Nemesis by Agatha Christie

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.

5 thoughts on “Nemesis by Agatha Christie”

  1. I’ve seen this one on TV, possibly with more than one actress playing Miss Marple, I’m not sure. I wonder if it translates better as a drama than on the page?

    I haven’t read any AC for a few years but planning to soon as part of the Vintage Mystery challenge. I have Death in the Clouds in mind for the transport section (Poirot) but there are plenty of others! I also saw Destination Unknown recommended somewhere, have you read that? It’s a standalone and sounds rather interesting.

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    1. Both Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan have done TV versions. Joan Hickson is my favourite actress for Miss Marple, and according to wikipedia her version was relatively close to the book – I can’t say I remember it – it was 1987! Geraldine McEwan’s is more recent and I don’t think I watched it because I’m not keen on her as Miss M. Wikipedia says it’s very different from the book.

      I’ve read ‘Death in the Clouds’, which I really enjoyed – most ingenious, I thought. Here’s my post on it – http://www.booksplease.org/2012/01/09/death-in-the-clouds-by-agatha-christie-a-book-review/

      I haven’t read ‘Destination Unknown’. I like her earlier books best.

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  2. I enjoyed it too, but it was written by an “Older” person, even if she was brilliant, I always felt there was more of “her’ experience in this one. I’ve always hated that line about the girls more likely to be raped… I found I had to go back and re-read the first one to connect the characters.

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  3. Margaret – It is indeed an unusual book I think. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I see a real difference between the books Christie wrote earlier in her career and these later ones. This isn’t a conventional Christie, that’s true, and I quite frankly don’t think it’s one of her finest. But it is an interesting change from what she had been doing.

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  4. I’m not certain that I’ve actually read this. I know that I’ve seen televised versions but the book itself certainly isn’t on my shelves. I shall have to get a copy and see if I prefer the TV version

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