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A Caribbean Mystery First Edition Cover 1964

Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition

A Caribbean Mystery
is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on November 16, 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.

Plot summaryEdit

"Would you like to see a picture of a murderer?", Jane Marple is asked by Major Palgrave whilst on a luxurious holiday in the Caribbean. When she replies that she would like to hear the story, he explains. There once was a man who had a wife who tried to hang herself, but failed. Then she tried again later, and succeeded in killing herself. The man remarried to a woman who then tried to gas herself to death. She failed, but then tried again later and succeeded. Just as Major Palgrave is about to show the picture to her, he looks over her shoulder, appears startled, and changes the subject. The next morning, a servant, Victoria Johnson, finds him dead in his room. Doctor Graham concludes that the man died of heart failure; he showed all the symptoms, and had a bottle of serenite (a drug for high blood pressure) on his table.

Miss Marple is convinced that Palgrave was murdered, but needs to see the photograph he was about to show her before seeing something over her shoulder that caused him to stop. She asks Doctor Graham to find it, saying it is a picture of her nephew. Meanwhile, she interviews other people, including Tim and Molly Kendall, the owners of the hotel, Mr Rafiel, an invalid, and Esther Walters, Mr. Rafiel's secretary, Lucky Dyson and her husband and Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon. On the beach when Mr Rafiel is going for a swim, Miss Marple sees Senora de Caspearo, a woman on holiday. She says that 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 that she did not remember seeing the serenite on the man's table when she was tidying up in the afternoon. That night, Victoria is found stabbed. Molly starts having nightmares every night, and Miss Marple investigates why Molly is having nightmares. She finds Jackson in the house looking at Molly's cosmetics, saying that if belladonna was administered to it, then it would cause nightmares. The next night, Tim finds Molly unconscious on the floor, having taken an overdose of sleeping pills. The police are involved, and a cook, Enrico, tells them that he saw Molly Kendall holding a steak knife before going outside. Miss Marple also asks people if Major Palgrave told people about the photo, and other people say that it was not a photo of a wife killer he said, but a husband killer and Miss Marple becomes confused.

SPOILER ALERT! DON'T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!

At night, Tim wakes up the hotel as his wife, Molly, is missing. They find what seems to be her body, in the ocean. Miss Marple arrives and tells them that it is not Molly, but Lucky; the two resemble one another. Miss Marple rudely wakes Mr Rafiel at night and tells him that they must prevent another death. They go to Tim and Molly Kendall's house and find Tim asking Molly to drink some wine as it will soothe her down. Miss Marple takes it away from him and gives it to Rafiel, saying that there was a deadly narcotic in it. She explains that Tim Kendall is the wife killer that Major Palgrave had a photo of, but saw him over Miss Marple's shoulder. Miss Marple thought that he saw someone on the right, where the Hillingdons and the Dysons were coming up the beach, but 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 recognized him and so had to be killed, and Victoria remembered the serenite so she was killed. Tim put belladonna in Molly's cosmetics to have a reason for her to commit suicide. When Molly accidentally took the sleeping pill overdose, Tim saw his chance and asked her to meet him by the pond. 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 her when Miss Marple came in. Esther Walters suddenly falls to Tim's knees and says that Tim isn't a killer. Tim shouts at her, asking whether she wants to get him hanged.

Literary significance and receptionEdit

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 a Scot, and as Christie described him, "a beautiful draughtsman, with a quiet way of talking, and a gentle humour that I found irresistible."

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 December 11, 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 November 15, 1964 began, "A most encouraging return to somewhere very near her best unputdownable form." He summed up thus: "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."

The Daily Mirror of November 21, 1964 said, "Not quite at the top of her form. A Miss Marples (sic) story which addicts won't find as unsolvable as usual.

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."

"There is no more cunning player of the murder game than Agatha Christie." — Sunday Times

"Throws off the false clues and misleading events as only a master of the art can do." New York Times

References in other worksEdit

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 adaptationsEdit

A 1983 US TV movie adaptation starred Helen Hayes as Miss Marple.

A BBC TV adaptation starring Joan Hickson was shown in 1989 version as part of the series Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Donald Pleasence co-starred as Mr. Rafiel.

This book is currently being adapted for the sixth series of 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 Kendals.

Publication historyEdit

  • 1964, Collins Crime Club (London), November 16, 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), March 6, 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 January 16 to January 23, 1965 with each issue containing an uncredited cover illustration.

International titlesEdit

  • Czech: Karibské tajemství (A Caribbean Secret)
  • German: Karibische Affäre (Caribbean Episode)
  • Hungarian: Rejtély az Antillákon (Mystery on the Antilles)

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