Nemesis by Agatha Christie


Read January 2017
Recommended for fans of Miss Marple
First published 1964
 ★     ★    1/2   

Nemesis. For such an ominous title, Christie presents a rather philosophically reserved and sedentary work. Miss Marple of the pink fluffy wool and knitting needles, has been left a bequest by Mr. Rafiel, the debilitated rich man she met during A Caribbean Mystery. The bequest is conditional; she must investigate and elucidate a certain happening within a year. No more information is provided. The premise intrigues her and she accepts the challenge. She takes some small steps on her own, although she also receives a brief post-mortem letter from him, containing little more detail except that he would like to send her on a particular coach countryside tour.

It’s a mildly-intriguing set-up where the reader and Miss Marple are in similar straights, waiting to discover what the mystery is. Unfortunately, it is very slow going, and because Miss Marple is unsure of her task, much of her conversations are fishing for information, but what sort of catch? It is a very internally-based story, relying on Miss Marple’s internal dialogue, and the sharing of long stories with various characters. It occurs to me that it is about the exact opposite of another recent read, Dark Matter, which had frantic pacing and a staccato narrative. Take, for instance, the first part of this paragraph from Miss Marple:

“Mr. Rafiel had made arrangements. Arrangements, to begin with, with his lawyers. They had done their part. At the right interval of time they had forwarded to her his letter. It had been, she thought, a well-considered and well-thought-out letter. It would have been simpler, certainly, to tell her exactly what he wanted her to do and why he wanted it done. She was surprised in a way that he had not, before his death, sent for her, probably in a somewhat peremptory way and more or less lying on what he would have assured her was his deathbed, and would then have bullied her until she consented to do what he was asking her. But no, that would not really have been Mr. Rafiel’s way, she thought. He could bully people, none better, but this was not a case for bullying, and he did not with either, she was sure, to appeal to her, to beg her to do him a favour, to urge her to redress a wrong. No. That again would not have been Mr. Rafiel’s way. He wanted, she thought, as he had probably wanted all his life, to pay for what he required. He wanted to pay her and therefore he wanted to interest her enough to really enjoy doing certain work.”

It goes on this way for another ten to twelve sentences, as she mentally works her way through interpretations of Mr. Rafiel’s motivations and plans. But you can see this is rather sleepy stuff, that we are mostly inside Miss Marple’s head as she speculates and dissects the situation. It picks up a little bit when she’s invited to a house part-way through the trip, but the dialogue gives only some respite, as many times she employs her nattering, ditzy elderly persona to elicit more information. She talks to a man with the Home Office and another man with the Church and listens to their stories as well as their views on the psychology of the crime.

The setting was nicely developed; I certainly felt like I was on a rather dull coach tour with a bunch of tourists. The gardens, the surface conversations between strangers, the options for the hardy and the elderly all captured that bus tour feeling. Eventually there is a mild atmosphere of oppression, much like the air outside before a mild storm, but nothing quite suffocating. Nothing worth of the ‘nemesis’ label. The denouement is a bit… anti-climactic, and to make it worse, it is a trick used by Miss M. before.

It occurs to me that despite the inner dialogue, I don’t remember very much about Miss M. personally, which is a shame. Still, it was mildly interesting putting the pieces together, even if I did have the tendency to nod off from time to time. I’m totally sure it was me. Mostly. Partly. But I always enjoy a little bit of Miss M. from time to time–after all, after Nancy Drew, she is the female investigator I’ve known the longest.



About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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