Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie was first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1976 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later that same year.
Christie wrote Sleeping Murder during World War II, most likely in 1940. The book remained sealed in a bank vault for the next thirty six years. The last Miss Marple novel Christie wrote was Nemesis. It was published in the year 1971. When she realized she may not be able to write any more books, Christie agreed to publish the book in 1976 but died before its publication.
I place this book in my chronological (story wise, not in order of publication) reading of the Marple books after The Moving Finger and before A Murder Is Announced. My reason for doing so is that a certain piece of information about the case in The Moving Finger is mentioned in Sleeping Murder and as A Murder Is Announced wasn’t published until 1950.
Gwen, a young newly wed woman, knows she has come home the moment she steps into that beautiful house called Hillside. What a wonderful place to settle down with her husband, Giles, now that they have decided to stay in England permanently. But soon after she moves in, a feeling of irrational fear starts to engulf her. Is Gwen going crazy or is Hillside haunted? Are the ominous visions that rise before her eyes just hallucinations or are they glimpses of the house’s past?
This story has what I love most about Agatha Christie books, the psychological angle. The theme of jealousy and suspicion runs through this story.
The first time I read Sleeping Murder was on a rainy afternoon. I was alone in the house. The sky was overcast. Even though it was only 4 o’ clock in the afternoon it had already grown dark outside and the only sounds I could hear was the rain falling incessantly and the occasional thunder. I got to the part where Gwen is at the theater, watching a play and has a sudden mysterious vision that terrifies her. Suddenly the power of my house went out, leaving me in total darkness. Now, I’m not someone who is easily scared but at that moment I felt chills down my spine. And yet I couldn’t stop reading it.
I don’t know if it is the after effect of that first experience or the book itself has something to do with it but there is something definitely ominous and creepy about this story. Reading it always makes me feel uncomfortable. Like Miss Marple says in the book,
It was real evil that was in the air…
Miss Marple is once again marvelous. Her insightful opinions about the human nature come in to play once again. Her philosophy of distrusting everyone is expressed well by herself,
It really is very dangerous to believe people. I never have for years.
The protagonists, Giles and Gwen are very much like any other young couple in any of Agatha Christie’s books. Giles, the dashing and enthusiastic but rather short sighted young man and Gwen, the competent and modern but very feminine young women. Nothing about them really stands out but they are not unpleasant either.
Among the other characters Walter Fane, J J Afflick, Mr. and Mrs. Erskine are all interesting in their own way.
The climax had a chilling effect on me. I wasn’t surprised because having read so much Christie and being an ardent admirer and follower of Miss Marple’s philosophy I’ve come to take nothing for granted and suspect everyone. But the scene was pretty suspenseful and scary and I did become anxious.
This is by far one of the best Miss Marple novels ever written. Even if you haven’t read any of the Miss Marple mysteries or even any of Agatha Christie’s books, you should read this book just to realize why Agatha Christie deserves her fame. Very, very highly recommended.
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