Review: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side

The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, Agatha Christie (Miss Marple #9). New York: HarperCollins, 2011, originally published 1962.

Summary: A harmless busybody dies of a poisoned drink intended for a famous actress, the beginning of further threats, and murders that follow.

Marina Gregg, a celebrated but temperamental actress and her husband, Jason Rudd have re-habilitated a Victorian mansion once owned by a friend of Miss Marple, Dolly Bantry. They host a reception for distinguished guests and neighbors. Heather Badcock, a local do-gooder and busybody, who earlier had rendered assistance when Miss Marple had fallen by her house, eagerly greets the actress and tells the story of how she had met her years earlier, rising from her sickbed to get the actress’s autograph.

Subsequently she is jostled, spills her drink, and Marina Gregg offers hers. Minutes later Heather Badcock is dead, poisoned by an overdose of a tranquilizer used by everyone connected with the house, it seems. It dawns on both that the poison was meant for Marina. Subsequently, a cup of coffee intended for Marina is laced with arsenic. Then a secretary dies of an atomizer filled with cyanide as does a dress designer. The question is how the killer who is threatening Marina is gaining access.

And Miss Marple? Out of caution for her age, she has an overly-protective live in attendant, who she has to elude. Her doctor thinks she needs to do some “unraveling.” This case allows her that opportunity as her adopted “nephew,” Chief Inspector Craddock, seeks her perspective. As usual, she pays close attention to details–a stained dress and the “help” who saw the accident, the stories in the celebrity gossip magazines and the look on Marina’s face as she talked to Mrs. Badcock, from which the book takes its title, the look on Lady Shalott’s face when she saw the “mirror crack’d from side to side.” What was this look, and what caused it?

This was a delightful read and as always, it is fun to admire Miss Marple’s “spunk.” The ending surprised me, adding to the satisfaction. Side characters like Dolly Bantry, Dr. Haycock, and even Cherry, the housekeeper add to the pleasure. Agatha even sneaks in some commentary on the new “developments” and their lack of personality. No wonder they called Christie “the Queen of Mystery.”

Review: The Murder on the Links

the murder on the links

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2), Agatha Christie. New York Harper Collins, 2011 (first published in 1923).

Summary: A man who writes Poirot from the north of France of his life being in danger is found dead by Poirot under circumstances similar to another murder many years earlier that is key to Poirot unraveling the case.

For golfing fans, I hate to disappoint you, but apart from a murder taking place in a grave dug where a bunker for a golf course was to be sited, there is little about golf in this mystery. What you will find here is Agatha Christie at the height of her powers in one of her early Poirots, creating an intricate plot taking us in a succession of turns and suspects before the revelation of the true murderer.

I won’t take you on all the plot turns but will lay out enough to hopefully entice you to read one of Christie’s best. Hercule Poirot is in England with his companion, Arthur Hastings, when he receives a letter from the north of France from millionaire Paul Renaud, speaking of his life in danger, and requesting Poirot’s help. Poirot and Hastings immediately depart, only to arrive with the police on scene, investigating the murder of Monsieur Renaud. Madame Renaud had been found tightly bound by two strangers who questioned Monsieur Renaud and then took him out. His body was found in a newly dug grave stabbed in the back with a letter opener given to Madame Renaud by her son Jack, who had been sent to sail to South America.

Part of the fun in this story is the rivalry between Poirot and Giraud, the Sureté detective who crawls around everywhere but dismisses the piece of led pipe near the body, the dismissal of Jack to South America and the chauffeur, leaving only three female servants and an old gardener, a door left open, a piece of paper that was part of check with the name “Duveen.” Who was the mysterious visitor in Renaud’s study the evening before his death? Why payments of 200,000 francs from him into Madame Daubreuil’s account, a neighbor who frequently visited? Why were their footprints matching the gardener’s boots in one bed, while the other had none?

While Giraud keeps investigating, Poirot, troubled with similarities to a murder involving a Madame Beroldy, goes to Paris. Meanwhile, a young woman, “Cinderella” who Hastings previously met runs into him, hear’s the story of the murder and wants to see the scene. Afterward, the murder weapon goes missing, only to turn up in the back of a second corpse, a tramp dressed in nice clothes that in fact had died long before the weapon was thrust into him.

