Christie’s literary legacy is better off without that little unpublished play, too … (Interesting tidbit about Bletchley and N or M?, OTOH — I bet even though the interview can’t have been pleasant, in hindsight she felt mighty validated).

Original post:
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MISS MARPLE: THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY

“There she sits: an elderly spinster; sweet, placid …

… so you’d think,” retired Scotland Yard chief Sir Henry Clithering (Raymond Francis) says when describing Miss Marple to his friend, wealthy paraplegic Conway Jefferson (Andrew Cruickshank). “Yet,” he continues, “her mind has plumbed the depths of human iniquity, and taken all in a day’s work.” And Vicar Clement, the narrator of Agatha Christie‘s first Miss Marple story, 1930’s Murder at the Vicarage, couldn’t agree more: “Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous,” he observes on one occasion.

So, while Milchester C.I.D.’s Inspector Slack (David Horovitch), in charge of the investigation into the death of the platinum blonde whose body has mysteriously appeared in the library of Colonel Bantry (Moray Watson), squire of the village of St. Mary Mead, is still hot on the pursuit of the wrong suspect(s), Miss Marple – called in by her friend Dolly Bantry (Gwen Watford), the Colonel’s wife – has already found the solution; relying on her ever-unfailing “village parallels,” those seemingly innocuous incidents of village life making up the sum of her knowledge of human nature, to which she routinely turns in unmasking even the cleverest killer.

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had seen as Miss Marple, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well when compared to the character’s literary original in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch) the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

The Body in the Library was Christie‘s second novel-length Miss Marple mystery, written twelve years after The Murder at the Vicarage and following two short story collections featuring St. Mary Mead’s elderly spinster, The Thirteen Problems (1932, a/k/a The Tuesday Club Murders) and The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories (1939, also featuring Hercule Poirot and Parker Pyne). The mysterious dead blonde’s appearance at the story’s very beginning was Christie‘s response to a friend’s request for a dead body in her next novel’s first chapter. In the BBC productions, this was the first Miss Marple mystery to air (in three installments in 1984), followed a year later by the likewise multiple-episode A Pocket Full of Rye and A Murder Is Announced, as well as the movie-length The Moving Finger. Only in 1986, the BBC followed up with a movie-length adaptation of The Murder at the Vicarage. The last of the twelve features, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, dates from 1992.

Following the rule that ever since Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade every great private detective needs a policeman he can outwit, the creators of the BBC series inserted the character of Inspector Slack into almost all storylines – hardly in keeping with the literary originals, which are set over a period of more than 30 years and thus, exceed the career span of a policeman already advanced on his professional path at the time of his first encounter with Miss Marple; even if the BBC’s Slack is promoted from D.I. in The Body in the Library (where he really does appear) to Superintendent in The Mirror Crack’d. Yet, Hickson‘s and Horovitch’s face-offs are a fun addition; and one is almost ready to pity Slack, who hardly ever gets a foot down vis-à-vis Miss Marple’s quick rejoinders and, in the words of Sir Henry Clithering, “wonderful gift to state the obvious.”

