Nemesis first published in 1971, is one of Agatha Christie’s later books written in her eighties. It is the last book she wrote about Miss Marple. There are two more books that were published later, but those were written earlier. It’s not among the best of her books, it’s slow moving, lots of dialogue, lots of recapping of events and clues, lots of moralising and social commentary. It follows on, although it is not a sequel to, A Caribbean Mystery in which Miss Marple met Mr Rafiel.
It’s slow moving because for quite a while Miss Marple doesn’t know what the crime is that she has been asked to investigate. Mr Rafiel, who she met in the West Indies, has left her £20,000 in his will on condition she investigates a certain crime, but doesn’t give her any details. He wrote that she had a natural flair for justice leading to a natural flair for crime and reminded her that the code word is Nemesis. Then she is invited to join a tour of Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Britain at Mr Rafiel’s expense. And off she goes.
As Miss Marple remarks:
Murders as reported in the press have never claimed my attention. I have never read books on criminology as a subject or really been interested in such a thing. No, it has just happened that I have found myself in the vicinity of murder rather more often than would seem normal. (page 90)
What an understatement!
Miss Marple has to first of all work out who she can trust.Very gradually through meeting people and talking to them in her usual rather scatty old-lady manner Miss Marple begins to uncover a crime committed years earlier, working largely on intuition. During this process Miss Marple ponders on a number of subjects from wondering how the three witches in Macbeth should be portrayed, during the visit Mr Rafiel had arranged for her with the three sisters at the Old Manor House, to her disapproval of the clothes young women wore. I suspect this was Agatha Christie using Miss Marple as a mouthpiece for her own views – just as this view of rape expressed by another character, Professor Wanstead, a friend of Mr Rafiel may be her own thoughts too:
Girls you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape. (page 182)
But I wondered about the whole premise of the book – would someone really ask a person to investigate a crime and not give them any details? It seems highly improbable to me even if Mr Rafiel had wanted Miss Marple to approach the crime with an open mind. And surely if Mr Rafiel really wanted to discover the true facts about the crime he could easily have done so before he died.
I think Nemesis lacks tension and suspense. The characters are rather hard to differentiate, mainly because there are too many, and too many who have no part in the mystery. There are few red herrings to deflect the reader, just unexplained facts that Miss Marple clears up in the last chapters. But I think it is an unusual book and I quite enjoyed it.