I Try to Solve an Agatha Christie Mystery | A Caribbean Mystery (Miss Marple)

A challenge of reading Agatha Christie mysteries with the goal of attempting to solve them is that I have to be in a particular type of mood to give it a go. I started the Miss Marple classic A Caribbean Mystery about a month ago, and only managed to get into the mystery-solving stage today, not because the story wasn’t gripping. On the contrary, this is one of my favourite Marples, and certainly one that showcases her sharp wit, sly humour, and undercover brilliance to perfection. I was intrigued by the mystery, and eager to find out what twists and turns the Queen of Crime had in store.

Unfortunately for my curiosity, I knew that figuring out this mystery would require all of my little grey cells, and as it turns out, I am very rarely in the mood these days to exercise those little grey cells. This means that, for the last few weeks, I’ve been very happily devouring Baby-Sitters Club ebooks from the library, whilst poor Major Palgrave’s murder remained (at least to me) unsolved.

Fortunately for truth, justice, and all that jazz, my grey cells have finally reawakened, and today, I read my notes and re-read the earlier chapters, then read all the way to right before the big reveal and tried to cobble all the clues together. My verdict: I have no idea who killed the Major. Or rather, I have two suspects and a gut-feel third suspect, and true to the Queen of Crime’s twists and turns, none of them were on my suspect list early on. I have vague theories about what their motives could be, and random bits of information that I think support my claims. And a whole jumble of thoughts about how they all fit together.

The Setup:

Miss Marple is on holiday in the Caribbean politely pretending to listen as an old soldier, Major Palgrave, regales her with tales of his adventures. Then he tells her about a murder he heard about and, reaching into his wallet, asks if she wants to see a snapshot of a murderer. He’s about to show her the photo when he catches sight of something — or someone — behind her, and hurriedly changes the subject.

The next day, he’s found dead. Doctors chalk it up to high blood pressure, mostly because of a bottle of blood pressure pills at his bedside, but one of the hotel staff swears that bottle wasn’t there before his death. Whodunit?

Did I Succeed? (No Spoilers)

No, alas, I did not. I missed a key clue (that to Christie’s credit was mentioned more than once), and totally fixated on the wrong characters and plot elements.

Still, this is definitely one of my favourite Marple mysteries and overall Christie stories. Twisty, convoluted, and oh-so-much fun. This is a mystery and a cast of characters I’d very much love to see on the screen, so I’ll have to find out which of the Marple shows covered this!

My first wine-fuelled attempt at solving Agatha Christie… which may be why this case seems especially mysterious?


The Victims:

  • Major Palgrave – because he had a snapshot of the murderer?
  • Victoria Johnson – because she tried to blackmail the murderer?
  • Lucky Dyson – seemingly because the murderer mistook her for Molly, but could she be the key to the case?

Notable (I think) Clues:

  • Major Palgrave tells Miss Marple about a male murderer, but as he’s rifling through his wallet and right before he offers to show her a snapshot of a murderer, he comments, “Good-looking woman she was, you’d never suspect…” He’d also told other guests about a female murderer, so while we’re made to believe he was going to show Marple a photo of the male murderer, I think he was actually going to show her a photo of the female one.
  • In Major Palgrave’s stories, the male murderer killed two wives. Both wives survived a suicide attempt, only to die some time later. The female murderer was blond and beautiful, and killed her husband with a sedative and then a gas oven.
  • There are six people Major Palgrave could’ve seen before stashing the snapshot away: Greg and Lucky Dyson, Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon, Esther Walters, and Arthur Jackson.
  • Lucky Dyson killed Greg Dyson’s first wife (a wealthy woman and Lucky’s friend), and Edward Hilingdon (who was in love with Lucky) helped her. Lucky is a bottle blond.
  • Greg Dyson flirts with all the young women, including Molly who runs the hotel with her husband Tim. Lucky’s 40 and starting to look it.
  • Evelyn Hilingdon is aware of Edward’s affair with Lucky, but stays with him for the kids. Lucky stays with Greg for the money. Both Evelyn and Edward have expressed a desire to kill Lucky — could this be a red herring?
  • Molly is beautiful and a natural blond. Seems a bit too young to be the murderer in Major Palgrave’s story? She’s showing signs of mental illness (blackouts, paranoia), and attempts suicide. But Miss Marple sees a book about symptoms of mental illness in her bed, and the doctor says she didn’t actually ingest as many sleeping pills as it seemed.
  • Molly was engaged to another man before Tim, but her parents disapproved. Could the other man be Mr Rafiel’s handsome physiotherapist Jackson, and could they still be in love?
  • Molly seems less into the hotel than Tim is. Could she be interested in pursuing Greg (who’s rich because of his dead wife, and who’s already shown interest in her)? Would she kill Lucky over that? But how does that fit in to the murderer Major Palgrave saw?
  • Mr Rafiel asks why someone would kill Major Palgrave over a snapshot, when the photograph was very flimsy evidence of a past murder. Miss Marple conjectures that the murderer may be planning a second murder, and being associated with a past murder would cast suspicion on them. Who then would’ve been planning a murder?

