1001 Midnights


A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – And Then There Were None. Dodd Mead, hardcover, January 1940. Pocket Books #261, US, paperback, 1944. Prior serialization in the Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 20 May to 01 July 1939 Published first in the UK (Collins, hardcover, November 1939). Reprinted in both countries many times in both hardcover and paperback. Numerous film adaptations, beginning with And Then There Were None in 1945.

   Perhaps the most famous of all of Dame Agatha’s novels, this is both a masterful cat-and-mouse thriller and a baffling exercise for armchair sleuths – a genuine tour-de-force. And like all of her best work, it has inspired countless imitations and variations – the ultimate compliment for any crime novel and crime-novel writer.

   Ten men and women, none of whom know one another, are either invited or hired to spend a weekend on isolated Indian Island off the Devon coast. Their host is someone calling himself “U. N. Owen” (Unknown), and it soon becomes apparent that he is either a separate individual who is hiding somewhere on the island or that he is one of the ten. Each guest harbors some sort of dark secret or past indiscretion that makes him or her a target for homicide. And one by one, they begin to die in bizarre and frightening ways that loosely coincide with the ten verses of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians,” wherein lies the novel’s primary clue.

   But there is no detective, professional or amateur, here; no one left at all, in fact – except the reader – to explain the murders when the weekend (and the book) draws to a close. Thus And Then There Were None is a perfectly apt title.

   The effects of the novel are multiple: a gradually mounting sense of terror and suspense that binds reader to chair; a skillful shifting of suspicion from one individual to another, principally through the introduction and manipulation of red herrings; in-depth characterization (not always Christie’s long suit); and a surprising denouement that perhaps justifies one critic’s judgment of the novel as “the ultimate in whodunits.”

   And Then There Were None was filmed three times: in 1945, 1965, and 1975. The first of the three versions, directed by René Clair and starring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, and Louis Hayward, is by far the best and most faithful to the novel – a small classic in its own right.

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   Slightly revised with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   
G. D. H. and MARGARET COLE – Knife in the Dark. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1941. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1942.

   G. D. H. and Margaret Cole were extremely prolific writers between the two world wars: individually and collaboratively, they published well over two hundred books of fiction, nonfiction, and verse. G. D. H. was a prominent social and economic historian; his five-volume A History of Social Thought is considered a landmark work. Dame Margaret is best known for her biographies of Beatrice Webb and of her husband (The Life of G. D. H. Cole, 1971).

   The Coles co-authored more than thirty “Golden Age” detective novels, beginning with The Brooklyn Murders in 1923, and six volumes of criminous short stories. Knife in the Dark is their next to last novel, and the only one to feature Mrs. Warrender as its protagonist. “A naturally trim and tidy old lady,” Mrs. Warrender is the mother of private detective James Warrender (who affectionately calls her, among other things, “an incurably meddling old woman”). She is also solidly in the tradition of such “little old lady” sleuths as. Miss Jane Marple and Hildegarde Withers, although less colorful than either of those two indefatigable crook-catchers.

   Knife in the Dark takes place at a mythical ancient English university, Stamford, during the dark days of World War II. Kitty Lake – wife of Gordon Lake, a teacher of Inorganic Chemistry whose mother is a cousin of Mrs. Warrender’s – is stabbed to death during an undergraduate dance which she herself arranged. Any number of people had a motive to do away with the mercurial Kitty, who had both a mean streak and a passion for other men; the suspects include her husband, an RAF officer, a young anthropologist, a strange Polish refugee named Madame Zyboski (who may or may not be a Nazi spy), and a dean’s wife whom James Warrender describes as “an awful old party with a face like a diseased horse and a mind like a sewer.”

   Like all of the Coles’ mysteries, this is very leisurely paced; Kitty Lake’s murder, the only one in the book, does not take place until page 104, and there is almost no action before or after. Coincidence plays almost as much of a role in the solution as does detection by Mrs. Warrender (who happens to be staying with the Lakes at the time of the murder); and the identity of the culprit comes as no particular surprise.

   For all of that, however, Knife in the Dark is not a bad novel. The characters are mostly interesting, the university selling is well-realized, and the narrative is spiced with some nice touches of dry wit. Undemanding fans of the Golden Age mystery should find it diverting.

   Mrs. Warrender’s talents are also showcased in four novelettes collected as Mrs. Warrender’s Profession (1939). The best of the four is “The Toys of Death,” in which Mrs. W. solves a baffling murder on the south coast of England.

