A Caribbean Mystery
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Published||16 November 1964 (Collins Crime Club)|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Clocks (novel)|
|Followed by||Star Over Bethlehem and other stories|
A Caribbean Mystery is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 16 November 1964 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at sixteen shillings (16/-) and the US edition at $4.50. It features the detective Miss Marple.
Two of the major characters reappear in the novel Nemesis, published in 1971 and the last novel to be written featuring Miss Marple. Jason Rafiel reappears posthumously and his Assistant Esther Walters assists Miss Marple in the early chapters of the subsequent story.
This story takes place in the Caribbean, where Miss Marple is on holiday; her nephew paid for her to take the trip after she suffered a bout of ill health. The story starts quite slowly, and involves lots of sitting around gossiping. Miss Marple is bored and longs for something exciting to happen. She finds Major Palgrave was the man with a million stories, and everyone on holiday at the lovely Golden Palm Hotel on the Caribbean island of St. Honoré tried to avoid his long-winded stories. He approaches the elderly detective, who sits, half listening and making polite replies once in a while, until Major Palgrave starts speaking about her favourite topic: murder. He begins to tell her a rather unusual story about a man who got away with murder more than once, and when Palgrave asks her if she wanted to see a picture of a murderer, the knitting stops and she listens intently. But after he fishes through his wallet for the photo, he suddenly stops and changes the subject abruptly and rather loudly. Miss Marple looks up to see why and sees several people nearby.
The next day, when one of the maids, Victoria, finds Major Palgrave dead in his room, apparently from natural causes, Miss Marple becomes convinced Palgrave was murdered, but needs to see the photograph he was about to show her before something over her shoulder caused him to stop. Miss Marple asks Dr Graham to find it, pretending it is of her nephew. Meanwhile, she interviews the others, including Tim and Molly Kendall, owners of the hotel; the Prescotts, a clergy couple; Mr Jason Rafiel, a tycoon suffering from a weak heart and now confined to a wheelchair; Jackson, Rafiel's nurse/masseur/ attendant/valet; Esther Walters, Mr Rafiel's secretary; the vivacious American Lucky Dyson and her caring husband, Greg; and Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon. On the beach when Mr Rafiel is going for a swim, Miss Marple sees Señora de Caspearo, a woman on holiday who says she remembers Major Palgrave because he had an evil eye. Miss Marple corrects her that he actually has a glass eye, but she still says that it was evil.
Victoria informs the Kendalls she did not remember seeing the high blood pressure medication, Serenite, found on Major Palgrave's table after his death when she was tidying up in the afternoon. That night, Victoria is found stabbed to death. Molly begins having nightmares, and Miss Marple investigates. She finds Jackson in the house looking at Molly's cosmetics, who says that if belladonna were added to it, then it would cause nightmares. The next night, Tim finds Molly unconscious on the floor, apparently having taken an overdose of sleeping pills. The police are involved, and a cook, Enrico, tells them that he saw Molly holding a steak knife before going outside. Miss Marple asks the others if Major Palgrave told people about the photo. Others claim Palgrave said it was not a photo of a wife killer but rather a husband killer, leaving the elderly sleuth confused. Major Palgrave is exhumed and the autopsy reveals that he was poisoned.
At night, Tim wakes up the hotel; his wife, Molly, is missing. They find what seems to be her body, in a creek. Miss Marple arrives and realizes that it is not Molly, but Lucky; the two women resemble one another. Miss Marple wakes Mr Rafiel in the middle of the night to tell him they must prevent another death. They go to Tim and Molly Kendall's house and find Tim asking Molly to drink some wine to soothe her. Miss Marple tells Jackson to take the wine away from Tim. She shows it to Mr Rafiel, saying there is a deadly narcotic in it. She explains that Tim Kendall is the wife killer, recognised by Major Palgrave. Miss Marple had thought Palgrave saw someone on the right, where the Hillingdons and the Dysons were coming up the beach, but later she remembered that he had a glass eye so could not see on his right, but only on his left, where Tim and Molly were sitting. Tim was planning to kill his wife, but Major Palgrave recognised him and so had to be eliminated as well as Victoria, who remembered the Serenite. Tim put belladonna in Molly's cosmetics to drive her mad and lead her to commit suicide. Tim asked his wife to meet him by the creek. Molly, on her way to the meeting, had a scary vision from the belladonna and wandered off. Tim saw Lucky waiting there and mistook her for Molly and killed her. He was about to poison Molly when Miss Marple came in. Esther Walters suddenly falls to Tim's knees and insists that Tim isn't a killer. Tim shouts at her to keep quiet, asking whether she wants to get him hanged. Tim had been planning to marry Esther, after Molly's death, because he had heard that she was going to inherit a large sum of money from her employer, Jason Rafiel.
