The Tuesday Night Club: Case #4 - The Bloodstained Pavement (UK)
AKA: Drip! Drip! (US)
Series: Miss Marple - The version I am reading is the 2011 Miss Marple The Complete Short Stories thus the case order.
First Published: 1928 in the Royal Magazine
Summary: In this installment Joyce is the one presenting her case before the collective armchair detectives. Five years hence she’d found herself staying in a small Inn in the village of Rathole where she planned to sketch and paint. The scene she chose to paint happened to be the setting for a curious event between a husband & wife. While watching the over the course of the day, Joyce unconsciously picks up on her canvas a sinister vibe in the scene laid before her which culminates in her painting drops of blood on the white pavement leading up to the Inn...
Review: Have you ever seen someone wearing a pair of pants which was more patch than pant? Slacks held together more from habit than stitches? Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie reminds me of said pair of dilapidated pants. Originally it started out as a long novella called Hercule Poirot and the Greenshaw Folly which is absolutely wonderful. When it didn’t sell to magazines (due to it’s unusual length, short stories and novels were no problem - but a novella was evidently a tougher sell) she decided to broaden the narrative to book length - stretching out plot devices and adding exposition to round things out. Which detracted from rather than added to the story, and that is unfortunate because it is a very clever plot and solution!
Evil Under The Sun another Poirot mystery which I found absolutely wonderful (if I am remembering correctly). Clever in its construction and fully engaging, but it wasn’t completely original in the solution and construction either! However the outcome in this case I feel is completely different. I wasn't painfully aware of all the brightly colored patches used to shore up the narrative like I was in Dead Man’s Folly. In Evil Under The Sun Christie deftly weaves in previously used plot devices in so well with new material, that hardly a seam shows. So when did the solution and a bit of the plot first see the light of day? You guessed it! In The Bloodstained Pavement.
I think the reason why these two full length novels fared so differently in the success of their construction is due to how married Christie was to the original originating short story. In Greenshaw she was simply lengthening a Poirot novella into a Poirot novel, and felt she could simply expand things and be all right. But she had to alter quite a bit for Bloodstained Pavement - because tuning a Marple short story to into a Poirot full length novel is a far different thing, especially since Christie didn’t believe her two great detectives would get along, which is why they never met (they only had acquaintances in common).
Unsurprisingly I really liked this particular case presented to the Murder Club. Not only the case stumps all the gentlemen in the group (which I thought was hilarious), it also proves both Marple and Poirot were clever enough to solve the same sort of case. Which we already knew - but it is nice to have proof!
“...I hardly like telling you my story...it’s sort of haunted me ever since. The smiling, bright, top part of it -- and the hidden gruesomeness underneath.”
Random Comparison: Gothic novels often feature windswept castles, brooding moors and cobwebbed mansions. In Christie’s case, it was a town named Rathole with an old legend which sparked Joyce’s gothic imagination. When the Spanish Armada had bombed and then landed in Rathole, the Inn where Joyce stood was the only building in the town left standing. The Inn’s owner was subsequently murdered on the steps by the leader of the Armada - staining the flagstones with his blood for the next hundred years, which created the legend that whenever the bloody stain reappears a death will occur within twenty-four hours of the sighting.
However in real life, unless you live in place with a gruesome legend or eerie buildings, I have often found the easiest way for something to transform from the mundane to something else, something other, something gothic - is through the application of light and shadow. Light is a strange thing, it can create an atmosphere all its own - familiar scenes turn sinister, or even malevolent if applied correctly. That makes the gothic atmosphere even more eerie since we know what we are looking at is harmless - but it no longer feels that way....This gothic sensibility which both pulls and repels is exactly what I felt when I was reading The Bloodstained Pavement. Joyce’s description of the town of Rathole as being both postcard perfect and malignant underneath seemed apt for a story based around love and death.
And that got me thinking of another short story I read years ago, with a similar sensibility to Bloodstained Pavement - William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily. An American southern gothic short about an upperclass woman who loves an unsuitable lower-class man and apparently murders him so they could always be together while an unsuspecting town covers up her crime. The tale is more complicated and creepy, seriously creepy than my synopsis lets on (obviously) but it is absolutely wonderful, I would highly recommend taking a few minutes and reading it. This story is the perfect example of a gothic tale, where love and death with a tinge of the macabre are mixed to perfection, which doesn’t allow any of the characters or reader to leave unscathed at the end of the tale.
While Faulkner is well known as the master of the southern gothic novel, Christie is not noted for this style of writing (By The Pricking of My Thumbs and Pale Horse might possibly qualify as gothic novels in their own right). However in The Blood Stained Pavement I think she succeeded whether she meant to or not (I don’t really know for sure). She primed us with Ingots Of Gold and Raymond’s schoolboy romantic notions of sunken treasure in the hulls of the ships left on the ocean floor by the Spanish Armada. On top of these romantic notions, in the very next story, she layered on a building sense of dread - by simultaneously telling the reader about a gruesome town legend, Joyce’s unconscious bloody painting and then her observations of the couple staying at the same Inn (I don’t want to spoil the Christie for you by giving the exact details of the plot - but rest assured love and matrimony feature in this mystery). Tie this all together with the village of Rathole and The Bloodstained Pavement becomes a piece of gothic fiction - perhaps not as creepy as Faulkner’s work but it still shares a similar sensibility. Or in my mind a similar sense of light.
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2016