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Literature / Nemesis

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Nemesis is a 1971 novel by Agatha Christie.

Miss Jane Marple receives out of the blue a letter from the estate of millionaire financier Jason Rafiel, a man she knew briefly while on vacation in the island of St Honoré—that being the plot of A Caribbean Mystery. Mr. Rafiel has died, and he has left Miss Marple a bequest of £20,000, but on a strange condition. Mr. Rafiel, who knew Miss Marple for only a short while but saw first-hand her fearlessness, her detective skills, and her dedication to justice, has instructed his lawyers that Miss Marple will receive the money only if she solves a certain crime. The only problem is, the will says absolutely nothing about what that crime is.

Intrigued, Miss Marple accepts the request. No explanatory details are forthcoming, but she does soon get a message that Mr. Rafiel paid for her to join a bus tour of notable English houses and gardens. Assuming that her ticket was purchased for a reason, Miss Marple goes on a tour. Also on the tour is one Elizabeth Temple, a retired school administrator who reveals an important piece of the puzzle. Some years ago one of her students, Verity Hunt, was once engaged to be married to Jason Rafiel's son Michael, but that the marriage did not happen.


The tour stops in a sleepy English village, where Miss Marple gets another surprise. She is approached by a Mrs. Lavinia Glynne, who reveals that Mr. Rafiel, a friend of the family, requested that Mrs. Glynne and her two sisters host Miss Marple during what is reportedly a physically taxing part of the tour that requires a lot of hiking not suitable for an old lady. It is at the home of Mrs. Glynne and her unmarried sisters Clotilde Bradbury-Scott and Anthea Bradbury-Scott that Miss Marple learns the rest of the puzzle. The Hunt-Rafiel marriage didn't happen because Verity Hunt was murdered. Michael Rafiel is now in jail serving a life sentence for that murder. Miss Marple, assuming that this is the mystery she's been hired to solve, sets out to discover who really killed Verity Hunt.

The last Miss Marple novel Christie wrote, although not the last to be published, as Sleeping Murder was published in 1976 (as Christie's last novel ever) after spending some 35 years on the shelf. Not to be confused with the Nemesis Series of superhero novels by April Daniels.



