January Book Club - A Murder is Announced, by Agatha Christie

finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
Hi - happy new year to all! The book for January is A Murder is Announced, by Agatha Christie, which was first published in 1950, and was her 50th book (according to Wikipedia, anyway, though be careful with reading that page if you haven't read this book before, as it does have spoilers). If it is your first time reading the book, it will be interesting to think about how the clues work, whether they help or are red herrings, and whether you can predict 'whodunnit', or if it's a complete surprise.

We can also look at any other Agatha Christie books people might want to discuss - we can have a general discussion as well as discussing this particular book. I'll post some questions around the 20th January.
«1

Comments

  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I'm in. I've read this book a while ago, but I'll have a re-read. I always liked the Joan Hickson Miss Marple adaptations, so I might have a look to see if A Murder is Announced is available somewhere.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    Oh, I forgot to mention, as well as the Joan Hickson one, there is a more recent TV adaptation of this, from 2005, with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, and also starring Zoe Wanamaker, Elaine Paige, Catherine Tate. It's on YouTube (wasn't sure whether to post the link, in case it's not supposed to be on youtube, but there are many other youtube videos of it, not just that one, so it doesn't seem to be one that is being removed from youtube anyway).
  • TelfordTelford Ship-mate
    I have seen both tv adaptations and I have read the book in the past 6 months. The Hickson version is a bit more faithful to the book but both versions are quite good. The Marple version also has Keeley Hawes !!! The book has less clues than the tv versions One of the better Christie books and I enjoy them all.
  • Random aside - her grave is in Cholsey churchyard, Oxfordshire, and the stome is so large it is easy to pick out from the railway line, all of several hundred yards away.
  • There's also a brilliant statue in the West End - not quite at Seven Dials, sadly
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    Telford wrote: »
    I have seen both tv adaptations and I have read the book in the past 6 months. The Hickson version is a bit more faithful to the book but both versions are quite good. The Marple version also has Keeley Hawes !!! The book has less clues than the tv versions One of the better Christie books and I enjoy them all.

    I thought the book had more clues - but perhaps subtler clues, and some you couldn't really put into a movie. Though I haven't read this since I was a teenager, while I have seen the movie version (the Geraldine McEwan one) a lot more recently, so I am curious to reread it and see if it is as I remember.
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    I am half way through reading the book. The story is familiar and I think I remember some of the solution, but I'm not sure if it is from reading the book previously or one of the T.V. adaptions. One good thing about Christie writing so many books is that if I haven't read one or listened to an audio book for a few years I generally don't remember the full solution so they are not boring to read again. Partly this is because some books have similar plots and Christie uses the same character types multiple times, but I still enjoy every reread :)
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Shipmate
    edited January 1
    I’d strongly recommend the All About Agatha podcast episode on this book - after you’ve read it, as there are spoilers.

    Link
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    Thanks Doublethink.
  • NicoleMRNicoleMR Shipmate
    When I was in high school I played Miss Marple in our drama class production of the play of A Murder is Announced, and I read the book afterward, so I am very familiar with it, though I haven't read it in many years.
  • TelfordTelford Ship-mate
    In the book there was a very slight suggestion that two of the females might be in a relationship. In the Marple verson it is a full blown Lesbian relationship.
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Shipmate
    edited January 2
    Christie seems to offer sympathetic (coded) portrayals of female same sex couples, but tends to caricature gay men.

    If you are interested in that aspect of her writing you might enjoy “Queering Agatha Christie: Revisiting the Golden Age of Detective Fiction” by J.C. Bernthal.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    I’d strongly recommend the All About Agatha podcast episode on this book - after you’ve read it, as there are spoilers.

    Link

    Thanks, Doublethink - I just listened to it and enjoyed it, and it is reminding me why I liked this book. I agree with some of the criticisms of it too, particularly the way Mitzi is portrayed - even as a teenager, I found that uncomfortable, that humour is created from her being a traumatised regugee.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    I was lucky to find this available as an ebook from the library. I have read all the Miss Marple books, so I knew I had read it before but it was a long time ago.

    Thanks for mentioning the podcast Doublethink.
  • fineline wrote: »
    I’d strongly recommend the All About Agatha podcast episode on this book - after you’ve read it, as there are spoilers.

    Link

    Thanks, Doublethink - I just listened to it and enjoyed it, and it is reminding me why I liked this book. I agree with some of the criticisms of it too, particularly the way Mitzi is portrayed - even as a teenager, I found that uncomfortable, that humour is created from her being a traumatised regugee.

