Agatha Christie famously wrote the final novels to feature her two biggest sleuths well ahead of their publication, and where Hercule Poirot’s swansong Curtain (1975) was a joyous return to the heights for a character she had grown weary of, Sleeping Murder (1976) — the last hurrah for Miss Jane Marple, a character you can’t help but feel Christie had a growing respect for as she aged — is…fine. Yes, it had a cogency and precision that At Bertram’s Hotel (1965) and Nemesis (1971) sorely needed, but in all honesty the sound and fury on display here signifies something that doesn’t even add up to a hill o’ beans, if you’ll forgive my mixing of classics.
So here’s a new thing: I am going to use Tuesday posts (at indeterminate intervals) to talk about some (usually unconnected) ideas within Golden Age Detection (GAD) that can be grouped approximately by initial. I’m calling it The Criminous Alphabet — rejected titles included The A to Z Murders, You Alpha-Bet Your Life, and GAD-Handing — and this month will see five posts based around the letter A, starting with the Amateur Detective. Next time out will be B, the month after that C…you get the idea? You get the idea.
After 41 years, 12 novels, and 20 short stories, Nemesis (1971) represents the end of the road for Agatha Christie and her spinster detective Miss Jane Marple. Marple herself would survive her creator in the posthumously-published Sleeping Murder (1976), but since that was written decades prior — and the collection Miss Marple’s Final Cases (1979) consists of uncollected stories from much earlier in Christie’s career — this the final time they would have together.
The Tuesday Night Bloggers — an autonomous collective of GAD bloggers who unite around a common theme — have returned! To tie in with the release of The 100 Greatest Literary Detectives in a few weeks, a compendium to which our very own Kate Jackson has contributed an entry, everyone is picking and writing about their own favourite sleuths this month.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that as Agatha Christie approached the twilight years of her career the quality of her output dipped somewhat. And yet, as I’ve said elsewhere, what these novels appear to lack in merit from a plot perspective they arguably make up for in a kind of critical self-analysis of her own position in the firmament of crime fiction. And At Bertram’s Hotel, the tenth Miss Marple novel, provides yet more opportunity to potentially read too much into her writing from this perspective. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s no Douglas Hofstadter, but who’s to say this is a completely bad turn of events*?