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Sleeping Murder is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels originally published in 1976 and is actually Miss Marple's final case.
Gwenda Reed is a newly married woman who has come over to England from New Zealand where her husband is still working. Gwenda plans to buy them a family home to settle into before Giles comes over himself. She sees many potential homes before she is inexplicably drawn to a Victorian villa in Dillmouth. The house is purchased and it's not long before Gwenda starts having some odd feelings about the place, such as an eerie feeling that someone died there. When she finds old wallpaper in a cupboard that she had imagined would go well in that room she starts to get even more spooked. Gwenda then goes to stay with a couple for a few days, the husband happens to be related to Miss Marple. During an evening out Gwenda has a real scare as a vivid memory of someone being strangled comes to her and even though she thinks she's going quite mad, Miss Marple starts to help her piece together the mystery of "Sleeping Murder" by delving into the past. A past which might have been better left buried...
I've read Sleeping Murder several times in the two decades that I've owned this book as it is definitely up there with my favourite Agatha Christie books. I quite enjoyed the film version of the book although there were some huge differences in the storyline that really confused me until I realised the plot changes were made so as make the film more "entertaining" if that were possible. I found the book entertaining enough in its own right so found the 2006 film version quite confusing in places as characters and back-stories were introduced that had no bearing on the original story and major parts of the story were amended.
Back to the book...
Gwenda Reed is written as a likeable character, we see this newly married woman looking for a new home in the UK whilst her husband is finishing up business abroad and to her amazement she is drawn to the same house where she lived as a child, albeit for a brief period of time. As Miss Marple helps her piece together the puzzle of her childhood more and more shocking secrets come out about Gwenda's past including the idea that her father may have been a murderer with mental health issues, which of course, is very upsetting, as Gwenda starts to worry she might have inherited her father's traits after initially thinking she's got psychic powers!
There are, as with most Christie stories, many red herrings along the way and no shortage of suspects but it's all very difficult to put together as there's no proof a crime had even been committed, just the memories of a 2 year old child. But Gwenda is determined to find out the truth no matter what the cost to her and her marriage.
When she finds Dr Kennedy whose sister Helen was Gwenda's stepmother, she feels she needs to know where Helen moved to when she left her father for another man. Dr Kennedy keeps assuring her that her father wasn't a murderer but suffered from delusions. But as per the book's title, Gwenda needs the sleeping murder to be resolved.
The characters introduced throughout the book are explored well and have all moved on in the decades since Gwenda lived in the area. When I say moved on, they've got older and more established in life, so someone coming along and bringing up bad history from so long ago is not going to be the most popular person. There are three men who had been rumoured to have had relationships with Helen and any one of these three could help Gwenda find out what happened, but it's never that easy in a Christie novel.
I found the ending of the book quite satisfactory and totally unexpected when I first read this book but every time I read this book I can easily enjoy it again as I make sure I leave several years between reads and therefore enjoy the read from start to finish. The story is written in such a way that one feels transported back to the time when it was set and one can almost visualize the house at the centre of the story and the surrounding areas.
Although written several decades earlier, Sleeping Murder wasn't published until the mid 70s. Although Christie wrote several Miss Marple stories after Sleeping Murder, this was to be the last one published although there's no indication in the book itself that Miss Marple would be solving no more cases. It is believed that Christie wrote the last of Poirot and Marple books during World War II with a view that they wouldn't be published until after her death, Curtain being the last Poirot novel.
Sleeping Murder has been transferred to film several times, with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple in 1987 and in 2006 starring Geraldine McEwan. There was also a radio adaptation in 2001 with June Whitfield as the aging amateur sleuth. The film version with Geraldine McEwan had such major story changes that one would think it was only loosely based on the book!
A strong 5 out of 5 from me for this superb book. This has been in my permanent collection for decades already and it will be staying there till well into my golden years! It's definitely one of my favourite Christie novels, if not my actual favourite!
Original publication date: 1976
Publishers: Collins Crime Club