    That’s one of the podcasts that got me through 2020 vaguely sane, currently they’ve done about 50 episodes of the free, and at least a dozen related Patreon episodes.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    The nickname they use for women of a certain age is incredibly off-putting to a Canadian in 2020.
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    Yeah, there's a few words and names that were fine in the fairly recent past that have a very different meaning now. I will never forgive a fill in teacher for legal studies at school who made us act out a play instead of the boring one that was on the set curriculum, of a legal case that was supposed to be humorous. I had to read the part of a lady whose cat bit someone and my character called her cat ' my p....' all the way through. Even at the time I wondered if the teacher was a creep who enjoyed hearing a teen girl say that . The play seemed to deliberately be using it as an innuendo and it was used repeatedly. But I didn't have the confidence to speak up at the time, even though I was really embarrassed and uncomfortable. Thankfully my classmates also disliked the teacher and didn't laugh at me. I was glad when my friend got him back when he said he didn't believe in God because he once got hit by a bus. She said maybe God saved him from being killed so he was wrong (she wasn't a Christian, just being a smart alec). Thinking back this whole classroom conversation shows this teacher definitely was not professional!
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    Though from checking the OED, the current 'coarse slang' meaning has been around since the 1700s, so it seems it's been used either to refer to a woman or to that part of her body for centuries. The way Agatha Christie has that character use it, I wouldn't be surprised if she was aware of both meanings and was creating some double meaning humour (not intended by the character), that would be picked up on by some, but most would assume it was innocent. It's only that one character who uses it, and even as simply a nickname for a woman, he uses it in a quite possessive way, that tells us more about him as a person and his attitude to women. Attitudes to older women seem to be a key theme in the novel - and also a clue to solving the mystery.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    Finished the book this morning. Typical Christie strategy of people not necessarily being whom they seem to be. I think this sort of mystery plot is much less acceptable now than when Christie was writing.
  • It depends when Christie was writing: her first book was written in 1916, published in 1921, but she was still writing in the 1960s and 1970s, with a book for Poirot, Marple and Tommy and Tuppence written and published in the early 70s. The last two books, published posthumously in 1975 and 1976, the last cases of Poirot and Marple, were written in the 1940s, and are very different to the two Poirot and Marple books written in the 70s. If you try to read them sequentially by dates of cases, it leaps out of the page.

    For example, The Third Girl (published 1966) is about swinging London flatshares with psychedelic overtones, Nemesis, the last Marple written, published in 1971, has a very 70s vibes with long haired young men in flares. Both are very different books from The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1921) with its interwar atmosphere or Sparkling Cyanide from 1945 and reflecting its post-war era, with references to war experiences.

    One of the things I find fascinating about Christie is she writes about the era she's living through, so mores, attitudes and language change.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Caissa wrote: »
    Finished the book this morning. Typical Christie strategy of people not necessarily being whom they seem to be. I think this sort of mystery plot is much less acceptable now than when Christie was writing.

    I once spotted the murderer by reading the cast of characters at the beginning of the book. She was the only one who appeared not to have a motive.

  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    It's odd that Sparkling Cyanide was published in the 40s, because part of the plot seems to turn on a character who is depressed after (almost dying from) flu. I always assumed that was a reference to the 1918-19 flu pandemic.
  • I looked it up, and found this CDC historical timeline of influenza from the 1930s (link). I suspect influenza was in the news in the 1940s as the first vaccines were being developed and then found to be ineffective against new strains. It's implicit that there were annual 'flu seasons throughout the 40s as one paragraph begins:
    During the seasonal flu epidemic of 1947 ...