Then we learn that Jack had actually been in town the night of the murder. Jack was in love with Marthe Daubreuil, Madame Daubreuil’s daughter. We also learn that Jack’s father had changed his will, cutting Jack out because he insisted in his love affair, even though he had a girl he dumped, the twin sister of “Cinderella,” Dulcie Duveen, the woman who had been in Renaud’s study the night he was murdered.

As you can see, there are a whole host of suspects. Giraud fixes on Jack Renaud, who all but admits to the crime. Yet Poirot is not so sure. Not all is as it seems, but this plot has more twists and turns before the denouement, including a period where Hastings, for love, works against Poirot. This is one you want to read closely, paying attention to the clues, following the turns, trying to spot the red herrings. This is great, good fun–Christie at her best!

Review: Elephants Can Remember

elephants can remember

Elephants Can Remember (Hercule Poirot #37), Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (first published 1972).

Summary: Poirot and crime writer Ariadne Oliver team up at the request of a mother and young couple, to learn the truth about an unexplained double suicide many years earlier.

Celia Ravenscroft and Desmond Burton-Cox want to marry. Desmond’s mother by adoption, looking for cause to oppose it, seeks out the help of crime writer Ariadne Oliver, who is Celia’s godmother. Celia’s parents died years ago in what authorities determined to be a suicide pact. Mrs. Burton-Cox want to know who killed who, and if there is a streak of mental instability that Celia might inherit. Celia and Desmond wish the truth as well.

Oliver enlists her old friend Poirot, and the two of them go in search of “the elephants,” those who remember crucial facts that might bring to light what truly happened, and incidentally, why Mrs. Burton-Cox is really so bent on discouraging the marriage. Along the way, we learn of Mrs. Ravenscroft’s deranged identical twin sister, who died by falling from the same cliffs where the Ravenscrofts took their lives three weeks later. Poirot wonders about the exceptional number of wigs worn by Mrs Ravenscroft, despite a healthy head of hair. What did French au pair know, who was staying at the time of their deaths? Finally, we wonder about the affectionate dog that inexplicably bit.

Reading the story, I was curious how much of Agatha Christie is written into the character of Ariadne Oliver. It was fun to envision Agatha going about with Poirot crime solving. I have to admit that the solution was fairly apparent before the denouement. What I liked about this story was the diverse set of characters Christie offers us: the somewhat eccentric Ariadne Oliver, the strong-willed Celia, the determined Desmond, the unlikable Mrs. Burton-Cox, and the au pair torn by love and the promise to keep a secret. We also encounter an older Poirot, one who sits and thinks even more. We wonder, as does Ariadne at one point, whether he still has his edge. As always, we discover his edge is to listen, to observe, to wait, and to think, drawing on his insights into human nature, until the pieces fall in place.

I didn’t think this was Christie at her best. She left too many clues, too few red herrings. Yet I found the story a pleasant diversion, with a great mix of characters and good pacing. This was published less than four years before her death. Some have speculated that she was struggling with the onset of some form of dementia when she wrote Elephants Can Remember. Perhaps the title was a valiant attempt to say “I’ve still got what it takes!” She was in her early 80’s when she wrote this–and still capable of writing circles around younger writers!

Review: Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table

Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot #15), Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011 (originally published 1936).

Summary: Mr. Shaitana, who throws great parties, but seems to be feared by many, throws a party for the entertainment of Poirot, with four guests who he claims have gotten away with murder, and ends up murdered himself, but with no clue as to who the murderer was.

Mr. Shaitana was an enticing host of great dinner parties. Yet people feared him. “Mephistophelian” is a word that describes him,  after the elegant demon who deceived Faust. A seemingly chance meeting with Hercule Poirot leads to a boast of knowing murderers who had gotten away with their crimes and what proves an unwise idea of hosting a party at which Poirot, Scotland Yard Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, and Ariadne Oliver, a crime novelist are invited to join four guests presumably guilty of murder. The four other guests are Dr. Roberts, daring in bridge and perhaps in life, Mrs. Lorrimer, an intelligent and proper widow, Major Despard, an adventurer, and young and seemingly vulnerable Anne Meredith.

After dinner the four guests adjourn to play bridge. The four sleuths play in one room. The four “murderers” play in the other. Shaitana joins them by the fire. At the conclusion of play Shaitana appears asleep, but has been stabbed in the heart with a sharp implement from his collection. No one but the four bridge players, the four who had gotten away with murderer had been in the room. None says they saw anything amiss.