Literary significance and reception
After lukewarm reviews of her two previous novels, Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) felt that the writer was back on form in his review in The Guardian's issue of 11 December 1964: "Mrs Agatha Christie has done it again. In A Caribbean Mystery she tells the reader explicitly what is going to happen; and yet when it does, nine out of ten will be taken completely by surprise – as I was. How does she do it? For the rest, it is Miss Marple this time who is in charge of the story; and all one can guess is that the setting is a Caribbean island."
Maurice Richardson in The Observer of 15 November 1964 began, "A most encouraging return to somewhere very near her best unputdownable form. ... Suspicion nicely distributed among guests, many of them raffish adulterers. Not very hard to guess, but quite suspenseful. Good varied characterisation including a particularly excellent octogenarian tycoon." Towards the end of the year, Richardson again commented on the book in a special Books of the Year: A Personal Choice column when he said, "Agatha Christie makes one of those gratifying veteran's comebacks."
Robert Barnard: "In the tradition of all those package-tour mysteries written by indigent crime writers who have to capitalize on their meagre holidays. Nothing much of interest, but useful for illustrating the 'fluffification' of Miss Marple. Reuses a ploy from Appointment with Death."
The novel is dedicated to John Cruikshank Rose, "with happy memories of my visit to the West Indies". Christie's and Max Mallowan's friendship with John Rose started back in 1928, at the archaeological site at Ur. He was the architectural draftsman and when Max was in charge of the dig at Arpachiyah, Syria in 1932, he hired Rose to be his draftsman. Rose was Scottish, and as Christie described him, "a beautiful draughtsman, with a quiet way of talking, and a gentle humour that I found irresistible."
References in other works
The millionaire Jason Rafiel appears again, posthumously, in the novel Nemesis where he sends Miss Marple on a case specifically because of her success in solving the events related in A Caribbean Mystery.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
A 1983 US TV movie adaptation starred Helen Hayes as Miss Marple and Barnard Hughes as Mr Rafiel. The New York Times says that Miss Marple has "a carload of suspects" to figure out why her friend was killed, in this film that first aired 22 October 1983.
A BBC TV adaptation starring Joan Hickson was shown in 1989 as part of the series Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, with Donald Pleasence co-starring as Mr Rafiel. Few changes were made from the novel: the Prescotts and Señora de Caspearo were omitted, Miss Marple holidayed on Barbados rather than the fictional island of "St Honoré" (interestingly the name Honoré reappears as the fictional main town in the BBC series Death in Paradise that began airing in 2011), and the blood pressure medication was renamed Tetrauwolfide. The production was made and aired after the production of Nemesis, leading to some viewer confusion. In the earlier production, the part of Jason Rafiel was portrayed by Frank Gatliff, rather than Donald Pleasence.
In 2014 the book was adapted for the sixth series of ITV's Agatha Christie's Marple, starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple and co-starring Antony Sher as Jason Rafiel, Oliver Ford Davies as Major Palgrave, and Robert Webb and Charity Wakefield as the Kendalls. The characters are much the same as in the novel, and the location is the same. At the end, Tim tries to shoot Molly rather than poison her, but the bullets of the gun have been removed.
- 1964, Collins Crime Club (London), 16 November 1964, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1965, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 245 pp
- 1966, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 157 pp
- 1966, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, 176 pp
- 1976, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 316 pp
- 1979, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 256 pp; ISBN 0-00-231072-4
- 1979, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 256 pp
- 2006, Marple Facsimile edition (Facsimile of 1964 UK first edition), 6 March 2006, Hardcover; ISBN 0-00-720857-X
- 2008, Indian Version (ASIAN); ISBN 978-0-00-729961-4 Odyssey RS. 150
The novel was serialised in the Star Weekly Novel, a Toronto newspaper supplement, in two abridged instalments from 16 to 23 January 1965, with each issue containing an uncredited cover illustration.
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- Iles, Francis (11 December 1964). "Review". The Guardian. p. 9.
- The Observer, 15 November 1964 (p. 26)
- Richardson, Maurice (20 December 1964). "Review". The Observer. p. 7.
- "Review". Daily Mirror. 21 November 1964. p. 22.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 190. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- "Agatha Christie-A Caribbean mystery". Archived from the original on 8 June 2000. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
- Erickson, Hal. "A Caribbean Mystery (1983)". New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
- A Caribbean Mystery at the official Agatha Christie website
- A Caribbean Mystery (1983) at the Internet Movie Database
- A Caribbean Mystery (1989) at the Internet Movie Database
- A Caribbean Mystery ((21 Sep. 2014) at the Internet Movie Database