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?


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Event Recap | Toronto Launch of Wine Witch on Fire, by Natalie MacLean


As author Natalie MacLean describes it, her memoir Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much is about a “bad vintage” in her life. She jokes that there are “lots of dismal D’s in the subtitle,” but as anyone who met the author at her book event earlier this month can likely attest, the key phrase in the subtitle isn’t the “dismal D’s,” but rather the image of a phoenix rising from the ashes.

In an interview by Angela Aiello during the event, Natalie shared how she chose the title because witches resonated with her. “They get their strength from within, not from external validation,” she said, citing the white witch of Narnia as ironically satisfying for her “goody-two-shoes” younger self. Fire, of course, has an unfortunate historical association with witches, yet the author turns the element into a symbol of power. For her, witches are “strong women who’ve been through fire and come out the other side stronger, wiser, and fiercer.”

Author Natalie MacLean and interviewer Angela Aiello

In Natalie’s case, her year of fire began with a google alert about an article accusing her of improperly attributing quotes on her website. While she tried to fix her error, industry rivals had picked up on the article and came after her. Beyond a memoir, Wine Witch is also an expose on sexism in the wine industry, and Natalie shared how the comments directed at her got pretty personal at times. She also pointed out the sexism inherent in wine tasting notes, how lighter and “more accessible” wines tend to be described with feminine adjectives, whereas “sommelier” wines are described in more masculine terms.

And speaking of wine, the book event on May 10th featured three glasses of Creekside wine for all the guests. There was a sauvignon blanc bubbly when we arrived, a sauvignon blanc before the author interview, and finally a syrah before the book signing. The bubbly was my personal favourite, but mostly, I was just glad of this sorely-missed opportunity to celebrate a book with fellow book lovers in person. So many blogger previews have shifted to a virtual format during the pandemic, and haven’t yet reverted to in-person, that when Natalie offered me a media pass to this event, I jumped at the chance. (Fun fact: Apart from festivals, this is my first in-person book event post-pandemic, and my last in-person book event pre-pandemic was the launch of another Dundurn Press title: J.J. Dupuis’ Roanoke Ridge. So thank you to Dundurn Press for keeping my bookish social calendar active!)

Even better, this event had a pretty swanky feel, which made the evening feel particularly special. It was at Clio, a social club in Toronto (former site of the Spoke Club). I can’t remember if I’d ever been to the Spoke Club before it closed, but I’ll be honest: when I looked that Clio’s website, I was intimidated. What does one wear to a social club that did primarily exclusive, members-only experiences? I had genuine anxiety about being turned away at the door and having to show Natalie’s email to be let in, but ultimately decided that if I could brazen it out in a denim skirt at Kevin Kwan’s ultra-swanky Crazy Rich Asians book launch at the Shangri-La Hotel, I could totally do this.

Fortunately, the organizers were thoughtful enough to have someone at the door greeting guests and directing us to the elevator. The elevator itself was funky-awesome with unusual wallpaper of large flowers. And by the time I got to the event space and saw the space packed with people chatting happily on plush white sofas and chairs, I was fully relaxed and ready to enjoy myself.

In fact, the overall atmosphere turned out to be pretty relaxed. Angela and Natalie seem to be good friends, and their interview had a very lighthearted, conversational feel. The people at my table were also really friendly. One of them told me how they love driving around the countryside, discovering new wineries, and sometimes even helping to harvest grapes. Another had enjoyed some of Natalie’s online wine classes, and had brought a stack of earlier titles for the author to sign. And a third took photos for a friend who loved Natalie’s writing but couldn’t make it that evening.

Natalie also shared some tips on moderating your wine consumption during the interview, of course with the disclaimer that she’s not a medical professional and different people find different strategies effective. I personally thought this tip was helpful: ask yourself, what’s the thought before the thought that says I need a drink? If it’s just “I had a bad day,” follow up by asking yourself if there’s something else you can do to make yourself feel better. And of course, if the answer is that a glass of wine would be really helpful, then there’s no judgment here. But as someone who often goes immediately from “ugh what a day” to “I need wine,” I appreciated the suggestion to be more mindful of that thought process.

I also really loved Natalie’s suggestion to be more mindful in general about the wine we drink. She shared that she wants people to see wine not just as being about the drink, but being about the people behind that drink. And so she likes to highlight stories of women in wine. I love that; I often select my wine based on the label design, but I would love to know more about the people and families behind those labels. And of course, make more mindful decisions about which wines and which wineries I want to support.

Ultimately, at least based on the interview at the event, the book to me felt very much like an act of courage. I love the phrase Natalie used in talking about writing this book: “post-traumatic growth.” She said she had to write this book because she “makes sense of [her] world on the page.” It took her a few years before she could shape her writings about her experiences into a book; she quoted Glennon Doyle’s adage to write “from a scar and not an open wound.” Yet it was important to make that effort and turn this into a book for publication, because as a poet (I missed the name and can’t find it online) said, “right now, there’s someone with a wound in the same place.”

I’m excited to read this book for myself, and I hope any wine witch out there who happens to be going through a bad vintage of their own can find their way to this book.


Thank you to Natalie MacLean and Dundurn Press for the media pass to this wonderful evening!

Review | The St Ambrose School for Girls, by Jessica Ward

StAmbroseWhen Sarah Taylor arrives at the exclusive St Ambrose School, she’s hyper-aware of how different she is from her wealthier classmates. Her attempts to escape her social climber mom and carve a new identity as goth girl Bo are foiled when her mom meets mean girl queen bee Greta on the first day. Fortunately, Sarah finds a friend in her roommate Strots, an athlete too cool to care about what Greta thinks and too rich to ever get into trouble herself.

This social hierarchy boarding school story is given additional layers by Sarah’s mental health condition: she’s bipolar, and desperate to keep her bottle of lithium pills and history of attempted suicide from her new schoolmates. Things escalate when Greta chooses Sarah as a target of her bullying, and Sarah in turn discovers something that Greta herself wants to keep secret.

The St Ambrose School for Girls isn’t quite psychological thriller so much as psychological drama. Ward draws us into Sarah’s mind, the rapid swings between optimism and depression, and the bigger picture downward spiral as her attempts to create a good life at St Ambrose are constantly foiled by Greta’s bullying and her own mental health situation.

The story is solid, and Ward’s depiction of all the ways girls can inflict cruelties on each other is vivid and raw. There’s a subplot about Strots’ own history with Greta that makes a spot-on, if not at all surprising, observation about the priorities of an institution like St Ambrose, and how these play out in terms of their standards of acceptable behaviour. The fallout of Greta’s secret led to its logical, albeit tragic, conclusion, and the mystery it created had enough twistiness that the big reveal wasn’t immediately apparent.

Overall, this was pretty good. The pacing was a bit slow, and the tone a bit more somber than I anticipated. (I was hoping for a fun and twisty thriller melodrama.) The story was solid but not especially memorable. Despite the deeper-than-usual dive into a bipolar main character, nothing about the plot especially stood out to me or truly got its hooks in. (I’ll defer to readers with lived experiences of bipolar disorder to advise on how true-to-life the depiction is.) So it didn’t quite keep me flipping the pages as eagerly as I otherwise may have. Still, the writing was good, and the pacing strong enough to keep me reading till the end.


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.