And so begins the sleuthing. Interviews with each of the guests. An investigation to learn if they could have committed a previous murder they would cover up. Battle, shrewd but stolid pursue conventional police methods. Race pursues inquiries on Major Despard. Mrs. Oliver focuses on young Anne and her roommate Rhoda Dawes. Poirot focuses on the bridge scores and what each remembers of the play, and the details of the room. Each has been connected with a murder. Things get more exciting yet with one more murder and another murder attempt. When we think the murderer of Shaitana is arrested, there is one more twist before the real murderer is exposed. In the end, the scores and play at bridge yield the critical clue.

Many consider this among Christie’s best novels. She pokes fun at herself in the character of novelist Ariadne Oliver.

” ‘I can always think of things,’ said Mrs. Oliver happily. ‘What is so tiring is writing them down. I always think I’ve finished, and then when I count up I find I’ve written only thirty thousand words instead of sixty thousand, and so then, I have to throw in another murder and get the heroine kidnapped again. It’s all very boring.’ “

It is enjoyable to see the character and interactions of the sleuths, the subtlety of the clues, and the surprise at the end when we think we have the murderer, caught in the act of attempted murder. This is a great summer read, or for any time one needs an engaging diversion.

Review: Sparkling Cyanide

Sparkling Cyanide

Sparkling Cyanide, Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2002 (first published 1944).

Summary: Six table guests meet a year after the apparent suicide death of Rosemary Barton, and when her husband dies by the same means, it is apparent there is a murderer in their midst.

“Six people were thinking of Rosemary Barton who had died nearly a year ago…”

So begins the mystery. The six will be gathered at the same table at the Luxembourg where nearly a year ago Rosemary Barton, recently ill from the flu and possibly depressed, died of cyanide in her champagne, apparently from her own hand, from the evidence found in her purse.

The six are introduced one by one.

Iris Marle is the younger sister of Rosemary. The poor younger sister, since Rosemary had received a great inheritance from her Uncle Paul, which Iris would only receive if Rosemary died childless.

Ruth Lessing is the super-efficient secretary of Rosemary’s husband George, who secretly harbors an unreciprocated love for him, and hatred for Rosemary. He relies on her to handle tough situations in work and personal life, including dispatching the devious Victor Drake, whose singular accomplishment is wheedling money from his mother Lucilla, Iris’s aunt and chaperone. She apparently succeeds, but not before Victor insinuates himself into her thoughts and arouses her hatred for Rosemary.

Anthony Browne is an American of whom little is known. He tries and strikes out in having an affair with Rosemary, and then surreptitiously wins the heart of Iris who he wants to secret away to marry, flouting her guardian, George Barton.

Stephen Farraday is an ambitious young Member of Parliament who has married into the powerful Kidderminster clan through Sandra, the shyest, but also perhaps the most politically savvy or even ruthless of the sisters. Stephen, despite his love for and appreciation of his partner, has an affair with Rosemary, realizes there is little of substance to her, and much to his wife, and painfully breaks it off, against the wishes of Rosemary who has threatened to make the affair public.

Sandra Farraday genuinely loves her husband, perhaps more than he does her, at first. He thinks she doesn’t know about the affair, but in fact she does, and despises Rosemary, reconciles with Stephen and makes common cause with him.

Finally there is George Barton. He believes the account of Rosemary’s suicide until he receives letters intimating it was murder, which leads him to move close to the Farradays, and to devise a dinner at the same table of the same restaurant nearly a year later, to expose the murderer. They arrive to find an extra place, supposedly for his friend, Colonel Race, an ex-Army Colonel and MI-5 agent who tried to warn him off this dangerous game. The empty place is set with a spray of rosemary.

After the uneasy party returns from dancing, George proposes a toast to Rosemary, and promptly collapses, also poisoned by cyanide in his champagne. It is clear this is no suicide, and that Rosemary’s death was not either. There is a murderer in their midst. But there are troubling questions. Who sent the letters? And who poisoned the champagne, when none of those at the table had an opportunity. These are the questions that stymie Race, and Chief Inspector Kemp, until an unlikely ally helps them figure it out, and thwarts a third murder in the nick of time.

The story is developed with economy and it is intriguing to see how many motives Christie contrives to make each of the parties a plausible suspect. Not unlike other Christies, it pays to attend to details, and to question your assumptions. And enjoy!

