Tuesday ’Tec! The Affair at the Bungalow by Agatha Christie

Never trust a woman…

 

Goodness! I realised that the surely undisputed Queen of Golden Age Crime hadn’t made an appearance in this little classic detective series yet – what an omission! So here we go with a Miss Marple special for this week’s…

 

Tuesday Tec

The Affair at the Bungalow
by Agatha Christie

 

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie

 

“I’ve thought of something,” said Jane Helier.

Her beautiful face was lit up with the confident smile of a child expecting approbation. It was a smile such as moved audiences nightly in London, and which had made the fortune of photographers.

This story comes from the collection The Thirteen Problems. The format of each of the stories is that a group of friends meet for dinner, and that each of them takes a turn at telling of some mystery they have come across in real life and challenging the others to solve it. On the evening that this story is told, the dinner is being hosted by Mrs Bantry. Amongst the guests is Jane Helier, a beautiful but somewhat dim-witted actress, and she tells the assembled company of a strange thing that once happened to her ‘friend’…

Everyone made encouraging but slightly hypocritical noises. Colonel Bantry, Mrs Bantry, Sir Henry Clithering, Dr Lloyd and old Miss Marple were one and all convinced that Jane’s ‘friend’ was Jane herself. She would have been quite incapable of remembering or taking an interest in anything affecting anyone else.

Margaret Rutherford as the most unlikely Miss Marple ever - but great fun!
Margaret Rutherford as the most unlikely Miss Marple ever – but great fun!

Jane tells of a time when she was appearing in theatre in a riverside town. One night, the local police ask her to come to the police station to identify a young man whom they are holding. Leslie Faulkener is an aspiring playwright and had been thrilled to receive a letter, purporting to be from Jane, inviting him to come and discuss a play he had sent to her. On turning up at the address specified – a bungalow in the same riverside town – the parlour-maid took him through to the drawing-room where a spurious ‘Jane Helier’ offered him a cocktail and began to talk about his play. The real Jane is somewhat huffed that he didn’t immediately see through the deception, but she comforts herself modestly with the reflection that…

Anyway, he described this woman as tall and fair with big blue eyes and very good-looking, so I suppose it must have been near enough.

Poor Leslie drank the cocktail and remembered nothing more until he woke up dazed and confused, lying in the road beside a hedge. Next thing he knows, he has been picked up by the police who tell him that he is suspected of burglary. It appears that the bungalow is the secret love-nest of a big city financier and a well-known actress, to whom Jane gives the pseudonym of Miss Mary Kerr, and that some priceless jewels have been stolen. The police had received a phone call, apparently from the mistress of the house, saying that Leslie had been seen leaving the bungalow via a window. However Miss Kerr later denies making the call and, when he sees the real Jane Helier, Leslie admits that she was not the woman he met in the house. The question is – who stole the jewels and why did they go to the trouble of creating this elaborate deception?

Julia McKenzie - great actress and a fine Miss Marple, but oh, how they messed up the stories...
Julia McKenzie – great actress and a fine Miss Marple, but oh, how they messed up the stories…

The various guests consider the case and come up with several suggestions, but none that fully explain all of the facts. Eventually they turn to Miss Marple, but even she confesses herself at a loss. Until, that is, a comment from Dr Lloyd puts her in mind of Mrs Pebmarsh, one of her famous village parallels…

“Mrs Pebmarsh? Who is Mrs Pebmarsh?”

“Well -” Miss Marple hesitated. “I don’t know that she really comes in. She’s a laundress. And she stole an opal pin that was pinned into a blouse and put it in another woman’s house.”

There! That makes it all perfectly clear, doesn’t it? No, the other guests didn’t think so either, but Miss Marple merely remarks cryptically that women must stick together, whispers a comment for Jane’s ear only, and takes her leave. When Jane tells Mrs Bantry the rest of the story later, it’s no surprise to learn that Miss Marple has worked the whole thing out. Which is more than I did!

