Nemesis (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: UK: Collins, November 1971; US: Dodd Mead, 1971

In the last Miss Marple detective story, a sequel to the 1965 A Caribbean Mystery, an elderly and rheumatic Miss Marple is an unlikely Nemesis. Employed (with money) by the late Mr. Rafiel, she finds herself a passenger on a coach tour of “Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Britain,” where she suspects everybody of something or other, her suspicions confirmed when a member of the party is crushed by a rock.

As with all late Christie novels, the pace is very leisurely, and there are too many digressions; although Miss Marple had been forbidden by her doctor from gardening, somebody should have done some pruning to the book. The dialogue is often as dithery as Miss Marple herself, circumlocutory, digressive, and prone to errors, which reveals the author’s growing senility.

The plot is a rehash of The Body in the Library and the posthumously-published Sleeping Murder, but weaker than both. There are too few suspects for any mystification to be attempted, and there is little actual detection. Instead of applying logic, Miss Marple achieves her results by what she describes as “feeling … based on a kind of emotional reaction or susceptibility to—well, I can only call it atmosphere.”

There are, however, clues, so this isn’t a repeat performance of The Amazing Psychic Jane Nemesis, Elderly Spinster and Clairvoyante Extraordinaire, who made her highly unwelcome appearance in 4:50 from Paddington and Greenshaw’s Folly.

The book bears more than a passing resemblance to the works of Gladys Mitchell (“De gustibus non est disputandum;—that is, there is no disputing against HOBBY-HORSES; and, for my part, I seldom do”). The coach-tour / travelogue setting is a commonplace in Gladys Mitchell novels; the emphasis on unburying a crime hidden in the past and the presence of a psychiatric advisor to the Home Office are all Mitchell traits. The lawyer Brodribb is clearly a reference to R. Austin Freeman.

Blurb (identical in UK and US)

Christie - Nemesis UK.jpg

“Our code word my dear lady, is Nemesis.

Miss Jane Marple sat in the big armchair by the fireplace in her house at St. Mary Mead, and repeated the sentence softly under her breath.

It was part of a letter—an unusual letter from an unusual man.  The man who had written the letter was dead.  She had read the announcement of his death more than a week ago.

 Nemesis…  The word brought a picture before her eyes.  Tropical palms—a blue Caribbean sea—and herself running through the warm fragrant night on the island of St. Honore to ask for help.  To get help in time so that a life could be saved.

She had insisted—had demanded—help, and the word that had come to her lips that night had been Nemesis.

Now she herself was being asked for help—for a reason she did not know—in a matter of which she was ignorant!  The whole thing was impossible, quite impossible—and yet…

What possible qualifications could she have—?  Again a certain sentence came back: “You, my dear, have a natural flair for Justice.  I want you to investigate a crime.  I see you in my mind’s eye as I saw you once one night as I rose from sleep disturbed by your urgency enveloped in a cloud of pink knitting wool!”  Miss Marple looked down at her knitting.

The letter had ended with a quotation from the Book of Amos:

Let justice roll down like waters

And Righteousness like an everlasting stream.

“It doesn’t sound at all like me,” said Miss Marple doubtfully.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (12th November 1971): Pleasant to meet old Miss Marple again, an old, old lady now, of course, and a rather garrulous old, old lady, apt to repeat herself, but still capable, at a dead man’s behest, of taking what looks like a cultural but turns out to be a mystery coach tour, and on it to discover what the dead benefactor hoped she would, knowing that a scent for evil was still, in the evening of her days, her peculiar gift.

Best Sell (15th December 1971, 120w): [This] may be slow-paced, but the old charm is there and a good deal of the old magic in plotting, too.

Sat R (25th December 1971, 70w): Miss Christie’s idea is intriguing, but the plot ambles so slowly and all involved are so talky that the book can safely be recommended only to insomniacs.