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 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Preceded by||The Clocks|
|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 reviewers at the time the novel was published said that Agatha Christie was returning to the top of her form. A critic writing in 1990 judged this plot to be standard fare for any writer who travels to the Caribbean and needs double duty out of a vacation.
Two of the major characters reappear in the novel Nemesis, published in 1971. Jason Rafiel reappears posthumously, and his assistant Esther Walters assists Miss Marple in the early chapters of the subsequent story.
This story takes place at the Golden Palm resort on the Caribbean island of St Honoré. Miss Marple's nephew has paid for her to holiday there after a bout of ill health. She speaks with Major Palgrave, a well-travelled man with many stories to share. She sits, half listening, until Palgrave tells a story about a man who got away with murder more than once. When Palgrave asks her if she wants to see a picture of a murderer, she listens intently - but after he looks in his wallet for the photo, he suddenly changes the subject. Miss Marple looks up to see why and spots several people nearby.
The next day, when the maid Victoria finds Major Palgrave dead in his room, Miss Marple is convinced he was murdered. She asks Dr Grahame to find the photo he mentioned, pretending it is of her nephew. Meanwhile, she interviews the others: Tim and Molly Kendal, owners of the hotel; the Prescotts, a clergyman and his sister; Mr Jason Rafiel, a tycoon confined to a wheelchair; Jackson, his nurse/masseur/attendant/valet; Esther Walters, his secretary; the American Lucky Dyson and her husband, Greg; and Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon. On the beach, 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 had a glass eye, but she still says that it was evil.
Victoria informs the Kendals that she did not remember seeing the high blood pressure medication, Serenite, in Major Palgrave's room before his death, although it was found on his table after his death. That night, Victoria is found stabbed to death. Molly begins having nightmares. Miss Marple finds Jackson looking at Molly's cosmetics who says that if belladonna were added to it, it would cause nightmares. The following night, Tim finds Molly unconscious on the floor, apparently having taken an overdose of sleeping pills. The police are involved, and the cook, Enrico, tells them 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 a husband killer. Major Palgrave is exhumed and the autopsy reveals that he was poisoned.
At night, Tim wakes up to find his wife is missing. They find what seems to be her body in a creek, but it turns out to be Lucky; the two women resemble one another. Miss Marple wakes Mr Rafiel and they go to Tim and Molly Kendal's house. There they find Tim offering Molly some wine. Miss Marple tells Jackson to take the wine away. She shows it to Mr Rafiel, saying there is a deadly narcotic in it. She explains that Tim is the wife killer, recognised by Major Palgrave. Miss Marple had thought Palgrave saw the Hillingdons and the Dysons on his right as they were coming up the beach, but later realised that he had a glass eye on the right so he could not have seen them. Tim and Molly were sitting on his left. Tim was planning to kill his wife and so had to kill Major Palgrave when he recognised him. He also killed Victoria, who remembered the Serenite. Tim put belladonna in Molly's cosmetics to make her appear mad to the others. Tim had asked his wife to meet him by the creek, but Molly had been distracted by a vision due to the belladonna and wandered off. Tim saw Lucky and mistook her for Molly. He was about to poison Molly when Miss Marple came in.
Esther Walters suddenly insists that Tim is not a killer. Tim shouts at her to keep quiet. He 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 Jason Rafiel.
Miss Marple: An elderly spinster detective with an eye for detail and unexpected clues, with a "mind like a sink". She is sent on a Caribbean holiday by her nephew.
Major Palgrave: An elderly, garrulous man with a glass eye who tells stories from past, some of which stories have photographs or news clips to illustrate them.
Tim Kendal: A man in his thirties married to Molly Kendal, who marries her using false references and starts the hotel with her, using her money.
Molly Kendal: Tim's pretty young wife who starts the hotel where the story takes place with him. She eventually believes she has fallen mentally ill and confides it to Evelyn, although her symptoms are the result of being poisoned.
Jason Rafiel: A cantankerous old man with a large fortune and an unexpectedly kind spirit, who takes a shine to Miss Marple.
Esther Walters: Jason Rafiel's secretary, (the widow of a poor provider) with a child at school in England.
