Monday, 7 December 2015

A Christmas Tragedy by Agatha Christie



short story from the collection The Thirteen Problems/ The Tuesday Night Murders


book first published 1932, story first published 1930


 
Thirteen Problems xmas tragedy



[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.















16 comments:

  1. Nice spot about the name Gladys, Moira! Just great, and I agree with you. As to this story, there is just something about it that invites you to go along with it, even though, as you show so well, there are things about it that might make you shake your head. There's just something that...works. Certainly part of it is Miss Marple's personality and observation. I have a sneaking liking for that...

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    1. I'll be making notes of Gladys-es from now on Margot. And yes, there is something good about this story, slight though it is.

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  2. Yes, Moira - and Margot - ludicrous murder plan, but so readable and clever - and rather poignant, too.

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    1. Yes Chrissie - the clues are good, and that final comment by the actress is rather affecting, isn't it?

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  3. A Christmas Tragedy.... it would be if I had to read it!

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    1. I'm sure you can finding someone having a hard-boiled Xmas somewhere else, Col.

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  4. Thanks so much for the shout-out, Moira. I'm not sure that the Miss Marple of this early tale is the same Miss Marple we meet later, since she plays those pronouncements so close to the vest. (But I remember, in The Murder in the Vicarage, that she seems to know the murderer's identity from the start and is flummoxed when proven wrong - maybe this story is the antecedent to that longer tale!)

    I'm working on a piece for the holidays about family's in Christie, and I've noticed that the name "Emily" seems to be the high class equivalent to Gladys in terms of luck. I'm holding a special thought to all the Emilys and Gladyses out there! :)

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    1. Oh great observation on Emilys, I look forward to hearing about that. Young beautiful Irishwomen - usually widows - don't have much of a time of it either do they?

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  5. Moira, I'm hoping to read a Christie before year-end. She's the kind of author one must read every year. By the way, that's a beautiful portrait, in oils I think.

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    1. It is a lovely picture isn't it? And I look forward to your reviewing something by Christie.

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  6. I still have read no Christie short stories. I think I might like to start with Hercule Poirot stories. I do have this book though.

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    1. I want to say this isn't her best, but there is something quite affecting and memorable about it all the same....

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    2. I was thinking about short stories and Agatha Christie and it occurred to me all of a sudden that of course I have read some of her short stories... I read Partners in Crime which is linked short stories but still... I liked some, did not like others. Typical of a book of short stories, I guess.

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    3. I would say that is the worst of her collections - push on to some others Tracy!

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    4. And I just posted a short story challenge and did not include any of her short stories. Well, I do plan to read others this year. Maybe I will try the Parker Pyne stories.

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    5. They're among my very favourites, though not to everyone's tastes.

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