This book was actually a sleeping novel. Written in the 1940s, deposited in a safe, and awoken from its cold, dark slumber only after Christie’s death, in 1976, it bears the telltale marks of her wondrously fertile middle period, even as it serves as a fitting capstone to a long, illustrious career. In a few books written late in that career, Christie showed signs of nodding off. Not so in this work, the last “new” one to be published under her name. At its center is a handsome young couple who buy a house in the countryside, only to find signs within that a murder might have occurred there some two decades earlier. The author thus returns to a favorite theme of hers: “murder in retrospect”—murder that one might do well to “let lie,” as one would the proverbial “sleeping dog.” In Christie’s world, of course, leaving dead enough alone is never an option. That’s particularly true when, as in this case, Miss Marple is present to cast her cold yet kindly eye on the events in question. (For her, the twenty years that separate yesterday’s killing from today’s discovery are a mere blink in the eternity that is English village life.) Other authorial trademarks appear here as well: the least-likely-suspect; the most-obvious-clue; the use of ambiguously worded old letters that have the potential to deceive as well as reveal; misdirection based on the order in which events appear to unfold; and an understanding of motive that stresses the evil, pure but not simple, that can lie dormant beneath a bluff, amiable exterior.
[ADDENDUM: Sleeping Murder, the last work by Christie to see publication, was also the first mystery novel that I ever read. (To be precise, it was the first mystery written for adults that I made my way through. Previously, I’d devoured the Encyclopedia Brown series, and I’d read a slew of titles in the Three Investigators series.) The book holds up well upon rereading it—an experience that offers vindication of a sort for my original descent into detective-story addiction. In honor of that memory, I’ve chosen for this post an image of the mass-market paperback edition that I recall reading back in 1977.]