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Let sleeping murder lie.
~ The novel's arc words

Here is my new proposal about the culprit from Sleeping Murder, the final released novel by the late Dame Agatha Christie. It is also the last piece that featured Ms. Jane Marple as its main protagonist. As such, the culprit in this proposal is also the final culprit presented in Dame Christie's original franchise of detective fictions, and one of its worst culprits ever.

This is mainly for the novel intepretation of the culprit (though I don't find ITV series' version of this character redeemable either). Beware since it contains heavy spoilers and mature contents with subtext of incest. Read at your own risk.

What's the Work?

About the Novel

Sleeping Murder is the conclusion of Miss Marple Series and the last Christie novel to be released (albeit a posthumous released one, first published in October 1976 after the author passed away), although it was not the last book she had written. That honor belonged to Postern of Fate, the final Tommy & Tuppence novel finished and released in 1973. Both Sleeping Murder and The Curtain, the conclusion of Hercule Poirot's tale, were released after they were finished.

While it's not an explicit exploitation novel, I personally consider this novel to be one of the darkest and most disturbing work of Agatha Christie, in spite of being one of her best Marple novels. Why? Let's seek it out.

About the Plot

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW
The story revolves around Gwenda Reed (née Halliday), a 21-year-old New Zealander who recently got married to Giles Reed and came to England, finding a new house when her husband was abroad. Gwenda believed that her father took her from India to New Zealand when she was merely two years old, and she never arrived in England before.

Nevertheless, once she moved to her new house in Dillmouth, Devon, Gwenda began to have some unnerving feeling (and even illusions) that she went to this house before, and she could even describe the house's original wall paper that was now covered. She knew the exact location of a connecting door that had been walled over, and a set of steps in the garden that are not where they should be, beyond others. She was new to this house (or as she believed) but she seemed to know its exact details.

How come? Even she was wondering why. To find some peace, Gwenda soon accept the invitation of both Raymond West, the nephew of Ms. Jane Marple, and his wife Joan (both of them are recurring characters in the series), to arrive in London for a few days.

However, during watching a stage performance of The Duchess of Malfi, Gwenda was horrified by its famous line, "Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young." which reminded her of witnessing the strangulation of a woman named Helen, with the murderer uttered the same line, before she had illusions of seeing Helen's corpse through the bannisters. Gwenda fled in terror and started to believe she was going insane. This drew Marple's attention and she began to help Gwenda to seek out the trouble, as Marple was believing Helen's illusion was caused by a hidden part of her past.

After following a doctor's perscription for Gwenda and travelling to Dillmouth, Marple and the Reeds soon discovered that Gwenda did lived in England before, once living for a year in the very same house she now bought twenty years later to the present. That woman named Helen turned out to be Gwenda's step-mother, Helen Halliday (née Kennedy), who went missing and was alleged to run away with another actor. After sending his daughter to New Zealand for safety, Gwenda's father was mentally devastated by his wife's disapperance and went to a mental asylum. He died there, remorsefully under the belief that he murdered his wife. However, Marple and the Reeds soon realized that there was an unsolved murder behind this disapperance.

Unable to look for police assistance, Marple, Giles and Gwenda went to seek the assistance of Helen's family. They found Helen's elder half-brother, Dr. James Kennedy, who was heartbroken by the departure of his sister. Dr. Kennedy presented two letters posted abroad which he says he got from his half-sister after her disappearance, and believed that his sister was still alive. Nevertheless, Marple persisted on her investigation and found three more suspects, and they were all "on the spot" when Helen disappeared eighteen years earlier.

  • Walter Fane, a local lawyer
  • J. J. Afflick, a local tour guide
  • Richard Erskine, who resides in the far north of England.

With the help of others, Gwenda soon posted an advertisement to seek out the truth behind Helen and later a second poster looking for her parents' former maid, Lily Kimble. Nevertheless, before they could seek out the truth, another murder had occured...