   The Coles also created three other series detectives, none of whom is as interesting an individual as Mrs. Warrender. The most notable of the trio is Superintendent Henry Wilson of Scotland Yard, for he is featured in sixteen novels, among them The Berkshire Mystery (1930), End of an Ancient Mariner (1933), and Murder at the Munition Works (1940); and in the collection of short stories, Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday (1928).

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap & Marcia Muller

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – The ABC Murders. Hercule Poirot #13. Dodd Mead, US, 1936. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1936. Reprinted many time, in both hardcover and paperback. Film: MGM, 1966, as The Alphabet Murders, with Tony Randall as Hercule Poirot. TV adaptations: (1) As an episode of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1992) with David Suchet as Poirot. (2) BBC, three part mini-series, 2018, with John Malkovich as Hercule Poirot

   Agatha Christie has long been acknowledged as the grande dame of the Golden Age detective-story writers. Beginning with her moderately successful The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), Christie built a huge following both in her native England and abroad, and eventually became a household name throughout the literate world. When a reader – be he in London or Buenos Aires – picks up a Christie novel, he knows exactly what he is getting and has full confidence that he is sitting down to a tricky, entertaining, and satisfying mystery.

   This enormous reader confidence stems from an effective combination of intricate, ingenious plots and typical, familiar characters and settings. Christie’s plots always follow the rules of detective fiction; she plays completely fair with the reader. But Christie was a master at planting clues in unlikely places, dragging red herrings thither and yon, and, like a magician, misdirecting the reader’s attention at the exact crucial moment. Her murderers – for all the Christie novels deal with nothing less important than this cardinal sin – are the Least Likely Suspect, the Second Least Likely Suspect, the Person with the Perfect Alibi, the Person with No Apparent Motive. And they are unmasked in marvelous gathering-of-all-suspects scenes where each clue is explained, all loose ends are tied up.

   As a counterpoint to these plots, Christie’s style is simple (even undistinguished). She relies heavily upon dialogue, and has a good ear for it when dealing with the “upstairs” people who are generally the main characters in her stories: the “downstairs” people fare less well at her hands, and their speech is often stilted or stereotyped.

   Christie, however, seldom ventures into the “downstairs” world. Her milieu is the drawing room, the country manor house, the book-lined study, the cozy parlor with a log blazing on the hearth. Like these settings, her characters are refined and tame, comfortable as the slippers in front of the fire – until violent passion rears its ugly head. Not that violence is ever messy or repugnant, though; when murder intrudes, it does so in as bloodless a manner as possible, and its investigation is always conducted as coolly and rationally as circumstances permit. One reason that Christie’s works are so immensely satisfying is that we know we will be confronted by nothing really disturbing, frightening, or grim. In short, her books are the ultimate escape reading with a guaranteed surprise at the end.

   Christie’s best-known sleuths are Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who relies on his “little grey cells” to solve the most intricate of crimes; and Miss Jane Marple, the old lady who receives her greatest inspiration while knitting. However, she created a number of other notable characters, among them Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, an amusing pair of detective-agency owners, who appear in such titles as The Secret Adversary (1922) and Postrn of Fate (1973); Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard, who is featured. in The Secret of Chimneys (1925), The Seven Dials Murder (1929), and others; and the mysterious Harley Quin.

   The member of this distinguished cast who stars in The ABC Murders is Hercule Poirot. Poirot is considered by many to be Christie’s most versatile and appealing detective. The dapper Belgian confesses gleefully to dying his hair, but sees no humor in banter about his prized “pair of moustaches.” And yet he has the ability to see himself as others see him and use their misconceptions to make them reveal themselves and their crimes.

   A series of alphabetically linked letters are sent to Poirot, taunting him with information about where and when murders will be committed unless he is clever enough to stop them. The aging detective comes out of retirement, he admits, “like a prima donna who makes positively the farewell performance … an infinite number of times.” Is the murderer a madman who randomly chooses the victim’s town by the letter of the alphabet, or is he an extremely clever killer with a master plan? And why has he chosen to force Poirot out of retirement?

   These questions plague Poirot’s “little grey cells” as the plot thrusts forward and then winds back on itself time and time again. Well into the novel, Christie teases the horrified reader by introducing a coincidence that looks as if it will solve the cases, then snatches it back, dangles another possibility, snatches that one back, too. And so on, until the innovative and surprising conclusion is reached. Poirot is al his most appealing here, and Christie’s plotting is at its finest.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Barry N. Malzberg

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Hercule Poirot novel #3. Collins, UK, 1926. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover. 1926. Reprinted many times. Film: Twickenham, UK, 1931, as Alibi  (with Austin Trevor as Poirot). TV Movie: BBC 2000 (with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot).