* * * * *

This is a lovely little story, only about 20 or so pages but beautifully complicated and told with all of Christie’s usual skill. There’s lots of humour in it, mainly at the expense of the egotistical Jane Helier, but it’s affectionate humour. And for fans, an appearance by Mrs Bantry is always a special treat – she’s one of my favourite recurring characters in the Miss Marple stories, and in this one she’s on top form, coming up with at least half a dozen possible solutions, each one more far-fetched than the last. I’m not convinced it’s totally fair-play – the reader is given one fairly crucial piece of information only as the solution is revealed, but it would be possible to work out the who and how, if not the why. It doesn’t matter though – it’s light and fun and a pleasure to read, proving again that Agatha Christie was a mistress of the short story format just as much as the full-length novel.

Ahhh! Finally! The definitive Miss Marple... the late, great Joan Hickson
Ahhh! Finally! The definitive Miss Marple… the late, great Joan Hickson

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

(No online link this week, I’m afraid – I couldn’t find a legal one. But the story is available as a Kindle single or as part of The Thirteen Problems collection.)

79 thoughts on “Tuesday ’Tec! The Affair at the Bungalow by Agatha Christie

    • Thank you! It’s years since I read the collection so it was really like reading the story for the first time. I think I’ll go on and read the rest… there’s no-one like Christie for sheer pleasure!

  1. Great review! I read that collection and agree that Agatha Christie was indeed the mistress of the novel and the short story. Every so often I crave one of her short story collections.

    • Thanks! 🙂 She manages to pack so much plot into even the shortest stories and you’re never left feeling there are loose ends hanging. I love her supernatural stories too in The Hound of Death collection – wish she’d done more of those…

  2. Love Miss Marple! I haven’t read this collection though – a treat in store 🙂 Joan Hickson’s portrayal was definitive for me, I totally agree with you. I can’t watch the recent ITV ones, ever since they messed up 4.50 from Paddington – unforgivable!

  3. Oh, I’m so pleased you did this one, FictionFan! It’s a great collection in my opinion (‘though of course, I’m very biased!). I agree with you, too, about Dolly Bantry; she’s fabulous! And as for actors portraying Miss Marple? I’m definitely with you about Joan Hickson. I love her as Miss Marple, and I liked the way the stories were adapted in that series (and I’m a hard sell when it comes to that).

    • I’m biased too, but it really is a great little story and I must find time to re-read the rest of the collection – it’s been years! Yes, the Joan Hickson adaptations are still the best. I was so thrilled when I heard Julia McKenzie was to do them since I love her – but they messed with the stories so badly that I can barely watch them. I wish they would assume that AC knew what she was doing and leave the stories as they were written!

  4. I love Christie’s books. Her books helped me learn Portuguese. Apparently, she was a character in her own right, as well. Miss Marple is my favorite “sleuth.” And Joan Hickson is my favorite Miss Marple. My favorite of her stories was The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. When we were in Portugal, one of our American friends persisted in calling the author, “Agatha Crispy.” No idea why. It’s a mystery…. 😀

  5. You know (can we still be friends when you see what comes next) ….I’m afraid I was remarkably supercilious about A Christie in my youth, and turned my not inconsiderable nose up. I was far too busy reading Dostoievsky. But now I’m over MOST of that adolescent angst I do think I should give her a bit of a whirl. This does sound nicely tongue in cheek, from your nicely ironic excerpts.

    Possibly I was innocent of irony in my teenage angstiness

    • I don’t know about you, but I always felt that was what University and to some degree school was trying to do back in those days. I seemed to spend half my time arguing that ‘popular’ didn’t equate to ‘rubbish’ but I don’t think I convinced my tutors. But then they didn’t convince me that ‘unpopular’ equated to ‘great’ either, so we were probably even! I must say that, as someone who’s read her fair share of crime, Christie’s still the best when it comes to straight mystery writing. She’s pure Golden Age – upright detectives, no swearing or angst, no graphic violence – just clues and red herrings and intricate plotting. Lovely stuff!

