After reading that week’s edition of the North Benham News and Chipping Cleghorn Gazette the villagers are agog having seen the following in the PERSONAL column:
A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, 29th October, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.
Letitia Blacklock, owner of Little Paddocks, and her household are equally surprised but prepare themselves for the inevitable arrival of guests.
At 6.30 p.m. the lights go off, an intruder barks out “Stick ’em up”, shots ring out and when order is restored it is the intruder who is found dead.
He is traced to a local hotel, where the visiting Miss Marple had already identified him as a wrong ‘un. Did he shoot himself? But why choose such a setting for it? Why advertise a crime? Was he acting alone or was someone else pulling the strings?
Miss Marple, thanks to a convenient connexion, is able to infiltrate the village and discover the truth but not before more lives are lost.
This is vintage Christie, clues hidden just about everywhere, including in banal conversational pleasantries.
There is a fantastic scene where Miss Marple describes people from St Mary Mead and their deeds both good and bad which parallel those in Chipping Cleghorn.
Thinking about this alongside “The Body in the Library” I had a realisation that you get more policework in a Miss Marple than a Poirot as she can enter into the investigation later and as a less active participant. I will see if this trend continues in later books.
Not my top Miss Marple, but it comes close – a must-read for any serious GAD fan.
Recurring character development
Her rheumatism has been very bad of late.
Her nephew, Raymond West, has paid for her stay at the hotel in Medenham Wells.
She is familiar with the term “fall guy” from reading one of Mr Dashiell Hammett’s stories.
Has always been able to mimic people’s voices – who’d have guessed?
Has been in a railway accident and was on the scene of a flying bomb explosion.
First described as “He not only had brains and imagination, he had also, which Rydesdale appreciated even more, the self-discipline to go slow, to check and examine each fact, and to keep an open mind until the very end of a case” which seemed quite similar, barring perhaps the imagination, to Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French.
Godson of Miss Marple’s old friend, Sir Henry Clithering.
Signs of the Times
A headline in one of the national newspapers reads “International situation critical! U.N.O. meets today!” I assume this is United Nations Organisation which we would now refer to just as the U.N. I don’t know how long the “O” was in common usage.
The story begins on Friday 29th October which places it in 1948.
Julian Harmon used to read Gibbon aloud to Bunch. Given his interest in history this is presumably Edward Gibbon and his “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” a six volume history published between 1776 and 1789. My school had a copy of this as part of an Everyman Library of hardback classics. I intended to read it but only got a few pages in.
Bunch sings “It’s a fine murdering day, And as balmy as May, And the sleuths from the village are gone, And we’ll all go a’murdering today!” which is her own version of “We’ll All Go A-Hunting Today” which begins “It’s a fine hunting day, It’s as balmy as May, The hounds to the village will come”.
Miss Blacklock was reading Lane Norcott in the Daily Mail. Maurice Lane-Norcott seems to be the person referred to here who had a number of books published including “Out and About with Undertakers or Knee Deep in Bureaucrats”, “Our Dogs”, and “Up the Aerial or Ten Million Listeners Must Be Wrong”.
Julian Harmon had to rush writing his sermon as he had been distracted by “Death Does the Hat Trick”, a sadly fictitious book which I imagine involves a triple murder at the cricket club.
A suggestion is made that a new play should be called “What the Butler Saw”. This had been used as the title of films in 1924 and 1950 and would go on to be the title of Joe Orton’s 1969 play.
The play is instead called “Elephants Do Forget”. Christie would go on to write “Elephants Can Remember” in 1972.
Mrs Swettenham is reminded of her Nannie saying “Where was Moses when the lights went out?” Her answer is “In the Dark” but apparently Huckleberry Finn had an alternative answer, which I won’t spoil. An other answer according to the internet is “In the cellar eating sauerkraut”. It was also the title of a traditional song.
Craddock cannot remember if the sudden spell of autumn warmth is St. Martin’s or St. Luke’s summer. It appears that it could be either of them , referring to a spell of sunny weather around their Saint’s Days, respectively 11th November and 18th October.
Julia, the waitress, says that her aunt joined the Peculiar People. They were an offshoot of the Methodists, based mainly in Essex, taking their name from Deuteronomy 14:2 and 1 Peter 2:9 in the King James Version. There 43 chapels at one time, but now just 16 and the movement is now known as the Union of Evangelical Churches.
Miss Hinchliffe refers to the S.P.C.A. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) without the, at least now, usual R for Royal, which it had been since 1840.
So whilst the police are looking at who Pip and Emma or persons related to them may be, it is actually Miss Blacklock herself who is not who she says she is and she is passed over, as although relatively new to the village herself, she has Dora Bunner to vouch for her.
“Poor old muddle-headed Dora…so completely unreliable…and such a problem” is the only one who knows the truth of the matter and nobody, including the reader takes any notice of her occasional slips from Letty to Lotty. Even Miss Marple refers to Lotty Blacklock at one point (unless this actually is a typo in my edition).
I love the reiteration that the central heating is on hidden as the type of introductory remark that people make on such social occasions.
I became conscious at one point that when referring to her directly it always seemed to be Miss Blacklock and thought Christie was playing scrupulously fair with the reader, but later found a number of incidences of Miss Letitia Blacklock.
Unlike other books of this type where the apparent intended victim turns out to be the murderer, Miss Blacklock does not set up a series of incidents, she goes straight to murder, and then is reluctant to believe that she is the possible target.