Christie, Agatha: Sleeping Murder
(researched by Sarah Jackson)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Agatha Christie. Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple's Last Case. London: William Collins Sons & Company Ltd., 1976. Copyright: Agatha Christie Ltd. Parallel First Editions: American: New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1976.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
Both the British and American first editions were published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
112 leaves, [7] pp.8-14[15]16-25[26]27-32[33]34-38 [39]40-50[51]52-59[60]61-69[70]71-75[76]77-83[84]85-90 [91]92-103[104]105-112[113]114-122[123]124-125[126]127-132 [133]134-148[149]150-153[154]155-156[157]158-164[165]166-176 [177]178-187[188]189-201[202]203-214[215]216-224
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book does not have an introduction nor a dedication. However, the first unnumbered page provides a short synopsis of the novel while the second unnumbered page lists fifty works by Christie. On the fifth unnumbered page, there is a table of contents listing the twenty-five chapters and their page numbers.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
N/A
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The readability of this edition is particularly easy with large font size offset by wide margins. The specific font type used is Monotype Caslon. The chapters are numbered using italicized font and are eachtitled. The chapter titles are printed in uppercase bold font at the beginning of each chapter. Additionally, on the top center of each left-hand page, the title of the novel is printed in italics. On the right-hand pages, the title of the chapter is printed in italics. Since this copy is a library book, it is encased in a plasic slip and has two stickers on the spine giving its category (mystery) and call number. Additionally, there is a card pocket on the back end page listing the same information.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book is printed on off-white wove paper which is yellowing with age. There are various stains and rips on the edges of the paper. The paper is quite thick and sturdy with a soft texture.
11 Description of binding(s)
The binding is black trade cloth with a bead grain. The stamping used is gold gild. There is off-white endpaper glued to the inside of each cover and the spine is reinforced on the inside back cover using binding tape. Transcription of the spine: Sleeping¶Murder¶[By] ¶ AGATHA¶ CHRISTIE ¶[gilded rule] ¶ ¶COLLINS¶ Crime Club his edition has a light blue dust jacket of which this particular copy's is quite faded. The author's name is the most prominent text on the cover due to its large, pink, bubble font. At the bottom of the jacket, the title appears in an modern blue font, outlined in black. Below, the subtitle is printed using the same modern font yet using a slim, black line. The back of the dust jacket is a very vivid fuchsia color. The author, title and the publisher's name all appear on the dust jacket's spine in the same fonts as on the cover. However, in this case, the information is printed vertically. Transcription of the cover (dust jacket): agatha ¶christie¶Sleeping¶Murder¶Miss Marple's Last Case
12 Transcription of title page
SLEEPING MURDER¶Miss Marple's Last Case¶AGATHA CHRISTIE¶COLLINS CRIME CLUB¶14 St. James Place, London Title page verso transcription: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd¶London.Glasgow.Sydney.Auckland. Toronto.Johannesburg¶First published 1976¶Copyright Agatha Christie, Ltd. 1976¶ISBN 0 00 231785 0¶ Set in Monotype Caslon¶Made and Printed in Great Britain by¶William Collins Sons & Co Ltd Glasgow
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Unknown.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Dust jacket inside front flap: A vintage Christie, written-like Curtain-some thirty years age and alas, her last. Pretty Gwenda Reed, twenty-one and newly married, had come from New Zealand to search for a home in England for herself and her husband, Giles. She settled on a small South Coast town, Dillsmouth, and almost immediately fell in love with a delightful house where she at once felt strangely at home. But it was something more than a comfortable feeling of familiarity. Gwenda felt she actually remembered the house. And then, on a visit to friends in London, a theatre party and a line from Webster's Duchess of Malfi brought back to her the terrifying vision of a woman's body lying in the hall. It also brought another member of the theatre party into the picture: Miss Marple. And at that point Giles Reed arrived. "I don't know if you realize it, Miss Marple," said Giles, "but what it amounts to is, that we've got a first-class murder mystery on our hands. Actually on our very doorstep- or more accurately, in our front hall." "I had thought of that, yes," said Miss Marple slowly. "And Giles simply