Miss Marple goes to spend a few days with her old friend Carrie Louise, at the request of old friend’s sister who is worried that something sinister is happening without being able to pin down why she feels that way. Carrie Louise’s first husband set up a “good works” institution in the grounds of his estate prior to his death, which is currently being used to rehabilitate young criminals, and her third and current husband Lewis is one of the trustees of the institution. Several members of the rather complex family structure live with them, which means there are several people with a financial interest in murdering Carrie Louise. Then, of course, there are the juvenile delinquents. However, when murder happens, it’s with a twist. Lewis’s young assistant has a mental breakdown and has a confrontation with Lewis which climaxes with the young man shooting at him but missing, and at the same time her step-son from her first marriage is murdered elsewhere in the house by a shot which initially goes unnoticed in the immediate aftermath of the altercation between Lewis and his assistant.
Lewis tells the police that earlier that day the murder victim had told him in confidence that someone was trying to poison Carrie Louise — an obvious motive for someone to seize the opportunity to silence him while everyone was distracted, and an urgent reason for the police to find the killer before anyone else dies. It’s up to Miss Marple to unpick the tangle of motives and opportunity at Stonygates.
I worked out who and how almost immediately — but so excellent was the misdirection that I thought that I must be mistaken. As usual with Christie, once you do know what happened a lot of tiny details suddenly click neatly into place.
One thing I did notice was that Christie through Miss Marple has a lot to say about excusing criminal behaviour because someone had a problem childhood. It’s not a problem for me, since it’s in character for Miss Marple anyway, but I did feel that it was the author’s viewpoint as well as the character’s, and for some readers it might feel a bit too much like being lectured. But I enjoyed this book a lot — and when you finally know the answer, the motivation feels right for that character.