Review: A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

20 Books of Summer 2022: Book 1

I’ve been reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books at the rate of one per summer and have arrived at #10: A Caribbean Mystery. These lighthearted mysteries are perfect for summertime reading, but I often think I should leave them off my official reading list so I don’t feel pressured to review them. They’re entertaining, but not particularly memorable, and I find myself rereading my previous reviews in order to avoid repetition. (4:50 from Paddington is still my favorite.)

Just as it sounds, A Caribbean Mystery is about a mystery in the Caribbean, specifically at a resort on the fictional island of St Honoré. Miss Marple is on holiday, which means this series is falling prey to one of my pet peeves in mystery series—the pesky tendency of dead bodies to follow the protagonist wherever they go—but it’s nice to see Miss Marple get out and relax a little. At the resort, Miss Marple chats with Major Palgrave. In the middle of a rambling story, he offers to show her a picture of a murderer. As he’s handing over the photo, he sees something over Miss Marple’s shoulder and changes the subject abruptly.

Major Palgrave is soon found dead, and Miss Marple is much more curious about the photo she almost saw, but it’s not with his belongings. She surmises that he was killed by someone planning a murder—a murder they could not commit if Major Palgrave were alive to recognize them—so this case has the twist that solving it will prevent another death. The setup is tidy and as good as any other by Christie; since there’s a limited number of suspects at the resort, it feels possible to play along at home and attempt to guess the murderer.

As with all Miss Marple mysteries, about halfway through I worried that the painfully obvious suspect would turn out to be the guilty party because I’ve heard people say these stories become less satisfying as they go, but without fail (so far), at the moment I’m most worried that I’ve caught on too early, someone says something like, “There’s something wrong here. The motive’s inadequate. Absolutely inadequate.” Christie has such a knack for putting a reader’s potential criticism in the mouth of a character to reassure them that the actual resolution will be satisfying and that they’ve fallen for a red herring.

One unique thing about the Miss Marple stories is that her role varies throughout the series. Sometimes she’s a minor character that comes in at the novel’s close, and other times she’s functioning as a consultant. When she’s in a more minor role, she has a tendency to play coy with her theories and keep them to herself until she’s absolutely certain. When there’s a feeling that she’s holding back, it doesn’t feel entirely fair to the reader that key insights are being withheld to prolong the drama. But this isn’t a fair criticism because her silences are prudent, and if she rushed to judgment, I’d like her less. In A Caribbean Mystery, though, it’s fun to see her take a much more active role in leading the investigation and openly debating her current theory.

Overall: 4.3 (out of 5.0) I don’t think I’ve ever read a “bad” book by Agatha Christie and it’s fun to see a more active Miss Marple.


20 Books of Summer 2022

Read, review coming soon

  1. The Appointment by Herta Müller
  2. The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
  3. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
  4. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  5. Sphere by Michael Crichton

Currently reading

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert
  3. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Unread, review coming later

  1. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  2. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
  3. The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez
  4. Human Acts by Han Kang
  5. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  7. The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi
  8. Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard
  9. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  11. TBD

Image credit: Goodreads

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