    Nope, I didn't know either, had just assumed that 'flu was always with us.
  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    Interesting. I knew vaccination programmes were being developed in the mid-20th century, but most of the attention is on vaccines for TB and smallpox... And polio, of course. You don't think of flu.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    The problem with flu vaccines is that you need a new one every year because the virus changes, in contrast with the polio virus, which does not change.
  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    ... except for the disabled virus used in the polio vaccine, which has mutated and has caused some outbreaks of polio. They've developed a new vaccine to counter this problem, but it hasn't been approved yet.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    edited January 16
    I know that a few years ago a woman here got polio through the poo on her recently vaccinated baby's nappies. Nasty.
  • That, if I remember correctly, is only possible if you're using a live-but-attenuated vaccine--I think that would be the Sabin vaccine? Which AFAIK is no longer used in the U.S., for just that reason--though it's rare. But it is still used elsewhere. Weird fact: I apparently got both forms of the vaccine, as my mother swears I got the Salk one (injection) but I clearly remember being given a sugar cube vaccine.
  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    Yes, I meant attenuated - couldn't think of the right term offhand. I had the sugar cube - best vaccine ever (no needle, yay!). Presumably it's still popular in low-income countries because it's easier to store, transport and administer. And sugar cubes are cheaper than hypodermics.
  • I looked it up. Wikipedia is a mighty help in maintaining one's pretensions to omniscience!
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I finished it the other day. Were English villages ever really the way they are portrayed in Golden Age detective fiction I wonder?
  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    I expect the bits about black market butter and eggs (for example) are fairly accurate for the time she was writing. Rationing continued for quite a while after the war ended.
  • I've read enough other books set in the period and remember my grandparents' village in the 1960s well enough to suspect that those villages did exist.
  • The hamlet where my mother grew up didn’t have a tarmac road next to their house. When I lived with my grandparents for a bit I helped herd the cows occasionally for the farmer down the road, who also kept ferrets.

    My mother told me that there used to be a brother and sister who lived in the house down the road as man and wife, but nobody did anything about it.

    The hamlet where my parents lived in later life used to have house in which two sisters lived, but with the house divided down the middle. One of the other houses there had a mural painted on the ceiling of the sitting room by a man dressed as Robin Hood.

    And then there were full on feuds about the funding of a music festival by a rich donor to the local church and a falling out between the folk running the community centre and those running the church hall (both facilities served a set of small villages.)

    Which is the short way of saying - I can well believe in the weirdness of villages - sometimes even midsummer doesn’t seem so much of a stretch.
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Agreed!
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    The cozy village setting served to provide an interesting contrast to the murder.
  • Moo wrote: »
    The cozy village setting served to provide an interesting contrast to the murder.

    “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host, 8th Day Host
    I'm late starting this one -- just began it yesterday after finishing a library book that had to be back in time. I'll stay off this thread to avoid possible spoilers while reading, but hope to be done in time to join the discussion.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    Looks like people are discussing this book even without any questions, but I will now post some discussion questions which people can use to discuss the book if they want. Feel free to answer some or all of these questions, and add any other aspect you want to discuss.

    1. Was this your first time reading the book or a reread?
    2. If a reread, what things did you notice that you hadn't noticed in the first reading?
    3. If your first time, or if you can remember your first time, reading it, which clues did you pick up on, and which did you not notice? And did anyone work out whodunnit from the clues?
    4. If you have read other Agatha Christies, are there any that you find have particular things in common with this book? Did reading this remind you of other Agatha Christie books, or even other books of the time by other authors?
    5. What did you think of the characters? Were there any that you felt particularly drawn to, who you enjoyed, or liked, or found entertaining? Were there any that you didn't like, or found boring, or poorly portrayed? And did your feelings about any characters change over the course of the novel?
    6. Have you seen any of the TV adaptations of this book, and if so, what were your thoughts? Were there some aspects of the book you thought couldn't be portrayed effectively via film? Or any aspects of the book you thought were portrayed better via film?
    7. Was there anything you found not very believable in the story? Anything where you thought this doesn't quite work?
    8. What were your overall thoughts and feelings about the book? Its strengths and weaknesses?
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    I will answer my questions. (Spoilers are in this post. I kept spoilers out of the questions, but they will of course be in the answers/discussion.)

    1. It was a reread for me, over thirty years since I last read it.

    2. I noticed that the narrative actually sometimes shared what was going on in Letty (Lotty) Blacklock's head - quite near the start, in fact, giving a few glimpses of what she is thinking or feeling, so you feel you trust her. But they are always kind of double meaning - when you know she is the killer, the thoughts have a different implications.

    3. I didn't notice the two spellings of enquire/inquire at all when I first read it. Seems kind of obvious now I know, but at the time, I think even if I'd noticed, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, because it always seemed quite normal to me that a word could have two spellings, especially growing up with American books and older books, so I read books where words were spelt differently. I did notice the Letty/Lotty thing, but honestly thought it was a typo the first time, and the second time I just thought maybe that was another shortening of the name that Bunny used, and it didn't occur to me that it was a clue. I didn't work out that Letty/Lotty was the killer - I was surprised when I first read it.

