Robertson’s Reads: Nemesis by Agatha Christie
“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… Now she herself was being asked for help…”
Oh how I love the official Agatha Christie Book of the Month! Agatha Christie’s Nemesis (like most of her other novels) is an instant classic. The follow-up to A Caribbean Mystery, Nemesis centres around everyone’s favourite old aunt, Miss Marple, and though now deceased, her unlikely friendship with millionaire Jason Rafiel.
When Miss Marple receives a postcard from Mr. Rafiel (whom she met on St. Honore in A Caribbean Mystery), he is posthumously asking for her assisting in looking at an unspecified crime. If she’s able to solve the crime, she is set to inherit £20,000 (so who wouldn’t be interested at this point?!). Mr. Rafiel leaves Miss Marple clues along way, and she follows the arrangements he made previous to his death. First up is a tour of famous British homes and gardens (which green thumb Miss Marple would love), a tour which Miss Marple embarks on not alone, but in the company of fourteen other characters.
Among the characters on the tour are Miss Elizabeth Templeton (a retired headmistress who has connection to the individual involved in the crime), Miss Cooke (“planted” on the garden tour by Jason Rafiel before his death to help Miss Marple), Miss Barrow (also planted to assist Miss Marple), Professor Wanstead (one of the tourists, a psychiatrist who worked with Jason Rafiel’s son), Joanna Crawford (tourist), Emlyn Price (tourist), Lavinia Glynne (a widow who lives along the garden tour route, whom Jason Rafiel has made arrangements with for Miss Marple to stay at her cottage), Clotilde Bradbury-Scott (Lavinia’s sister), Anthea Bradbury-Scott (Lavinia and Clotilde’s sister), Michael Rafiel (Jason Rafiel’s son, who is accused of murder), Verity Hunt (Michael Rafiel’s fiancé, whom Michael is accused of murdering), Archdeacon Brabazon (Miss Temple’s friend, who as it turns out, was set to secretly marry Michael and Verity), Nora Broad (dead local person whose disfigured body made her almost impossible to identify).
The trip is quite tiring, and knowing this would be the case, before his death Mr. Rafiel, made arrangements for Miss Marple to stay at a local cottage for a few days. Whilst staying with Lavinia Glynne and her sisters, Miss Marple learns that Verity came to live with the Glynnes after her parents died, and became very attached to Lavinia’s sister Clotilde. Verity was engaged (secretly married, we later learn) to Jason’s son Michael, who is now in prison, accused of murdering his fiancé.
After a few days staying with the three sisters, Miss Marple rejoins the group only to learn that her friend Miss Temple has been seriously injured during a rockslide on the hike the day previous. Miss Marple and the rest of the group add an extra night to their tour as they want to be aware of Miss Temple’s condition in hospital. Professor Wanstead (who had given a psychiatric evaluation to Michael after he was incarcerated), takes Miss Marple to the hospital to visit Miss Temple. While she’s there, Miss Marple is able to speak with the comatose Miss Temple, who awakes only for a few moments, and tells Miss Marple to look for Verity Hunt. Miss Temple dies later that night.
Miss Marple makes the decision not to continue on the tour, and instead accepts an invitation from Lavinia Glynne and her sisters to stay with them. On her first night back with the sisters, Miss Marple learns more about Verity. She’s also visited by the Archdeacon Brabazon during an inquiry into the death of Miss Temple. The Archdeacon informs Miss Marple that he was set to marry Verity Hunt and Michael Rafiel in a secret ceremony, which he only agreed to because he could see how in love the two were. When neither showed up or gave word of their absence on the day he was to marry them, the Archdeacon was very surprised. After relaying the Archdeacon’s story with the sisters, Miss Marple’s new friends Miss Barrow and Miss Cooke stop by the house to speak with Miss Marple, and that evening they come back again for coffee.
Over coffee, the group also discusses the circumstances surrounding the death of Miss Temple. Miss Marple doesn’t have any of the coffee, but instead accepts a glass of warm milk made by sister Clotilde. She doesn’t drink the milk, and it’s a good thing as in the middle of the night when Clotilde enters Miss Marple’s room to kill her, Miss Marple surprises her by being awake, and accuses Clotilde of indeed being the murderer of Verity Hunt and also Nora Broad, and engineering the circumstances to frame Michael Rafiel. As Clotilde tries to silence Miss Marple, she is accosted by Miss Barrow and Miss Cooke, the bodyguards Jason Rafiel hired to protect Miss Marple. Clotilde drinks the poisoned milk herself.
After Michael Rafiel is set free, and once she’s satisfied that she’s solved the mystery, Miss Marple collects the inheritance left to her by Jason Rafiel.
While critics never claimed Nemesis to be one of Christie’s best — even though the novel is a mystery full of characters and plenty of twists and turns — it is a Christie classic that once again showcases sweet Miss Marple as the heroine detective.
Purchase Nemesis by Agatha Christie on Amazon