A Caribbean Mystery (Miss Marple) by Agatha Christie narrated by Joan Hickson

You can take the woman out of the village…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Miss Marple’s kind nephew Raymond has sent her on a vacation to St Honoré to soak up some sunshine after she’s been unwell. She’s staying at the Golden Palm resort, filled with visitors from around the world though the plot sticks pretty much to the Brits and Americans. One visitor, Major Palgrave, likes to tell long rambling stories of his colonial days and Miss Marple makes the perfect audience. As a genteel lady of a certain age, she has perfected the art of making gentlemen believe she’s listening avidly while in reality she’s pursuing her own thoughts or counting the stitches in her knitting. But when Major Palgrave suddenly dies, Miss Marple is convinced that it’s connected to a story he was telling her about how he once met a murderer. If only she’d been paying more attention! Struggling to recall the details and also feeling a little out of her element so far from home, Miss Marple realises that she can still use village parallels even amongst these strangers – human nature, she finds, is the same everywhere…

While I don’t consider this to be one of Christie’s very best, it’s still a very entertaining mystery and the exotic setting gives it an added interest, although (like many tourists) Miss Marple never sets foot outside the resort so we get very little feel for what life for the real islanders may be like. Another of the residents is Mr Rafiel, an elderly invalid with a grumpy temper. At first inclined to dismiss Miss Marple as a gossipy old woman, he finds she stands up to him more than most people and comes to respect her insight, so that gradually they begin to work together to find the truth. The other residents, including Mr Rafiel’s staff, become the pool of suspects and Miss Marple knows that her only investigatory tool is the art of drawing people out through conversation. Happily people do love to gossip so she soon has plenty of background on the potential suspects, although she has to sift through conflicting stories to get to the truth.

Agatha Christie was long before political correctness, of course, and I see from other reviews that some people think her portrayal of the islanders is racist. I don’t, but that may be because of my age. It seems to me that Christie speaks as respectfully of the black characters as of the white – her dialect sounds a bit clunky, perhaps, and she comments, though not disparagingly, on different customs, but surely we can still do that, can’t we? Mind you, I’ve also seen reviews calling the Miss Marple books ageist – baffled – and sexist – baffled again. She was merely reflecting the society in which she lived. (I am glad I’ve lived most of my life in an era when people weren’t scrutinising every word and expression looking for reasons to be perpetually outraged. It must be so exhausting.)

This time I listened to the audiobook narrated by Joan Hickson, whose portrayal of Miss Marple I love. However, it must be said that she can’t do Caribbean accents at all and her islanders therefore come over as kind of caricatures and rather off-putting to modern ears. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been an issue when she recorded the book but I think modern listeners would expect something that sounded a little more authentic. This is one case where reluctantly I’d definitely recommend reading rather than listening.

Agatha Christie

An enjoyable book, particularly for readers who have been disappointed previously to find that Miss Marple doesn’t always have a big role in the books she’s in. In this one, she’s very definitely the central character and we’re given access to her inner thoughts, not just about the crime, but about ageing and about life in general. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always seen Miss Marple as Ms Christie’s alter-ego in these later books (it was published in 1964, when Christie would herself have been 74), and so I always feel we’re getting a bit of insight into her view of modern society – not always “woke”, I grant you, but always true to her age and time.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

37 thoughts on “A Caribbean Mystery (Miss Marple) by Agatha Christie narrated by Joan Hickson

  1. “(I am glad I’ve lived most of my life in an era when people weren’t scrutinising every word and expression looking for reasons to be perpetually outraged. It must be so exhausting.)”

    I’m nodding along to this statement so hard, my head may just drop off. But seriously, yeesh.
    Anyway, I’ve never actually read a Miss Marple story. That’s bad, isn’t it? 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure I got outraged about things when I was a teenager too, but not everything, all the time! And getting outraged over someone who’s been dead for decades seems especially pointless… 😉
      It’s very bad! You must rectify this at once! Read A Murder is Announced… 😀

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  2. I was going to comment on the same quote as Eva…and needless to say I also agree. I’ve read Acouple of Miss Marple books and enjoyed them for what they are. Can’t remember whether my recolection of this one is from the the book or a film 🙄

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    • Ha – I suspect the silent majority is outraged over the perpetual outrage! 😉 I often find when I’m re-reading that I remember some parts and not others and I’m pretty sure that’s because TV versions cut bits out and it’s really the show I’m remembering rather than the book. I love the Miss Marple books, though the earlier ones are better than the later ones, I think.