   This novel, Hercule Poirot’s most signatory case, is the work on which not only Agatha Christie’s reputation but that of the mystery of murder and manners, that which might be called the British “high tea school,” may be said to rest. Narrated by James Sheppard, trusted family physician and self-appointed confidant to Poirot during his investigation, the novel tracks the events leading up and then subsequent to the murder of Roger Ackroyd, a gentleman of some means and too much knowledge, “an immensely successful manufacturer of (I think) wagon wheels … a man of nearly fifty years of age, rubicund of face and genial of manner … He is, in fact, the life and soul of our peaceful village of King’s Abbot.”

   King’s Abbot is deeply shaken, as well it might be, by the murder of Ackroyd, and the distinguished Belgian detective M. Poirot, now in residence incognito and in retirement in the village, comes in to investigate. As in all fair-play puzzles of detective fiction’s Golden Age, Poirot deduces Ackroyd’s murderer through the gathering of carefully planted clues, accuses that person, and resolves the tragic case. The murderer’s identity is a stunning revelation, however, owing to a narrative device so simultaneously audacious and obvious that it may be said to have altered not only the deductive mystery but the novel form itself. (It is impossible to believe that Vladimir Nabokov did not study this work before composing Pale Fire.)

   Arguably the finest cerebral detective novel ever published, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is inarguably Christie’s finest work. If she had done nothing else, her place in the literature of crime would be secure; if Poirot had done nothing else, his “little grey cells” would have been forever noted. In fact, it is possible that if Christie had written only this novel (and perhaps The ABC Murders and And Then There Were None), her reputation would be much higher than it is (if not the accounting of her estate). But every writer is entitled to be judged by his or her strongest work, and this novel stands alone.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider

   

OCTAVUS ROY COHEN – Don’t Ever Love Me. Macmillan, hardcover, 1946. Popular Library #332, paperback, 1951.

   Octavus Roy Cohen’s mysteries are slick and entertaining, smoothly written in a style that no doubt appealed to the readers of the Saturday Evening Post and other publications where many of his stories. appeared. Don’t Ever Love Me is a good example of his novel-length work, a light romantic mystery featuring a fairly liberated heroine, at least by the standards of 1946.

   Lynn Sheridan, a successful copywriter for a New York advertising firm, is the victim of what seems to be a series of bizarre practical jokes: Someone calls the police to report her murder: someone calls an ambulance service to report that she has been badly hurt; and her escort to the opera is killed by a bullet that passes so close to her that she can hear it buzz by. Naturally all this puts quite a strain on Lynn and her fiancé, Alan Gordon.

   To say much more about the plot would be unfair, but it involves two more murders and a goodly number of suspects. Cohen manages some adroit misdirection before Gordon, to the astonishment of the homicide detective on the case, manages to figure out just exactly what has been going on. And of course, it’s fun to consider the detective’s final words on the case in light of today’s methods of law enforcement: “The confession is what counts – not how you get it.”

   Paperback collectors will find the cover of the 1951 Popular Library edition of Don’t Ever Love Me irresistible, even though the beautiful blonde with the dark eyebrows and the automatic pistol has nothing at all to do with the story.

   Jim Hanvey, Detective ( 1923) is a collection of short stories that demonstrates Cohen’s ability in that form. And Cohen came up with the title Scrambled Yeggs (1934) years before Richard S. Prather.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.
   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Kathleen L. Maio

   
ANTHEA COHEN – Angel Without Mercy. Nurse Agnes Carmichael #1. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1984. Published earlier in the UK by Quartet, hardcover, 1982.

   There have been many stories about lovable rogues and mastermind criminals in suspense fiction over its long history, but a group of novels in which a troubled murderer is the heroine is an unusual event. That is what Anthea Cohen has created in her new “Angel” series. Cohen, a nurse and writer on medical topics for twenty-five years, uses her knowledge of hospital locale and atmosphere to enrich her series.

   In Angel Without Mercy, Cohen seems to be setting up a classic whodunit – and taking her time about it. She shows us a hateful nurse supervisor named Hughes, and shows us ample evidence of why practically the entire staff of St. Jude’s Hospital wants her dead. The reader may become impatient for the murder and the discovery of the body about three-quarters of the way through the book, but Cohen will not be rushed. She is concerned more with the emotional and psychological mystery of human conduct than with a tidy murder puzzle.

   Although Cohen allows the reader the chance to reason out the identity of her murderer, she does not feel the need to have the police do the same. Her murderer gets away with it, and lives to return for other deadly adventures in Angel of Vengeance (1984) and Angel of Death (1985). It is essential to read these novels in order. And it will be interesting to see how Cohen proceeds with her intriguing series.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.
   

