Another quick re-read in between the book club. I’m actually thinking of doing an official Agatha Christie re-readathon challenge, where I read and review every novel by the Queen of Crime, yes all 66 of them. If I finish one each month, this should take me only five and a half years. Piece of cake.
Anyway, this novel is one of my favourite Miss Marple murder mysteries, partly for the mystery itself and partly for the observations of the social changes of the time. It takes place in Miss Marple’s home of St Mary Mead, but in this post-war era it’s no longer the same sleepy village. There’s a shiny new supermarket and a housing development referred to simply as the Development. Miss Marple, who was an old lady since her very first appearance, is now truly frail and has to put up with a live-in housekeeper, a capable yet annoyingly patronising woman who treats her charge as a feeble invalid. But of course Miss Marple’s mind is still as sharp as a tack.
Her famous unravelling skills come in handy when a shocking death upsets a local event. A few years before, Miss Marple’s good friend Mrs Bantry sold her stately home of Gossington Hall, which is eventually purchased by the famous film actress Marina Gregg and her fourth husband. They open the grounds for the charity fete, and invite a select few of the guests to meet Marina personally, including a Mrs Heather Badcock. One minute Heather blabs excitedly about how she had met Marina many years ago, a few moments later she’s dead from drinking a poisoned cocktail.
Who would want to kill an irritating but harmless woman in a room full of witnesses? Could she have been murdered by accident, with poison meant for Marina instead? And what distracted Marina from Heather’s story so badly that the usually attentive host stared over her guest’s shoulder with a horrible frozen expression?
The novel takes the reader through a list of suspects with backstories that yield surprises, but the main appeal of the mystery is the character of Marina, who seems like an amalgamation of several real-life movie stars with magnetic charm and beauty, tragic lives and high-strung temperaments. Plot-wise it’s perhaps not Christie’s tightest work; there’s a last-minute revelation that feels like one coincidence too many, and earlier on the book throws suspicion on a minor side character for no reason and without any payoff. But it’s still an entertaining read, with pieces of the puzzle falling satisfyingly together, and the themes of aging and change give it a distinct flavour.