loves detective stories," said Gwenda. "Well, I mean, it is a detective story. Body in the hall of a beautiful strangled woman. Nothing known of her but her Christian name. Of course I know it's nearly twenty years ago. There can't be any clues after all this time, but one can at least cast about, and try to pick up some the threads. Oh, I dare say one won't succeed in solving the riddle-" "I think you might," said Miss Marple. "Even after eighteen years. Yes, I think you might." ***Additionally, there is a stamp from the original bookseller located on the inside flap. A two-inch black sticker with gold stamp reading: Liberia Winaday c.o. Book Store, telf. 91.05.46. Dust jacket inside back flap: Also by Agatha Christie: POIROT'S EARLY CASES 'Remarkably satisfying' -Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times 'The Mistress of Mystery and Poirot at their bestÖEighteen welcome footnotes to the major Poirot cases.' -Financial Times 'All communicate that unique Christien euphoria.' -Maurice Richardson, Observer 'Splendid period flavour. Certainly a collector's item.' -Homes and Gardens 'Eighteen short stories showing how the little Belgian detective, all moustaches and vanity, began to establish himself in English readers' affections.' -Evening Standard 'Devotees of crime fiction's first lady will love it." -Northern Evening Despatch 'Poirot is as point device as ever, the plotting is as exact as in the novels and all one can do is stand back and wonder at the invention and enthusiasm which has carried Miss Christie to her present eminence, and kept her there for so long.' -Irish Times Dust jacket back cover: A chorus of praise for CURTAIN:Poirot's Last Case by Agatha Christie. 'The puzzle in Curtain is as neat, as interlocking, as unsolvable by the casual reader as anything Dame Agatha Christie has ever written. It packs a hefty final punch and still leaves a final impression of inevitability. In its own class, its perfection.' -Francis Goff, Sunday Telegraph. 'It has a gripping, cunning and devious plot that kept me up well past midnight, and a stunning climax with Poirot solving the problem in a splendidly unethical way.' -Sunday Express 'Readers can rest assured that the novel, though Poirot's last, is one of Dame Agatha's best.' -Daily Telegraph 'She is the great survivor in the history of the detective storyÖdazzlingly skilful in a way entirely her own. The story is, of course, startlingly ingeniousÖWhat writer this century has soothed more people through worried nights?' -CP Snow, Financial Times 'Written more than twenty years ago when the Mistress of Crime was at her very bestÖyou can see why she earned the title.' -George Thaw, Daily Mirror 'The solution, when it is finally sprung, turns out to be as outrageously satisfying as those of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Ten Little Niggers, Murder on the Orient Express and Crooked House.' -The Times Literary Supplement 'The plotting is still superb. My salutations.' -Evening Standard
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
It appears that the British publisher, William Collins, issued a second edition of this particular book during 1976. In addition to the original, there also exists an edition referred to as "Collins for the Crime Club." This edition isdescribed in World Cat as having 224 pages,22cm in size, ISBN#0002317850 while the other edition is described as 221 pages, 18cm in size, ISBN# 0006752462. According to WorldCat, Collins also issued a paperback version of this book in 1982 under the title, Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple's Last Case.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
According to figures found in Publisher's Weekly (1976-77),Dodd Mead issued three printings of this edition. The printing yielded 125,000 copies at the pre-publication date of August 30, 1976. A second printing was ordered previous to the release date bringing the total copy count to 175,000. The October 4, 1976 edition of Publisher's Weekly announced that a Dodd Mead had ordered a third printing of Sleeping Murder for a total of 220,000 copies.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Paperback Editions: Bantam, 1977, 1981, 1987 Fontana Books, 1976, 1978,1982, 1986 (2nd ed.) HarperCollins, 1987 Demco Media, 1992 Harper MMP, 1992 HarperCollins, 1996 Large Print Editions: Ulverscroft Large Print Edition, 1978 G.K.Hall Large Print Books, 1990 Macmillan Library Reference, 1991 Hardback & Paperback Editions: Bantam Books, 1985(Agatha Christie Mystery Collection) Amereon, 1996 Editions with differing titles: Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple's Last Case, Book Club Assoc., 1977. Curtain;Sleeping Murder, Omniprose, 1978. Agatha Christie's Crime Collection, Lansdowne Press, 1988. Sleeping Murder & The Murder at the Vicarage,Book Club ed., Dodd Meed, 1976. Sleeping Murder & The Murder at the Vicarage, International Collectors Library, 1976.