    4. When I first read it, it made me think of The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side, because that one also has the murderer framing things so that you think she was the intended victim, and you also develop a kind of sympathy for her, though she is very different from Letty/Lotty Blacklock.

    5. I liked Philippa, and when I first read it, I did guess that she was Pip, though I had no idea how that related to anything! I liked her straightforwardness, and took her side when Julia and Patrick were being a bit snobby and sneery about her. I didn't like Julia, though by the end of the book, I had a bit more respect for her. I liked Hinch and Murgatroyd - I didn't understand when I read it at 14 that they were lesbians, but I understood that they had a close relationship, and were a bit eccentric, and I warmed to them. I really liked Letty/Lotty Blacklock when I first read it - she came across as a strong character, sensible, likeable, and there seems something a bit jarring when you realise she is the killer. I didn't like how Mitzi is portrayed - it seems to stem from a mindset that doesn't believe trauma, and the atrocities of the holocaust, because the whole time the idea is that she is exaggerating and lying about her family members being killed, and Agatha Christie seems to be suggesting this herself and making humour from it. But from her behaviour, she does seem genuinely traumatised. I can only think Agatha Christie must have met such people and assumed they were lying.

    6. I think I've seen them both, but the earlier one I saw years ago, shortly after I read it, and can't remember it too clearly, other than they changed the name of the cat to Jezebel. I don't think I particularly liked it - I was much more struck with the more modern version, even though it missed out more from the book, and the actors stayed in my mind more. I think the kind of clues given in the book, and the complexity of all the relationships, is a bit fiddly for a film version - works better in the book - so the film needs to be simplified quite a bit.

    7. This time when I read it, something that struck me as unbelievable was that Letty and Lotty would have identical characters other than a moral weakness in one of them. It seems to fail to take into consideration the complex effect it would have on someone to live their life as a recluse, sensitive ashamed of their appearance. No matter how similar Letty and Lotty were by nature, I can't conceive that Lotty would have the same level of social confidence and common sense as her sister, who had been out in the world working and being respected and highly thought of, while she had been a recluse, afraid of being seen because of a disfigurement. Other than the idea that she'd been so bored and deprived of adventure that it was exciting to host a murder, there was nothing to suggest this had had any effect on her whatsoever. I don't think she'd have been able to simply 'become' Letty in character.

    8. Overall, I like it, and I find the plot very clever and satisfying - it all works out very well, everything is accounted for, and I find it a clever twist that the murderer is the one person you don't (or I didn't, at least) think to consider. Only the enquire/inquire clue doesn't quite work for me, and the fact that Lotty was naturally the confident, sensible person her sister was, with only a moral weakness to make them different, some inability to see between right and wrong - that all seems too simplistic. And the scenes with Mitzi made me uncomfortable. Especially at the end when they got Mitzi to basically risk her life, and this was seen as a good thing, because it helped her feel proud that she'd saved them all.
  • The one is spoiled for me by what I would answer to your question 7, which is that it is totally unbelievable and out of character for Miss Marple to hide in a cupboard and disguise her voice. I mean, the whole story calls for the willing suspension of unbelief, of course, but within the framework of the story (and of other Marple stories) that incident jars on me.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I will answer the questions later but my initial thoughts are that Christie uses identity theft and improbable plot twists in a manner that no self-respecting mystery writer would use in the 21st c. Maybe one person isn't who they are supposed to be but when you have multiple characters who are not who they seem , you stretch the bounds of credulity.
  • I don’t think Christie cares much about probability, though. She just likes to make puzzles.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    edited January 20
    I guess my point is that this was more acceptable in the genre when she was writing than it is now. Parenthetically, Lamb Chopped I loved your closing post on the Trump Presidency thread.
  • Thank you!
  • TukaiTukai Shipmate
    Apart from a few 'Poirot' audiobooks, I have not read any Agatha Christie for some years. What I do remember is that they are usually an undemanding read, though with a good puzzle built-in. But I certainly have no recollection of "A murder is announced".

    It's amazing how so many fictional English villages are chock full of characters, with hardly any "ordinary" people!

    One thing I do recall as a favourite device of Christie's is that the culprit frequently turns out - unbeknown to everyone else - to be the long-lost but distant relative of the deceased, who owing to somewhat obscure provisions of English law turns out to be main beneficiary of the deceased's estate. But I think this story sets a record in that , by my count, not just the murderer but no fewer 4 out of the 6 inhabitants of the victim's house turn out to be not who they say they are!
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    1-3 I’m pretty sure I had not read this Christie before, and I did not work out the killer. I was suspicious that Philippa was not who she seemed, and wondered about Mitzi, but wasn’t sure how that fitted into the plot.