From the library of the Bantrys’ Gossington Hall estate, the present mystery’s trail leads to the nearby seaside resort of Danemouth, where the dead girl – identified by her cousin Josie Turner (played by Sting’s wife Trudie Styler) as one Ruby Keene – had worked as a show dancer at a large luxury hotel. In classic Christie fashion, the cast of suspects includes everybody from rich Mr. Jefferson’s son in law Mark Gaskell (Keith Drinkel) and daughter in law Adelaide (Ciaran Madden), the spouses of Jefferson’s deceased children – who have taken the place of their dead partners in the rich old man’s life, and have every reason to resent upstartish Ruby for whirling herself into his favor, to the point of his decision to adopt her and settle a large sum of money on her in his testament – to shallow tennis pro and dance instructor Raymond Starr (Jess Conrad), who has hopes of his own regarding Adelaide Jefferson, as well as flamboyant Basil Blake (Anthony Smee), whose extravagant lifestyle and connections to the movie world in themselves provide ample grounds for a close look at him. But while Inspector Slack insists that the case will be solved by “good old-fashioned police work,” Miss Marple’s “village parallels” and her attention to such things as the dead girl’s fingernails prove uncannily superior – and they also allow her to connect this case to the disappearance of another young woman, an incident offhand dismissed as unconnected by Slack.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1984)
  • Director: Silvio Nazzarino
  • Producers: Guy Slater & George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: T.R. Bowen
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • David Horovitch: Detective Inspector Slack
  • Ian Brimble: Detective Constable Lake
  • Gwen Watford: Dolly Bantry
  • Moray Watson: Colonel Bantry
  • Andrew Cruickshank: Conway Jefferson
  • Ciaran Madden: Adelaide Jefferson
  • Trudie Styler: Josie Turner
  • Keith Drinkel: Mark Gaskell
  • Jess Conrad: Raymond Starr
  • Anthony Smee: Basil Blake
  • Debbie Arnold: Dinah Lee
  • Arthur Bostrom: George Bartlett
  • Sally Jane Jackson: Ruby Keene
  • Stephen Churchett: Major Reeve
  • Astra Sheridan: Pamela Reeve
  • Karen Seacombe: Florrie Small
  • Raymond Francis: Sir Henry Clithering
  • Frederick Jaeger: Colonel Melchett
  • John Bardon: PC Palk
  • John Evans: Inch (uncredited)

 

Links

MISS MARPLE: A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED

Delilah the Cat Unmasks a Murderer

“Just a silly joke” it was supposed to be, waitress Myrna (Liz Crowther) tells Inspector Craddock (John Castle) about her Swiss beau’s, hotel receptionist Rudi Scherz’s hold-up at elderly Miss Blacklock (Ursula Howells)’s home Little Paddocks. And it had begun just as planned: After Rudi’s startling anonymous advertisement in Chipping Cleghorn’s village gazette – “A murder is announced and will take place Friday, October the 5th, at Little Paddocks, at 7PM” – half the village had converged on the cottage, bursting with curiosity, and on pretexts from “just passing by” to “wondering whether Miss Blacklock mightn’t be interested in a kitten.” At 7PM sharp, the lights had gone out and Rudi had entered, adorned with mask and cape, dazzled the assembled group with a torch and commanded: “Stick ’em up!”

But then shots had rung out, and when the lights had finally been turned on again, the person lying dead had been Rudi himself. “Some joke,” Myrna comments bitterly.

Inspector Craddock’s and Sergeant Fletcher (Kevin Whately)’s task is complicated by the witnesses’ disagreement whether Scherz had aimed his torch (and revolver?) at one person in particular, and their disagreement over his reasons for the hold-up. But even though Miss Blacklock herself dismisses the idea as ludicrous, her sweet, somewhat scatterbrained companion Dora Bunner (Renée Asherson) insists that Scherz’s true intention must have been to kill her. Yet, that seems out of character for the young man, whose record merely reveals him as a petty con artist and, in Miss Blacklock’s words, “picker-up of unconsidered trifles.” Unless … well, unless someone put Rudi up to his scheme. And pressed by Inspector Craddock after a consultation with Miss Marple, who happens to be staying at the hotel that is Myrna’s and Rudi’s workplace, Myrna admits that indeed, someone had paid Rudi to do what he did. What is more, Miss Blacklock is to inherit a considerable fortune from her former employer, millionaire Randall Goedler, after the imminent death of his invalid wife. And while the main beneficiaries in the case of her own death are her young relatives Patrick and Julia Simmons (Simon Shepherd and Samantha Bond), currently members of her household alongside her theatrical and not always truthful maid Hannah (Elaine Ives-Cameron) and a lodger, a somewhat distant Mrs. Haymes (Nicola King), in the event Miss Blacklock predeceases Mrs. Goedler, the financier’s fortune goes to the children of his sister Sonia … whom Miss Blacklock only knows as “Pip” and Emma and who, like their mother, haven’t been heard from since before WWII.