6 Last date in print?
According to information found on Infotrak, the following editions are still in print: Demco Media, Ltd. (Sept. 1992), Harper Collins Publishers, Mass Market Paper (Sept. 1992), and Amereon Ltd. (1996). Additionally, Whitaker's Books in Print adds that British publishers, Collins and Fontana still are publishing this work. For future reference, according to the Barnes & Noble webpage, a new edition will be offered in May 2000 by NAL Dutton.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Sleeping Murder was the #2 best seller for the year 1976. The book also set a record for the prepublication sale of paperback rights to Bantam Books for $1.1 million. Bowker's Annual 1977
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
According to Bowker's Annual(1977),Sleeping Murder sold over 200,000 copies in 1976.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Sleeping Murder's release was announced in Publisher Weekly's"Announcements" section in the August 30th issue. It was described as follows: "This is Dame Agatha's last published mystery novel, written in the 1930s and featuring Miss Jane Marple who this time solves an 18-year-old murder." It goes on to add that the novel is a Literary Guild main selection. Additionally, Sleeping Murder was pictured, along with several other novels, in a Bantam Books advertisement in Publisher's Weekly November 15, 1976 edition. This advertisement headlined, "And Your Goldmine in '77 from Bantam Books." The copy underneath read, "Next year, Bantam unleashes the most powerful parade of mass market paperback bestsellers in history."
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
The release of this novel was timed to coincide with the death of the author. Subsequently, Sleeping Murder was released ten months after Christie's death. Undoubtedly, press surrounding the author's death sparked great interest in a novel advertised as her last.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Film: "Sleeping Murder", 1987(UK/BBC); 1991 (New Video Group); 1991, 1994(A&E Video) 100min., Directors: John Howard Davies, Ken Taylor , Screenplay: Ken Taylor,Cast: Joan Hickson. The above work was originally broadcast as a television program on BBC. Distributed under license by Lionheart Television International, it was marketed in the US by New Video Group. It aired on U.S. public television entitled, "Agatha Christie's Miss Marple" as a four-part series. Audio: Chiver Audio, distributed in US by G.K. Hall Audio Books (1991) 6 sound cassettes, 7 hrs, Cast: Rosemary Leach.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
La derniere enigme [French], Librairie de Champs-Elysee, 1977. Ssu huifa jan [Chinese], Tai-pei shah, 1983. Ruhe unsanft [Dutch], Scherz, 1986. Un crimen dormido [Spanish], Molina, 1976. Um crimen adomecido [Portuguese], Barcelona Industrias Graf, 1997. Sur-ipingu m-ad-a [Japanese], Hayakawa Shobo, 1990. Qatl-I kh-am-ush [Persian], Nashr-I Kuhn, 1994. Upsione Morderstwo [Polish], Proszynski-I Seka, 1996. Zapomenuta vra zda [Czech], Kni-zhi klub, 1997. Szunnyado gyilkossag,[Hungarian], Hunga-Print, 1991. Chamjanun sann, [Korean], Chayu munnaksa, 1993. Neiti Marplen niimeinen juttu [Finnish] Soderstrom.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Interestingly enough, the 1976 Dodd Mead press release for this novel suggests that it was to have been serialized in the Ladies' Home Journal.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born September 15, 1890 in Torquay, Devon, England to parents Frederick and Clara. Her education was cultivated at home, followed later with finishing school in Paris. Agatha expressed an early interest in mysteries, such as those by Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, and Wilkie Collins, which she read earnestly with her sister Madge (Morgan). In fact, it was in response to a challenge made by Madge that Agatha wrote her first mystery at the age of fifteen. In 1914, Agatha married Archibald Christie, an army officer, with whom she lived with in her childhood home of Ashfield. However, with the advent of World War I, the Christies moved to London where Archibald was stationed. During the war, Agatha volunteered as a nurse and a pharmaceuticals dispenser after successfully becoming a member of the Society of Apothecaries (Stine). It was this experience that lent to her expansive knowledge of poisons of which is reflected in her mystery writings. Following the war, the Christies returned to Ashfield where their daughter Rosalind was born in 1919. A year later, Agatha published her first mystery novel, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles." However, her first major literary recognition came with the 1926 publication of "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." That