  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Miss Marple's explanation for why women, and Verity Hunt in particular, kept falling for the delinquent and reprobate Michael Rafiel.
    Miss Marple: Young women like bad lots....They fall in love with bad lots. They are quite sure that they can change them. And the nice, kind, steady, reliable husbands got the answer, in my young days, that one would be "a sister to them".
  • Badass Boast: Miss Marple delivers one that's a Title Drop:
    "One of my names," she said, "is Nemesis."
    "Nemesis? And what does that mean?"
    "I think you know," said Miss Marple. "You are a very well educated woman. Nemesis is long delayed sometimes, but it comes in the end."
  • Big Damn Heroes: Miss Barrow and Miss Cooke show up to find Miss Marple peacefully talking with the murderer.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Prof. Wanstead is described as having "enormous bushy eyebrows which moved up and down to give point to what he was saying."
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The collapsed greenhouse behind the Bradbury-Scott house, mentioned multiple times, and how it was overgrown by vines and how Anthea once got a quote for restoring the greenhouse, causing Clotilde to flip out. Verity Hunt is buried under the rubble.
    • It's noted more than once that when Verity Hunt was found, her face had been bashed in and disfigured. That was done on purpose, because the dead body wasn't Verity Hunt.
  • Comic-Book Time: Played with. Basically this trope is still in effect as Miss Marple is an elderly lady solving crimes over 40 years after the character was introduced as the Trope Maker for Little Old Lady Investigates. However, in this last Miss Marple novel she is said to be old and infirm, hard of hearing with aches and pains, and this is even plot relevant as it's the reason she temporarily stays with the three sisters.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Beyond this book being a sequel to A Caribbean Mystery and mentioning that story several times, there's a moment when Miss Marple checks into a London hotel and remembers how much she enjoyed Bertram's Hotel.
    • Elizabeth Temple and Miss Marple have a mutual friend: Henry Clithering of Scotland Yard, a character who pops up in Miss Marple books dating back to The Thirteen Problems.
  • Dead Man Writing: Miss Marple receives from the late Jason Rafiel's lawyers a letter from him, asking her to "investigate a certain crime" and citing her passion for justice.
  • Delinquents: Michael Rafiel was quite the delinquent in his youth, involved in "various gangster activities", vandalism, theft, knocking women up, a couple of brief stints in jail, accusations of rape. All of that made him the easy suspect when Verity Hunt disappeared.
  • Dramatic Drop: When Miss Marple mentions the single name "Verity", Mrs. Glynne drops the book she was holding and looks at Miss Marple in surprise. This is when Miss Marple gets them to reveal the details of what happened to Verity Hunt.
  • Driven to Suicide: Once she realizes the game is up, Clotilde drinks the poisoned milk she was going to give to Miss Marple.
  • Dying Wish: Jason Rafiel sends Miss Marple a request from beyond the grave, to solve a crime. It's eventually revealed to be the murder that got his son a life sentence.
  • False Rape Accusation: Miss Marple and Prof. Wanstead share a less-than-enlightened view of rape in which, supposedly, young women claim to be raped in order to avoid embarrassment after consensual sex. Prof. Wanstead believes this happened with Michael Rafiel.
    Prof. Wanstead: Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insists, very often, that they should call it rape.
  • Finally Found the Body: The body identified some ten years ago as Verity Hunt was not Verity Hunt. In fact, Verity is buried under the ruins of the collapsed greenhouse behind the house where the three sisters live.
  • Funny Foreigner: Mr. Caspar, a minor character, who exists for comic relief and who speaks "a most peculiar English" sprinkled with French and German.
  • Gay Romantic Phase: Verity apparently went through a period where she had crushes on other women during her time at school. Miss Marple describes it as hero-worship of mentors and older students that the younger girls idolize, and a phase that many young women go through, before going on to marry and have children. Unfortunately for Verity, Verity's over-protective guardian, Clotilde, was a Psycho Lesbian who came back to murder her rather than let Verity marry a man that Clotilde didn't approve of.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Apparently it was once a thing in England to call a harmless old lady like Miss Marple an "old pussy". This particular phrase is used by Miss Marple over and over again, although even she recognizes that it was mostly in use "in rather earlier days."
    "An old pussy," said Miss Marple to herself. "Yes, I can see I'm quite recognizable as an old pussy. There are so many old pussies, and they're all so much alike."
  • The Hecate Sisters: The three Bradbury-Scott sisters, living alone in their falling-down mansion and overgrown garden. The scatty, mind-wandering Anthea who can't seem to focus on the present is the never-married Maiden, Miss Glynne — the only one of the trio who married and who is the steadiest and most sympathetic of the three — is the Matron/Mother, and domineering Clotilde whom Miss Marple sees as a modern Clytemnestra and who murdered Verity Hunt is the Crone. On top of that...
  • If I Can't Have You…: Clotilde, the Psycho Lesbian and parental guardian in love with Verity Hunt, killed her rather than let her marry Michael Rafiel.
  • Intro Dump: All the guests on the tour bus, basically all the main characters except for the three sisters, are introduced together in the long passage when Miss Marple joins the tour.
