short story from the collection The Thirteen Problems/ The Tuesday Night Murders
book first published 1932, story first published 1930
[Miss Marple is describing the discovery of a body when she is spending Christmas at a hydro]
Gladys was dressed in her outdoor clothes - a big dark-red tweed coat with a grey fur collar. The hat, a cheap affair of red felt, lay just by her head.
The Inspector stood for some minutes in silence, frowning to himself….He stared round the room and said slowly, "He may have been concealed here in this room - all the time."
But I negatived that idea. I myself, I explained, looked under the bed. And the manager had opened the doors of the wardrobe. There was nowhere else where a man could hide. It is true the hat cupboard was locked in the middle of the wardrobe, but as that was only a shallow affair with shelves, no one could have been concealed there.
The Inspector nodded his head slowly whilst I explained all this.
commentary: A few crime fiction fans have formed a Tuesday Night Club to discuss some of the great writers in the genre, and having named ourselves after an Agatha Christie collection (Tuesday Club Murders – misnomer as not all the crimes are murders – in the USA, Thirteen Problems in UK) it seemed only appropriate to look at one of the stories – and, look, there is one called A Christmas Tragedy, ideal. But the Christmas-y content of this one is absolutely minimal. There is a faint connection – the hat cupboard, above, has been locked because it contains secret presents, and someone else is busy trying to choose the right thing, and needs advice – but that’s it, Christie didn’t even try to give it a festive atmosphere. The story appeared in a magazine in January 1930, so perhaps the editor didn’t think it was Christmas-y enough, either.
A Hydro, by the way, is something like a spa hotel, and they are endlessly dangerous places in fiction, from Dandy Gilver to James Bond.
It’s one of those stories where the murder plan beggars belief, but you go along with it for the cleverness and the clues and the detection. You also have to believe that Miss M can spot a bad’un even before anything has happened. So why do all those full-length novel investigations take so long? you are tempted to say. But then you forgive her because of this priceless passage regarding a maid she mistrusted:
‘She went to Lady Ashton, whom I felt no obligation to warn – and what happened? All the lace cut off her underclothes and two diamond brooches taken – and the girl departed in the middle of the night and never heard of since!’I also like her use of ‘I negatived that idea’ – I think if Julian Fellowes put that into the mouth of an old lady in 1920s Downton Abbey there would be huge cries of ‘Anachronism!’ but here it is. (The whole subject of non-anachronisms is dear to my heart – see this.)
My fellow Tuesday Night-er, Brad Friedman, has done a wonderful analysis of all the stories in the book – this is the final part, with links to the other posts – and was another inspiration to me to re-read the stories.
I have a vague feeling that characters called Gladys never come off well in Christie – I wonder if my fellow Christie fans would agree? They are always lower-class for a start. So I have made Gladys alive and given her a nice coat and hat: this is a 1925 picture by Jozsef Rippl-Ronai from the Athenaeum website.