same year, mounting public recognition coupled with marital discord and her mother's death, led to Christie experiencing a nervous breakdown. Her subsequent 10-day disappearance was a press spectacle and led to her further scorn of the public eye. Following Agatha's disappearance, her marriage continued to dissolve, eventually ending in divorce in 1928. For the next two years, Christie traveled continuously including a trip upon the Orient Express. In 1930, while visiting in Turkey, she met archeologist, Max Mallowan, whom she married that same year. Up until the next World War, the couple divided their time between London and various expeditions in the Middle East. Christie continued to produce manuscripts throughout this period including Miss Jane Marple's first appearance in the "Murder at the Vicarage." The beginning of World War II marked another rough period in Christie's life. Christie was very lonely during this time with Max serving abroad and Rosalind residing in Northern Ireland. Additionally, Agatha was facing financial difficulties. Due to tax difficulties, Christie was not receiving royalties from the American publishing market and much of her earnings were tied up in litigation. For this reason, she was forced to lease out her precious English manors and to carefully watch her spending (Morgan 228). It was out of concern for her family's financial situation that Christie wrote "Curtain" and "Sleeping Murder" and contracted that they be released as posthumous publications. In 1942, she bestowed publishing rights to "Curtain" to her daughter and those of "Sleeping Murder" to Max which she attributed "in consideration of the natural love and affection which I bear to my husband" (Morgan 230). Christie further explained this action in the following quote: "I thought it a useful way of benefiting my relations. I gave one to my husband and one to my daughter ? definitely made over to them, by deed of gift. So when I am no more they can bring them out and have a jaunt on the proceeds ? I hope" (Osbourne 235). The manuscripts were deposited in a bank vault and heavily insured against destruction (Osbourne 125). After the war, Christie continued to write novels but also embarked on a second career as a playwright. In 1952, her play "The Mousetrap" was produced and holds the distinction of being the longest running production ever (pinknet). Agatha and Max continued to travel on archeological digs throughout the Middle East. Christie's popularity and status continued to mount worldwide. In 1961, she received a honorary doctorate from Exeter University (stmarysmead). Ten years later, Agatha was made a dame of the British Empire at which point both her health and the frequency and quality of her book production began to decline. Collins Publishing began to struggle with what had become the public's demand and dependency on an annual Christie publication. In order to deal with this mounting pressure, Christie agreed to release "Curtain" while still withholding "Sleeping Murder" (Sanders 379). Agatha Christie passed away on January 12, 1976 and was buried in Berkshire, England. Following her death, her husband allowed "Sleeping Murder" to be released to the public where the work immediately reached number one status on bestseller lists. Works Cited: www.web.pinknet.c2/Agatha Christie www.stmarysmead.com Morgan, Jane. Agatha Christie: A Biography. Collins: London, 1984. Osbourne, Charles. The Life & Crimes of Agatha Christie.Holt: NY, 1982. Sanders, Dennis. The Agatha Christie Companion. Delacorte Press: NY, 1984. Stine, Kate."Agatha Christie: A Life in Crime" http:// christie.MysteryNet.com
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The release of Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder in September 1976 came just ten weeks following the death of the author. As both Christie and character Miss Marple's last case, the public eagerly awaited its debut. However, in general, Sleeping Murder is not regarded as a one of Christie's greatest works and withstood much critical comment from the press. The book was not seen as on par with those written earlier and is described as "comparing less favorably in style and suspense with the other classics" (Brown 322) . Critic P.S. Prescott wrote, " Sleeping Murder is not one of her most spectacular stories, but better than the stuff she wrote in her later years" (96). The main complaints regarding the book surrounded the flat, predictable nature of the plot that Gavin Lambert described as, "a puzzle that itself conforms to Raymond Chandler's classic description of the formula British puzzle story" (1). The typical features of a Christie mystery, according to reviews, are not entirely successful in Sleeping Murder. For example, the well-noted Christie technique