My Suspects:

  • Evelyn Hillingdon – She’s too plain to be the murderer Major Palgrave spoke about. But she seems like a hard and flinty woman, and I don’t doubt she can pull off the murders. She went to the chemist shortly before Molly’s suicide attempt — why? And when Tim asked Molly why she’d attempted suicide, Molly’s eyes immediately flicked to Evelyn — why? Is she scared of Evelyn? As for Evelyn’s motive, Edward seems anxious about having helped Lucky kill Greg’s first wife, so I can imagine Evelyn deciding to kill Lucky herself to protect him.
  • Molly Kendall – She’s faking her mental health condition. My guess is that she’s in love with someone (Jackson?) and that she got inspired by Major Palgrave’s story to frame her husband Tim for her murder. She could’ve killed Lucky to cover up her disappearance (so people think Tim tried to murder her), and then ran away with Jackson. Or she could’ve killed Lucky so she could go after Greg and his wealth.
  • Esther Walters – Mostly because she seems plain but Miss Marple says she could be beautiful. She’s a widow with ‘corn-coloured hair,’ and Miss Marple thinks she could’ve been a nurse. Could she be the blond murderer Major Palgrave recognized? Possibly, she killed him for it, because she was afraid of being outed to Mr Rafiel and losing her cushy job. She also acted shifty when Miss Marple brought up the murder to her. But then, she was the one who told Marple about the female murderer story — why would she have done that if she was the female murderer? And what second murder could she have been plotting?

My Verdict:

Okay, this is so far-fetched it may just be correct: I think there are two murderers. Esther is the murderer Palgrave recognized; she killed him because she was afraid of losing her cushy job with Mr Rafiel, and she killed Victoria because Victoria was blackmailing her. She somehow stole Greg’s pills to try to make it seem like Major Palgrave had high blood pressure. And she told Miss Marple about the story only because she thought Miss Marple already knew it, and wanted to throw Miss Marple off her scent.

And then Molly Kendall killed Lucky. She’s dissatisfied with her current life and trying to escape her marriage to Tim, so she staged her mental illness episodes and tried to frame Tim for her (and Lucky’s) death. I think she’s gunning for Greg and his money.

The Actual Reveal:

Bah, I’ve been foiled again. Turns out that there was a pivotal clue about Major Palgrave having a glass eye, so even though he seemed to be looking over one of Miss Marple’s shoulders, he was actually looking over the other. So instead of seeing the six suspects initially on the list, he actually saw Tim and Molly Kendall.

And the villain turns out to be Tim Kendall. He killed Major Palgrave for recognizing him, and Victoria for the same reason. And he wanted to kill Molly because he’d heard that Esther Walters would be inheriting GBP50,000 when Mr Rafiel dies, and he wanted to marry her for that money. Poor Lucky’s death turns out to be a case of mistaken identity after all.

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