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The Sittaford Mystery - Agatha Christie

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Author: Agatha Christie / Genre: Crime / Thriller

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      18.08.2009 11:53
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      The Sittaford Mystery

      The author:

      Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, which introduced the now famous Hercule Poirot was published in 1920. Her other well known creation, Miss Marple, first appeared in a short story in 1927 but she also created a number of other detectives who appeared in her novels.

      During her lifetime Christie wrote a number of novels, short stories, poetry and plays. Her play "The Mousetrap" holds the world record for the longest run in history as it has been performed since 1952.

      Agatha Christie is estimated to have sold around 4 billion copies of her collected works, putting her second only to The Bible. She was married twice and was a Dame of the British Empire. She died on January 12th 1976.


      Background to the novel:

      The Sittaford Mystery was originally published in 1931. It followed the publication of "The Murder At The Vicarage", the first full length novel in which Miss Marple had appeared & preceeded "Peril At End House" which saw the return of Hercule Poirot after an absence of 4 years & 5 books. This is the first full length novel in which Christie includes a "supernatural" element in the shape of "table turning". None of the characters in the novel appear in any of Christie's other works.


      Plot:

      It's been snowing across England for the last four days & the small village of Sittaford is almost cut off from the rest of Dartmoor with snow upto several feet in depth. There's a gathering at Sittafford House:- Mrs. Willett & her daughter Violet who are renting the house have invited fellow villagers Major Burnaby, Mr. Rycroft, Mr. Garfield & Mr. Duke to tea. Afterwards a game of bridge is suggested but then Mr. Garfield suggests "table turning".
      There's a degree of scepticism amongst some of the gathering about table turning & the initial message that "come through" provoke reactions of laughter from the people present. Then a message comes through for Major Burnaby:-

      "Trevelyan - Dead - Murder"

      Reactions of disbelief & denials of "pushing" the table are voiced then Major Burnaby decides to venture to Exhampton to check on his friend Trevelyan, much against the wishes of the rest of the company. Arriving at "Hazelmoor", the house Trevelyan has rented, Burnaby gets no answer & goes for the police. Returning to the house, he & Constable Graves discover Trevelyan in the study, dead. He's been hit with a sandbag & his skull has been fractured.

      Enter Inspector Narracott who arrests Treveleyan's nephew, Jim Pearson. But has he got the right man? Jim's fiancee Emily Trefusis certainly doesn't think so & she's determined to unmask the real murderer.......


      Opinion:

      I'd collected just about all of Agatha Christie's books by the time I was 20 &, like most authors, there were some books I preferred more than others. When I decided to review this I realised it must have been a book I've only read once or twice as I could barely remember anything about it. I'd seen the ITV adaptation which had shoe-horned the character of Miss Marple into the story but I couldn't remember how much of the story they'd altered & whether they'd changed the murderer or not. Anyway......

      There are a number of basic ideas contained within this storyline that Christie would use in other novels. Firstly there's the supernatural element which is represented by the 'table turning'.

      Could one of the people present know that Trevelyan is going to be murdered?
      Could it all just be some ghastly joke which comes true?
      Could one of them be the murderer?
      Could it actually be down to psychic phenomenom?

      Sittaford is cut off from the rest of Dartmoor & Exhampton is not the easiest place to reach in the snow either so it would appear that Trevelyan's murderer came to Hazelmoor with the intention of killing him rather than it being down to some random break-in by an unconnected person.

      The first "official" person on the scene, aside from Constable Graves, is Inspector Narracott who first appears in Chapter Four. He's introduced to the reader & starts to question Trevelyan's family & other potential witnesses, leading you to believe that the investigation of the crime & the apprehending of the murderer will be driven by him. The character is described fairly briefly:- "He was a tall man with a quiet manner, rather far-away grey eyes & a slow soft Devonshire voice" and we're also told that he's a very efficient officer which is fairly evident in the way that he examines the crime scene & the speed with which he enquiries about the contents of the will & therefore finds out who benefits by Trevelyan's death.

      As it turns out there are four heirs:- Trevelyan's married sister, Mrs. Gardener plus a two nephews James & Brian Pearson, both unmarried sons of Trevelyan's dead sister Mary Pearson. Mary's daughter Sylvia is married to a writer called Martin Dering. Brian Pearson is apparently out in Australia and when Narracott discovers that his brother James visited Trevelyan on the night of his death to ask for money he becomes the prime suspect for the murder & is promptly arrested. James's fiancee, Emily Trefusis, swears that he hasn't got the guts to commit murder & is detemined to prove Inspector Narracott wrong.