of making the innocent look suspicious and the sinister appear innocent is, according to Lambert, "rigid and mechanical" (1). TJ Binyon added, "?the red herrings are not as convincing and the murderer's identity is not too hard to figure out" (1307). Additionally, the highly coincidental nature of the plot is also criticized by several reviewers who found the events as unbelievable. Critics and the public were surprised to see the character of Miss Marple survive the case, having assumed that she would die in her last appearance (Maida 117). Unlike Poirot's demise in his final case, Curtain, Christie managed to astonish readers with her heroine's survival. Reviewer Martha Duffy found Marple's character to be very off-balance in this particular work and felt, "Miss Marple barely comes to life [in Sleeping Murder]so it's as though she's killed off' (89). Some reviews of Sleeping Murder were not entirely negative. However, in some sense, these reviews present an obvious sense of nostalgia, judging Sleeping Murder, less on its literary value and more on it being Christie's final offering. The New Yorker deemed it "a satisfactory farewell performance," (25 October 1976) while Prescott excuses the book's predictable ending in explaining, "but is the last Christie to be had" (96). To these critics and many readers, Christie's legacy transcends the weaknesses and impossibilities presented in the text (Lambert 1). Possibly, this sentimental viewing of the book as a final chapter of Christie's legacy explains the success and popularity of Sleeping Murder. Works Cited: Binyon, TJ. "Sleeping Murder"Times Literary Supplement, 15 October 1976, pp. 1307. Brown, Mary H. "Sleeping Murder" Antioch Review, Spring 1977, pp. 322. Duffy, Martha. "Marple is Willing" Time 20 September 1976, pp. 89. Lambert, Gavin. "Miss Marple's Last Case" New York Times Book Review, 19 September 1976, pp. 1. Maida, Patricia. Murder She Wrote. Bowling Green State University Popular Press: Ohio, 1982. Prescott, P.S. "Book Review: Sleeping Murder" Newsweek, 27 September 1976, pp. 96.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The release of Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder in September 1976 came just ten weeks following the death of the author. As both Christie and character Miss Marple's last case, the public eagerly awaited its debut. However, in general, Sleeping Murder is not regarded as a one of Christie's greatest works and withstood much critical comment from the press. The book was not seen as on par with those written earlier and is described as "comparing less favorably in style and suspense with the other classics" (Brown 322) . Critic P.S. Prescott wrote, " Sleeping Murder is not one of her most spectacular stories, but better than the stuff she wrote in her later years" (96). The main complaints regarding the book surrounded the flat, predictable nature of the plot that Gavin Lambert described as, "a puzzle that itself conforms to Raymond Chandler's classic description of the formula British puzzle story" (1). The typical features of a Christie mystery, according to reviews, are not entirely successful in Sleeping Murder. For example, the well-noted Christie technique of making the innocent look suspicious and the sinister appear innocent is, according to Lambert, "rigid and mechanical" (1). TJ Binyon added, "?the red herrings are not as convincing and the murderer's identity is not too hard to figure out" (1307). Additionally, the highly coincidental nature of the plot is also criticized by several reviewers who found the events as unbelievable. Critics and the public were surprised to see the character of Miss Marple survive the case, having assumed that she would die in her last appearance (Maida 117). Unlike Poirot's demise in his final case, Curtain, Christie managed to astonish readers with her heroine's survival. Reviewer Martha Duffy found Marple's character to be very off-balance in this particular work and felt, "Miss Marple barely comes to life [in Sleeping Murder]so it's as though she's killed off' (89). Some reviews of Sleeping Murder were not entirely negative. However, in some sense, these reviews present an obvious sense of nostalgia, judging Sleeping Murder, less on its literary value and more on it being Christie's final offering. The New Yorker deemed it "a satisfactory farewell performance," (25 October 1976) while Prescott excuses the book's predictable ending in explaining, "but is the last Christie to be had" (96). To these critics and many readers, Christie's legacy transcends the weaknesses and impossibilities presented in the text (Lambert 1). Possibly, this sentimental viewing of the book as a final chapter of Christie's legacy explains the success and popularity of Sleeping Murder. Works Cited: Binyon, TJ. "Sleeping Murder"Times Literary Supplement, 15 October 1976, pp. 1307. Brown, Mary H. "Sleeping Murder" Antioch Review, Spring 1977, pp. 322. Duffy, Martha. "Marple is Willing" Time 20 September 1976, pp. 89. Lambert, Gavin. "Miss Marple's Last Case" New York Times Book Review, 19 September 1976, pp. 1. Maida, Patricia. Murder She Wrote. Bowling Green State University Popular Press: Ohio, 1982. Prescott, P.S. "Book Review: Sleeping Murder" Newsweek, 27 September 1976, pp. 96.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
