Miss Marple

Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? finds Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) teaming with a young adventurer (Sean Biggerstaff) and a socialite (Georgia Moffett) to unravel the meaning of a dying man’s last words.

From PBS -Bobby Attfield finds a man near death sprawled out on a cliff. His final, enigmatic words — “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” On a whim, Bobby and his friend, socialite Frankie Derwent, decide to investigate. The amateur sleuths, along with Miss Marple, uncover several enticing clues — a hotel room key, a pipe and a map with the Savage Castle circled. Getting into the castle under false pretenses, the trio meets a cadre of shadowy characters — the widow of loathed businessman Jack Savage, his two teenage children, a handsome piano teacher, a psychiatrist and his delicate wife. Before long, Bobby and Frankie’s playful inquiry turns even more deadly. Amid a backdrop of poisonous snakes and exotic but lethal orchids, will the three decipher the dead man’s final words before they are exposed?

There are a few changes from the original book

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in September 1934 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1935 under the title of The Boomerang Clue.

An early and often overlooked little gem from the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, for once not featuring either Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, but two young adventurers.

Instead the hero is Bobby Jones, twenty-eight years old and discharged from the Royal Navy due to deteriorating eyesight, and (Lady Frances) ‘Frankie’ Derwent, daughter of minor nobility in rural Wales, childhood friends about to be plunged into one of Christie’s trademark early adventures.

Bobby is playing golf with the local doctor, when they stumble across the body of a man who has clearly fallen over cliff notorious amongst the locals for its treacherous footing. Bobby stays with the dying man while the Doctor leaves to alert the authorities, and Bobby finds the photograph of a beautiful woman in the man’s pockets while he is searching for identification. The man rallies briefly and utters the mysterious question at the heart of the novel.

On his return from an abortive business trip to London, Bobby runs into Frankie, whom he has not seen for several years, and they discuss the recent incident. Frankie idly muses, “I suppose nobody pushed him over, did they?” They laugh it off, but the reader knows that there is more to the man’s death than first appeared.

Before long, Bobby survives an attempt on his life, and the pair are on the trail of the dead man’s supposed sister and brother-in-law and a mystery man, all the while worrying away at the puzzling last words of the dying man.

Bobby and Frankie are variations on Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who featured in Partners in Crime and several of Christie’s minor novels, but they are charming in their own right. It may be that the 1930s slang, which is much more to the fore in the early chapters than in most of Christie’s novels, and which has dated badly, puts people off, but this would be a shame, for the characters are engaging, the story rips along at a faster pace than one of Bobby’s cars, and there is a clearer sense of place in the rural Welsh setting than in many of Christie’s later novels.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is an overlooked little gem, which will be of interest to the connoisseur, the student of historical detective fiction and the devotee of 1930s classic crime.

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