Friday, December 4, 2020

Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories

 Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories (1985) by Agatha  Christie (all stories originally published 1960 or earlier). This collection includes all the Miss Marple stories from The Thirteen Problems, The Regatta Mystery, Three Blind Mice, and Double Sin. The first of a set of stories centered around Miss Marple, her nephew, and some friends who comprise the "Tuesday Night Club"--a gathering where each member submits the story of mystery to which only they know the answer. The others are supposed to try and figure out the answer. Of course, Miss Marple outshines them all. Later stories show her involved in mysteries as they happen to folks in St. Mary Mead and to her friends in other villages. A very nice, comfortable little collection. ★★

"The Tuesday Night Club":  Here Sir Henry Clithering tells the story of poisoning. Three people sat down to a dinner and it seems that all three ate the same things. But only one of them dies of arsenic poisoning (or even gets sick). How was it done? And who did it? Miss Marple knows.

"The Idol House of Astarte": Dr. Pender takes center stage next with a tale of a seemingly impossible murder cloaked with a bit of mysticism. The murder was committed on the night of a costume party near the grove of Astarte. The grove was on the estate of Sir Richard Haydon, a man who was rival of his cousin Eliot for the love of the beautiful Dianna Ashley. The grove contained a mysterious summer house which was rumored to have been a place where secret rites were held long ago. Diana decided to dress the part of Astarte--appearing in a mysterious glow in the summer house. The vision startled Sir Richard and he then stumbled to the ground. when the others reached him, he was dead from a knife wound...but there was no knife to be found.

"Ingots of Gold": Raymond West, Miss Marple's nephew and a famous author, tells of a visit at the home of his friend John Newman. Newman has started a search for a Spanish ship, which has been rumored to have sunk off the Cornish coast during the rout of the Spanish Armada--with a cargo of gold. Also in the vicinity Inspector Badgworth who is more interested in the recent sinking of the Otranto, a ship that most definitely did have gold ingots aboard but the gold has been stolen. Newman disappears and when he's found tied up in a hollow near the cliffs, he tells West and the Inspector that he ran afoul of the men who have absconded with the ingots. Can Miss Marple get to the bottom of this mystery?

"The Bloodstained Pavement": Joyce is the artist in the group and she tells a story that speaks to her artistic eye--noticing details that only an artist...or another woman like Miss Marple might see. Her story also takes place in Cornwall in a small coastal village where she had gone to paint. A couple comes to the same hotel as does a previous acquaintance of the husband's. The three arrange to meet at a nearby beach--the couple rowing to the sight and the other woman walking along the coast. Later, Joyce notices the wet bathing things hanging out to dry while she is painting and chatting with a man from the town. She's aghast when she sees that she has painted bloodstains on the pavement in front of the hotel. The man tells her a story of previous violence at the hotel and says that whenever someone sees the bloodstains, then a death will follow within 24 hours. Two days later, she reads in the paper that Margery (the wife of the pair) had disappeared while swimming in the sea at another location. A week later her body is found with a wound in the head. Was it just a fatal accident or was it murder?

"Motive v. Opportunity": Next up is the attorney Mr. Petherick. He tells the club about Simon Clode, a wealthy client who has long since passed on. At one time he had a granddaughter on whom he doted, but she died while young. Clode became more and more obsessed and depressed by her death and turned to a questionable spiritualist to contact his daughter in the afterlife. After several "conversations" with the little girl, he decides to leave Eurydice Spragg, the medium, everything he has to the disadvantage of his niece and two nephews. Mr. Petherick disapproved, but had no valid reason to prevent the short and to-the-point will from being witnessed and signed in his presence. After Clode died, everyone was surprised when the envelope containing this latest will was opened and the paper was blank. The club investigates, but it seems that those who had a motive to substitute a blank page had no opportunity and those who had an opportunity had no motive. Miss Marple sees straight through to the truth.

