A Caribbean Mystery

by Agatha Christie

When I started this, I wondered if maybe I had read it before, but I realized that that was just Miss Marple’s voice I was hearing, which is very distinctive and not much like Jessica Fletcher at all. But there’s not much similarity: Marple is old, acts old, uses her age to her advantage in solving crimes, whereas Fletcher is more an ’80s you-go-girl type. (And of course Lansbury’s 60s were dominated by making two dozen hour-long episodes a year—a grueling feat at any age.)

Anyway, the nice thing about Christie and this book is that it’s Just What It Says On The Tin. Marple’s down in the Caribbean, when an old guy dies. (But she knows it’s murder!) It’s sort of amusing that the guy who dies is a bore that no one paid much attention to, and therefore nobody can really put together clues that would lead to the capture of his murder.

Christie throws up enough distractions and subplots to keep you guessing, though everything ties together neatly at the end. I guessed the murderer early on, and then forgot, because all of the misdirection and cross-currents going on. (Also, my guess was based on “Who’s the least likely person to have done it? Now, what would that person’s motive be?”) Anyway, when it is revealed, it actually makes a lot of sense, and is really fairly simple.

That’s good stuff, right there. Also, Christie plays a lot on Marple’s relative helplessness—exaggerated though it is—and manages to create a good atmosphere of suspense from Marple not knowing quite how to act, but knowing something’s About To Go Down.

The tone is spot-on as well. The problem with murder mysteries is that they must be somewhat callous. One is not to get caught up in the actual human drama of death, or the fun goes out of the proceedings. At the same time, to be glib about it reveals too clearly that this is an exercise like sudoku or (more aptly) the Zebra Puzzle. Christie does a good job fleshing out her characters without miring things down.

A top-notch example of the genre.

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