Jerry and Joanna Burton, brother and sister from London society, take a country house in idyllic Lymstock so that Jerry can rest from injuries received in a wartime plane crash. Just as they are getting to know some of the town's rather strange inhabitants, they receive an anonymous letter accusing them of being lovers, instead of siblings. They are told that these anonymous "poison pen" letters have been circulating widely around the town, making various accusations that are unpleasant, but inaccurate. The situation takes an ugly turn when a woman commits suicide after receiving a letter, and the police move in to investigate.
A Miss Marple
novel by Agatha Christie
. The title is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as well as a reference to Beshazzar's Feast in the Book of Daniel.
One of only two Christie novels in which the American edition substantially differs in content from the original British (the other is the Poirot novel Three Act Tragedy
). The American version cuts out much of the incidental description and character development, focussing more tightly on the mystery.
This work contains examples of:
- Absence of Evidence: Mrs Symmington's poison letter was a plant, and poor Agnes realised that the letter did not come through the letter box.
- Abusive Parents: Of the emotionally abusive kind. Megan's mother and step-father usually ignore her, and it's observed by Jerry Burton and others that Megan's presence upsets what would have been a traditional nuclear family. It is evident that Megan feels this.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The ITV version turned Jerry's injuries into self-inflicted ones from a failed suicide.
- Bluffing the Murderer: As engineered by Miss Marple. Megan agrees to be The Bait.
- Brother-Sister Team: Jerry and Joanna Burton.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Dr Griffith is bumbling and awkward when faced with Joanna's bold, flirtatious, big-city personality, and his idea of courting is showing her pictures of diseased internal organs. He impresses the hell out of her when, as she's faked interest in medicine, he takes her along on a difficult case.
- Camp Gay: Mr Pye, who is alluded to be gay, is also described as "abnormally feminine," can recognize makeup brand when seeing it on Joanna's face, and is included by the police as a suspect even though they insist, on experience, that the culprit must be female.
- Driving Question: Who is sending these letters? But as Miss Marple points out, this was the wrong question.
- Fair Play Whodunnit: Averted. While plenty of clues are dropped, the most crucial one, the one that explains the motive for the murder of Mrs. Symmington, is only revealed at the end of the story. It turns out Mr. Symmington was in love with Elsie Holland, and killed his wife so he could be with her.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Jerry and Megan
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Jerry Burton
- Everyone Is a Suspect: From Jerry's point of view.
- Important Character, Important Evidence
- Little Old Lady Investigates: Obviously, as a Miss Marple novel.
- Love Makes You Evil: Mr Symmington. Also, to a lesser extent, Miss Griffiths.
- Never One Murder: Poor Agnes.
- Never Suicide
- Ripped from the Headlines: In story. Mr Symmington got the idea of poison pen letters from a couple of other publicised cases, as a way to make his wife's murder look like suicide.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Megan
- The Unfavorite: Megan, very obviously.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: After Megan's mother is murdered and her stepfather is arrested for the crime, no mention is made of who would take care of her two young half-brothers.
- Technically, Megan would be their next-of-kin, unless their father's will stated otherwise, which is probable, especially as he'd probably be surprised to think of Megan being married within that year. However, it's implied that- as with most boys of their class at the time- they will be spending most of the rest of their childhood at boarding school.