"The creation of a bestseller does not follow an exact pattern, or patterns, any more than does the making of a successful man." - Frank Luther Mott, Golden Multitudes As Frank L. Mott describes in the previous quote, a step-by-step formula for writing a best selling novel does not exist. Rather, it is the combination of several factors that lend to the success of a novel. Each bestseller presents a unique grouping of criteria that spark reader interest and render it a chart-topper. In the case of Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder, looking at the various elements that lend to its popularity helps one to appreciate some of the factors that designate a book a bestseller. Seldom are bestsellers touted for their literary merit; rather, they, in some way, touch the reading public. Sleeping Murder was not lauded as a great work of literary genius. In fact, the majority of reviewers found that it , not unlike most of Christie's later works, was "not among her most skillful," (Lambert 1) and "compares less favorably in style and suspense with other classics" (Brown, 47). However, despite lukewarm reviews, Sleeping Murder enjoyed seven weeks at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list in 1976 and remained on bestseller lists for a total of sixty-two weeks. Its accomplishment with the American public was not a result of great writing but instead, due to an effective incorporation of several crucial elements that helping generating a best selling novel. Sleeping Murder falls into the highly popular literary genre classified as mystery or crime fiction. The plotline revolves around the Halliday couple, Giles and Glenda, who upon moving into a new home, stumble across a murder that may have occurred twenty years prior. With the help of detective-in-disguise, Miss Jane Marple, and several disturbing flashbacks, Glenda eventually discovers that her stepmother had been murdered in the very house within which she now resides. The theme of murder-in-retrospect was common to Christie novels, one where "simultaneous forward movement and backwards movement" (Wagoner 70) define much of the action. However, more importantly, Sleeping Murder conforms to the formula of the puzzle story, a mystery genre which first flourished during the period 1920-1945, a time referred to as the Golden Age of mystery fiction. According to a definition given Michael Grost, author of the Classic Mystery homepage, these "[puzzle] mystery plots tend to be extremely clever puzzles, with tricky, surprising solutions" (http://members.aol.com/MG4273/classics.htm). It is this trickery for which Christie is most popular for as one online fan notes, "She has wonderfully tricky plots - particularly the way she never fails to surprise without misleading" (www.kewl.comdre.~grovesc). In Sleeping Murder, Christie's formulaic style rings true for its plot is marked by Christie's traditional 'red herrings,' the false clues that lead the reader and the detective astray. For example, in Sleeping Murder, there are several suspects including a shifty ex-lover and a manic salesman, who are introduced in order to draw suspicion away from the murderer, the victim's own brother. Since the blossoming of the puzzle mystery genre during the Golden Age, the reading public's interest in the crime novel continues to increase. Four of Christie's earlier works including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None and Peril at End House were all listed on the 'Better Sellers List' during the years ranging from 1924-1940. In 1936, Daphne du Maurer's Rebecca, a mystery/gothic novel garnered the title of a bestseller. The demand for the mystery novel grew and Agatha Christie satisfied this entreaty, producing eighty mystery novels over the course of fifty years of authorship. Mystery readers' favor has swayed over the years in terms of specific mystery genre; however, Christie's popularity remains steady. According to Alice Payne Hackett, "Agatha Christie is the only exception of the simple whodunit that hasn't been replaced by a spy story" (110). Tribute to Hackett's statement is the fact that in both 1975 and 1976 Christie's novels, Curtain and Sleeping Murder, became bestsellers - almost fifty years following her first