  • It Gets Easier: Miss Marple's diagnosis of Clotilde as she observes how Clotilde moved on to her next murder.
    Miss Marple: And you wouldn't have any scruples. You know one doesn't stop at one murder. I have noticed that in the course of my life and in what I have observed of crime.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Clotilde killed her beloved Verity rather than let Verity marry Michael Rafiel.
  • Oddball in the Series: A rare example of a Miss Marple book where she is present throughout the narrative and is also the POV character. In most of the Miss Marple series the story is told through a third-person POV character who observes Miss Marple detecting.
  • On One Condition: Miss Marple will receive a sizeable cash bequest, but only if she can solve a crime. What crime? She'll just have to wait to find out, but she only has a year to solve it in order to get the money.
  • Posthumous Character: Jason Rafiel, who leaves Miss Marple a bequest and a Dead Man Writing letter, and is discussed throughout the narrative.
  • Pseudo-Romantic Friendship: The trope is discussed concerning the relationship between two characters:
    "Verity had lost her real guardians, her parents, she had entered on her new life after their death, at an age when a schoolgirl arrives at having a "crush" on someone. An attractive mistress. Anything from the games mistress to the mathematics mistress, or a prefect or an older girl. A state that does not last for very long, is merely a natural part of life. Then from that you go on to the next stage when you realize that what you want in your life is what complements yourself. A relationship between a man and a woman...I think Verity adored Clotilde in an almost romantic way."
  • Psycho Lesbian: Clotilde, the jealous psycho who was Verity's parental guardian after Verity's parents were killed in a plane wreck, murdered Verity Hunt rather than let Verity marry Michael Rafiel. Clotilde buried Verity in her own backyard and then killed a completely different person as part of a plot to frame Michael Rafiel for Verity's murder. Miss Marple connects lesbianism in general with abnormality:
    Miss Marple: She wanted to escape...from the burden of the bondage of love she was living in with you. She wanted a normal woman's life. To live with the man of her choice, to have children by him. She wanted marriage and the happiness of normality.
  • Secret Test: Anthea speaks as if she's big into gardening, but when Miss Marple asks several questions about plants, Anthea knows almost nothing.
  • Sequel: Nemesis is the sequel to A Caribbean Mystery; the whole plot is due to the Dying Wish of Jason Rafiel, a character Miss Marple meets in the previous book.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: How Prof. Wanstead explains that he sometimes works as a prison psychiatrist. Hilariously, he starts his long-winded spiel by saying "I'm not going to make a long story of things."
    Prof. Wanstead: I act as confidential advisor to the Home Office. I am also in touch with certain institutions. There are certain establishments which, in the event of crime, provide board and lodging for certain types of criminals who have been found guilty of certain acts. They remain there at what is termed Her Majesty's pleasure, sometimes for a definite length of time and in direct association with their age. If they are below a certain age they have to be received in some place of detention specifically indicated. You understand that, no doubt....Usually I am consulted fairly soon after whatever the—shall we call it—crime has happened, to judge such matters as treatment, possibilities in the case, prognosis favourable or unfavourable, all the various words...." [many more lines until he gets to consulting about Michael Rafiel]
  • Sexy Packaging: In-Universe, as Miss Marple sees a book cover she dislikes. "Miss Marple looked with distaste at the jacket of the book, a naked girl with blood-stained markings on her face and a sinister-looking killer bending over her with a blood-stained knife in his hand." Agatha Christie disliked salacious covers and insisted on the right of approval for the covers of her books.
  • The Summation: As usual with Miss Marple novels, the book ends with her explaining her deduction process and how she identified the killer.
  • Theme Naming: The three Bradbury-Scott sisters' names (Clotilde, Lavinia and Anthea) evoke the three Fates: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos.
  • Title Drop: "Nemesis" is the "code word" that Mr. Rafiel uses in his Dead Man Writing letter to Miss Marple, asking her to solve a crime.
  • Twitchy Eye: Among the various quirks marking Anthea Bradbury-Scott off as not quite right in the head is "one eyelid which twitched from time to time."
  • Warm Milk Helps You Sleep: Clotilde offers Miss Marple a glass of warm milk when she goes to bed. Miss Marple agrees, on the grounds that it "always gives one a good night".
  • The Weird Sisters: the Bradbury-Scott sisters, definitely. Three odd, old women who live alone, who are considered to have gotten very strange after their ward, Verity Hunt, died, and who not only are examples of The Hecate Sisters, but are whole-character references to the Three Fates of Greek mythology. Miss Marple even calls them the "three weird sisters" and the "three witches of Macbeth". This becomes even more overwhelming when you realize that Verity's murderer, Clotilde, has her name based on Clotho, the one who spun the thread of human lives and controlled their fate; Clotilde killed Verity to prevent her from escaping Clotilde's control and living her own life.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: In the backstory, Verity died right before she was to marry Michael Rafiel.