Written 1950 and adapted for TV 1985 (the second of the BBC’s “Miss Marple” adaptations starring Joan Hickson), A Murder Is Announced reflects on the changes brought about by the war in English village life; with rationing, foreign refugees and other strangers moving to the countryside, and associated xenophobia. For before the war, people knew each other well, and new arrivals carried tokens of introduction from someone familiar to the local population, vouching for the newcomers’ trustworthiness. That, however, is gone forever, as Miss Marple explains to Inspector Craddock; you just have to take people at face value, along with their ration books and identity cards … “and can you really trust a ration book and an identity card?”

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, featured, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but were decidedly less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” version of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch) the four movies starring Rutherford are only partially based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

A Murder Is Announced is one of the stand-out features in the BBC series; not only because, like all installments, it takes great care in maintaining the tone and atmosphere set by Christie herself but also because of its stellar supporting cast, which includes Ralph Michael and Sylvia Syms (opinionated Colonel Easterbrook and his airheaded wife), Matthew Solon and Mary Kerridge (young leftist writer Edmund Swettenham and his silly mother), Paola Dionisotti (stout pig farmer Miss Hinchcliffe), Joan Sims (Miss Hinchcliffe’s simple-minded companion Miss Murgatroyd), and David Collings and Vivienne Moore (Reverend and Mrs. Harmon, Miss Marple’s niece and nephew-in-law, with whom the old lady spontaneously invites herself to stay close to the investigation: after all, “a policeman asking questions is open to the gravest suspicion, but an old lady asking questions is just an old lady asking questions,” as she points out to Inspector Craddock.) The episode also features some truly delightful editing; as such, Craddock’s soothing comment to Mrs. Haymes (“It’s not a bad thing being sensible”) is directly followed by Mrs. Swettenham’s overly dramatic reenactment of the murder, and Mrs. Easterbrook’s admiration for her husband’s self-assured but dead-wrong excursion into criminal psychology is succeeded by the snorting of a pig on the Hinchcliffe/Murgatroyd farm.

“Especially in an English village – turn over a stone, you have no idea what will crawl out,” Miss Marple tells Inspector Craddock during their first meeting over tea and crumpets. But not before some feline mischief by the Harmons’ cat Delilah does she realize who is responsible for Rudi Scherz’s murder – and those of Miss Bunner and Miss Murgatroyd, who’ve been killed in order to silence them. And therefore, “I won’t have a word said against that remarkable cat,” Miss Marple insists. Which decidedly makes her my feline partner in crime’s favorite detective …

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1985)
  • Director: David Giles
  • Producers: Guy Slater & George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: Alan Plater
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • John Castle: Detective Inspector Craddock
  • Kevin Whately: Detective Sergeant Fletcher
  • Ursula Howells: Miss Blacklock
  • Renée Asherson: Dora Bunner
  • Samantha Bond: Julia Simmons
  • Simon Shepherd: Patrick Simmons
  • Nicola King: Phillipa Haymes
  • Elaine Ives-Cameron: Hannah
  • Ralph Michael: Colonel Easterbrook
  • Sylvia Syms: Mrs. Easterbrook
  • Matthew Solon: Edmund Swettenham
  • Mary Kerridge: Mrs. Swettenham
  • Paola Dionisotti: Miss Hinchcliffe
  • Joan Sims: Miss Murgatroyd
  • Vivienne Moore: Mrs. Harmon
  • David Collings: Reverend Harmon
  • Liz Crowther: Myrna Harris
  • Tim Charrington: Rudi Scherz
  • Joyce Carey: Belle Goedler

 

Links

MISS MARPLE: A POCKETFUL OF RYE

Sing a Song of Sixpence …

Seemingly innocuous, English nursery rhymes often have a rather sinister origin; and noone knew this better than Agatha Christie, who repeatedly used them as a motif; most famously probably in 1939’s And Then There Were None (a/k/a Ten Little Indians), where the murderer kills his victims, one by one, in the fashion of the Ten Little Indians ditty.