Victoria: A St Honoré native who is the one to discover Major Palgrave's death and the mysterious bottle of Serenite. She has a common-law marriage with two children and is the second victim to be killed.
Greg Dyson: A nature lover, who is now married to Lucky, his second wife.
Lucky Dyson: An attractive American woman who is married to Greg. She had plotted to kill his first wife, along with Edward Hillingdon, whom she tricked into guilt for his actions, and then seduced. She is the third murder victim.
Edward Hillingdon: The husband of Evelyn and an avid nature lover. He has children at a boarding school and has an affair with Lucky.
Evelyn Hillingdon: A woman who does not love her husband Edward but stays with him both for their public image and for their children.
Señora de Caspearo: A South American woman on holiday who opposes ugliness and, therefore Major Palgrave and Jason Rafiel. She remarks on Major Palgrave's glass eye as an evil eye.
Miss Prescott: An elderly woman who enjoys gossiping and has come on holiday with her brother, Canon Prescott.
Canon Prescott: Miss Prescott's brother, a member of the clergy, who dislikes his sister's gossiping.
Dr Grahame: The St Honoré doctor, slowly retiring from practice, who treats Miss Marple who pretends to be ill, cares for Molly and confirms the deaths of the murdered people.
Jackson: Mr Rafiel's valet/masseur/attendant who (by admission to Miss Marple) worked at a cosmetic company.
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 said of this novel, that it was "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."
"Throws off the false clues and misleading events as only a master of the art can do." The New York Times
The novel is dedicated to John Cruikshank Rose, "with happy memories of my visit to the West Indies". Christie and her husband Max Mallowan became friends with John Rose 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. The screenplay was credited to Sue Grafton, later a mystery writer, and Steve Humphrey.
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" (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 2013, 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 gun's bullets have been replaced with blanks. Like other episodes in the previous series, it includes characters based on real persons. One is fledgling novelist Ian Fleming, who needs a name for his spy hero. The other is ornithologist James Bond (Charlie Higson), who begins a lecture to his fellow guests by introducing himself as "...Bond, James Bond", which solves Fleming's problem. (Fleming, who was an avid bird-watcher, did take the name from the ornithologist, though they had not met.)
As with the Joan Hickson versions, Nemesis was filmed prior to A Caribbean Mystery. There are some continuity issues: in the 2009 version of Nemesis, Jason Rafiel is a German writer, but in A Caribbean Mystery, he is an English chemical manufacturer. Miss Marple does not refer to herself as Nemesis at any time in this story, despite herself and Mr Rafiel associating the name with her in Nemesis. Just like in the Joan Hickson versions, Mr Rafiel is portrayed by different actors: Antony Sher portrays him here, but in Nemesis, he makes voice appearances by Herbert Lom (who previously appeared in the 2004 version of The Murder at the Vicarage as Monsieur Dufosse).
The 1989 version is the only adaptation as of 2017 to actually be shot in the Caribbean (on location on the island of Barbados); the 1983 TV movie was shot in California, while the 2013 version was filmed in Cape Town.
- 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.
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie; Foord, Peter; Williams, Richard (March 1999). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (Second ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1871122138.
- Cooper, John; Pyke, B A (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (Second ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 87. ISBN 0-85967-991-8.
- Marcus, J S (May 2007). "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Golden Years: 1953 - 1967". Retrieved 31 July 2018.
- Iles, Francis (11 December 1964). "Review". The Guardian. p. 9.
- Richardson, Maurice (20 December 1964). "Review". The Observer. p. 7.
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 190. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- The Observer, 15 November 1964 p. 26
- "Review". Daily Mirror. 21 November 1964. p. 22.
- "Agatha Christie-A Caribbean mystery". Archived from the original on 8 June 2000. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
- "Book of the Month: A Caribbean Mystery". The Home of Agatha Christie. 1 July 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
- Ferguson, James (November–December 2014). "Death in the tropics". Caribbean Beat Magazine (Caribbean Airlines).
- Erickson, Hal. "A Caribbean Mystery (1983)". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
- A Caribbean Mysterry on IMDb