publication. How does one explain the consistent and obvious popularity of the morbid genre of the mystery novel? The public's interest in mystery may be explained by human nature's "curiousity in regards to the state of evil," (Mott 262). In some ways, the gruesome or frightening nature of the crime novel provides a type of escapism for the reader. Author James D. Hart provides additional psychological explanation for the success of the mystery. He writes, "the opportunity for a man baffled in business or a woman frustrated by a reduced budget to inflate the ego through exhibiting greater intelligence than the conventional Watson?these may have been a subconscious reason why many turned to the detective story" (258). Christie's works provide for this type of evaluation of evil and its nature through the questions raised through her characters' voices. Christie "displays a personal sense of what she calls 'evil', of murder as an affront and a violation and an act of cruelty" (Lambert 1). For instance, in Sleeping Murder, Miss Marple offers her own insight as to the nature of man in the following comment to Gwenda: "'So many people may be lying. And so many people usually are?though not always for the reasons that you'd think. Some people don't even know they're lying'" (Christie 221). Within the category of the mystery novel, Sleeping Murder can be further classified under its utilization of the female lead. Like many other best selling novels including Pollyanna, Valley of the Dolls and the majority of Danielle Steele novels, Sleeping Murder has a strong, prominent female protagonist. Christie's elderly Miss Jane Marple, even with her old-fashioned mannerisms and habits, voices a clearly independent, feminist voice. As one fan noted, "The essence of Miss Marple is the complete, perfect incongruity between her intellect and her appearance" (www.kew/comdu/~grovesc). To readers in 1976, amid the ongoing Women's Rights Movement, a character such as Miss Marple was surely viewed in a positive light. In fact, Sleeping Murder marks a truly remarkable and unique feature of Marple's character for it is the first time, within all twelve of the Miss Marple mysteries, that she engages in physical intervention with an assailant. Additionally, in her role of the 'unofficial' detective, Marple picks up on clues that often male characters overlook. In this sense, Christie places females as equals, or even superiors, as in comparison to their male counterparts. Author Jaques Barzun offers another suggestion as to the popularity of feminine detective fiction, indicating that female reader may relate to the common tone of this type of writing. Barzun describes feminine detective fiction as typically marked by "household confusion" and "surprises and lucky recoveries, all of which are highly verbalized and widely communicated" (12). The effect of such writing produces a sense of familiarity for the reader and allows he or she to feel closer to the situation. Barzun's statement can be applied to Christie's novels, for many of Marple's observations are shrouded in references to everyday, domestic observations. For example, it is under veiled reference to her garden that Marple hints at the incestuous, interwoven nature of the crime committed, as follows: " 'Well, I try to do what I can in the garden. Sadly neglected. This bindweed, for instance, such a nasty stuff. It's roots,' said Miss Marple, looking very earnestly at the Inspector, 'go underground a long way. A very long way - they run along under the soil.'" (Christie 221). The particular and specific nature of the setting of Sleeping Murder is another element that engages the reader's interest. To American readers, books set in Britain, such as Ian Fleming's best selling Bond novels, provide a certain novelty. The majority of Christie's settings tend to be foreign and romantic to the typical American reader which furthers the element of escapism through reading. However, in Christie's novels, not only are linguistic and cultural difference evident, but so are the stereotypical, old-world English villages within which she sets her mysteries. The depiction of her idyllic towns are a startling contrast to the undercurrent of evil that threads within the plots. For example, it is hard to imagine that a murder occurs at the Halliday's home which Christie quaintly describes as "on the outskirts of a still charming seaside resort?through the trees, a glimpse of a small white Victorian villa could be seen" (Christie 12). Christie's choice of setting further categorize her novels within the crime fiction genre. Sleeping Murder can be classified as an English country house or manor house mystery which "focuses on members in a close-knit group found in a country house or village" (www.MysteryNet.com). One