A Pocket Full of Rye is one of three Christie mysteries inspired by Sing a Song of Sixpence; the others are the short stories Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Sing a Song of Sixpence, contained in the collections Three Blind Mice and The Witness For the Prosecution, respectively. The nursery rhyme describes, in coded language, the modus operandi of a feared pirate known as Blackbeard, terror of the high seas between 1716 and 1718, who lured men into his services by promises of lavish pay and rations of rum (“sixpence” and “rye”), and often approached merchant ships under cover of friendly colors, only to have his concealed crewmen (“blackbirds in a pie”) emerge at the last moment and assault the other ship, which more often than not resulted in rich takings (“a dainty dish”) for Blackbeard (“the king”) and his men:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing.
Now wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?

In Christie‘s mystery, it is the murderer himself who uses the nursery rhyme to play his ghastly game with the Fortescue family. Soon after ill-tempered, wealthy patriarch Rex Fortescue (Timothy West) has died in his office of a rare poison – and subsequently been found with rye in his pocket – his impossibly young and, shall we say, free-spirited widow Adele (Stacy Dorning) is likewise found dead, in the house’s drawing room and after having had tea, which uncharacteristically included a serving of honey. (The nursing rhyme continues “the king was in his counting house counting out his money; the queen was in the parlor eating bread and honey.”) But while Detective Inspector Neele (Tom Wilkinson), in one of the few mysteries not featuring Milchester C.I.D.’s Inspector Slack, is still searching for clues and the press is starting to speculate about black magic, Miss Marple instantly zeroes in on the nursery rhyme, and as instantly she is worried: For the ditty ends with the lines “The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes, when down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose” … and the Fortescues’ maid is none other than one of Miss Marple’s proteges: impressionable, naïve, clumsy and not very bright Gladys Martin (Annette Badland). Unfortunately Miss Marple arrives too late to protect her; and now, of course, the matter becomes personal – and she will not rest until she has found the murderer who, she feels, must be among the surviving members of the Fortescue household; particularly given that an actual pie containing dead and decayed blackbirds has made its appearance in the house a while earlier. Indeed, there are suspects aplenty, including everyone from Rex’s unequal sons Percival (Clive Merrison) – heir to the Fortescue business – and Lance (Peter Davison) – recently returned from Africa –, their wives Jennifer (Rachel Bell) and Patricia (Frances Low), Rex’s bible-quoting sister in law from his first marriage (Fabia Drake), Adele’s shallow “golfing partner” Vivian Dubois (Martyn Stanbridge), the family’s perfect housekeeper (or is she?) Miss Dove (Selina Cadell) … and the as yet unknown heirs of Rex Fortescue’s former business partner, who quarreled with him over the rights to a certain Blackbird Mine.

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had seen as Miss Marple, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been decidedly less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well when compared to the character’s literary original in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” version of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch) the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

Like all entries in the BBC series produced with great faithfulness to the tone and atmosphere set by Christie‘s original, A Pocket Full of Rye first aired (in three installments) in 1985, a year before the BBC’s adaptation of the first Miss Marple novel (Murder at the Vicarage, 1930 – the first BBC production featuring St. Mary Mead’s elderly spinster was 1984’s Body in the Library, based on the second Miss Marple novel, written 1942). As always, Miss Marple finds the solution while the police are still hot on the pursuit of the wrong suspect. And the murderer’s motive? “Oh, it was greed … one knows that, naturally …”