Who is this Culprit?

Here comes the progress and then the twist. The new victim was none other than Lily Kimble, who had saw the poster and called directly to Dr. Kennedy for help, believing it could gain her money for rewards. However, she was soon found strangled in the woods, obviously by the murderer.

Dr. James Kennedy

As the final culprit in Dame Christie's work, this guy really gets on my nerves...

Lily Kimble's death had drawn the attention of the police. After a conversation with the police officers, Marple realized the mysterious killer was still at large and now was ready to strike again against them, so she went straight towards Dr. Kennedy's house, where the Reeds are waiting for Lily's arrival. Marple then hid herself inside the garden, seeking the chance to apprehend the murderer.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Cocker, the cook of Halliday family, was poisoned and hospitalized when she accidentally took a sip of the poisoned brandy prepared by the murderer to take down Gwenda. Yes, at this moment, there was no doubt that the murderer was none other than Dr. James Kennedy himself, who misled Lily to her doom soon after he recieved her call. After this attempt failed, Dr. Kennedy attempted to strangle Gwenda alive in a last ditch to killer, but Marple intervened and sprayed Dr. Kennedy's eyes with soapy liquid, saving Gwenda and subduing the killer. Soon, Marple began to explain the truth behind this "sleeping murder".

What Have He Done?

It was revealed that Helen never actually ran away from her husband and step-daughter. In fact, Helen was murdered by her own half-brother, Dr. James Kennedy, who had developed an one-sided feeling of twisted love and attempted to have an incesteous relationship with her. However, Helen married her later husband and tried to leave her twisted brother.

Dr. Kennedy was infuriated by this and strangled Helen to death, but the child Gwenda happened to see it upstairs. After Gwenda was sent away, Dr. Kennedy killed her nammy and poisoned her father with gaslight, driving Gwenda's father to become insane. He hid away with Helen's body and made it appeared that Gwenda's father went insane and killed his wife before ended up dying in a mental asylum. It was also revealed that he poisoned Leonie, Gwenda's nanny, who also happened to witness a glimpse of the crime, with the medicine he gave her. The two letters he showed to Marple turned out to be forgeries made by him, in order to misled the private detective.

About Lily's death, Dr. Kennedy had received the call from her and believed she had arrived to blackmail him. He sent her a letter and gave her false advice and misled her into the woods, before he set out to kill her and switched the letter. He went back home, pretending that nothing happened, before he had prepared the poisoned brandy to kill off Gwenda. When that failed as well, Dr. Kennedy finally decided to kill Gwenda by strangling her, but he failed, thanks to Marple who stopped him and exposed his heinous crimes and sick motivations. Helen's body was already discovered inside her garden.

So much for the last case of Ms. Marple. So much for the finale of Dame Christie's novels.

Mitigating Factor

None. Dr. Kennedy's motivation is purely driven by his obssession and sick, incesteous "love" towards his half-sister, Helen, and would even kill her when he could not have her. When Gwenda happened to be a eye-witness, Dr. Kennedy would also make Helen's family to die and/or suffer from pain. His targets include his half-sister, his brother-in-law and his niece, which makes him absolutely callous at the core, and devoid in regards of mitigating factor.

Heinous Standards

The culprits in Dame Christie's detective fictions have various type of motives (like other works of the same genre), but to this very date, only Dr. Kennedy's motive is based upon one word: Incest. As far as I know, Sleeping Murder is perhaps Dame Christie's ONLY detective fiction novel that included the attempt of incest as the core of a killer's motive.

Considering Dr. Kennedy's body counts, his willingness to commit murder upon anyone (even including his own niece and his brother-in-law), plus his motiviation that is solely based upon such sick feelings, all of these make Dr. Kennedy stand out in any murderers in Dame Christie's work, being one of the most evil murderers... and by far one of the most disgusting one.

Verdict

A very, very firm yes.

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