12:58 PM 24 JUNE 2018
My copy of this novel is an edition printed in 1964 for ‘The Book Club’ and costing 16s. 0d. Unsurprising perhaps that ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ has the feel of a bygone era, when colonialism, feminism, racism, sexual orientation and the class system were clearly viewed quite differently. Indeed, it might be harsh to criticize the author for expressing attitudes prevalent at the time, but while Agatha Christie’s admirers are legion, this book does feel dated by the absence of contemporary enlightenment. For example, the suggestion by a key character that his attractive wife can expect the unrequited attention of other men and “has to pass things off with a laugh and a shrug” might not be so trivialized today! Still less the description by Miss Marple’s nephew (Raymond) of his “queer” friend, who can be relied upon to keep his aunt’s St. Mary Mead cottage spick and span in her absence! But, if the reader can tolerate the glut of political incorrectness and blatant prejudices, the cast of characters is very familiar – retired military man; clergyman and sister; wealthy business tycoon and retainers; couples (not quite as they seem); medical Dr; and servants.
The setting is the Golden Palm Hotel on the island of St Honoré, where Raymond has sent his aunt to recover from a winter bout of pneumonia. Intriguingly, this is the only foreign adventure undertaken by the redoubtable Miss Marple, but the hotel with its expats and imperialist pretensions is an enjoyable proxy for an English country home.
Albeit, Miss Marple finds her surroundings rather boring, until retired Major Palgrave (he of the drinker’s purple face and a glass eye) invites her to see the photograph of a murderer.
Amid clicking knitting needles Miss Marple quietly marshals the facts of the murders that follow and stereotypical fellow residents, culminating in a gently satisfying resolution. I particularly enjoyed the alliance with wealthy curmudgeon, Mr Rafiel, who puts in a re-appearance in the 1971 novel, “Nemesis”. No doubt the quaintness of Christie’s story lines is part of the enduring appeal, but in this example, the genteel behaviour of the characters cannot disguise the attendant challenges for the modern reader.