Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “A Caribbean Mystery” by Agatha Christie

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A Caribbean MysteryMiss Marple has long solved her mysteries based upon the premise that human nature is the same no matter where one goes, and she discovers how true this is even in the Caribbean when her nephew sends her to St. Honoré in Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery. Getting a little bored with the snail-paced rate that life seems to change on the island, Miss Marple is the only person who will put up with the long, boring ramblings of Major Palgrave, who spent many years in the colonial service in Africa. He finally starts to tell what has potential to be an interesting story with, “Want to see a picture of a murderer?” But just as the boring old man is about to take the photo out of his wallet, he suddenly appears to see something or someone alarming and rapidly puts the wallet away, loudly changing the subject. Miss Marple determines to ask the major about his actions, but the next morning he is found dead, with reports spread everywhere that the man suffered from high blood pressure, which, in addition to his heavy drinking, was responsible for his death.

Miss Marple comes to the conclusion that this death might not be natural but that murder might be at the root. This leads Miss Marple to cry out like the prophets, “I’m here, Lord! Send me help!” The answer comes not in the form of a strong detective but rather as an infirm old man who needs help even to walk. Mr. Jason Rafiel is a rich tycoon bored with life, since there is nothing to do on the island, well, except to make money, but he can’t do that all day long. The two pair up to solve the mystery, creating a most unusual and unique team, but of course they prove successful in the end.

This book prominently focuses on the theme of the Miss Marple books, that human nature is the same no matter where a person comes from or what a person’s background is. Miss Marple is able to solve her mysteries so successfully because she draws upon her knowledge of people found in her village of St. Mary Mead. The books gradually move further and further out of her sphere of personal experience to demonstrate this point. She begins in Murder at the Vicarage in showing her depth of knowledge of those in St. Mary Mead. Then, in The Body in the Library, Miss Marple demonstrates that her theories apply to human nature outside of St. Mary Mead, including a dancer at a nice hotel. A few books later, in 4:50 from Paddington, she shows how her theories work even when she herself does not make a regular appearance on the scene. Then, just beforeA Caribbean Mystery, Miss Marple proves that human nature is the same even among the movie elite in The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. Now Miss Marple travels halfway around the world to find that people there are much the same as at home, a fact that assists in her solving this murder. However, I would point out that the Caribbean island of St. Honoré has had a lot of English influence, and most of the Caribbean was a European colony at some point of time. So Miss Marple is not stepping as far out of her comfort zone as one might imagine.

This book received very high reviews when it came out. According to Wikipedia’s article on A Caribbean Mystery, in the Guardian, one of Britain’s major newspapers, Francis Iles wrote on December 11, 1964, “Mrs. Agatha Christie has done it again. In A Caribbean Mystery she tells the reader explicitly what is going to happen; and yet when it does, nine out of ten will be taken completely by surprise – as I was. How does she do it? For the rest, it is Miss Marple this time who is in charge of the story; and all one can guess is that the setting is a Caribbean island.” This is high praise indeed! To tell us what will happen and still have us be surprised at the outcome is a real gift!

This book is also the only Miss Marple book to contain an actual sequel. Though all the books serve as sequels in the sense that they follow the progression of Miss Marple, this is the only one with a distinct book following the story, a sequel found two books later in Nemesis. But you’ll have to wait two weeks for that book’s review to understand more about that.

Rosalind Ayres reads my own audio edition of this book. She comes across as a very believable Miss Marple, reflecting her inner turmoil and her age in her voice while also voicing the younger characters, men and women, along with the accents of those from around the world thrown together on this island. She does a very credible job that I really enjoyed.

While not in my top five favorite Miss Marple books, A Caribbean Mystery still is one of my favorite Agatha Christie books. I enjoyed the change of setting and pace and appreciated the respect and support that Miss Marple and Mr. Rafiel develop towards each other. I give this book five stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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