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1985)
  • Director: Guy Slater
  • Producer: George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: T.R. Bowen
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Recurring Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • Tom Wilkinson: Detective Inspector Neele
  • Jon Glover: Detective Sergeant Hay
  • Timothy West: Rex Fortescue
  • Peter Davison: Lance Fortescue
  • Clive Merrison: Percival Fortescue
  • Stacy Dorning: Adele Fortescue
  • Rachel Bell: Jennifer Fortescue
  • Frances Low: Patricia Fortescue
  • Fabia Drake: Miss Henderson
  • Selina Cadell: Mary Dove
  • Merelina Kendall: Mrs. Crump
  • Frank Mills: Mr. Crump
  • Annette Badland: Gladys Martin
  • Martyn Stanbridge: Vivian Dubois

 

Links

MISS MARPLE: THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE

“[They] knew I was a noticing sort of person.”

There she sits: a white-haired lady dressed in tweeds, a pair of knitting needles in her lap, more interested in village gossip than in the goings-on of the world at large – but she certainly doesn’t mince words (“Oh yes. Colonel Protheroe has always struck me as being rather a stupid man,” she deadpans about the man who will soon turn up shot in the study of St. Mary Mead’s Vicar Leonard Clement), and whenever a murder is committed you can be sure she won’t be far away; and while the police are still toddling around searching for clues she’ll find the solution. “Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous,” observes Vicar Clement, the narrator of this story’s literary original, about two members of his wife Griselda’s (Cheryl Campbell’s) Tuesday afternoon tea and gossip circle.

And of course this also holds true with regard to the murder of disagreeable Colonel Protheroe (Robert Lang), whom the dismayed vicar (Paul Eddington) finds shot after returning home from a wild goose chase visit to an allegedly terminally ill member of his congregation. From the Colonel’s wife Ann (Polly Adams), his daughter Lettice (Tara MacGowran) and Ann’s lover, the painter Lawrence Redding (James Hazeldine), to the mysterious Mrs. Lestrange (Norma West), small-time poacher Bill Archer (Jack Galloway) – the beau of the vicar’s maid Mary (Rachel Weaver) – and even the vicar’s own curate, Hawes (Christopher Good), there is no shortage of suspects; indeed, half the village seems to have had reasons to want the Colonel out of the way. But to solve the mystery, Miss Marple doesn’t only have to work her way through a thick layer of deception, false confessions and other red herrings – she also has to come to terms with the role accorded to her herself in the devious plan surrounding the Colonel’s murder.

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had seen as Miss Marple, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been decidedly less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well when compared to the character’s literary original in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” version of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch) the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

Although The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) was Christie‘s first Miss Marple mystery, the BBC series opened with a multiple-episode adaptation of the second novel-length story featuring St. Mary Mead’s elderly spinster, The Body in the Library (written 1942, BBC 1984); followed by the three 1985 productions of A Murder Is Announced (written 1950), A Pocket Full of Rye (1953) and The Moving Finger (1942). Only in 1986, the BBC took up the story that had first introduced Miss Marple to Agatha Christie readers all over the world.

Crucially, like all of the episodes produced for TV, this adaptation not only maintains the tone and atmosphere set by Christie‘s original but also – although in the sequence of the adaptations Miss Marple and Inspector Slack of Milchester C.I.D. had already crossed paths in The Body in the Library – the fact that this story very much serves to establish their acrimonious relationship. And while Miss Marple, who compares Slack to a railway diesel engine, or in this story’s literary original to a shoe vendor intent on selling you patent leather boots while completely ignoring your request for brown calf leather (“most unappealing – but I’m told efficient. Well, I suppose we shall have to learn to live with such things. And such people …”) usually has the upper hand vis-à-vis Slack (who in turn calls her a “nice little grey-haired cobra [who] sticks to [murder] like chewing gum to the cat”) occasionally Slack gets in the last word, like in the exchange following his announcement to Miss Marple that he will pay her a visit to get her full account of her observations on the day of the murder:

