I meant to get started on the next book for our club, but instead I got sidetracked re-reading this Agatha Christie mystery, a Miss Marple mystery to be precise.
This book has an unusual history in Christie’s oeuvre – during her life it was locked in a vault on her request, to be published posthumously along with Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s last mystery. Unlike Curtain, which wrapped up Poirot’s life and work, there’s no such finality in Sleeping Murder and there are further Miss Marple stories that follow it chronologically, so the foreboding byline on the book cover is pretty misleading. No need for drama, Miss Marple is still alive and kicking at the end.
In this novel Miss Marple is aiding a young newlywed couple, Gwenda and Giles, who find themselves in rather unusual and disquieting circumstances. It begins with Gwenda travelling to England ahead of her husband to find a nice house for them to settle in, and she finds one on the south coast that feels just like home. In fact, it feels too familiar, with Gwenda guessing small random details about the house that she couldn’t have logically known about. While these psychic flashes are unnerving, a genuinely horrific memory gets dredged up when Gwenda remembers watching a young blond woman strangled in the hall. Of course, she can’t see the killer’s face or it wouldn’t be much of a mystery, but she knows that the woman’s name was Helen.
Eventually they figure out that Helen was Gwenda’s stepmother, and that Gwenda had lived in the very same house as a little girl before she was sent to her relatives in New Zealand. While Gwenda and Giles are eager to solve the mystery and find the murderer, Miss Marple warns them to let the sleeping murder lie, the dark possibility being that it was in fact Gwenda’s father who strangled his wife.
Even though it’s not the best book in the Miss Marple series, I always had a soft spot for Sleeping Murder. As Gwenda and Giles dig into Helen’s past and connections, a list of possible suspects is unearthed, but the investigation itself is not the most thrilling Christie wrote and the murderer is not that hard to guess. The stories about crimes that happened many years in the past can also stretch credibility of just how much detail a person can remember about a day from almost twenty years ago. I can’t even recall my exact movements from last Tuesday!
What stuck with me the most about the book is a setting that’s almost gothic – a house with a dark history that has a presence of its own. And for some reason, out of all the murder victims in Christie’s novels, Helen feels to me like the most haunting and her story the saddest.