I said I wasn’t going to review any Agatha Christie’s in full in an earlier post, and then almost immediately broke that resolution with The Hollow. Well, writing my top five Marples and Poirots awoke my old fondness for Dame Agatha’s work, so after that one, I went on Abebooks and picked out a few other cheap ones that I couldn’t remember much about. Invariably that means ones that I was less than enamoured by the first time round, but having read some of them when I was very young, tastes and opinions change.
There’s always the risk that the plot details come screaming back to you. I remember re-reading A Murder is Announced for the second time about ten years after the first. It took about half a page before the entire plot re-established itself in my memory, but luckily this wasn’t the case with Sleeping Murder.
The plot concerns a young bride returning to England and buying a house that it later transpires that she had lived in briefly as a young girl, and recalls a repressed memory of seeing her stepmother being strangled, possibly by her father, but (conveniently) she doesn’t see the murderer’s face. When her new husband joins her, they set about investigating the 18 year-old case with the help of Miss Marple, who just happens to be a friend of a friend.
I’m quite wary of stories where everything happened in the past – if it’s too long ago, everything ends up being speculation, but luckily everyone involved (who isn’t dead) is quite close at hand and, of course, the investigation stirs things up. It potters along very nicely and there is a very nice line in laying of and hinting at clues. Miss Marple is inclined to give hints to the couple but, as she is genuinely concerned as to what might get stirred up, has a reason to be a cryptic old baggage and to keep her thoughts to herself. The notion that as everything we are told is from witnesses and that at least one person isn’t being honest certainly made me go back and rethink parts of the narrative.
Of course, it’s a Marple and it falls into the usual trap, although there is more than one suspect who seems not to be under consideration, but if you’ve read a few of them, you’ll probably spot the killer. There is a bit of cheat, chronologically speaking, at one point, which some readers might be annoyed by, but it’s a small annoyance.
All in all, this is quite a clever little Marple and certainly worth your while if you haven’t read it before. Oh, and don’t worry if your copy says “Miss Marple’s Final Case” on it – nothing happens to her. I’ve no idea why Christie locked this away to be published after her death (it was written during the War), but it did enable her to go out on a high note. Recommended.