Opening sentence:“Gwenda Reed stood, shivering a little, on the quayside.”
To give it its full title – Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple’s Last Case is, ironically, my first ever Miss Marple read. But why start with her final book, you ask? Well… I assure you there is method to my madness! I decided 2019 would be the year I read a lot more Agatha Christie, so I’m taking part in a digital Agatha Christie book club. Maidens of Murder select one book per month, then we all discuss it on their Instagram page at the end of the month. I haven’t read any of the 12 books they selected, so knew it was an ideal thing to do and THAT is why my first Miss Marple read is her last case – Sleeping Murder is the January book.
Here’s a great fact about this book: Agatha actually wrote both the final Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories (Curtain) during WWII (1939 – 1945) as she feared she might die in the raids. As it was, she did not and kept writing stories for her legendary detectives. When she knew – in the late 1970s – that she would write no more, she authorised for both Poirot and Miss Marple’s last cases to be published. As it turned out, the publication year of this book – 1976 – did coincide with the year she died.
So, onto Sleeping Murder: Set in 1930s, newly-married New Zealander Gwenda Reed comes to England and sets about looking for a home to buy with her husband, Giles. She is drawn to a house in Plymouth that feels so comfortable to her it is almost familiar: “I hope, thought Gwenda uneasily, that I’m not clairvoyant or anything…” In fact, Gwenda has been there before and in remembering why, she also digs up some terrifying memories relating to a murder that happened in the house many years before. But with no real proof and only her gut feeling to go on, how can Gwenda prove what happened? Luckily, through an acquaintance, Gwenda meets Miss Marple, who is ready to help her get to the bottom of the mystery.
Jane Marple doesn’t have Poirot’s policing credentials, she is not an official in any way, she is a sharp lady who has impeccable instincts and wants to help her friends Gwenda and Giles out. When it comes to a case like this though, she has very clear ideas: ‘”let sleeping murder lie.’ Said Miss Marple firmly.’ Funnily enough, Gwenda and Giles do not take Miss Marple’s advice, which they might regret…
As my first Miss Marple read, this was my introduction to her character and methods and I was charmed by her. The book was very similar to Poirot’s stories in structure and tone, but I don’t mind that at all. There is something so comforting about Agatha Christie’s tone of voice (ironic given the mainly murder-related subject matter) that I want that familiar feeling whenever I pick up one of her novels. Agatha’s trademark dry wit is well and present and once again she does not let me down with her clever, well-written story and crisply executed characters. I would say that considering this is Miss Marple’s last case, there is no air of finality about it, it could have been any murder mystery in a sequence: I don’t mean that as a criticism though, just an observation.
Overall, I loved my first foray in Miss Marple’s stories and can’t wait to crack on with some more. Also, special mention for this amazing cover. It’s the original first edition cover, published in 1976 and I don’t think I’ve ever before seen one that sums up the decade of publication so well!
Published by Collins, The Crime Club 1976 / 224 pages