    4. If you have read other Agatha Christies, are there any that you find have particular things in common with this book? Did reading this remind you of other Agatha Christie books, or even other books of the time by other authors?

    The village setting with the social mix dominated by the squirocracy recurs in most of her books, and the fact that Miss Marple has friends in every village! I found the number of people committing identity theft pretty implausible – but it’s a recurring feature of Christie’s books if not to that degree.

    5. What did you think of the characters? Were there any that you felt particularly drawn to, who you enjoyed, or liked, or found entertaining? Were there any that you didn't like, or found boring, or poorly portrayed? And did your feelings about any characters change over the course of the novel?

    I concur with most people’s feelings about the way Mitzi was portrayed, once it was clear she was not one of those pretending to be someone else. I liked the Hitch/Murgatroyd couple – though in fact female pairs living together were pretty common in England in the 1950s and 60s, lesbian or not. I attended a girls’ grammar school in the 1960s, and I remember at least two female couples (who lived together, quite openly) on the staff – we girls certainly assumed they were lesbian (mind you, we thought that all the more obviously single women were the mourning fiancees of RAF pilots, such is teenage imagination). Remember that in England in 1950 male homosexual activity was illegal, but lesbianism wasn’t, reputedly because Queen Victoria didn’t think it was possible.

    7. Was there anything you found not very believable in the story? Anything where you thought this doesn't quite work?

    The sheer numbers of people pretending to be someone else stretched credulity, and as fineline notes, it’s implausible that the sisters were so alike in temperament after their so very different experiences – or is Christie making a point about nature being dominant over nurture ? I was also a bit unconvinced by the medical elements of the solution. The goitre is seen as only a physical deformity, but surely it would have other effects as well. Having had some thyroid problems myself recently I recognise the complexity and unpredictability of that organ, and find it a little odd that the goitre and then the surgery left Lotty/Letty with no other symptoms apart from a scar. According to Wikipedia thyroxin was available in 1950, so I may be wrong. Does anyone have any more medical insight?

    8. What were your overall thoughts and feelings about the book? Its strengths and weaknesses?
    Enjoyable, but you definitely had to suspend credulity.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host, 8th Day Host
    I don't mind the unlikeliness aspect - to me, the whole series requires suspending disbelief in terms of probability, because what is the likelihood that all these murders would happen whenever Miss Marple is around? It's lack of psychological realism that bothers me more, because part of the premise of these novels is that understanding of human nature is needed to solve them - this is supposed to be part of the clues, and part of what we use to solve them. Like the idea that an adult would never change their spelling of a certain word - this is an understanding of human nature that Miss Marple uses to solve this.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    1. Was this your first time reading the book or a reread? I've read this a couple of times, but probably not for about thirty years. I also saw the Joan Hickson version on the TV
    2. If a reread, what things did you notice that you hadn't noticed in the first reading? I spotted the Lotty/Letty confusion from Dora Bunner right away this time, as I remembered the solution. It also seemed far more depressingly racist than I remember.
    3. If your first time, or if you can remember your first time, reading it, which clues did you pick up on, and which did you not notice? And did anyone work out whodunnit from the clues? I can't really remember, but I'm pretty sure I would have been suspicious of all the people staying with Miss Blacklock
    4. If you have read other Agatha Christies, are there any that you find have particular things in common with this book? Did reading this remind you of other Agatha Christie books, or even other books of the time by other authors? I like the Miss Marple books and they are always full of stock characters like well-meaning vicars, and slightly dubious Indian colonels. There are always assumptions about the lower classes and ones place in society in general.
    5. What did you think of the characters? Were there any that you felt particularly drawn to, who you enjoyed, or liked, or found entertaining? Were there any that you didn't like, or found boring, or poorly portrayed? And did your feelings about any characters change over the course of the novel?. I liked Hinch and Murgatroyd, and they seemed the least 'stock' characters in the book, though even they were somewhat stereotypical. Every now and again Christie seemed to be attempting proper characterisation, but then steered away from it.
    6. Have you seen any of the TV adaptations of this book, and if so, what were your thoughts? Were there some aspects of the book you thought couldn't be portrayed effectively via film? Or any aspects of the book you thought were portrayed better via film?. I very much enjoyed the Hickson versions, as her Miss Marple came across as almost believable.
    7. Was there anything you found not very believable in the story? Anything where you thought this doesn't quite work? It seemed a bit unlikely to me that Miss Blacklock would give lodgings to two distant cousins who she didn't know. I'm also not sure about Miss Blacklock's character. It seems equally unlikely she'd have had Dora come and live with her in the first place.
    8. What were your overall thoughts and feelings about the book? Its strengths and weaknesses?. I enjoy Golden Age detective fiction for what it is, I don't expect the stories to be likely to have happened or the characterisation to be strong. I enjoyed it, though I think there are other Christie's I like more. I'm a big fan of Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver stories. Similar settings, but her detective seems a tad more credible than Miss Marple.
  • 1. Was this your first time reading the book or a reread? It was a reread.

