So, you’re a long-time Agatha Christie fan. You’ve read all the brilliant ones, the good and the decent ones and tackled most of those filed under ‘meh!’ and now you feel bound and obliged to complete the set. You’ve heard the rumours: but, hey, opinions differ, your expectations are set sensibly low and even an ailing and elderly Christie is still Christie.
Or perhaps you’re a maverick, reading out of order and with a reckless disregard to the recommended lists. Maybe you were underwhelmed by Crooked House or Then There Were None or hold that Passenger to Frankfurt was just misunderstood; in any case, you see no especial reason to break out the hazard gear for Nemesis.
It could even be that you’re quite new to it all and, in your sweet, dewy innocence, have simply reached for the nearest available Christie (seven in stock at your local charity shop and never a queue for the library copy) with a vague feeling of ‘she’s supposed to be decent’ and only a slight puzzlement as to the sinister chord clash and sudden bolt of lightning that coincided with your selection.
Whatever is the case – Stop! It’s not too late. Scoop up your copy right now – gingerly, and with a long spoon – take warning from the ripe scent of evil and return it to the pit from which it came.
But if you must persist – from completism, obstinacy or some foolish notion of ‘making up your own mind’ rather than being guided by the wisdom of strangers on the internet – then I can’t stop you. All I can do is help you prepare.
Before you go in, then, be sure to procure the following, for your health and sanity:
All-Weather Rambling Gear
Be prepared for a great deal of pointless, squelchy wandering. Take strong, sturdy shoes, triple-strength argyle socks – and spares – as well as two or three light walking sticks for support, twirling like a baton to keep yourself amused during the dullest parts and/or giving the narrative a damn good, Fawlty-style, thrashing.
The Waters of Lethe (economy size bottle)
Taking a good few litres of this helpfully amnesiac refreshment and sipping regularly will make the repetition, the reiteration, the tautology, the constant rehashing of the plot so far and the endless going over of the same ground, slightly more bearable. It also improves post-novel recovery time by up to three weeks. Be very certain not to overdose however, as a complete lack of memory of the book itself may lead you to read it twice – such a proceeding is, almost invariably, fatal.
A Good, Solid Pin
Despite the deliberately comic image of Miss Marple as a woolly, pink-wrapped Nemesis, this book is swollen with pompousness, pus and self-importance, with particular regard to Evil, Injustice and Young Women Today (harlots, all). You will regret it greatly if you haven’t brought along a shining new pin with which to lance boils and pop pretentions.
(If you follow this advice, however, be sure to also pack a cagoule. And wipes. Lots of wipes.)
A Nasal Peg (Size Large)
Miss Marple, we learn, has been led all this time not just by shrewdness, experience and by recalling the helpful similarity of Suspect A to some nefarious fishmonger she used to know, but also by her supernatural powers of scenting evil. You might think, at several points in the book, that this power is conveniently absent when she herself or other characters are speaking evil about modern girls, working mothers and – bludgeoned into us numerous times, just to be sure that we realise that this is A Very Special Episode – the fact that rape is trivial, or in fact, doesn’t really exist, it’s just that the poor, helpless boys are practically forced into it and then accused afterward by women who, despite being brazen enough to go get themselves into trouble – and probably wear skirts above the knee – still meekly do whatever their mothers tell them.
The experienced GAD reader will, of course, already be armed with a can of Appalling Outdated Opinion repellent (very reasonable if bought in bulk) but this is a particularly noxious case. Maybe take two cans and a nice, muffling snood to contain the rage. A blood-pressure cuff is also wise.
Finally, you should be aware of the hazards of clumsy red herrings strewing the path, some unconvincing layering with Greek mythology and heavy signposting to the killer, who is consequently about as surprising as receiving socks at Christmas.
Good luck, intrepid travellers. Remember that even with the above precautions, few have made it through unscathed: so, arrange plenty of recovery time for afterwards, get in large stocks of your favourite comfort foods, sorrow-drowning beverage of choice or a cuddly blankie; and lay out some cooling flannels, for the head.
And don’t forget to choose a selection of your favourite Christies in advance and keep them handy. It may take a while – you may think it will never happen – but you will read again. And perhaps, the experience, by providing a (horrible, horrible) contrast, will not after all have been wasted.