The Tuesday Night Club: Case #2 - The Idol House Of Astarte
AKA: The Solving of Six, The Evil Hour
Series: A Miss Marple Short Story by Agatha Christie
First Published: 1928 in the Royal Magazine (UK) & Detective Story Magazine (US)
Summary: This is the second case for the Tuesday Murder Club and it is laid out by Dr. Pender, who attended a house party in the country - where during a highly charged dramatic moment by a debutant - in a very suggestible atmosphere, a man was murdered. But does the solution lie within the supernatural or in human hands?
Review: I enjoyed this story a whole bunch. The focus of this story seems to be on atmosphere and how it can affect responses in people. In this story it was a place which seemed to hold a sense of malevolence which permeated everyone who entered it. Christie was able to create a definite atmosphere/feeling in her story without falling into the pit of impending doom (when you read impending doom think of the Scooby-Doo villains moaning about the sleuths’ “impending doom”and that is the pit I am speaking of). None of the characters ever thought that a murder was going to take place that weekend just because there was a spot on the estate which felt creepy. This is a fine but important distinction as many authors stray over this line without realizing it using far too heavy a hand in their foreshadowing and give the whole game away!
This sense of atmosphere really reminds me of a novel she penned thirty-two years later, The Pale Horse, which created a similar menace between its covers. Once again the feeling of the supernatural pervaded the story - yet the solution, means and motivations are startlingly mundane. In both these stories she used this writing device masterfully!
“There are certain places imbued and saturated with good or evil influences which make their power felt”
Random Fact: On the estate where our poor murdered fellow lived was something he was immensely interested in called a barrow. Now if you are not English or into archaeology, this particular term might not be exactly familiar to you. It certainly wasn’t to me, I got it mixed up with the name Burrows - which is the name that graced the Weasley abode in Harry Potter - hey, I was really tired, give me a little break here! But I digress. The term refers to a “heap of earth” which conceals prehistoric tomb. Which would have done a number to the warm/cozy atmosphere of the Weasley household, you know having skeletons and weapons all over the place. The one on the estate in question was from the Bronze Age, which would be a round barrow as bronze artifacts were found inside and that was the style of the period. The picture below is of English barrows.
Photo by Jim Champion from Wikipedia
While barrows litter the UK and Europe (evidently they are one of the most common archaeological types due to their simple construction), they aren’t the most interesting places for archaeology in the UK, in my opinion (which is probably worth about as much as the paper this is written on)! London is where it’s at archaeologically speaking!
Why you ask? London is one of the oldest continuously occupied capitol cities in the world (and just like New York in the US) people have been drawn like moths to it for centuries. With such a steady and sometimes huge influx of people over the years - plus the fact they live practically on top of one another (like in NY in the US), they have left all kinds of stuff behind them. According to an article in National Geographic, London sits on top of - on average - thirty feet of layered detritus - which is very exciting for archaeologically minded folk!
Even more exciting? The famous English damp weather, plus the Thames and its sisters. Why? The damp and soil consistency allow many items which normal erode away over time in other areas of the world to be preserved there. Leather, wood and metal objects come out of this muck and dirt in far better condition than anyone would normally expect them to, thereby allowing us to understand historical events/monuments even better than we did previously.
Right now is an especially exciting time for archaeologists because there are a number of monster-size civil engineering projects, large structures going up and other buildings being torn down all over the city. These allow access to previously inaccessible archaeological layers! One of the most fascinating openings is London’s first municipal cemetery, which was situated outside Bedlam hospital, where up to 30,000 people were buried on a single acre. This was the final resting place for victims of the plague, political agitators, working poor and anyone else not deemed fit enough for a normal churchyard! Most of its inhabitants will never be identified, however they are giving insight into the London during the periods in which they lived. So of you are like the fellow in Miss Marple’s mystery, to London you must go!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner2016