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Literature / A Caribbean Mystery

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A Caribbean Mystery is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, published in 1964.

After an illness, Miss Marple has been sent by her nephew to take a holiday on the Caribbean island of St Honore. Approached by the talkative Major Palgrave on the beach, she half-listens to him telling her several stories, until he begins one about a man who got away with several murders. He offers to show her a picture of a murderer, but after searching his wallet for the photo, he suddenly changes the subject, apparently because of the approach of several people. The next day, the Major is found dead, and Miss Marple, suspecting murder, initiates a search for the photo, and starts interviewing numerous people in the vicinity: Tim and Molly Kendall who own the hotel, Canon Prescott and his sister, the rich invalid Mr Rafiel and his employees Jackson and Esther, Edward and Evelyn Hillington, Greg and Lucky Dyson, and Señora de Caspearo. Unfortunately, Major Palgrave is only the first victim claimed by the murderer before Miss Marple manages to crack the case…

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The story has been adapted for the screen several times: an 1983 American TV movie starring Helen Hayes, a 1989 BBC TV adaptation starring Joan Hickson, and a 2014 ITV adaptation starring Julia McKenzie.


A Caribbean Mystery contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Absence of Evidence: Victoria discovers Major Palgrave's death as well as the bottle of heart medication Serenite by his bed — but she does not recall the bottle being there at any time before. Unfortunately, she signs her own death warrant when she voices her suspicions to Tim Kendall.
  • Blackmail: A guest caught by a hotel employee doing something he shouldn't leaves a bigger tip, but the only person to interpret it as a blackmailing gesture is the murderer, who isn't a local.
  • The Bluebeard:
    • Tim Kendall is the killer identified by Major Palgrave, and was planning to strike again. Being recognized forces them to move up their timetable and eliminate potential Spanner in the Works Palgrave.
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    • Subverted with Greg Dyson; the beneficiary of a fortune, he is actually innocent of his previous wife's demise, which was actually caused by his future wife, Lucky, who went on to marry him for his newfound money.
  • The Bore: Major Palgrave is constantly reliving and embellishing his glory days, repeating the same stories, to the point where the fact that no one really listened to him is a plot point. Miss Marple frets that it's possible she's on completely the wrong track as he might have changed topics while she wasn't paying attention, such that the murderer he saw the night of his death might in fact have been a completely different murderer he'd only heard about; rather than the man who killed his wife he described, the photo might have been of a woman. Ultimately Miss Marple's original instinct proves correct — the Major was looking at Tim Kendall through his good eye.
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  • Busman's Holiday: Jane's nephew ordered and paid for her holiday on the island of St. Honore after a bout of ill-health. While relaxing on the beach, she soon finds herself tied up in a murder investigation.
  • Celibate Hero: Miss Marple has never been married, but here she mentions a young man she dated in her youth as an illustrative example, meaning that she did have some romantic history, but apparently none of it developed into anything serious.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mr. Rafiel turns out to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold and assists Miss Marple in the case.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Canon Prescott is referred to by the narratives as simply "the Canon". His actual name is Jeremy.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Edward and Evelyn Hillington are in a mutually loveless marriage, but pretend to the outside world and to their children that everything is fine. Subverted as they end up falling in love for real.
  • He Knows Too Much: Major Palgrave was killed because he knew that Tim Kendall was a wife-killer. Victoria was also killed because she became suspicious about the heart medication.
  • Ironic Name: Lucky Dyson is unluckily mistaken for Molly in the dark and killed.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Rafiel initially comes across as an impossibly rude old rich bastard, but turns out to be a surprisingly kind man under all his bluster. He and Miss Marple become fast friends over the course of the story.
  • The Münchausen: Major Palgrave is an old soldier who tells endless stories about his past that no-one cares about and a few people doubt. The key story, in which he (or someone else) met a murderer is an important plot point and is true.
  • Murder by Mistake: A rare example of Christie playing this trope straight. Tim Kendall mistakes Lucky Dyson for his wife Molly, owing to their similar hair colour, seeing them from behind in the dark.
  • Never One Murder: The murderer, having already killed once at some point in the past, kills three people over the course of the story, and makes a fourth attempt. One of his victims ends up being a murderer in her own right.
  • Night Swim = Death: One of the victims, Lucky Dyson, falls foul of the killer while swimming at night.
  • Red Herring: When Major Palgrave interrupts his story about the murderer, having discovered there are people nearby, Miss Marple sees several people approaching. What she only later realizes is that Major Palgrave could not see these people on his right because of his glass eye — he was focusing on the Kendalls on his left.
  • The Vamp: Lucky Dyson is a shameless flirt and a bit of a Gold Digger. In fact she seduced Edward Hillington and made him an unknowing accomplice when she poisoned Greg Dyson's first wife Gail, so that Lucky could marry him for the money he'd inherit.

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