Review: The Affair at the Bungalow

The Affair at the Bungalow

The Affair at the Bungalow, Agatha Christie. New York: Witness Impulse, 2013 (originally published in the anthology Thirteen Problems in 1932).

Summary: Actress Jane Helier tells a story of a mysterious burglary at a bungalow in the town where she is acting in a play, involving a woman impersonating her and an unfortunate young playwright. Miss Marple, professing to be baffled, privately hints at a different story.

Most readers are familiar with Agatha Christie’s full-length mysteries. This is a delightful short story originally part of an anthology titled Thirteen Problems first published in 1932, and now available in e-book form as a stand-alone short story.

Jane Helier, an actress, is with a party of friends including Miss Marple, and turns the conversation to a mysterious event that happened to a “friend” of hers, who is quickly found out to be Jane herself. She was in a town by a river (“Riverbury”) as part of a play company when called upon by the police to confront a young man arrested for burglary. The story gets more interesting when the young man, a playwright, claims he was summoned to a bungalow, the site of the burglary, by Miss Helier. Of course, when he sees Miss Helier, he realizes the other woman was not her. He had called at the bungalow, was introduced by the maid to “Miss Helier,” had a drink, and woke by the side of the road, only to be arrested for burglary. It seems that a case of jewels owned by the mistress of a wealthy city man has been stolen while the house was empty. The mistress was an actress, herself married.

By then it is obvious that the young playwright, Leslie Faulkener, was innocent of the crime. But who stole the jewels? The actress, the maid? The party weights all the angles of the story, and at the end, even Miss Marple professes to be mystified as to the solution, and their ire is further aroused when Jane Helier herself offers no resolution.

As the party is breaking up Miss Marple whispers in Jane’s ear, leaving her startled. Did Miss Marple know more than she let on, that not all was as it seemed? And what did she mean when she said, “What I do realize is that women must stick together–one should, in an emergency, stand by one’s own sex. I think that’s the moral of the story Miss Helier has told us”? What did Miss Marple whisper in her ear?

The one question, which mystifies Miss Helier herself, also mystified me and that is how did Miss Marple know? The resolution of the mystery hinges on information Miss Helier had not told anyone, including Miss Marple, introducing new characters not known to us. How did she know? Was it the vagueness at points in the story? The fact that Miss Helier herself does not know the ending?

In this case, one has only to read twenty-one pages to discover what is going on. But the story demonstrates Christie’s art–to draw one into a crime puzzle–in this case one without a murder, and finish it with a surprise

 

Review: And Then There Were None

and-then-there-were-none

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie. New York: Harper Collins, 2011 (first published 1939).

Summary: Ten strangers are invited to an island by a mysterious U.N. Owen, accused by murder, and one by one are murdered following a rhyme found in each of their rooms, Ten Little Soldier Boys.

This is an unusual work by Christie. No Poirot or Miss Marple. One of the most difficult mysteries for Christie to write. A book that went under several other titles before its current one — Ten Little Indians, Ten Little N****** (the “N” word, it always was published under the current title in the U.S. because of the racial offensiveness of the other titles).

Ten people unknown to each other are invited to an island getaway on Soldier Island by a mysterious U. N. Owen, who is absent from the proceedings but has provided comfortable accommodations and good food.

In each room, there was a children’s poem, “Ten Little Soldier Boys”:

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

A dinner is laid out for them on a table with ten little crystal soldiers down the middle. After dinner, they suddenly hear a voice which proceeds to charge each of the guests with murders of the sort that would never come to trial–a death after a medical operation, a child drowning, and so forth. The voice was from a recording that Rogers, the butler had been instructed to play after dinner. All present deny the charges. Then Marston, the reckless young man who had killed two children driving, chokes on his drink and falls dead. It was later determined he died of cyanide poisoning.

He is followed the next morning by cook/housekeeper Mrs. Rogers, who does not waken from her sleep, dying of a chloral hydrate overdose. Later that day, General John Gordon Macarthur, who had sent an underling, who had had an affair with his wife, to his death in battle, is bludgeoned to death sitting on the shore.

The deaths are following the nursery rhyme. A search of the island is made and it is determined no one is there but the guests themselves–and they are stranded because the boat from the mainland failed to show up. The awful reality sets in — the murderer is in their midst!

The murders continue, and when someone finally comes from the mainland, all ten guests are found dead, with the mysterious circumstance that one, who they determine was the last to die (as in the rhyme), was found hung, but the chair that the person had stood upon and kicked away had mysteriously been put in its place!