Miss Marple: “Oh, I’m sure you’re far too busy to listen to my little ideas, Inspector.”
Slack: “Noone can accuse me of not being thorough.”
Miss Marple: “Indeed …”
Slack: “I suppose it’s having an ear for gossip and, uh, a talent for a bit of blind guess work, really.”
Miss Marple: “What is, Inspector?”
Slack: “What stops your little ideas being a waste of time.”
Miss Marple: “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been complimented quite like that in my life before, Inspector.”
Slack: “Don’t mention it …”

Of course Slack will pay dearly for this slight from that very moment on, and in the end has to suffer the ultimate defeat of (not for the last time) catching his murderer only after having agreed to a “little strategy” proposed by Miss Marple.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1986)
  • Director: Julian Amyes
  • Producers: Guy Slater & George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: T.R. Bowen
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Recurring Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • David Horovitch: Detective Inspector Slack
  • Ian Brimble: Detective Sergeant Lake
  • Paul Eddington: Reverend Leonard Clement
  • Cheryl Campbell: Griselda Clement
  • Robert Lang: Colonel Protheroe
  • Polly Adams: Ann Protheroe
  • Tara MacGowran: Lettice Protheroe
  • Norma West: Mrs. Lestrange
  • James Hazeldine: Lawrence Redding
  • Christopher Good: Christopher Hawes
  • Michael Browning: Dr. Haydock
  • Rachel Weaver: Mary Wright
  • Jack Galloway: Bill Archer
  • Rosalie Crutchley: Mrs. Price-Ridley
  • Barbara Hicks: Miss Hartnell
  • Deddie Davies: Mrs. Salisbury
  • Kathleen Bidmead: Miss Wetherby (uncredited)

 

Links

MISS MARPLE: NEMESIS

Of Murder, Justice, Love and the Darkness of the Human Soul

“Thousands of years ago, she had a measuring rod, a sword, and a whip – it’s called a scourge,” explains self-made millionaire Jason Rafiel (Frank Gatliff) to his nurse … and “she rode about in a chariot driven by griffins.” He is talking about Nemesis, the ancient Greek goddess of justice and vengeance, merciless punisher of human transgressions against the natural order, whose epithet was Adrasteia – she whom none can escape. “Last time I saw her,” Rafiel then adds, laughing with some difficulty, “she was wearing a pink wool shawl …”

For the old gentleman, virtually a step away from his own death at this point, is also speaking about Miss Jane Marple, elderly spinster from St. Mary Mead, whom he had met six years earlier on a Caribbean Island (see A Caribbean Mystery, 1965), where together they had unmasked a cold-blooded killer. And although gruff old Jason had initially had only contempt for the lady, apparently so completely out of her element with her knitting needles and tweeds, which she wouldn’t even relinquish under tropical blue skies and palm trees, he had soon changed his mind, realizing the powers of her razor-sharp logic and profound understanding of human nature. Thus, as he now sets about settling his own life’s final score, there is no question in his mind who to turn to for help – none other than Jane Marple will do. “I imagine you knitting headscarves and that sort of thing,” reads the commission she receives through his London solicitors (Roger Hammond and Patrick Godfrey) shortly after his death. “If that’s what you prefer to go on doing, that’s your decision. But if you prefer to serve the cause of justice, I hope you find it interesting.” And he quotes the bible: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream.” (Amos 5:24).

So Miss Marple soon finds herself on an unexpected Historic Homes and Gardens coach tour; accompanied by her nephew Lionel (Peter Tilbury), who is seeking refuge with dear Aunt Jane after having been locked out by his wife. Also among the tour party are a Miss Elizabeth Temple (Helen Cherry), the recently-retired headmistress of a renowned private school, a Professor Wanstead (John Horsley), who turns out to be a specialist in criminal psychology associated with the Home Office, and two younger women named Cooke and Barrow (Jane Booker and Alison Skilbeck), who seem to be keeping a close eye on Miss Marple, but whose intentions are anything but clear.

