First of the Grantchester Mysteries series, about a Church of England vicar who solves mysteries in collaboration with one of the local police detectives. The first book is a set of six short stories, each a standalone about an individual case, but with an overall arc running through them. I bought it because I’d seen and enjoyed a couple of episodes of the tv adaptation. This doesn’t always mean I’ll like a book, but in this case I’m very glad I bought it. It’s an excellent period cosy mystery, written by someone who knows the minutiae of Anglican clerical life. The ebook for this one is often low price as a hook for the series, and well worth getting.
53) Agatha Christie — A Caribbean Mystery
Miss Marple’s nephew has paid for her to have a holiday in the Caribbean as part of her convalescence after a bad bout of pneumonia. The setting is very different to St Mary Mead, but the behaviours on display amongst the ex-pats are only too familiar. As the novel opens, Miss Marple is listening to the hotel bore, or at least making a polite show of same. She starts to pay more attention when the Major tells a story about a friend having accidentally taken a photo of someone who was almost certainly a serial murderer, but doesn’t it take it seriously until the the Major starts to pull a copy of the photo out to show her — and then sees someone and hastily puts it away. When the Major dies in his sleep that night, Miss Marple thinks there may be more to it than high blood pressure. Of course, nudging the local doctor to check whether the major really did have a prescription for blood pressure tablets is only the start. There are several potential suspects to be investigated as only Miss Marple can.
There are some nice characterisations in this book, not least being Miss Marple herself. There was some fairly acid internal monologue from Marple in the previous book (The Mirror Crack’d) about the young not having invented sex, and it continues here. On the second page:
“Sex” as a word had not been mentioned in Miss Marple’s young days; but there had been plenty of it–not talked about so much–but enjoyed far more than nowadays, or so it seemed to her.
And there’s more in that vein. This is not an unworldly spinster, whatever the world may think.
I spotted the murderer straight off, which diminished none of the pleasure of reading the book; not least because I realised who, but not why, which is neatly concealed in a shoal of red herrings. Not my favourite Marple, but still an entertaining way to pass a few hours.
49) Agatha Christie – The mirror cracked from side to side
This one’s interesting not just for the murder mystery itself, but because it was written in 1962 and Miss Marple is feeling the passage of time. Change has come to St Mary Mead, with the advent of the Development, a new housing estate. Change has come to the social structure, with the slow disappearance of household servants, and the appearance of supermarkets. And age is affecting Miss Marple, who is old enough to need some personal care after an illness, but is not the completely dependent and mindless old lady her home nurse insists on treating her as. Her doctor and old friend prescribes some unravelling of knitting for her. He’s not just referring to her knitting, and soon Miss Marple has the opportunity to unravel a murder. Her friend Mrs Bantry sold Gossington Hall some years earlier after the death of the Colonel, and after several changes of ownership and some unfortunate attention from developers it has now been sold to a Hollywood film star, who has restored it to a private home. Marina Gregg intends to take part in village life, and this includes hosting a public fund-raising event in the grounds for charity, and inviting various village notables to a private reception to view the refurbishments. As the former owner of the house, Mrs Bantry is an honoured guest — which puts her in a prime position to view events at the reception that in hindsight were a prelude to a murder.
This was one where I spotted who and part of why pretty much at the point of the murder — but the misdirection was so good that I wasn’t sure until almost the very end, even though the rest of why had been laid out quite clearly part way through the book, if you know what to look for. It’s a great read that kept me turning the pages, although it has a more melancholy feel to it than the earlier Marples. Christie has written a superb portrayal of an old woman who recognises that change isn’t necessarily all bad, but nevertheless feels discomfited by it even as she does her best to embrace the good aspects. And the ultimate motivation for the murder is heartbreaking, all the more so because it appears to have been based on a real life incident.
47) Agatha Christie – A pocket full of rye
City businessman Rex Fortescue has a nice cup of tea at the office, and dies of poisoning. The peculiar points to this are the poison used, and the fact that the dead man’s pocket had grains of rye amongst the contents. Inspector Neele sets about investigating the dead man’s household, which provides a good selection of potential suspects. Alas, one of the best suspects is next on the murderer’s list, and then there’s a third death.
Miss Marple doesn’t appear until nearly half way through the book. Her interest in the matter is the housemaid who was murdered, who happened to be one of the many girls Miss Marple has trained as a maid over the years. When she arrives to provide information on the girl’s background, Inspector Neele recognises her as someone who has a great deal of common sense and the ability to get people who wouldn’t dream of talking to a policeman to reveal secrets to her. The resulting interplay between Neele’s investigation and Miss Marple’s investigation is most entertaining. Neele’s no fool, even if he’s happy to play one in public, but it’s Miss Marple’s experience of human behaviour that allows them to unravel who, how and why.
Well plotted, with one or two twists on the resolution of the red herrings which make them interesting little tales in their own right, rather than just a distraction from the true identity of the murderer.