      • Well I was firmly into the great classics and serious modern writing from a fairly tender age, as my mum was a stupendous reader, and I rather grew up in high culture. In fact, the introduction of ‘culture’ in school was seriously behind what I was getting at home. Both school and Uni lagged behind in their appreciation of writing outside English literature though – European was pretty well ignored, and as for writing from other continents…..but i suspect that was a sign of the times, a still lingering sense of the superiority of English, as a language, and moreover English as expressed by a ruling class.

        • I was as eclectic then as I am now, and must say I always thought the ‘high’ in high culture was more about the snobbery around certain art forms than the quality of them. But then I was pretty leftie at that point! 😉 I still rate on that basis though – it’s quite possible for a piece of pulp to get a higher rating from me than a classic, because my criterion is really ‘How much did I enjoy this as a piece of pulp when judged against other pieces of pulp.’ And the classic lit-fic gets judged against other classic lit-fic. Yes, indeed – English authors got priority throughout my education too, with even less justification… och, aye!

          • Well I do agree with that (judging something against itself) and pleasures come in many different forms.

            I was thinking (you’ll have to wait) about a particular sound clip on one of next weeks posts, which is a punk rock piece, which I ADORED the first time I heard it many years after it was first out. And would 5 star it because it does what it means to brilliantly. And I got great pleasure when I thought it would be a good illustration of something and found a clip. It’s not ‘my’ kind of preferred music at all, but is refreshingly lovely in between the intense symphonies.

            • Wait my dear one, today’s post was written and scheduled in my pre-gif incarnation. Next week is a whole new week of flickers. There will be no Friday post as giffing takes up even more time so I thought I’d drop down to 2 a week till I get my strength back up – I finally finished my nearly 700 page non-fiction book, and that has media inserts a plenty, and it took forever to choose from the plethora I was submerged in wading through……….I start small, then its gif ahoy! (titters in excited anticipation)

            • I might flicker tomorrow – just because I can! I only have one review left and then I got nuttin’. Two unwritten, 140 unread… what’s gone wrong? I’m going to have to hire someone to read for me at this rate…

            • A reflective post about reader’s block? Encouraging others to talk about this embarrassing problem? Accompanied by a lovely YouTube video of Video killed the Radio Star just because it’s tangential and a nice tune? A piece about tennis, the challenges of playing on different surfaces nicely illustrated by gifs of Rafa plucking at his nether region hugging shorts?

              I really do find that the music/film etc posts work for me. Though I must admit at the moment I’m spoilt by I hope a couple of corkers waiting to be read, and then the problem will be ( if they really are corky) that I will have to really slow down my reading in order to savour, and then the writing will take an age, and I’ll Need, with both of them, not to start something else in order to let them let me go. And the problem is both of them have short deadlines with the publisher releasing only a couple of weeks in advance.

              I guess, you know, that pro reviewers probably feel like that a lot – when anything, even self- imposed gets to sometimes seem like an obligation.

              Children’s books always work for me…revisiting Moomintroll!

            • I’m supposed to be doing a little online course on film noir over the summer – one of these ones that you can take seriously or do as fun, whatever you choose. TCM are running marathon film noir sessions to go along with the course. So I might – if I actually get around to doing the course – have a little series of film reviews. Part of the course is supposed to be to make us recognise noir tropes etc and discuss the films in a more educated way, so it might be fun to see whether my reviews get better – or duller! – as the course goes on. But when I signed up for it I forgot it would be conflicting with the tennis…

            • That sounds fun! Who are TCM – I automatically think only of Traditional Chinese Medicine and am surprised that the society of Acupuncturists is diversifying into film criticism. Are there many noir films involving fiendish Acupuncturists – well we know of course there is Goldfinger, cats are definitely fiendish Acupuncturists. One of mine practices regularly on the sofa……..