Editorial Update: Given the premise as I read it in Kathi’s review (and perhaps I have it all wrong), I saw little opportunity for any expansion of the the three book series she refers to. I was mistaken. There were 18 in all, with the last published in 2005. Nurse Carmichael may have branched out in other directions (??).

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini & George Kelley

   
BRIAN COFFEY – Surrounded. Mike Tucker #2. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1974. No paperback edition.

   Brian Coffey is one of several pseudonyms used by prolific writer Dean R. Koontz. During the early 1970s, Koontz wrote a series of three caper novels featuring professional thief Mike Tucker – a more genteel version of Richard Stark’s Parker.

   Tucker’s straight job is as an art dealer, but in order to live the wealthy life-style he’s accustomed to, he and various other professionals plan and execute occasional big-money heists. Tucker has his principles: He steals only from institutions – banks, insurance companies, department stores – whose losses are fully covered by insurance. And he is good enough so that after fourteen operations in three years, he has never failed.

   Surrounded is the middle book in the series, and easily the best of the three. Tucker, along with two men, Frank Meyers and Edgar Bates, plan to rob the posh Oceanview Plaza shopping mall in southern California; the mall includes a bank. a jewelry store, and eighteen other business establishments. The plan is to hit the mall at night, get in and out as quickly as possible, and Tucker has it all worked out perfectly. Except for one thing – a vital. piece of information that Meyers, for reasons of his own, has withheld from Tucker.

   The result is that an alarm is sounded during the robbery, the police arrive, and Tucker and the others are trapped inside the mall, completely surrounded, with no way out. In a clever variation on the classic locked-room gambit, they manage to hide themselves so that the police aren’t able to find them and assume they somehow must have escaped. (The reader isn’t told their hiding place until some time afterward, so that you may either match wits with Tucker or share the cops’ frustration.)

   This is a well-written novel, ingenious and suspenseful. Tucker is no Parker when it comes to toughness, hut in the brotherhood of crooks he holds his own. His first caper, Blood Risk (1973), is also nicely done: It features another heist that goes sour, that of the biweekly take of a Mafia cell. Here, too, Tucker must improvise to save his own life and those of his partners. The last Tucker novel, The Wall of Masks (1975), is less successful: It has a convoluted and rather implausible plot involving Tucker’s specialty, art treasures (the Mayan variety), plus some strained humor.
   
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Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

   

TUCKER COE – Don’t Lie to Me. Mitch Tobin #5. Random House, hardcover, 1972. Charter, paperback, [date?]. Five Star, hardcover, 2001.

   “Tucker Coe” is one of several pseudonyms used by Donald E. Westlake. And Mitchell Tobin, the narrator of Don’t Lie to Me and of four other novels published under the Coe name, is in many ways Westlake’s most fascinating creation.

   Tobin is an ex-New York City cop who was thrown off the force in disgrace when his partner was shot down while covering for him: Tobin at the time was in bed with a woman named Linda Campbell, another man’s wife. Unable to reconcile his guilt, Tobin has withdrawn to the point where little matters in his life except the high wall he is building in the back yard of his Queens home – a continuing project that symbolizes his self-imposed prison and isolation. His forgiving wife Kate and his teen-age son are unable to penetrate those internal walls: no one can, it seems.

   Occasionally, however, someone from his past or his present manages to persuade him to do this or that “simple” job, thus creating circumstances which force Tobin to utilize his detective’s training. The combined result of these cases, as critic Francis M. Nevins has noted, is that Tobin “builds up a store of therapeutic experiences from which he slowly comes to realize that he is not unique in his isolation and guilt, and slowly begins to accept himself and return to the real world.”

   Don’t Lie to Me is the last of the five Tobin novels, the final stage of his mental rehabilitation. He has been given a private investigator’s license and is working as a night watchman in Manhattan’s Museum of American Graphic Art, and before long Linda Campbell, his former lover, about whom he has ambivalent feelings, reappears in his life. Tobin then discovers the naked body of an unidentified murder victim in one of the museum rooms. Further complications include pressure from hostile cops and from a group of small-time hoodlums with a grudge against Tobin.

   Against his will, he is forced to pursue his own investigation into the murder and eventually to reconcile his feeling, toward Linda Campbell – and toward himself. The ending is violent, powerful, ironic, and appropriate.

