RATING: VERY GOOD
I was sure who the killer was because I had read the book before and seen the TV version. Yet, I didn’t remember all the particulars.
The novel takes an unexpected turn when Aimée Griffith is arrested as the police saw her writing one of the anonymous letters. When she is arrested, they find the missing pages from the book found by Jerry in the cupboard under the stairs and then a pestle in her room, which was missing from her brother’s surgery.
Everybody is astonished but no one questions if it is true or not. Jerry, though, is in turmoil, feeling in his gut that something doesn’t tally. He even starts worrying that Megan might be involved in the writing of anonymous letters. Then he sees Miss Marple talking to Megan, and when he approaches, the younger girl flees and Miss Marple prevents him from going after her. What she tells him is that Megan is a very brave woman.
Jerry keeps wandering through town, and then he decides to go and find Megan. When he reaches the house, through a window he can see the living room where Mr Symmington and Elsie are. Then Megan comes in and tells her stepfather she wants to talk to him in private. When Elsie goes, Megan tells her stepfather that she wants him to give her money, lots of money, or she will tell her secret: she saw him tamper with her mother’s cache of sleeping powder. When Mr Symmington fills in a cheque without a word, but from his hiding point Jerry notices the man’s face, and he knows that Megan is in danger. Before he can do something, a shadow comes and holds him back. It is Inspector Nash, and he and two other policemen are watching the house, and he asks Jerry to stay put or he will spoil everything.
An hour or so later Mr Symmington steps into Megan’s bedroom and scoops her up in his arms, carrying her to the kitchen, and then places her head in the gas oven. Then the police arrive and arrest Mr Symmington. Jerry rescues Megan and takes her to her bedroom, and when she opens her eyes, she tells him that he had written a letter in case something happened to her, and when he reads the beginning of the letter, Megan writes part of a Shakespearean poem about love, and she adds that this is the way she feels when she thinks of him, so that means that maybe she is actually in love with him. So sweet!
It is when Jerry was having tea at the vicarage with Miss Marple that she explains. Since she first heard about the letters, she realised that they were nothing but a smoke screen to hide something else. Murder. Mrs Symmington didn’t commit suicide but was killed by her husband. The man had fallen for beautiful Elsie, and since he didn’t want to lose his children or his honour, he thought that his best shot was to get rid of his wife. It was him who wrote those letters to distract attention. He typed the addresses on the envelopes with his typewriter before giving it to the Women’s Institute, and he also stole the pages from the book in Jerry’s house. It was a well-thought plan. Mrs Symmington died as he had added the cyanide to the sleeping powder she took, and since he made sure to be the one to find her, he had time to leave the envelope for the alleged letter, the ripped paper with ‘I can’t go on’ as a suicide note, and added some of the cyanide to a glass of water, so that the police concluded Mrs Symmington had killed herself.
He also killed Agnes. He must have overheard Agnes phoning Partridge about something that worried her since the death of her mistress. Agnes was at the window all the afternoon, hoping to see her boyfriend come to the house and apologise, and days after her mistress’s death what puzzled her was the fact that nobody had come to the house. Not the postman, so how come her mistress was told to have got a letter that afternoon. Mr Symmington must have heard the conversation with Partridge even though Agnes didn’t tell the old woman much. So that day he pretended to leave for his office, but instead he just hid, and then he rang the front door bell, and when Agnes came to open it, he attacked her from behind, killed her, and hid her body in the cupboard under the stairs.
Mr Symmington felt he was off the hook since the police were focusing on a woman as the possible letter writer and murderer. And as luck would have it, Aimée Griffith, who was in love with him, believed that Elsie might worm her way into Mr Symmington’s affection and thought that she could write one of these anonymous letters to warn Elsie Holland off. Unfortunately, the police saw her typing the letter, and when Mr Symmington learnt that she was under arrest – he was in her house with Elsie and Megan when the police came – he planted fake evidence in the woman’s house.
Thankfully, Miss Marple outwitted him, and using Megan, the police finally uncovered the truth. When Megan told her stepfather that she had seen him tampering with her mother’s sleeping powders, he knew he was at risk of losing everything. So he added a mild sleeping pill in her water, and he imagined that it wouldn’t be difficult to make people believe that Megan, who is a peculiar girl who takes after her mother, could end up following her mother’s steps.
The end of the novel is quite nice. Megan and Jerry are to marry, and so are Joanna and Dr Griffith. Jerry has bought the house from Miss Barton, and the woman is going on a cruise with Aimée Griffith, which is something she has always wanted to do.