In the beginning, a personal anecdote:
As a child, I was troubled intermittently by a nightmare. I am walking around the compound of my maternal grandfather's ancestral home, when I reach a dilapidated building in a secluded corner. I open it and enter, even though my better sense counsels against it. Inside, it is a prayer room dedicated to evil gods. Their pictures are hung all over the walls, and their ugly idols leer up at me. Also, the place is full of the images of the tortured victims of these deities, their silent screams, mutilated bodies and blood.
I wake up in a cold sweat.
The mystery of this dream was solved later. It was only a poster of
Naraka (the Indian hell) which I saw as a child, in that house, which left a lasting impression on me.
I will not dwell on the Freudian aspects of this incident: just point out the fact that childhood traumas, however trivial, have lasting impacts. I speak from personal experience.
Onward with the review.
What if one has witnessed a murder as a toddler? What if one's childhood psyche had repressed that incident, until it came back to haunt one as a distorted vision in one's beautiful new home which one suddenly realises is none other than the venue of that Sleeping Murder
One would go mad...that is what nearly happened to Gwen. Fortunately, she had Miss Marple to help.
Gwenda and Giles Reed return to England from New Zealand. She has no memories; as far as she knows, she has never been in England. However, buying the dream home she had set her eyes on, Gwen begins to be troubled by memories, which she thinks are from another life. She runs away to London to escape. However, watching a performance of the Duchess of Malfi
, and hearing the words “cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young” brings a terrifying image into her mind… the blue strangled face of a beautiful young girl, and she herself watching it through the bannisters… and the monkey’s paws…
Gwen is convinced that she is mad. But thankfully, she had chosen to stay with Raymond West, who most fortuitously had his Aunt Jane Marple on the premises. The old lady is not ready to go for a supernatural explanation. She has a much more prosaic one: Gwen has actually seen somebody murdered in the same house, where she has stayed as a child – a memory which has been suppressed.
The young lady and her husband soon find out that Miss Marple had hit the nail on the head. Gwen had stayed in the house as a little child, along with her father and her flighty stepmother Helen, who had disappeared, presumably run away with one of her many young men. However, Gwen’s father was convinced that he murdered her, and ultimately was committed and died in an asylum. But it is now possible that he may not have been mad – that Helen was actually murdered (though not by him). However, the tantalising question arises… if she was murdered, who is the killer?
Thus begins a murder investigation into the past by the young couple, against the counsel of Miss Marple to “leave sleeping murder lie”. Once she is convinced that they will not let go, Miss Marple agrees to join them, if only to keep them safe.
And thus begins a rollercoaster ride, one of Christie’s most suspenseful novels.
As a mystery, Sleeping Murder
is rather predictable. There was no “aha!” moment at the end, because I already had a good idea who the murderer was. But I give the novel four stars for its structure and breakneck pace, rather like a Hitchcock movie… and also for the personal experience I quoted at the beginning. I could sympathise with Gwenda.