It’s half-way through the challenge set by agathachristie.com and I’m still going strong. This month the choice had to involve gardens and this late-period Miss Marple was the official suggestion. By 1971 Agatha Christie was a publishing phenomenon and had been putting out her crime stories for over 50 years. I really enjoyed having Miss Marple as the central character here, rather than off in the side-lines (as she as in last month’s choice “A Pocket Full Of Rye”). By this time the mature amateur sleuth had been cracking cases for 41 years and as a character, Christie, who by this time was herself 81, allows Miss Marple to feel her age, living a much more sedentary life at St. Mary Mead (her doctor seems to have banned her from gardening) is in need of more care and is less mobile (although she soon leaves the village and is off on location for this book). There are quite a lot of references made to advancing age for both Marple and other characters here.
There is actually a weird sense of time going on. Whilst perusing the obituaries Marple notes the passing of a character she has previously encountered in “A Caribbean Mystery” a 1964 novel which I have never read. Plot-wise, though this is set only around a year and a half later and the death notice leads to her involvement with other characters but its conveyed as if it is years ago and these overlapping characters have only hazy memories of one another. I’m sure if I met Miss Marple on holiday 18 months ago and became embroiled in a murder situation with her I would have remembered clearly.
It is a strange plot structure here which can feel a little lumbering but it does allow my favourite of Christie’s recurring characters to have prominence. The dead man offers Miss Marple a reward for some sleuthing but she has to embark on this without knowing what is going on or why. It requires her attendance on a organised tour of English houses and gardens (there’s the Challenge theme for you) during which she begins to piece together what is asked of her.
There’s a lot of chat and not much action and a lot of reiterating what Marple already knows when she encounters characters who might edge her quest forward. Christie normally catches me out but I had this one solved quite early on. A little more tension might have been good for the reader if not for the well-being of Christie’s aging characters.
This was the last Miss Marple novel Agatha Christie wrote (although “Sleeping Murder” was the last one published) and it is a bit of a muted, if age-appropriate farewell. At the time it was generally considered not be amongst her finest. On my list of those I have read so far for the challenge I think I would slot in at 4th below “The Hollow” and just above “Lord Edgware Dies”. For August’s challenge my job is to read a book involving a vicar, a challenge which I could have anticipated would make an appearance before long.
Nemesis was first published in 1971. It is available in the UK as a Harper Collins paperback. Further details/book group info etc on the Reading Challenge can be found at www.agathachristie.com