A Caribbean Mystery (Agatha Christie)

  • By Agatha Christie
  • First published: UK: Collins, November 1964; US: Dodd Mead, 1965

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This book feels modern and racy, for Christie.  Sex mentioned on the first two pages, half the characters are up to their necks in murder and adultery, and others suffer from nervous breakdowns or the effects of drugs. With its Caribbean (West Indies) setting, it’s more like Dr. No than Murder on the Orient Express.

Miss Marple has spent her life investigating her neighbours’ peccadilloes, so takes this all in her stride.  Dithering all the while, she concentrates on the murder of a retired soldier who may have identified a fellow guest as a murderer.  At the end, she sheds her air of ineffectuality and becomes a rather improbable Nemesis.

The book is very short for Christie, almost novella-length rather than novel, but the short length means it moves quickly.  The last thirty pages are urgent, something lacking from the more rambling, incoherent and progressively senile later works.

Blurb (UK)

Christie - A Caribbean Mystery.JPG

Miss Marple is on a holiday at the Golden Palm Hotel in the island of St. Honoré.  She is enjoying herself, yet there is something lacking.  At least in St. Mary Mead there was always something going on, something one could get one’s teeth into.

Miss Marple listens politely to Major Palgrave’s boring stories of his early life in Kenya – or at any rate pretends to listen.  She is not paying much attention when he starts telling her about a murderer he has known; and when he reaches in his wallet to show Miss Marple a snapshot of that murderer, he is suddenly interrupted.  Murder follows.

In this new full length novel the clues and keys to the murderer’s identity are fairly – one might even say ostentatiously – paraded in front of the reader.  Yet we believe it will be a very perceptive reader who observes and interprets them correctly.  Most of the large number of readers of A Caribbean Mystery will in the end ask themselves how they could have been so stupid – or how Mrs. Christie could have fooled them once again.

This is yet another dazzling tour-de-force from the greatest crime novelist of our time.

(US blurb is similar.)

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Miss Marghanita Laski, 19th November 1964): Poor old Miss Marples (just how old is she by the way?), not so nippy on her pins now, but still indefatigably unmasking murderers and now exercising her talents in a Caribbean hotel.  The story is simply but fairly clued and the solution not too easily guessable.

Best Sell (15th September 1965, 60w): Sets the scene of her latest adventure of Miss Marple in the Caribbean, on an island where a number of people are gathered in a hotel run by Tim and Molly Kendal.  A garrulous old Major dies suspiciously and that leads to another and another murder until Miss Marple remembers in the nick of time the detail which turns the whole case around.

New Yorker (25th September 1965, 150w): Miss Marple, almost as spry as in former days, is on holiday from her home parish of St. Mary Mead, and she has brought her knitting with her.  The murderer continues with his manoeuvres, but of course he hasn’t a chance.  And as always when we read a book by Agatha Christie, we think, What on earth would we do without this talented, vigorous lady?

The Saturday Review (Sergeant Cuff, 25th September 1965): Miss Marple, elderly English amateur sleuth, takes her knitting to a Windward (or is it a Leeward?) Island and solves a murder.  Smooth as silk.

NY Times Bk R (Anthony Boucher, 17th October 1965, 70w): The plot is conventional (who erased the garrulous major who thought he recognised an unpunished murderer), but the details are handled with that exquisitely smooth technique that is uniquely Mrs. Christie’s.

Observer (Maurice Richardson): Plenty of suspense and grips tight all the way.  And for liveliness of setting and characters and that peculiarly infectious zest which makes for her special brand of hyper-readability, it’s really almost as good as anything she has done.  I’ve never known Miss Marple in better shape.