   The other four Tobin novels are Kinds of Love. Kinds of Death (1966), Murder Among Children (1968), Wax Apple (1970), and A Jade in Aries (1971). It is tempting to say that more Tobin novels would have been welcome, but this is not really the case. Westlake said everything there is to say about Mitch Tobin in these live books, what amounts to a perfect quintology; any additional novels would have seem contrived to capitalize on an established series character.

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Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

   

LIZA CODY – Dupe. PI Anna Lee #1. Collins, UK, hardcover, 1980. Scribner’s, US, hardcover, 1981. Warner, US, paperback, 1983; Bantam, US, paperback, 1992. TV adaptation: Season 1, Episode 1 of Anna Lee, 27 February 1994, with Imogen Stubbs as Anna Lee.

   To say that the biggest fault with Liza Cody’s first novel is that we don’t get to know private eye Anna Lee well enough is testimony to the attractiveness and likableness of her heroine. Anna is a former policewoman in her late twenties, employed by the London private inquiry firm Brierly Security. In a welcome relief from her usual assignments – hunting for missing minors or “scent-counter security” – Anna is assigned to dig into the past of an apparent fatal accident victim, Dierdre Jackson.

   Dierdre had been estranged from her parents for three years, and her mother wants to know if she was happy in those last years, while her father wants information because he suspects Dierdre’s car crash was no accident. Representing herself as a friend of the family, Anna traces Dierdre’s friends and employers, most or them on the fringes or the film world; and soon she, too, begins to suspect there is more to the young woman’s death than a crash on an icy road.

   Anna’s low-key approach to investigation is refreshing, and she proves herself tough enough when the case requires it. The glimpses we are allowed into Anna’s private life – especially those scenes involving her zany and endearing neighbors, Bea and Selwyn Price – are tantalizing. So much so, in fact, that any reader will want to know more about her background, such as what her family was like and why she joined and then left the police force.

   An engaging novel with a strong plot, Dupe won the John Creasey Award for Britain’s Best First Mystery Novel. Cody’s second and third novels, also featuring Anna Lee, are Bad Company (1982) and Stalker (1984).

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Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
   

      The complete Anna Lee series –

Dupe (n.) Collins 1980
Bad Company (n.) Collins 1982
Stalker (n.) Collins 1984
Head Case (n.) Collins 1985
Under Contract (n.) Collins 1986
Backhand (n.) Chatto 1991
Bucket Nut (n.) Chatto 1992 [with Eva Wylie]

   

A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Susan Dunlap

   

AGATHA CHRISTIE – A Caribbean Mystery. Miss Marple #9. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1964. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1965. Pocket Book #50449, US, paperback, 1966. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback. TV adaptations: (1) A Caribbean Mystery, US, TV movie, 1983 with Helen Hayes as Miss Marple. (2) Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. BBC (Series 1, Episode 10), 1989 starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. (3) Agatha Christie’s Marple, BBC (Series 6, Episode 1) with Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple.

   The appeal of Christie’s Miss Jane Marple books is their deceptive simplicity. They are quiet, full of thought and conversation. which is seldom interrupted by action. Miss Marple, elderly maiden lady of the village of St. Mary’s Mead, is considered an “old dear” or “old pussy” by the other characters. But in her many years of village life she has observed character, and pondered over the failings of her fellow villagers. “So many interesting human problems-giving rise to endless pleasurable speculation.” St. Mary’s Mead is a microcosm of the larger world outside; and her years of watching events there have honed Miss Marple’s perceptive faculties to a fine point.

   This novel proves Miss Marple to be as acute while on holiday in the Caribbean as on her own turf. The manager of the Golden Palm Hotel where she is staying resembles a headwaiter from St. Mary’s Mead; another guest reminds her of a village barmaid; yet another is like Lady Caroline Wolfe, a local who committed suicide. Thus Miss Marple is able to relate the principles she has evolved in her native village to these new acquaintances.

   In this tropical setting, Major Palgrave (you can cell by his name he’s not long for this world) chatters to Miss Marple, retelling his repertoire of tedious tales, including one of a man who killed two wives and escaped. “Do you want to see the picture of a murderer’?” he asks.

   But as he is extracting it from his wallet, he sees someone over Miss Marple’s shoulder, turns purple, stuffs the picture back in his wallet – and is dead before the day is over. Only Miss Marple suspects murder. Far from St. Mary’s Mead, unaided by her usual friends, but armed with the discovery of similarities to her own villagers and their own – albeit simpler – intrigues, Miss Marple must unearth the truth.

   Miss Marple sees her fellow characters as stereotypes – which indeed they are. Christie is as up front about that as she is in laying her clues, reminding her readers they are there, and daring them to outguess her which, after all, is the fun of a Christie novel.

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Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust

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