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  3. I have hardly ever read Miss Marple mysteries and never listened to an audiobook, something to do with the mindset and all that. Apart from the setting, what interests me about this book is how Miss Marple and Mr Rafiel work together on the case. It’s these little things that make novels more absorbing than they might be.

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    • I find audiobooks quite hard – I tend to lose concentration. But listening to a story I already know means it doesn’t matter too much if I miss bits. I love the Miss Marple books, though I think the earlier ones are better than the later ones on the whole. Mr Rafiel is a nice addition to this one – it gives Miss Marple someone she can talk to openly about her suspicions. Well worth reading!

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  4. Funnily enough, this was actually the first Agatha Christie I ever read, as there was a tape of it in my school library. I remember noticing even then that Hickson isn’t great at accents, though she was exactly right for Miss Marple. Because this is the first one I read, I must admit I have a bit of a soft spot for it, but I agree it is probably not one of her absolute best.

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    • I can’t remember which was my first Christie – I feel as if I’ve been reading her forever! Joan Hickson has the perfect voice for Miss Marple and she gets the humour in the stories, but her accents do let her down in this one. On the whole I tend to find that Christie began to fall away from her best round about 1960 – after that both Miss Marple and Poirot spend an awful lot of time talking about how things ain’t what they used to be, which I suspect is how Christie must have felt herself…

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  5. You make a really interesting point, FictionFan, about the difference between commenting on a cultural difference, and disparaging it. They really are not the same thing, are they? That topic aside… I really do like the setting for this one. The resort has its own personality, and I’ve always liked the fact that Christie ‘stretched herself’ a bit to depict the island and resort. And isn’t all too human to think only later that we should have been listening/paying attention? I know that’s happened to me. I like that very real reaction on Miss Marple’s part.I also love it that Joan Hickson does the narration here. I really did like her portrayal of Miss Marple…

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    • Yes, I think we’re in danger of not reflecting different cultures for fear of inadvertently offending, but cultural differences are what make the world so interesting! I like the setting of this one too and the way we’re allowed to listen to Miss Marple’s thoughts more than usual. Plus I’m always a sucker for Christie’s old colonials – she does them so well and it’s a species that has gone entirely extinct now. I do enjoy these audiobook versions – both Joan Hickson and Hugh Fraser really get the tone of the books right!

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  6. I love this one, one of my favourite Miss Marple stories, the setting is lovely. There are some aspects that make it a bit uncomfortable for us today, but I think on balance I agree with you, AC was respectful towards the people she was writing about, however her words really jar now. It’s of its time.

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    • I love the setting too and also that we get to hear more of Miss Marple’s internal thoughts than usual. Yes, I think you have to be willing to just accept that people from earlier eras spoke differently about many things including race if you’re going to enjoy any older fiction. It only really bothers me if I feel someone is deliberately peddling racist views rather than just displaying contemporary attitudes.

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  7. I think I must’ve missed reading this one, but I’m a big fan of Christie so I need to remedy that. I totally agree with what you said about political correctness when reading novels of past decades. We can’t compare today’s attitudes with those of many centuries ago. Things have changed on most fronts, and that causes me to wonder just how much things will change in the future. But hey, it’s great ending the week on a five-star review — now, go have some cocoa and enjoy two days off!