Because the murders take so long to narrate, for the Scotland Yard inspectors to unravel it would have made for a lengthy novel. Christie resolves that by resorting to an unusual plot device, a confession in a bottle, thrown out to sea, that just happens to be recovered by a fishing trawler.

An ingenious plot indeed and I can see how it would have been difficult to figure out how they would all end up dead without an outside “murderer.” More chilling yet when the lives of all depend on figuring out who the murderer is among them–a most cunning murderer indeed, who has tracked down their stories and arranges their murders to fit the rhyme.

Many consider this Christie’s best work. It was adapted for both stage and screen. I did wonder why she narrates the murders serially only to resolve this for the authorities with a message in a bottle. Why not let the authorities unravel it and figure out who was the killer. In the end I concluded that this would be a much duller way to tell the story, and that the message from the killer was the best way to help us understand the mind and motive of the murderer. I think Christie got this one very right!

Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger AckroydAgatha Christie. New York: HarperCollins, 2002 (originally published 1926).

Summary: Poirot comes out of retirement to solve the murder of Roger Ackroyd, who is killed after learning that the woman he loved, who has taken her life, had poisoned her first husband and was being blackmailed to cover up the fact.

There are some who consider this among the very best of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. It is the only one appearing in the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I am inclined to agree that it is one of the best I have read, particularly for the unusual surprise at the end.

Mrs. Ferrars has committed suicide. Her husband had died the previous year under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Dr. James Settles is the physician consulted on the case and it turns out that he is with wealthy Roger Ackroyd when Ackroyd, who had fallen in love with Ferrars, receives a suicide note confessing she had poisoned her husband and was being blackmailed by someone she named in the letter who knew the fact. Ackroyd refuses to reveal the contents of the letter. Later that evening Settles receives a call informing him that Ackroyd has been murdered in his study. He goes to the house and discovers it is so, in the neck with a knife from a collection of curios.

Flora Ackroyd, a niece who stands to inherit a tidy fortune, having agreed to marry Roger Ackroyd’s choice of spouse, Ralph Paton, enlists the help of Hercule Poirot, who has retired and lives nearby. Dr. Settles, who saw the crime scene, becomes Poirot’s aid in the investigation and is the narrating voice in the story. Flora is particularly concerned because Ralph has gone missing and is the prime suspect, because of his financial straits. But others in the household are also suspicious. Parker the butler appears to have been listening at the door of Ackroyd’s study during the meeting between Ackroyd and Settles, and then again later in the evening as well. Others seems to be hiding things as well: Flora’s mother Mrs. Ackroyd, Hector Blunt, a friend staying with the family, Geoffrey Raymond, the secretary, Mrs. Russell and Ursula Bourne on the staff. There is a strange American-sounding figure who gets directions from Settles to the house shortly before the murder took place.

Working alongside Inspector Raglan, Poirot with the help of Settles and his sister Caroline seek to get to the truth these different characters are hiding. There is also the puzzle of who it was Ackroyd was speaking with shortly before his death and why one of the chairs in the study was moved out of place.  Eventually there is the traditional “gathering of suspects” at which Poirot reveals the killer. I can say no more because this is where the plot takes a surprising turn.

What I enjoyed was the character of Poirot. One sees why he is one of the most celebrated figures in detective mysteries. He is thorough, thoughtful, relentless in the pursuit of truth, intolerant of deception, and gentle when people confess the truth. He takes truth seriously but himself not at all. He can be both droll, and infinitely sad as he ponders the evil people do. I’ve read or watched other Poirot stories but found his character especially well drawn here.

Likewise, the plot seems to move at just the right pace, unraveling each thread of the mystery until all is prepared for the final revelation of the murder. The perfect book for a summer read, or any time you need a few hours of rich diversion.

 

Repost: After The Funeral (An Agatha Christie Mystery)

I recently reviewed Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel. Agatha Christie mysteries are a favorite summer read for me. Here is a review of another novel that I wrote last summer.

After the funeralThis was a wonderful diversion during a very full schedule of meetings in this past week. Agatha Christie always seems good for that and why I chose her for a break from serious reading during some serious discussions.

