When I get chance, I need to make a list of every Agatha Christie novel and cross off the ones I’ve read since October 2020. That way I can keep track of how I’m doing with my reading challenge. It will also help me plan how many I can fit into the next few months. I’m not going to get through them all before October this year but I’ll try and do as many as possible. We’re over halfway through the 12 months and I’ve only read 15, so I really need to get a move on. At least I’ve already got one more crossed off in June. I’m focusing more on Miss Marple at the moment and this one also let me cross off another letter for my monthly reading challenge.
How do you solve a crime when you don’t know what it is or who is involved? Miss Marple may have some experience in helping solve murders but even she finds herself flummoxed by that one. It all starts when she receives a request from a recently deceased acquaintance. Jane met Jason Rafiel during her travels in the Caribbean. In Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, the pair help solve a murder at a holiday resort on the island of St Honoré. Before his death, Mr Rafiel stipulated that Miss Marple would inherit a large sum of money if she solved an unspecified crime. Her starting point? A tour of British houses and gardens along with 15 other people. But what do they have to do with Mr Rafiel and this unsolved crime?
We already knew that Agatha Christie knows how to craft a complex mystery but she takes it to the next level in Nemesis. This mystery doesn’t just revolve around the identity of a killer but also of the victim. With this novel, you get to take the role of an investigator from the start. Mr Rafiel sets everything up for Jane to learn what she needs, so you can start to put together fragments of conversation to see the clues. It’s a very intriguing and interesting way to structure a crime novel and it definitely keeps the reader on their toes. The only problem is, the set-up takes a long time to get going. There’s an awful lot of build-up where you see her walking through country houses and having lovely chats. The actual crime-solving happens quite late in the story.
It’s not as if this is a terrible book but it’s certainly not Christie’s best. The pacing problem does prevent this idea from fully taking flight. It just feels slow and tired. There’s not as much tension because we’re not dealing with a current crime. There’s a lack of drama and danger. Here, more than any other Miss Marple book, you get the sense that she’s just an old woman having a good time. Now I’m all for old ladies having a jolly holiday but this is a murder mystery. There is a lack of action here. Nemesis is a puzzle to solve rather than an active investigation. It’s a fascinating concept but it isn’t quite as engaging as her other books. The most exciting parts of the book happen at the end but these fly by before you get to settle into them. It’s a disappointingly quick ending for such a drawn-out opening.
Although, it is quite an ending. The title of the novel refers to a name that Mr Rafiel knows Jane as. I guess one of the greatest joys of the Miss Marple books is watching as everyone underestimates the frail old lady when she’s more on the ball than almost everyone. The Nemesis moniker just goes further in showing how different Miss Marple is under the surface. She is ruthless and won’t stop until she captures a killer. She is at her best when she is pitted against a criminal. Nemesis doesn’t give her the chance to be that person. Yes, there are some fun moments when she plays up other people’s opinion of her but, really, she’s not at her best here.
I believe that any Agatha Christie book is an enjoyable read and a wonderfully nostalgic experience. Is Nemesis the best? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a read. Yes, there are plenty of outdated views and opinions here. Some moments will be difficult to take but there are also some great ideas at play. The overall idea that love is both a force for good and evil works really well. In terms of a mystery, it isn’t the most surprising outcome and can be easily figured out beforehand. On its own, this doesn’t matter much but the fact that the build-up is also underwhelming is what makes this read so forgettable. With a title like this, Miss Marple deserved a better story to show off her skills.