              I shall look forward hugely to blog posts dripping with smoke, shades, French accents, black and white footage and black and white blood stains. There must be films where this combines with a tennis theme………

            • Strangers on a Train! Not noir – but tennis!

              TCM are Turner Classic Movies – a cable channel, though they mostly do re-runs of TV series these days rather than films. But they’re going to run 24-hour marathons every Friday during June and July for this course (shame I don’t have any kind of recorder any more!). They say that they’ll also be pointing to films available free online, though, for people who don’t have access to the channel. I think they’ll be expecting us to watch several films each week, which will be quite a challenge for me. I normally only watch about one film a month! However, some of the films on their schedule look quite fun. Haven’t got much info about the course yet – whether there will be ‘set’ films or whether we pick the ones we want. I’ll see how seriously I want to take it once it starts…

            • You are quite right (well done) the tennis. I love the original version of that………..hmm, not to mention Patricia Highsmith…..maybe a little visit to the library and a borrow of some Highsmiths.

              I’m disappointed it isn’t acupuncturists,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  6. I watched those Margaret Rutherford movies when I was a kid, before I even really knew about Christie’s books. But yes, Joan Hickson is THE Miss Marple. Not sure anyone can ever top her.

    • I love the Margaret Rutherford films, though they had almost nothing to do with Miss Marple except the name. Great fun! But the Hickson versions are the best – not just because of her performance, but the whole thing – sticking close to the stories, great casting etc etc…

  7. I have read most of Agatha Christie’s short stories, but there are apparently some Miss Marple stories I have not yet read, which is good, as now I can. I am sure that I am in a minority here in having preferred the Poirot stories, but I do like the Marple stories as well. And on TV, the Marples starring Ms. Hickson might have been the better adaptations in many cases. Later on, they started changing the plots of the Marple stories for TV, and I think that they even put Miss Marple in a few stories where she originally was not!

    When you sit down with an Agatha Christie short story, you know that it will be engrossing and well plotted; good old-fashioned reading pleasure. This one certainly seems to fit that description.

    • I love the Poirot stories too, but I think it’s the village settings of most of the Miss Marple books that makes me love them more. I think David Suchet was brilliant at the Poirots too, and certainly the early ones of those stuck fairly well to the plots. The Joan Hickson Miss Marple’s truly are classics though – I love everything about them, the filming, the casting, the leisurely length of them, even the music. The new ones could have been great if only they hadn’t messed about with the stories…

      Agatha Christie has always been one of my confort reads – something to pick up and re-read when I’ve got a cold or my brain’s feeling overworked. A genuine pleasure, and the benefit of having a rotten memory is that I quite often can’t remember whodunit!

      • I think that I have a very good memory, and yet I also very often cannot remember who the actual murderer is in a Christie story..Maybe it is because she wrote so many mystery novels.. But I must say that now that I have read most of them at least twice, I do start to remember which is which.

        I assume that you’ve read just about all of her mysteries? One that I had never read until recently, and which was really good, on a psychological and emotional level., was “The Hollow.”That one sort of slips through the cracks, so to speak, so perhaps you have not read it. Also, “Crooked House,” which I actually heard on one of those BBC “full-length dramatizations” CDs which I sometimes buy. This was the best of those dramatizations I have heard, and a very interesting story. I was truly surprised at the revelation of who the murderer was, and yet it did make psychological sense, which almost all of Christie’s mysteries do, which makes them very fulfilling at the finish. I almost never get the sense of, “Oh, she could have picked anyone as the culprit.” There is a coherence to her stories which is very rewarding for the mystery reader.

        • I remember whodunit with the best known ones, but as you say, she wrote so many!

