The Tuesday Night Club: Case #5 - Motive v. Opportunity
AKA: Where’s The Catch?
Series: Miss Marple - The version I am reading is the 2011 Miss Marple The Complete Short Stories thus the case order.
First Published: Royal Magazine (UK) 1928
Summary: Mr. Petherick, the lawyer of the group, puts forth a murder-less mystery for the group to solve. One of his cases involved a Grandfather who, through a series of unfortunate events, became a girl's legal guardian. He simply doted on her until her untimely death at age eleven. Then through a string of further familial misfortune he took in his brother’s children. However the three children never attained the same place in his heart that his beloved granddaughter held.
Years later the grandfather was introduced to a spiritualist, who claimed she could (and did) contacted the little girl on the other side. The grandfather he was overjoyed at the thought of being reunited, even so tentatively with her. She ensnared him so thoroughly, the grandfather changed his will leaving the spiritualist the bulk of his considerable fortune - while leaving his nieces and nephew a pittance by comparison.
The mystery here is what occurred two month after this revised will was signed and he passed away. When his lawyer took the will out of his safe for the reading - he discover the paper was blank! And the only people with the means to have switched the will had no motive to do so!
Review: Meringue Malaise: Similar to eating a meringue cookie, it is a book which has no substance, little flavor and is completely forgotten when finished. The book is neither liked or loathed because the reader simply cannot remember enough of the prose to do so.
Taken At The Flood is the only book in the Christie canon (thus far, I haven’t read them all quite yet) which inflicted this rare fictional disorder on me. Minutes after I put down the book, I had little memory of the plot, characters or even Poirot. I continuously needed to refresh my memory by reading the text when I wrote it up a year and a half ago. I must say my encounter with Meringue Malaise left me feeling a bit odd, since I usually remember what I read rather well!
Motive v. Opportunity is the eggs whites, sugar and cream of tartar of Taken At The Flood. Meaning? The short story provided the base ingredients Christie used to construct her full length novel! Seriously - she added vanilla extract, food coloring and some colored sugar to the top of the cookies and Voila! A brand new novel if you squint really hard and ignore the short story published twenty years previously...
Now you maybe wondering how I spotted the similarities of the story to the novel - since I am still in the grips of Meringue Malaise - and I must admit it is sheer dumb luck! I was doing a spot of research for this blog, making sure I didn’t repeat a topic when I chanced upon the post for Taken At The Flood which mentioned the Cloade family and their trials and tribulations over their inheritance. Which sounded suspiciously similar to the short story I just read.
While Motive v Opportunity did not compound my fiction disorder - I can say it is my least favorite of the Tuesday Murder Club so far. Not because it was a murder-less mystery, Ingots of Gold earlier in the series was bodiless as are several Mr. Quin & Satterthwaite mysteries. No, it just left a bad taste in my mouth (not unlike an infamous little cookie I might name). Mr. Petherick seemed more interested in telling a story which follows to the letter the idea of fair play - but not the spirit behind it. I suppose it was in keeping with his personality, however this isn’t enough for me to enjoy the story!
The only truly positive thing, which really almost counts more as a negative, which I can really say about "Motive v. Opportunity" provided a partial cure to my Meringue Malaise! I now am able to, albeit a bit hazily, remember the plot of Taken At The Flood (I still forget the title with startling regularity) and I am not sure I am very excited about that!
Nothing from this story - so have another quote from The Bloodstained Pavement:
“There is a great deal of wickedness in village life. I hope you dear young people will never realize how very wicked the world is.”
I find this quote rather funny as she is addressing a former Scotland Yard man!
Random Fact: Earth Day is right around the corner! Can you believe it? Today it is touted as the largest celebrated secular holiday. Observed in more than 120 nations around the world it’s a single unifying force - which at its core is about self preservation. Back in 1970 when the first Earth Day events were first organized by Denis Hayes - some seriously bleak predictions were made: global famine, mass extinctions and air pollution so thick the sun’s light hitting the earth would be reduced by 50%. While some of the predictions are closer to the mark than we’d like - strides in stemming the tide have been made.
(Earth from NASA archives)
While mitigating global scale environmental threats seem overwhelming - one of the most hopeful movements adopted the world over - recycling. Recycling allows everyone to feel like they are do their small part in helping our world. Even more important? Recycling is growing! Moving on from just aluminum cans, glass and newspapers into new thrilling areas we are just beginning to tap - there isn’t much we can’t repurpose now! Finding the program you need can be the toughest part.
Just like in the real world, writers have been recycling materials since the early times as well! Which explains the creation of archetypal characters (who back in the day, say to the Ancient Chinese or Greeks might have been new) now are easily recognizable for who they are - granted there are variants within each archetype, but the general notes are hit. Not sure? Think of the damsel in distress who traces back (at least) to the Greek story of Andromeda (who was saved by Perseus) who subsequently was refurbished and digitized into Princess Zelda (who is continuously saved by Link) who then is remodeled into Bella Swan (who is continuously rescued by Edward). The femme fatale (the Greek Sirens to Rachel in Blade Runner), reluctant hero (Han Solo), brooding detective (Batman, Marlowe, Holmes) or the hooker with a heart of gold (from La Traviata to Pretty Woman) all these archetypes are well acquainted to us. Christie herself dipped into this pantheon of characters with Mr. Quin (the Harlequin) and Miss Marple (the wise old crone).
(Andromeda being saved by Perseus - from NY Public Library digital archives)
Recycling extends beyond just characters! Plot lines and devices also have seen their fair share of retellings (i.e. a fancier term for recycling). Fairy tales, legends and early plays are a particular favorite due to universality of their themes (and lack of copyrights) and are continuously being recycled into new materials. Odyssey, Thor & Loki, Beowulf, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, The Ugly Duckling, Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast and every other great literary work you can think of has been rejiggered at one point or another. Even Christie’s canon has seen plot devises “borrowed” by other authors - the solution to The Murder On The Orient Express is a particular favorite (especially by television writers).
(from NY Public Library digital archives)
Christie herself did her fair share of Literary Recycling. Not only from other works, nursery rhymes, Shakespeare and the Harlequinade were particular favorites - but from herself! Not only were shorts transformed into full length novels (with varying degrees of success), but The Man In The Brown Suit morphed into The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. By using already established story lines and characters it saved her time, which was really important due to the number of novels she was contractually obligated to write. This extra time Christie received in return allowed her to form unique plots, devices and characters for other books. If Christie didn’t recycle she perhaps wouldn’t have had time to work on And Then There Were None, Murder On The Orient Express or A Murder Is Announced - and we would be the poorer for it!
So while literal recycling of plastics, metal, diapers, soap, clothes, paper, glass, computers, wine corks, pantyhose, tennis balls, chewing gum and greeting cards are very important to keeping life sustainable on Earth...do not forget it can make our lives richer! Beyond the large recycling centers, there are some great artists constructing art made from discarded materials, entrepreneurs repurposing items into new ones that we didn’t know that we had to have, or people learning to use old skills on new materials (allowing a second chance for the worker and material) all of these are important byproducts of recycling. Now I know Literary Recycling doesn’t have an environmental impact as its real world counterpart (other than the books which get published - which again can be reused in any number of ways) but it is still important. It adds new layers of vibrancy to archetypal characters, settings and plots - and thus allows storytellers and audiences to be richer for the retellings!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2016