"The Thumbmark of St. Peter": Miss Marple tells the story of her niece Mabel who wed unwisely and soon regretted it--for her husband was a bit of bully and they quarreled often. After one particularly heated argument, the husband died mysteriously the next night. Small villages just can't resist gossip and soon rumors are flying round that Mabel has poisoned her husband. Mabel called upon her aunt to help her out of her mess. Miss Marple was able to discover that the man was indeed poisoned and the guilty party was soon identified.

"The Blue Geranium": This time the story-telling takes place around the table at the Bantrys. Arthur Bantry tells about his friend George Pritchard, who had a very irritable, semi-invalid wife with a fondness for psychics. Mrs. Pritchard consults Zarida, the last in a long line of such women, who gives her a dire warning: On the full moon, she must watch for the signs. A blue primrose means caution, a blue hollyhock means danger, and a blue geranium means death! Over the course of the moon's phases, the signs appear--on her floral wallpaper flowers that were never blue before suddenly change color. And on the morning she is found dead within her locked room, there is a blue geranium just above her bed.

"The Companion": Dr. Lloyd tells of two middle-aged women he saw when on a holiday (for his health), Miss Mary Barton and her companion Miss Amy Durant. He was sure that they were just the type of women that nothing exciting ever happened to. But he was wrong. The very next day Miss Barton is drowning and Miss Barton attempts to bring her ashore and save her. Dr. Lloyd appears on the scene and artificial respiration is unsuccessful. The next thing he knows, Miss Durant is dead too. She apparently committed suicide and left a note that seemed to indicate that she was remorseful for having caused Miss Barton's death. But there's more to the Miss Marple knows.

"The Four Suspects": Sir Henry gives us another tale about Dr. Rosen who was instrumental in the downfall of a secret German organization. The doctor knew that eventually members of the group who had escaped punishment would seek him out and exact revenge, but he was satisfied that he had done the right thing and hoped to finish a research project before they got to him. He is found dead at the bottom of his staircase--possibly an accident, possibly not. The four members of his household fall under suspicion, but they all claim to have been out at the time (but no corroboration of their whereabouts). Miss Marple uses clues from the story and her own knowledge of gardens to point out the culprit.

"A Christmas Tragedy": Miss Marple relates the time she was certain that a man was going to kill his wife while they were all staying at the same hotel over the Christmas holidays. There were several "accidents" which could have been fatal. But when the wife is killed in what looks like a burglary gone wrong, the husband has a cast iron alibi. If Miss Marple hadn't noticed two key facts while on the scene, the murder might not have been solved.

"The Herb of Death": Mrs. Bantry takes her turn at presenting a puzzle for the group. She tells of a dinner party where fox gloves leaves were mixed in with sage and everyone at the dinner became ill. Everyone recovered except the ward of the host. The young woman died and it was initially thought that the leaves were simply mixed in by mistake. But Miss Marple spots the clues that prove murder...and correctly names the murderer as well.

"The Affair at the Bungalow": Jane Heiler, a beautiful actress, tells this story. She presents it as having happened to "a friend," but the others are quite sure that the story is Jane's own. While on tour with a play, she was called in by the police to be identified by a young man who claimed she had written a letter and requested his presence at a certain bungalow which belonged to another actress. He had met her there and then been drugged.  A robbery had taken place at the bungalow and he is being held as a suspect. But when Jane arrives at the police station, the man says that she isn't the right woman. What really happened? Miss Marple knows...even though she says she doesn't while the group is all together.

"Death by Drowning": Rose Emmett has been found drowned in the river near St. Mary Mead. She was pregnant and her lover had refused to marry her so everyone thought she had killed herself. But Miss Marple knew she'd been murdered. When she hears that Sir Henry Clithering is in town for a visit, she asks him to investigate. She has no proof and doesn't think the local police will take her reasons seriously. She writes down the name of her suspect and asks Sir Henry to find a way to discover whether she's correct. When an apparently unshakeable alibi is produced, it begins to look as if Miss Marple has made her first mistake....but Christie fans know that can't be possible.

