Monday, July 6, 2009

The Sittaford Mystery

By 1931, the year she published The Sittaford Mystery, Mrs. Agatha Christie's mettle as a mystery writer was known to fans far and wide.

Though Miss Jane Marple had yet to feature in a full-length novel, Monsieur Hercule Poirot's egg-shaped head and fierce grey cells were happily wreaking havoc with England's most devious upper-crust villains. He pounced prissily on the scene in 1920 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Finding himself on terra firma, and thinking it suited him quite nicely, Poirot decided to remain.

(And remain he would for another fifty-five years, until -- as all mortals will -- he met his end in Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, published in 1975.)

Meanwhile, Mrs. Christie carved out a quiet little corner in her craft, which, as Miss Lemon's readers hardly need reminding, remains a roaring success.

Agatha Christie became master of the cosy.

Now, one may well ask, what's so cosy about murder?

Doubtless, Mrs. Christie would reply: it's all in the mise-en-scene.

Indeed, atmosphere is one of the mystery elements in which Mrs. Christie excels. And The Sittaford Mystery is no exception.

The setting is a microscopic village on the loneliest edge of Dartmoor, centered around a stately English pile called Sittaford. The nearest town, Hazelmoor, is six miles away. It is deepest winter and snowing buckets.

The inhabitants of Sittaford can think of no more cheering activity than having a go at a macabre round of table-turning. The message from beyond? A man has just been murdered. One Captain Joseph Trevelyan, late of the Royal Navy -- and now late of his life as squire of Sittaford.

True to form, Mrs. Christie hands her characters more than ample motive and opportunity for murder to go around. What's unusual (refreshingly so, Miss Lemon thinks) about this novel is that it features none of her famous detectives. There's only the shrewd Inspector Narracott, spurred on by the industrious ingenuity of one Miss Emily Trefusis, who refuses to let her fiance get done for murder.

Even more surprising is the astonishingly low body count. But let Miss Lemon remind her readers that The Sittaford Mystery is a cosy afterall.

The book was re-titled Murder at Hazelmoor in America, a title Miss Lemon grants is adequate. But why the irksome change became necessary in the first place remains a mystery. In any case, Miss Lemon rests certain that this delightful whodunit will surprise and charm even the most inveterate readers of crime fiction.


  1. Oh Miss Lemon, you do know why! To sell them & sell them & resell them every month. To keep data entry clerks toiling in the back rooms of bookshops everywhere! How quick we forget!

  2. I'm glad you are part of the AC Challenge. Nice review, Miss Lemon. I haven't gotten to this one yet. I look forward to all that atmosphere.

    Margot at Joyfully Retired