Sunday, November 16, 2014

Did Loose Lips Sink Caribbean Ship?

Sometimes I think Agatha Christie would have a case of wanderlust, and that was what inspired some of her stories. I mean, if she couldn't be somewhere, at least she could write about it.

Anyway, I have always suspected that the book that was published 50 years ago today — "A Caribbean Mystery" — originated that way. After all, she was in her 70s — which isn't too old for many people who want to travel today, but 50 years ago might have been a different story.

The fact that the story took place in an exotic locale really isn't unusual. Christie did that frequently — and for a variety of reasons. What was unusual about "A Caribbean Mystery" was not the setting but the detective who was there.

Christie's most popular detective, Hercule Poirot, spoke frequently of wanting to retire to some place in the country and raise vegetables in a rather serene setting, but he was always being pulled away by a murder some place, and he went there by plane, train and ship. Poirot truly was a world traveler.

Miss Marple, on the other hand, was a real homebody. She seldom strayed from her quaint little English village — to her, an extensive trip generally meant an outing to London for one reason or another or going on a bus tour of historic homes and gardens in Britain. She almost never went to the European continent, let alone the other hemisphere.

Yet Miss Marple was the detective in "A Caribbean Mystery." Go figure, huh? Miss Marple wasn't her most popular detective. It would make sense to put her most popular detective in a place like the Caribbean.

So how did Miss Marple wind up in the Caribbean? Well, her nephew paid her way. Her health hadn't been good, and the idea was that she would recover faster in the warm Caribbean than in cold, dreary England.

Much like Miss Marple herself, the plot sort of plodded along for awhile. Eventually, even the gossip that Miss Marple engaged in so easily became tiring, and Miss Marple was bored.

Then, as so often happened in Christie's stories — especially, it seemed, the ones that featured Miss Marple — the pace picked up quickly, almost without warning. The bored Miss Marple got into a conversation with a rather long–winded major, who failed to keep Miss Marple's interest until he brought up the subject of murder. Then he told Miss Marple a tale about a murderer who got away with it — several times. He asked Miss Marple if she would like to see a picture of this murderer. That got her full attention. But as he was looking through his wallet for the picture, he abruptly (and loudly) changed the subject, apparently after seeing something behind Miss Marple.

The next day, a maid found the major dead in his room. The death appeared to be due to natural causes, but Miss Marple was convinced that he had met with foul play. If she could see the picture he had started to show her, she might get an idea. When he changed the subject the day before, she looked around to see if anyone behind her had caused him to do so, and she had seen several people standing nearby. Perhaps the picture would contain a clue ...

Thus began a Caribbean mystery. Before it was done, there were several deaths — and a few red herrings. It wouldn't have been an Agatha Christie mystery without those.

And, after the major's body was exhumed and an autopsy was performed, it was determined that Miss Marple had been right. His death was not due to natural causes. He had been poisoned.

It was a good read. I thought it was a conventional plot that would be unremarkable in the hands of almost anyone else, but the details were handled in a style that was Christie's — and Christie's alone.