It’s always a joy to find that one of our club weeks is a year which contains some Agatha Christie titles (and she had such a long writing career that it’s often the case!). I’m a lifelong lover of her books, and so frankly any excuse for a revisit suits me. 1976 is a particularly poignant year, however, as Christie had sadly died in the January; and so the posthumous release of “Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple’s Final Case” was something of an occasion. I still have my original paperback, bought at the time, and picking it up was a bit of a trip into the past.

“Sleeping Murder”, like “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” which had been released shortly before Christie’s death, had actually been written some decades before publication. During World War 2, because of the precariousness of life, Christie had written the last stories of her two great detectives in case she didn’t make it through the conflict. In the end, of course, she did, so the two stories were kept on standby until the 1970s. This potentially throws up some contradictions, but Miss Marple’s final outing is a joy from start to finish.

The book opens with a young woman, Gwenda Reed, arriving in the UK from her home of New Zealand in search of a house. Recently married to Giles, who will follow her soon, she’s excited to be making a new life in a new country. Chance (or fate?) leads her to a house called Hillside which feels instantly as if it will be home. Having bought the house and moved in, Gwenda begins to get her home ready for her husband’s arrival. However, as she explores Hillside, she has a number of uncanny experiences where she appears to know things about the house of which she can’t possibly be aware. Making her escape to London for a break, she stays with the novelist Raymond West and his wife; and it is on a visit to the theatre that some words from a play trigger a vision of a murder from the past. Is it real or imaginary? Fortunately, West’s Aunt Jane is on hand to help investigate and find a solution – although her advice from the start is to “let sleeping murder lie”, as a number of revelations could spell danger…

   ‘You are two very nice and charming young people (if you will allow me to say so). You are newly married and are happy together. Don’t, I beg of you, start to uncover things that may – well, that may – how shall I put it? – that might upset and distress you.’
Gwenda stared at her. ‘You’re thinking of something special – of something – what is it you’re hinting at?’
‘Not hinting, dear. Just advising you (because I’ve lived a long time and I know how very upsetting human nature can be) to let well alone. That’s my advice: let well alone.’

More I will not say because too much revealing of this plot in advance would really spoil the reading of it! Christie is an author who never disappoints me, and although her later works didn’t quite reach the high standard of her early ones, I always enjoy them. However, “Sleeping…” *is* in fact an early work as it was written during the 1940s, and the plotting and atmosphere is excellent. The book features one of my favourite Christie tropes, that of the investigation of a murder in the past which just won’t go away; and the extra element of mystery behind Gwenda’s background as well as her almost supernatural reaction to a house she’s never seen before add little frissons of terror at times – Christie really could add those little spooky touches so well.

As for the murder and the solution, I had a faint glimmering of who the killer was as I read on through the book, and I suspect this is a memory of previous revisits rather than any great detecting abilities on my behalf. “Sleeping Murder” has a complex and often dark plot, with hints of some most unpleasant undercurrents, and a really nasty killer. The denouement is very satisfying, Miss Marple a wonderful sleuth as always, and the book features little cameos of St. Mary Mead and Jane Marple’s friends, all of which rounds things off nicely. There *is* an oddity in that one short paragraph or two which open a chapter were later re-used in a Tommy and Tuppence mystery; this was much later in Christie’s writing career and so it may be that she just liked the piece and re-used it, or it may be that she had forgotten. It plays no real part in the Marple story, but is pivotal to the T&T mystery so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

So, a wonderful start to the #1976Club reading week! I raced through “Sleeping Murder” with much enjoyment and happiness – Golden Age crime is always my comfort reading, and Christie always a treat. “Sleeping Murder” was a fine way for Miss Marple to bow out; clever, sometimes chilling, eminently readable and a great reminder that you should never take older women for granted… Let’s hope the rest of 1976’s books are this good! 😀