Leaving aside the personal stuff, the relatives of deceased estate owner Richard Abernethy are gathered for the reading of his will following his funeral. He had been ill but nevertheless had died rather suddenly in his sleep. Entwhistle, the family lawyer has just announced that the proceeds will be divided in six equal shares among the family when Cora Lansquenet, a daffy niece known for saying what she thinks, pipes up and asks, “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” The fuss dies down until the next day when Cora is brutally hatcheted to death, in what appears to be a break-in. At this point, Entwhistle’s suspicions are aroused and his informal discussions with family members only deepen the impression that any of them could be involved in this murder, and presumably Richard’s. And so he calls in Poirot, an old friend.

Tension deepens when Mrs. Gilchrist, Cora’s housekeeper and companion, suffers a serious poisoning incident with an arsenic-laced piece of wedding cake. It appears there is a desperate killer set on wiping out anyone who might have a notion of who committed the murder. When Helen Abernethy realizes who is responsible, she is struck on the head and knocked out, just on the point of revealing the truth to Entwhistle.

Poirot deduces the true killer from what she did say and reveals the killer in one of those typical library scenes where the whole family is gathered. Of course, I will leave the fun of discovering the murderer to your reading. Having read some Christie, I would say that it was a bit of a surprise, and yet not a surprise at all. Have fun with that!

I came by this book as a free giveaway as part of World Book Night, which has suspended operations for lack of funding. Even if you have to buy this, I think you will find it a diverting and worthwhile read.

First posted here on July 29, 2014.

Review: At Bertram’s Hotel

At Bertram's HotelAt Bertram’s HotelAgatha Christie. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2011 (reprint).

Summary: Bertram’s is a quietly elegant hotel from the Edwardian era that seems utterly respectable from the outside and yet is the center of a nefarious crime syndicate and a murder late in the story that Miss Marple and Chief Inspector (Scotland Yard) Davy attempt to unravel.

As I noted, this is an unusual Agatha Christie story. The murder occurs late and actually is not at the heart of the plot. This change of pace alone caught my attention, just to see what Christie was up to.

The center of the action is Bertram’s Hotel, a throwback to an Edwardian past. There one receives refined, understated service from the helpful attentions of the commissionaire, former military Michael Gorman, to the tea service with exquisite muffins, to Miss Gorringe’s front desk and Mr. Humfries’ efficient management, to the kitchen which serves a proper English breakfast. It has done so since Miss Marple’s childhood and to it she returns for a holiday. It is a place that the well-to-do visiting London come for good service out of the public spotlight.

Yet things are not as reputable as they seem as Miss Marple soon becomes aware. She runs into old friend Selina Hazy who speaks of all the people she sees who appear to be old acquaintances only to turn out to just look like them. She observes the reckless race car driver Ladislaus Malinowski in a public encounter with his love interest, the adventuress Lady Bess Sedgewick. Then there is the heiress Elvira Blake, in fact the estranged daughter of Lady Sedgewick, eluding her guardians to make an overnight trip to Ireland to make enquiries related to her estate and to make rendezvous with love interests including race car driver Malinowski. She becomes the object of Miss Marple’s grave concern.

While all this is occurring there have been a string of jewel heists, bank robberies and a daring robbery of the Irish Mail train that all seem to be the efforts of a mysterious crime syndicate. Chief Inspector Davy has been charged to discover who is behind this. When absent-minded Canon Pennyfather, a guest at Bertram’sm does not return from a trip to Lucerne for a conference, Davy becomes involved in the investigation, and, as he interviews Miss Marple, who witnessed Canon Pennyfather leaving the hotel the night he was supposed to be in Lucerne, he begins to share Miss Marple’s suspicion that things are not as they seem at Bertram’s and that there is a connection between the rash of crimes and this respectable hotel.

The one murder in this story occurs late as Elvira Blake, who has mentioned fears for her life, is apparently shot at and narrowly missed, only to have Michael Gorman come to her aid, and take a bullet in the chest protecting her. Yet all is not as it seems, neither in this instance nor with the cast of characters at Bertram’s and much of the enjoyment of this story comes from seeing how Miss Marple and Chief Inspector Davy team up to piece together this mystery.

Not all of the reviews I’ve seen of this have been favorable, suggesting a plot that is a bit far-fetched. Be that as it may, I enjoyed the change of pace of a story where a murder was not the center of the plot. Like all Christies, it is a page-turner with interesting characters, a memorable place (Bertram’s), and of course, the inimitable Miss Marple! Great for a summer vacation read.