Monday, 17 June 2013

The Herb of Death by Agatha Christie

from: The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories  - story first published 1932, this collection 2003, new edition with illustrations by Andrew Davidson 2012






[Mrs Bantry is describing a house party where someone died]

‘Now the girl Sylvia...  Sylvia Keene. She was pretty – really very pretty. Fair-haired, you know, and a lovely skin. Not perhaps very clever. In fact, rather stupid.’

‘Oh! Come, Dolly,’ protested her husband…. ‘One of the most graceful creatures I ever saw. Such a pretty way with her. I bet the young fellows all thought so.’

‘That’s just where you’re wrong’ said Mrs Bantry. ‘Youth, as such, has no charms for young men nowadays. It’s only old buffers like you, Arthur, who sit maundering on about young girls.’

‘Being young’s no good’ said Jane. ‘You’ve got to have SA.’

‘Ah yes’ said Miss Marple. ‘What in my day they used to call “having the come hither in your eye.”’…

[On the day of her death] ‘It was Sylvia herself who took the [poisoned] leaves to the kitchen. It was part of her daily job to gather things like salad or herbs, bunches of young carrots – all the sort of things that gardeners never pick right...’



observations: Something of a Miss Marple festival right now, with a new TV adaptation shown last night, and an old entry recycled to match


This particular edition of her stories came from The Folio Society, a London-based organization devoted to producing beautiful books. They gave me a copy of the book and invited me to an Agatha Christie party at their wonderful HQ on the edge of Covent Garden. (I am both a highly influential book blogger and easily bought.) In fact, I have always been a fan of disposable paperbacks, and am now a convert to the Kindle.

So I surprised myself by how much I loved their books: they are not (as you might suspect) leather-bound books by the yard for personal libraries, where they will sit unread, just there for show. They are lovely, easy-to-handle, beautifully printed books: a pleasure to read, and very much aimed at real book-lovers. I suspect the Society faces a difficult time in this era of ebooks, but (again, to my surprise) I came away thinking that I hope very much that they find a new audience, and that we all should be buying copies of our particular favourite books from them (they have a huge catalogue), giving their books as gifts (my new resolution), and ensuring their survival.

Agatha Christie is a great fit for their list, and her biographer Laura Thompson gave an excellent talk at the party - her book Agatha Christie: An English Mystery is highly recommended.


The reference to Sex Appeal and Come Hither is classic Christie, and also comes up in blog favourite Love in a Cold Climate – the entry references Marple and Christie too. (As it happens, Laura Thompson also wrote a biography of Nancy Mitford.) 

At Agatha Christie's house in Devon, Greenway, you can see foxgloves (with the poisonous leaves) growing in the garden - knowing this story gives the plants a sinister air.

The picture is one of the beautiful illustrations for the book, and is used by kind permission of the Folio Society.

8 comments:

  1. I hopped on over here when I saw the title because I was not familiar with this story... probably because I am not into short stories anyway. This post is full of information. I love the Folio editions but I fear they are not easily accessible to me due to cost. Lucky you to get a free copy.

    I am interested in the biography by Laura Thompson. Thanks for the recommendation on that.

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  2. Yes I was very lucky to get this book! And I do recommend Laura Thompson's biography of Christie. It's opinionated and builds on the fiction a lot - but I think that's a good thing, and makes for a more enjoyable read than a straight list of facts.

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  3. Moira - Thank you so much for the information. I must explore that biography! And I always like to see what the different editions of these stories are like. You've reminded me of what a great character Dolly Bantry is too.

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  4. Yes Margot, great point about Dolly Bantry, she is an excellent character, it's a pity she wasn't in more books and stories. She and Miss Marple were good at playing off each other.

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  5. I will have to see how I get on with my other 2 Christie's before acquiring any more. Probably not this one in any event though.

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  6. Col, I think the stories are for completists really. The novels are where the action is, stick with them for now...

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  7. So glad you enjoyed the launch, Moira. I love the Miss Maple short stories and you've got a great picture there to illustrate it.

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  8. It was great fun Sarah - we must try to coincide at something similar sometime soon!

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