The spinsterly sleuth’s charge is momentous indeed, and it involves Mr. Rafiel’s own estranged son Michael (Bruce Payne), once suspected of having murdered his young fiancee Verity Hunt. While the old millionaire doesn’t expressly say so, it quickly becomes clear that Miss Marple is to find Verity’s killer – even if that ultimately means charging Michael Rafiel. For old Jason has spoken of justice for a reason and, as Miss Marple later explains, “he wasn’t being entirely humourous” when dubbing her “Nemesis.” Indeed, he is relying not only on her “flair for evil” but, as importantly, on the fact that she will not “flinch” should she find out that Michael is guilty. But while things remain unclear to Miss Marple much longer than to Miss Temple, Verity’s erstwhile teacher, who now pays with her life for a fateful misstep on her own mission to uncover the truth, Mr. Rafiel has at least woven as finely-spun a web as he could in support of his avenging angel’s chore; and he has brought her in touch with everybody she needs to meet: Verity’s guardians Clothilde and Anthea Bradbury-Scott (Margaret Tyzack and Anna Cropper) and their sister Lavinia Glynne (Valerie Lush), Archdeacon Brabazon (Peter Copley), Verity’s and Michael’s marriage counselor and spiritual advisor, and a Mrs. Brent (Liz Fraser), whose daughter had disappeared around the time of Verity’s death. And Miss Marple soon realizes that the central clue to unmasking the young woman’s murderer is love: Verity wasn’t killed for her beauty, superior intelligence or money (none of which she possessed) – but, simply, because she was loved.

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had featured, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been decidedly less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” version of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch) the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

Nemesis, published only five years before Christie‘s own death, is darker in mood and atmosphere than earlier Miss Marple mysteries; and this 1987 adaptation faithfully maintains that spirit. My major quibble – one of the few I have with this series at all – is that it was produced before the 1989 adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery, which not only breaks the continuity in Jason Rafiel’s character (superbly portrayed by Donald Pleasence in the later-aired adaptation of the earlier-written mystery) but necessarily also leads to some incompleteness in establishing his and Miss Marple’s relationship. But much of this is made up in Rafiel’s final note to his sleuth, written in a frail hand and transmitted by a most significant messenger after Verity’s murderer is brought to justice: “Thank you, Miss Marple, my Nemesis. Shall we meet again?” I sincerely hope they did …

 

Pierre-Paul Proud'hon: Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon: Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808)

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1987)
  • Director: David Tucker
  • Producers: Guy Slater & George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: T.R. Bowen
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Recurring Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • Peter Tilbury: Lionel Peel
  • Helen Cherry: Miss Elizabeth Temple
  • John Horsley: Professor Wanstead
  • Jane Booker: Miss Cooke
  • Alison Skilbeck: Miss Barrow
  • Valerie Lush: Lavinia Glynne
  • Margaret Tyzack: Clothilde Bradbury-Scott
  • Anna Cropper: Anthea Bradbury-Scott
  • Liz Fraser: Mrs. Brent
  • Peter Copley: Archdeacon Brabazon
  • Bruce Payne: Michael Rafiel
  • Frank Gatliff: Jason Rafiel
  • Roger Hammond: Mr. Broadribb
  • Patrick Godfrey: Mr. Schuster
  • Ann Queensberry: Miss Wimpole

 

Links

 

Nemesis   Nemesis Louvre   Nemesis: Getty Villa Collection
Nemesis statues: Left – from a temple and statue in Rhamnus (Attica, Greece), where she was held in particularly high honour. Centre: Louvre (Paris) – marble statue of Nemesis dedicated by Ptollanubis; found in Egypt, 2nd century AD. Right: Getty Villa Collection (Los Angeles, CA) – Roman Nemesis statue, c. 150 AD.