of the attractions to this particular genre is that it allows the reader to have "a removed sense of escape from real-life murder and accompanying social ills" (www.MysteryNet.com). Thus, Christie's settings, described as places "where nothing ever happens, exactly like a stagnant pond" (Christie 23), must have seemed very appealing in contrast to the growing urbanity surrounding American readers of the late seventies. Within the collection of Agatha Christie's crime novels, Sleeping Murder holds a very unique, individual position which differentiates it from every other in the series. Christie wrote the novel during the Second World War and deeded it to her husband, requesting it not be published until her death. Thus, the release of Sleeping Murder came just ten months after Christie died. The demand for Christie's last mystery was overwhelming, even prior to its release. In fact, Sleeping Murder set a record for its prepublication sale of the paperback rights for $1.1 million to Bantam Books. The timing of the book's release, closely following the event of the author's death, only increased book sales. The public's fascination with an artist's works following his or her death has been a noticeable, strangely morbid phenomenon over time. For example, JRR Tolkien's, The Silmarillion, was not a critical success but found its way to the top of the bestseller list perhaps due to its release following Tolkien's death. Christie fans were already aware of the book's existence and thus, its release was eagerly awaited (Maida 118). There was a sense of mystery surrounding the novel simply because the public was unsure as to why Christie demanded the book's publication be delayed. Additionally, as Christie's last novel, the American public clamored for the book. One reviewer wrote, "The plot may be easy to figure out but it's the last Christie to be had!" (Prescott 96). US publishers, Dodd, Mead & Company capitalized on the fact that it was a last novel, headlining announcements for the book with the following tag: "This is Dame Agatha's last published mystery novel!" (Publishers Weekly, 30 August 1976). Her publishers also emphasized the fact that not only was Sleeping Murder Christie's final novel, but it was the last in the series featuring Miss Jane Marple. The idea of the last book of a series had previously proven its success when just the year before, Christie's Curtain, Detective Poirot's last case, became a bestseller. According to Patricia Maida, the public expected a similar ending to Sleeping Murder to that of Curtain and thus, "assumed she [Marple] would die but were surprised that she's permitted to live" (118). One of the greatest factors that can effect the popularity of a book is the notoriety of its author. Once blockbuster novelists such Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and Agatha Christie establish their niche within the literary world, it is hard for their books not to succeed. Hart further clarifies this trend in explaining that "when a reputation has been earlier established, a loyal following amassed which is continually added to, it those who missed the first books that want to read the later ones [in order] to enter the discussions that follow the books' publications" (287). Christie has amassed a worldwide following, having sold over two billion books in over forty-five languages. She has been lauded "the most popular novelist in history" (www.MysteryNet.com), evident in the websites, books, movies, and fan clubs which are all dedicated to her. While there is not any winning combination of criteria that designates a book a bestseller, Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder could be a pretty accurate example. This book is a combination of all the right elements including a popular genre, a well-known author, serial characters, and good timing. Although not a critical success, in terms of being an "all-around" bestseller, Sleeping Murder can hold its own. Barzun, Jaques. A Catalogue of Crime. Harper Row: New York, 1971. Brown, Mary. "Sleeping Murder" Antioch Review. Spring 1976. Christie, Agatha. Sleeping Murder. Dodd, Mead & Co.: New York, 1976. Hackett, Alice Payne. Best Sellers in the Bookstores (1900-1975). Hart, James D. The Popular Book. Greenwood Press: Connecticut, 1950. Lambert, Gavin. "Miss Marple's Last Case," New York Times Book Review, 19 October 1976. Maida, Patricia. Murder She Wrote. Bowling Green State University Press: Ohio, 1982. Mott, Frank Luther. Golden Multitudes. RR Bowler: NY, 1947. Prescott, PS. "Sleeping Murder" Newsweek. 27 September 1976. Wagoner, Mary. Agatha Christie. Twayne Publishing: Boston, 1986. www.kewl.comdre.~grovesc http://members.aol.com/MG4273/classics.htm www.MysteryNet.com
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