This was my first foray into the Miss Marple series of Agatha Christie mysteries (I was always more of a Poirot girl), and I have to admit first and foremost that this story has one of the best setups I’ve ever read in a detective novel: one morning Colonel and Mrs Bantry, the owners of a big English country house, are woken by their staff and informed that a dead body is in their library. It’s a young blond woman in a cocktail dress, strangled to death and sprawled on the library rug. No one recognizes her, or has any idea how she ended up in the Bantry’s home.
The best part of all of this is the homeowner’s reactions to the fact that their house has become a crime scene – it reminded me a little of Gosford Park, which is all about rich snobs refusing to let a silly little murder get in the way of their hunting holiday. Here’s Mrs. Bantry explaining the situation to her friend, Miss Marple: “But you’re very good at murders. She’s been murdered, you see; strangled. What I feel is that if one’s got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean. That’s why I want to find out who did it and unravel the mystery and all that. It really is rather thrilling, isn’t it?”
Investigations ensue, and there are actually quite a few good twists in the surprisingly short (191 pages) mystery. My main complaint, however, is that Miss Marple herself is barely present in the story. The majority of the detective work is done by three police officers, who were virtually indistinguishable due to the fact that they all seemed to share a single personality. Miss Marple is only called upon when the officers want her to connect an event to some village gossip, and also once they ask her to figure out whether a schoolgirl they’re questioning is lying. After the way Hercule Poirot would insistently butt into every moment of his stories, Miss Marple’s lack of involvement was a little disappointing.
Verdict: three out of five stars