          I think I’ve read them all, though mostly a long time ago. But yes, both The Hollow and Crooked House are excellent. In fact Crooked House is one of my favourites – she really could come up with unusual stuff and make it very believable. I always quite liked the ones that had young girls in them – she got the charcaterisation of them very well. Cat Among the Pigeons is another of the less well known ones that I love – about the boarding school? I always loved the line when one of the girls was asked where her mother was and she casually replied “She’s gone to Anatolia on a bus.” Sounded so adventurous for its time…

          This collection of stories, The Thirteen Problems, is available on audio with Joan Hickson reading, though one of my other commenters has just told me it might be called the Tuesday Club Murders in the US.

          • Interestingly enough, I had just purchased “Cat Among the Pigeons” a few days ago. I figured that among all the Philip Roth books, and the “Fallen Land,” I might need a mystery to read. I had remembered liking this one, and I had not read it in quite a while, though I saw it on “Mystery” not that long ago, so I sort of remember who the murderer is. But it just felt like a good one to revisit.

            I absolutely agree with you that the TV adaptations of Poirot and Marple were so much better when “Mystery” made them at least 1 hour, 45 minutes or so. Lately my PBS station has been rerunning Joan Hickson’s Marples late at night, and sometimes I remember to tape them. I think that “Body in the Library” was three episodes, each of which must have run 50 minutes or so! All of the others were at least two episodes.That is the way to tell a good mystery; the interactions among the characters, the jealousies and suspicions, is half of the fun. And the British have such great character actors, that it is a pleasure to enjoy a leisurely paced mystery. When for whatever reason, “Mystery” went to an hour and a half timeslot, meaning about one hour, 20 minutes of story, it was a major disappointment. I saw a few of the later Marples and Poirots, and the story was often so rushed that I had trouble figuring out the familial relationships at the beginning. I loved the Dalgliesh mysteries which went four or five episodes. A well written mystery can hold its interest that long, as the story unfolds. As it is, I basically have stopped watching “Mystery,” except for the Foyles, but even then PBS apparently doesn’t have the rights to those any longer, so I will have to buy the last set from Acorn Media.

            • Haha, yes! I think you might need some light reading in amongst those monsters! I love re-reading – it’s so much more relaxing than a constant diet of new stuff. All this talk of Agatha Christie has whetted my appetite…

              The original David Suchet Poirots ran at two hours if I remember rightly, but by the end they were being squashed into an hour. And I used to love Taggart, a crime series set in my hometown of Glasgow, but again over the years they reduced from about 4 hours per storyline to under an hour. The broadcasters seem to think no-one will put the time in but, given that people cheerfully buy box sets of series and watch them in a splurge, I don’t think that can be right. I must admit I rarely watch TV these days – I’m much more likely to watch on DVD.

  8. I love Miss Marple. If we’re talking favourites, I still like The Moving Finger, despite the fact that no-one could possibly write it today. Oh for the age of innocence………

    • The Moving Finger’s my favourite too, and I still love that scene even though it’s so politically incorrect! In fact, I was just over on another blog recommending it to someone else.

  9. As you know I’m more a Poirot fan and have neglected Miss Marple but I really must seek out some as I think I’d enjoy her much more than I remember and anyway I need to know the answer 🙂

    • I think I liked Poirot better when I read them the first time, but I’ve grown to appreciate the Miss Marple ones over the years – I love the village settings. Send me ten large boxes of choccies and I’ll tell you whodunit… 😉

  10. How have I missed reading this one, when I love Agatha Christie so?? I really must remedy that at once! Thanks, FF, for pointing me in the right direction — Agatha really is the queen, isn’t she?!

    • She is! I think I might have missed some of the short stories too, but I noticed there’s new collections on Kindle of all the Poirot ones and all the Miss Marple ones – I might have to treat myself…

  11. Oooo….I don’t know, FEF…Julia McKenzie looks more Miss Marple-ish than the other two! It could be the hat, but I rather think it’s the expression. It sorta says: “I have you figured out.”