      Her arrival in Chapter Ten sees a shift in emphasis away from Narracott's investigation. Emily charms journalist Charles Enderby into working with her & the two of them set about investigating Trevelyan's life, his relatives etc. Of course, with Emily being the fiancee of James Pearson she's in a somewhat favoured position as far as the suspects from the family are concerned & she manages to discover details about the family lives of the suspects that the police aren't privy to. Could one of these details have a bearing on the murder?

      The second basic idea that this novel uses is having a number of characters cut off from the rest of the world. Here, only Sittafford is completely cut off from everywhere else so only a portion of the characters are isolated. In other books, such as "And Then There Were None" & "Murder OnThe Orient Express" Christie would cut off her entire cast of characters so that they would be no doubt that the murderer was amongst them.

      The locations are reasonably well described, particularly Sittafford, which is only a small collection of cottages. Of course, everyone knows everyone else's business in Sittaford (or think they do) so it's down to the reader to sort out the wheat from the chaff with the gossip they're presented with so that they can determine whether any of it is useful or not.

      The family suspects:- Mrs. Gardener, James Pearson & Sylvia Dering don't live together but the reader gets to know their current circumstances through their conversations with Inspector Narracott and with Emily.

      There's a nice little subplot between Emily & Charles Enderby with a number of characters realising that he's "sweet" on her. Given that James Pearson is presented as such a weak willed character you, as a reader, are left wondering whether she & Charles will get together by the end of the book or whether she'll stick by her fiancée, James.

      The characters, on the whole are reasonably well developed although with the narrative being split between Sittafford, Exhampton & visits to Jennifer Gardener's & Sylvia Dering you do get the feeling that there's perhaps a little too much running around. Jennifer Gardener & Sylvia Dering are, of course, pretty much isolated from the rest of the characters in the book. They have their own family lives & don't really know anyone in Sittaford or Exhampton. Nor do they appear to know very much about their dead relative aside from the fact that he was "tight" with money.

      In terms of the rest of the characters (ie those not related to Trevelyan) there's nothing here that you won't find in one or more of Christie's other works. Major Burnaby is your typical retired Army chap, Mr. Rycroft is your typical man-under-the-thumb-of-a-rich-female-relative and the Willett's & Mr. Duke are your typical characters with an air of mystery about them. Emily Trefusis comes across as a competent, efficient sort of woman but, for some reason, she doesn't fully win the reader over & make them really like her. That may be because she's a more serious character rather than one with a fun side to her. Still, she fulfils the "amateur sleuth" role fairly well.

      Plotwise the book just about hangs together. There are no witnesses to the murder and no particular clues left at the scene so it's up to Inspector Narracott, Emily & you as the reader to determine which of the suspects had the motive and the opportunity to commit the murder. The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and it is perfectly possible for the reader to come to exactly the same conclusions that Emily does at the end of the book although whether her theory would stand up in a court of law remains to be seen.

      Overall then, a fairly competent Christie mystery rather than one of her first rate ones.



      Media:


      The novel was filmed for ITV's "Marple" series and was transmitted in 2006. As well as the inclusion of the character of Miss Marple there were a number of changes to the other characters & the overall plot, including a subplot which saw Trevelyan involved with a woman. In the original novel Trevelyan is presented as a bachelor who isn't involved with any woman at all. The screenplay for the Marple adaptation was written by Stephen Churchett. If you want to know whether the murderer is the same in both the book & TV adaptation you'll have to watch / read them ~ I won't be telling you!


      Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple
      Patricia Hodge as Mrs. Evadne Willett
      Carey Mulligan as Violet Willett
      Timothy Dalton as Clive Trevelyan
      Laurence Fox as James Pearson
      Zoe Telford as Emily Trefusis
      James Murray as Charles Burnaby
      Mel Smith as John Enderby
      James Wilby as Stanley Kirkwood
      Matthew Kelly as Donald Garfield / Smith-Jones
      Rita Tushingham as Miss Elizabeth Percehouse
      Michael Brandon as Martin Zimmerman
      Paul Kaye as Doctor Ambrose Burt
      Jeffrey Kissoon as Ahmed Ghali
      Robert Hardy as Winston Churchill
      Michael Atwell as Archie Stone
      Robert Hickson as Arthur Hopkins




      * Paperback: 400 pages
      * Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Masterpiece ed edition (5 Aug 2002)
      * Language English
      * ISBN-10: 0007136846
      * ISBN-13: 978-0007136841


      Official Website: www.agathachristie.com

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    • Product Details

      A new 'signature edition' of Agatha Christie's thriller, an almost impossible puzzle with supernatural trappings. In a remote house in the middle of Dartmoor, six shadowy figures huddle around a small table for a seance. Tension rises as the spirits spell out a chilling message: 'Captain Trevelyan! dead! murder.' Is this black magic or simply a macabre joke? The only way to be certain is to locate Captain Trevelyan. Unfortunately, his home is six miles away and, with snow drifts blocking the roads, someone will have to make the journey on foot!