"Miss Marple Tells a Story": Mr. Petherick brings a man accused of murdering his wife to see Miss Marple. When the man sees the elderly sleuth, he's doubtful that she can help him, but Petherick convinces him to tell his story. Mr. Rhodes and his wife were staying at a hotel. She had gone to bed and he was working in the adjoining room. Only he and a chambermaid (who brought fresh towels) had access to the rooms and there are witnesses who can state that no one else came near the rooms. The case looks very black against Mr. Rhodes and he didn't impress the jury much at the inquest. But never fear...Miss Marple can prove his innocence if anyone can.

"Strange Jest": Two cousins, Edward Rossiter and Charmian Stroud are introduced to Miss Marple at a party. They become convinced to share a problem with the lady. It seems that their recently deceased uncle had always told them that they'd be well taken care of when he was gone. But when he died, they found that he had sold securities and withdrawn his money from the bank with no evidence as to what was done with it. He had talked a lot about gold and burying your treasures in the garden, so the pair had gone on a digging spree with no luck. After Miss Marple hears what happened on his deathbed, is taken to the house where he lived, and has a good look round, she's able to help the young people find their inheritance in an unlikely place. But then elderly men do sometimes like to have their little jokes.

"The Case of the Perfect Maid": Miss Marple's maid asks her mistress to help her cousin Gladys--also a maid. Though Gladys is a bit outspoken in her ways, she's an honest girl. But now there is a stain on her character. She had been working for the Misses Skinner and one of the ladies' brooches had gone missing. It was found but then, after a dish was broken, Gladys was given notice and now people are starting to talk. Miss Marple has barely begun to work when the Skinners find a paragon to replace Gladys...but all is not what it seems.

"The Case of the Caretaker": Miss Marple has had the flu and is still feeling rather peaked, so Dr. Haydock brings her a little puzzle to get her mind off her troubles. He has written up the details of mysterious death and wants to see if she can give him the solution. The story concerns the return of handsome Harry Laxton to the village of his childhood. The boy who was a bit of scapegrace has done well for himself and married a beautiful young woman of wealth. He takes over what's left of his childhood home--tears it down and builds a lovely house for his new bride. But the villagers can't give up the gossip about his past and there's one person who is very upset that the old house has been torn down. When tragedy strikes, who is behind it?

"Tape-Measure Murder": Mrs. Spenlow is late for her appointment with Miss Pollitt, the dressmaker. Miss Pollitt has been ringing and knocking at the door to no avail. Mrs. Spenlow's neighbor soon notices the commotion and comes to help--when Miss Hartnell tries to look in the windows, she discovers Mrs. Spenlow dead on the hearthrug. Everyone is convinced that the husband did it, after all the man showed so little emotion when he was told his wife was dead. And what kind of alibi is it to say that he'd received a phone call from Miss Marple asking him to come to her cottage and then the lady wasn't home. Miss Marple is certain he's telling the truth, but how to prove it? 

"Greenshaw's Folly": Raymond West winds up witnessing an old lady's will and finding out that she needs someone to compile her grandfather's diaries for publication. He suggests his niece Louise for the job and then, after only two days at the lady's home at Greenshaw's Folly, she witnesses a murder that couldn't have happened. Miss Marple is able find out how it was done and by whom.

"Sanctuary": Diana "Bunch" Harmon is intent on placing her flower arrangements in the church when she finds a dying man on the chancel steps. The man tries to speak, but is only able to say "sanctuary" and something that sounds like her husband, the vicar's name Julian. She gets help quickly, but nothing can be done to save the man who was shot. His relatives arrive--insist that he'd been depressed lately and must have killed himself and seem more concerned about collecting his possessions (especially his coat) than they are about the man's death. Bunch can't get his last words out of her head and she takes the problem straight to Miss Marple. The two women find themselves in the middle of a rather exciting adventure and eventually discover why the man was seeking sanctuary.


Deaths (from all stories) = 21 (five poisoned; six natural; two stabbed; two hit on head; two drowned; one fell from height; two hanged/strangled; one shot)

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