    Now…it’s just dawning on me that I’ve never read a story with MM in it!

    • Yes, I think she’s perfect for the role – I love her, she’s a brilliant actress. (I’ve seen her live on stage in Sweeney Todd, you know, you know.) But the producers or whoever mucked about with the plots so much she didn’t stand a chance.

      You haven’t?!? Well, you must! *adds The Murder at the Vicarage to the Professorial TBR*

      • I didn’t know! Sweeney Todd…is that the story of the fellow who’s a bad barber, or something like that? I’ve seen a few adaptations…and they’re always messing up the plots. Must be a plot.

        Isn’t there a more vicious one?

        • It is! The Sondheim version – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She was Mrs Lovett, the lady who chopped up the victims and put them in her pies. Yummy!

          Hmm… how about The Massacre in the Abattoir, one of her less well known works. Basically Miss Marple goes mad, abducts the entire village, takes them to the abattoir and… well, I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say, who knew she could all that with a knitting needle…

            • It can be really scary – especially the bit where he’s slitting people’s throats. I’ve seen it three times, I think, on stage and each time it’s been different. But in one the blood was spraying everywhere! It’s also funny in places and a bit sad in bits. And great music…

              *blushes and mumbles* Maybe I did… but it was your fault! You made me do it!

  12. Ah, Miss Marple. Such a dear and so very dangerous! I think I read this story (and yes, I remember what Miss Marple said to Jane) as part of The Tuesday Club Murders, which may be the same as your Thirteen Problems compilation. You know, those names on my side of the pond and yours. Sigh. Anyway, I recently purchased a new e-book compilation of all the Miss Marple short stories and one also of the Poirot short stories. I haven’t read them yet, but I think I’ve likely read all the stories in the past. I also have that Tuesday Club book on audio. Yes, read by my most favorite Miss Marple, Joan Hickson. Her voice is perfect. Her look is perfect. She had this way of looking up at someone over her half-glasses and then saying these perfect zingers. Can you tell I really, really love AC’s books? Well, I do. Keep ’em coming!

    • Yes, I wouldn’t want to be trying to keep secrets when she was around! I think it probably is the same collection – the first six of The Thirteen Problems take place at the Tuesday Club, so it sounds likely. I know – it drives me mad when the name is changed, especially since they quite often publish them over here under both names. Won’t be the first time I’ve bought a book only to find I’ve already read it under another name. They were terrible for doing that with Reginald Hill’s Dalziel & Pascoe books too. I looked at those Poirot and Miss M collections when I was hunting for a story yesterday – I think I may have to treat myself. There’s nothing quite like an AC short story for a quick burst of entertainment! Maybe I’ll do a Poirot story next week…

  13. Oh yes, Agatha Christie’s work is brilliant. I’m keen on Poirot, but highly enjoy the other stories, I’ve read almost all of them by now I think. And Margaret Rutherford – brilliant, never fails to have me laughing, she was a cracking actress, and played the role with vim!

    – s.u.t.Cloud

    • Not just vim, but also gusto! I love those old films – pure entertainment! I love all of Christie’s stuff, but Miss Marple judges edges into favourite position for me. The cats prefer Tommy and Tuppence though… 😉

  14. Tease me and then tell me it’s nowhere to be found unless I have a kindle…cruel. Perhaps I will have to commandeer my son’s kindle. But I would have to pry it from his grubby hands. He’s been busy reading the Harry Potter series and is in the middle of book 7. He started book 1 on May 9. Two and a half weeks to power through the entire series. Now if I could just get him to write without threatening to take away the kindle, I’d have no more worries….

    • You could buy the collection in book form and read all the stories. 😉 Glad to hear the Power of Potter is still working – one of the reasons I love them is because they were the only books we could ever get the boys at the school to even attempt to read. Magic, indeed! But you should get him to cast a spell to give you your own Kindle… I’ll happily help fill it up for you!

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