The Sleeping Murder
First Published: Collins Crime Club, London, 1976.
I Read: The Sleeping Murder, William Morrow, 2011.
Series: Miss Marple
Summary: “…one crime gave them what they wanted and they were content.” (pg. 42), Gwenda Reed and her new husband don’t understand Miss Marple’s reluctance in reopening a possible murder case. Gwen saw a woman murdered at the base of the stairs when she was just a child. Unwilling to let a murderer get away with their crime, they begin to investigate, stirring up long forgotten memories and trouble!
Review: The Sleeping Murder is a lovely mystery, one which does a great job in creating a sense of suspense for the reader. I enjoyed reading it, however…..there are two issues I have with the book, with an unusual twist - they don‘t relate to the mystery itself. The first problem for me relates to the statement on the front cover “Miss Marple’s Last Case”. While this book is the last Marple to be published, it is not her final case - that distinction belongs to Nemesis. The Sleeping Murder should come either just before or just after A Murder Is Announced. There are definite continuity issues in placing this mystery at the end of the series - SPOILERS! - Colonel Bantry is still alive, and he and Mrs. Bantry are still living at Gossinton Hall (as of The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side - Colonel Bantry had died and his widow had moved to a small home on the estate). Miss Marple has not yet been banned from doing work in the garden by Dr. Haydock and is still doing her own investigative leg work (which she needed help with as of 4:50 From Paddington). I know this seems trivial, but this is an issue which really frosted my cupcakes, as I tried very hard to read the Miss Marples in series order - not in publication order as most people seem to.
Which leads me into my next issue, which has nothing to do with the Sleeping Murder mystery at all (but I kept hearing it because of my problem with the series order), but with a common generalization of Christie’s work - “It doesn’t matter if you read Christie in order“. In the case of Miss Marple (I haven’t read Poirot yet) - yes, it does! Yes, it does! I hear that coming out of someone’s mouth and it makes me just want to howl! While they do not contain the over-arching story lines we are used to seeing in our series today, they do build on one another. You learn about Miss Marple - watching her age and hone her investigative abilities through the series. She is the glue of the series, and you get far more out of the books if you read them in series order, and all together instead of reading in the order of publication.
This is what made the Sleeping Murder such a shock to read, as I was expecting a series ender, like Curtain, and got a mid-series book instead. Now, I understand why it often does get stuck as the final installment; legend states Christie wrote the book during the Blitz and squirreled it away in a bank vault for safe keeping. Christie didn’t expect to live through the war (this was a common fatalistic view during WWII), but wanted her books to make it. She didn’t authorize the publication of the Sleeping Murder and Curtain until she realized she would not be writing any further books, and Sleeping Murder was published posthumously. So perhaps an asterisk for this title would be wise? Letting people know where it should go in the series? Seems silly I know, however I discovered I have strong feelings about this….who knew?
“She’s a very celebrated lady, is Miss Marple. Got the Chief Constables of at least three counties in her pocket…..So Miss Marple’s got her finger in this pie.”
“She’s made an awful lot of helpful suggestions,” said Gwenda.
“I bet she has,”…(pg. 219)
Interesting Note: An early draft of this book was called Cover Her Face, but Christie changed it when P.D. James published a book with this title. It was James’s first book with Adam Dalgliesh as her lead detective.
Cheating: When I started reading this book all kinds of bells started ringing in my memory, as the whole premise seemed very familiar. When I read the bit about Gwenda knowing where a door was, which had been sealed for years and finding the wallpaper in a cupboard she had imagined putting up on the walls of her new home…..Well I discovered I had read this book before! I find it a bit disconcerting to have forgotten, as normally I remember everything I read. So my assertion I had never read Christie before was true when I made the claim - however it is not quite as true a statement as I had thought. I cannot hold my twelve year old self too much to blame…. Summer vacation at the beach is not the most conducive setting for focusing on a book, so you can remember reading it twenty plus years later! (that’s my story and I am sticking to it!)
I didn’t cheat, as I knew who the murderer was, I enjoyed reading it again and reminiscing about my summer vacation!
John Curran, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks. New York, Harper, 2009.
Agatha Christie: Official Home Of The Best-Selling Author Of All Time, March 26, 2014. http://www.agathachristie.com/christies-work/stories/sleeping-murder/199
Wikipedia, March 26, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleeping_Murder