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8 june 2024

"It has just happened," writes Jane Marple in Nemesis, "that I have found myself in the vicinity of murder rather more often than would seem normal" (65).

A harmless vacation, in A Caribbean Mystery, brought Miss Marple face-to-face with a serial killer intent on striking again. Her implacable pursuit of that murderer gained her the sobriquet "Nemesis," conferred by her ally Mr. Rafiel. As Nemesis opens, Mr. Rafiel is dead (natural causes for once), but that doesn't stop him from bringing Miss Marple into the vicinity of still more murders.

As the plot of Nemesis unfolds, you could forgive Miss Marple for feeling a bit paranoid. Mr. Rafiel's will, and subsequent letters he times as if to arrive from the beyond, don't explain what he wants her to do. He arranges for her to go on a sightseeing tour. Various strangers keep appearing to announce that Mr. Rafiel was a mutual friend. And slowly, Miss Marple pieces together her mission: to clear Mr. Rafiel's ne'er-do-well son Michael of a long-ago murder conviction.

Usually the killers in Miss Marple's life wander into the cozy settings of St. Mary Mead, but here she gets on a bus with a ready-assembled cozy cast in place. Nemesis is a better title than Murder on the Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Britain Coach Tour, but the latter would be more descriptive.

Among the strangers who befriends Miss Marple on the tour is Elizabeth Temple, the well-known headmistress of a girls' school. While the group is out on a hike too strenuous for our heroine, Elizabeth Temple is mangled by a maliciously-rolled boulder. She lives long enough to tell Miss Marple a single name: "Verity Hunt." It sounds like not so much a name as a brief description of the detective genre.

But it's a real enough name, and that of a murder victim, and Miss Marple's task gets both easier and harder. Whoever killed Elizabeth Temple probably killed Verity Hunt (whose murder Michael Rafiel was convicted of). The killer – and it can't be Michael, now – is still killing in order to cover up that ancient crime.

If Miss Marple identifies the murderer, she will get £20,000 free of legacy duty. "I'm going to have some fun with it," she remarks. Crime is a sinister business, but solving it is cause for recreation.

Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. 1971. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.