I thoroughly enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling and fancied something similarly entertaining and, well, murdery for my next read. All I could lay my hands on at short notice were the trusty Agatha Christies I’ve accumulated over the years and which are dotted about on various shelves and in various cardboard boxes around the house. Nemesis just happened to be the first one I found. It’s the last Miss Marple novel Christie wrote although I didn’t find this out until later. If I’d known beforehand I might have been careful to take my leave of dear old Marps properly and with the respect she deserves, instead of flinging the book to one side in disgust as soon as I’d finished the last sentence.
The book opens with the death of an old friend, Jason Rafiel, who apparently helped Marple solve A Caribbean Mystery a few books previously (not that I’ve read it). Rafiel kindly leaves Marple a generous gift in his will but only on the very strict condition that she solves a murder first. He clearly has a specific murder in mind, of course – not just any will do – but the will is very vague on all the essential details, like who exactly has been murdered and when and where and so on. Fortunately it transpires that Rafiel has also left Marple a ticket for a coach holiday in the southern counties so she grudgingly goes along for the ride in the hope that the subject of her investigation will make itself known during the trip.
There are, I think, some good reasons why I was so disappointed with the last of Marple’s adventures. Firstly, while I initially enjoyed the elaborate set up it didn’t really add a great deal to the plot, apart from giving the story an unusually slow start. The rest of the story felt quite sluggish, formulaic, a little tired even, and there were some vague plot holes that worried me, although I won’t go into them here in case I spoil the book for someone else. I was convinced quite early on that I’d guessed the identity of the killer and then was horrified to be proven right. I really hate it when that happens.
On a more disturbing note, at first I was quite pleased to notice that there didn’t seem to be as much of the latent xenophobia in this book compared with some of the others, although it’s true that poor Mr Caspar is briefly suspected of committing the unknown crime on no grounds whatsoever besides looking a bit foreign. Later on, however, I found the absurdly bigoted victim blaming a little hard to take. This is one of the more obvious examples of a sentiment that is repeated on a couple of occasions:
“Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape.”
If the best that can be said about a novel is that for once there’s more misogyny than racism then you’re on worrying ground.
I’m wondering whether I seem to notice these regressive views more in the Miss Marple novels or whether it’s simply the case that I’ve read more of these recently. Did Christie make Marple say this awful stuff because she was supposed to be elderly and, therefore perhaps, more likely to have some outdated and old fashioned opinions? Does it necessarily reflect Christie’s own views? I’m not sure, but I think I might stick to Poirot (whom I prefer anyway) for a bit to see if they’re any better.