“Haven’t we been over this a great many time?” said Jason Rudd.
“Yes, but we shall have to go over it once more,” said Miss Marple.
And that, dear readers, sums up the book. Thanks for stopping by!
This is my first and only Agatha Christie novel. I found it to be a poor execution of an exploitative idea. That’s a shame because Gene Tierney and her tragic situation deserved better.
Let’s start at the beginning.
In 1943, decades before a Rubella (German measles) vaccine was available, a self-centered infected fan defied doctor’s orders and visited the pregnant actress, Gene Tierney, during a USO event at the Hollywood Canteen. The disease is mild for those who get it, but it’s known to pose a serious threat to unborn babies. Years later, Tierney and the fan met up again. The fan boasted how’d she’d broken quarantine to visit Tierney at the Hollywood Canteen years earlier. Allegedly, the woman even jokingly asked Tierney if she’d contracted German measles from the meeting. She had. Sadly, Tierney’s daughter was born deaf and mentally disabled as a result of exposure to the virus.
Christie lifted this real-life tragedy, plopped it into her book and built a mystery around it. Tierney becomes Marina Gregg, a fragile unstable actress haunted by dark secrets as she stages a comeback. The diseased fan is now Heather Badcock, a pushy clueless yokel. Much like the true story, Marina and Heather meet up years after an initial encounter. Heather boasts how she was driven by ‘devotion’ to her favorite actress, leaving her sickbed to get Marina’s autograph.
This is where fact and fiction diverge. While nothing happened to the real-life Typhoid Mary, Heather Badcock meets a quick demise after taking a sip from a poisoned cocktail. I’m not going to go into too much detail because it’s a mystery novel but suffice it to say there’s clues and red herrings galore. Beloved old biddy Jane Marple and her nephew Inspector Craddock run parallel investigations giving the reader a double dose of the same information.
The biggest problems I have:
Nobody just gets to the point. Characters proclaim they have a point to make, then digress with some unnecessary context. Of course, some other character has to interject their own uselessness. It can be paragraphs before the point is made. But, boy, when they finally get to it, prepare for some…
Ad nauseum point making. I lost count of how many times I was informed that Heather Badcock wasn’t the actual target of the poisoning. We’re also told by several characters about Marina Gregg’s mental state and Heather Badcock’s irksome personality. And don’t get me started on how many characters try to describe Gregg’s “Lady of Shallot” look.
Limited suspect list. Outside of the character who actually committed the crime, no one else really had motive or opportunity. Neither Heather or Marina’s death would necessarily benefit anyone, not in a clear simple way. Marple and Craddock eliminate suspects almost as quickly as they name them.
Racism! They straight up refer to an Italian character as a wop! Several times!!!
All this and she made a quick buck off Tierney’s troubles (uncredited no less).
Had this not been inspired by a true story, the plot would be fascinating, but Christie takes far too much enjoyment in the real-life details for me to feel comfortable reveling in the mystery. Given the efforts Tierney went through to hide her daughter’s condition, I can’t believe she was happy about it either. This ends up feeling like a sleazy ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law & Order.