    2. If a reread, what things did you notice that you hadn't noticed in the first reading?
    I noticed the Letty/Lotty, iodine, beads, burnt table, switch of lights - I was trying to remember which of the books this was and those dropped clues reminded me how this one was resolved.

    3. If your first time, or if you can remember your first time, reading it, which clues did you pick up on, and which did you not notice? And did anyone work out whodunnit from the clues? The first time was so long ago I'm not sure how much I recognised the first time around. I read my first Christie aged 7 or 8, and was allowed to keep reading them as a preteen and young teenager, so what I absorbed and what I understood has changed through the years.

    4. If you have read other Agatha Christies, are there any that you find have particular things in common with this book? Did reading this remind you of other Agatha Christie books, or even other books of the time by other authors?
    I was initially trying to remember if this was After the Funeral, which has some similar themes, I didn't link it so strongly with The Mirror Crack'd.

    5. What did you think of the characters? Were there any that you felt particularly drawn to, who you enjoyed, or liked, or found entertaining? Were there any that you didn't like, or found boring, or poorly portrayed? And did your feelings about any characters change over the course of the novel?
    The characters reminded me of a lot of other books written about this time or about the period, where there was a certain brittleness and forced stiff upper lip. Also much uncertainty.

    Others have commented on the number of people hiding their identity, but I suspect that was a far more common thing in the 1950s. Lots of other stories by different authors have characters who lift an ID card from someone else's body, leaving their original identity behind, going on to change their lives. Missing paperwork was something everyone just had to live with: my father has no birth certificate because it went up in smoke with the firing of the records office in Cairo when the British retreated in the face of Rommel, along with most of my grandfather's army records. He's not the only one as many, many records offices were bombed or fire damaged.

    That attitude to Mitzi, much though I didn't like it, echoed on into the 60s and 70s: I have echoes of "Don't make such a fuss!" ringing through my head, because the English were phlegmatic, weren't they? PTSD was only recognised in the 1980s in the US literature, only really recognised by the British Army this century, trauma is a pretty new concept.

    Alongside this lack of official understanding of trauma I also think there was some allowance given when you met people who had changed, because you weren't sure what sort of a war they'd had and any oddities might be put down to having had a bad time. Which could have been why there wasn't much recognition that Lotty wasn't the same as Letty.

    6. Have you seen any of the TV adaptations of this book, and if so, what were your thoughts? Were there some aspects of the book you thought couldn't be portrayed effectively via film? Or any aspects of the book you thought were portrayed better via film?
    I'm not sure that this domestic murder lends itself so well to film as the period details are so easy to get wrong and jar. I can't remember if I've ever seen any adaptations of this one, but I have seen others.

    7. Was there anything you found not very believable in the story? Anything where you thought this doesn't quite work?
    I wasn't sure about some of the characterisations: Phillipa and Edmund are not the most convincing of couples at the end, she's such a wooden character without much explanation other than she's keeping things hidden and he's such a poseur that they don't seem to gel.

    @fineline's objections to Miss Marple hiding in the cupboard I'd agree with, but it's not the first or last book where Miss Marple is put in danger as part of the denouement.

    I'm less surprised about the village make up, my experience of living in villages is that although there will be many other people living in that area just getting on with the day to day living, there are likely to be only a few families that gel in this middle or upper-middle class milieu who socialise together.

    8. What were your overall thoughts and feelings about the book? Its strengths and weaknesses?
    I thought it stood up better than some of the other books I've reread recently. I've got very frustrated with attitudes in many other books written around this period, whether set then or not, because things have changed so much.
Sign In or Register to comment.