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    • This one is well worth reading even if it’s not her at her very best. Yes, I’m quite sure the people of the future will find much of our literature just as offensive even if for different reasons. They might, for instance, be disgusted at the amount of foul language we use – I hope so anyway! 😉 The weekend would have been better if Rafa had made it to the final, but it was a good match anyway! 😀

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  8. I adore Joan Hickson as Miss Marple but I can see this is one better left to the paper version. I also love Donald Pleasence as Jason Rafiel in the Hickson adaptation – the two of them together are brilliant 😀

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    • She’s my favourite Miss Marple, and I love that her adaptations stick very closely to the books unlike some of the more recent ones! But her Caribbean accents are about as “good” as mine, I’m afraid. 😉 Yes, Donald Pleasance is great! It’s a pity Mr Rafiel didn’t appear more often.

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  9. Having watched one of the recent episodes of the BBC ‘Death in Paradise’ series, I think I’m correct in saying that the capital of the island is called … St Honoré. As each programme nearly always ends with a gathering of suspects for the big reveal I’m guessing the debt is to Christie!

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    • Aha, interesting! I haven’t watched Death in Paradise, though I keep meaning to, but it does sound as if they might have been tipping their hat to Ms Christie. They always look as if the mysteries are quite traditional in format and there’s been no-one more influential on those traditions!

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  10. Still no Christie yet, but at least I have a few waiting in my TBR pile! (and tagged in my library app)

    I believe we’re of a similar age, so yes… I agree about most of the silly PC business (though kindness and good manners have always been in vogue!).

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    • I’ll just keep going on until eventually you break and develop a Christie addiction! 😉

      Haha – I do get tired of the daily outrage over the most trivial things. I guess when you want to be offended you will be, but it’s the old boy who cried wolf story – when everything causes mass hysteria then it becomes harder to spot the really bad things we all should actually be outraged about!

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  11. I barely remember the book, but I must have watched the BBC adaptation several times. Based on the BBC show, it isn’t my favourite Miss Marple, but it was still quite good. The narration has to be fairly bad, before I prefer to read rather than listen. I’m fairly certain, I could learn to live with the bad accents…

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    • I quite often find it’s the adaptations I’m remembering rather than the books, especially when some character appears who has been cut in the adaptation! The narration of this is about 90% great – it’s only the Caribbean accents that let it down. On the whole I prefer to read than listen, but I am enjoying revisiting all the Christie books with both Hickson and Hugh Fraser… 😀

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  12. Surely the Miss Marple books are the complete opposite of ageist and sexist! As for the lack of political correctness, it’s hard to avoid when you read a lot of older books as we do, and we can’t expect attitudes to be the same as they are today. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually!

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    • I know – I don’t get it all! I think they feel Miss Marple should be a kick-boxing superheroine or something. 😉 Yes, I do think getting outraged about attitudes in older books is a bit pointless, unless the author seems to be deliberately promoting vile views. But when, as with Christie and most others, they’re just representing contemporary attitudes I’m willing to put my modern sensibilities in a box for the duration…

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  13. haha I think anyone looking for a ‘woke’ Miss Marple/Agatha Christie will be sadly disappointed no doubt! I think we can give the dead authors a pass on political correctness, I’m sure Christie would have avoided any racist language if she was aware of it.

    I’m reading a Shirley Jackson book right now (as well as continuing my slog through Ducks, Newburyport) and if all goes well with that one, I may give another Agatha Christie a go, I just love her books!

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    • Haha – yes, the deadness of the author always makes the outrage seem especially pointless to me! I’d love to hear the views of future readers on all the new -isms we include in current literature – I bet they find just as much to criticise as we do.

      I’m struggling through a history book and a Philip Roth at the moment so I’ve been bashing through loads of vintage crime to give me a break every now and then! My poor brain can only take so much… 😉

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    • Goodness, that’s a tough question! My favourite is The Moving Finger because I love the characters but I don’t know that I’d call it the best. Hmm… And Then There Were None is excellent, but Death on the Nile and A Murder is Announced would both be contenders too…

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  14. I like the lack of political correctness in Agatha Christie’s work. I know that some of it might never be considered for publication today because it doesn’t fit in with the social etiquette but that’s what makes it so different and refreshing. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, I always find older books are a great way to see what people thought and how they behaved in a way that history books or historical fiction rarely can – it’s so tempting for historical fiction authors to give their characters contemporary attitudes.

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