esoterica/blather
Stuff I've learned over the three-day weekend:

The Great Christie Read 2010 conclusion

I decided to read At Bertram's Hotel (1965) before A Caribbean Mystery (1964,) so I could read the latter in conjunction with Nemesis (1971.) Nemesis is a sort of follow-up story to A Caribbean Mystery, though in no way a sequel. 

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While reading Nemesis, the penultimate Miss Marple story, it struck me more than ever that this should have been her last. The actual final story, Sleeping Murder (1976; it was being prepared for publication when Christie died,) is excellent. But it (along with Hercule Poirot's final story, Curtain,) was written over 30 years before it was published, when Agatha Christie was younger, and the world was not very sure of where it was headed. That made a great difference in the main character's role in the story. 

I love how, in Nemesis, Miss Marple is wistful about the changes she'd encountered during what was to be her final stay at Bertram's Hotel, as she heads toward her more reasonably-priced abode for the night. And I love how the end of that story puts a lovely period on her career, setting her up beautifully for however many remaining days she has left to enjoy. 

Sleeping Murder is a great story. Miss Marple provides a role I think Christie believed would make sense when she wrote it; that of elder counselor. But what's fantastic about Nemesis (though I do not say it is a better book,) is that Miss Marple is the most active she ever got to be, throughout all her stories. I'm always really excited for her as she goes along, not as sure of what's going to happen next as she always was back in St. Mary Mead. And in the end, a real triumph and reward. 

Similarly, I sometimes wonder if Elephants Can Remember, Hercule Poirot's penultimate case, might have made a better final case. I understand why Christie wrote Curtain as she did. Thirty years earlier, she was wondering what could cause Poirot to act out of character in a way that would be shocking but positive. But by the time it was published, shortly before her death, the world had undergone such material change, it might have stood more satisfactorily if Poirot himself had remained unchanged. 

Curtain (1975) isn't as good as Sleeping Murder. It's not necessarily as good as Elephants Can Remember, depending on how you like your murder mysteries. It's not bad, though. When it came out, my mother was very much upset by the ending, insisting Poirot, the Poirot she knew, could never behave in such a manner. For me, the first read as a teenager in the 80s was shocking. Reading it again last week, I had to be more philosophical about it. People can, and do, change in these ways. They can be driven to commit acts no one would think them capable of. Who knew that better than Agatha Christie? Still, throughout Elephants Can Remember, written much later, you get a sense that the entire thing is a metaphor for our nostalgia toward her books, perhaps even a bit of her own, though she was tired of writing them by then. That's illustrated by Ariadne Oliver's role in solving the mystery, and the fact that it, like the initial murders in Sleeping Murder and Postern of Fate, took place many years in the past. 

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Postern of Fate (1974,) the final Tommy and Tuppence book, has a poor reputation. I think that's not quite deserved. It's not a great book. But it's a neat Tommy and Tuppence story. The worst thing about it to me is that they, like Miss Marple and Monsieur Poirot, are not as old as they would have to be after so much passage of time. But in their case, we know how much real time has passed, rather than just sensing the vague eras the others pass through, so it's harder to reconcile. However, it does a beautiful job of portraying nostalgia, bringing the Beresfords back to the time period in which they first met, and tying it all together with Tuppence's (and Christie's) love of old childhood books. Ultimately, I find it a satisfactory conclusion to their story, more so as I grow older myself. 

Now, on to Nero Wolfe. But that's another country, another sensibility, another post. 

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