Miss Marple: Series V: The Blue Geranium

Miss Marple talks her way in to see her old friend Sir Henry Clithering to ask for his help with a troubling case. She has had a surprising revelation about the "Blue Geranium Murder" and needs Sir Henry's help to stop the court hearing. Did the wealthy and unpopular Mary Pritchard really die of shock when the geranium in her wallpaper turned blue?

Miss Marple's story begins a few months before, in the village of Little Ambrose, where she is visiting her old friend Reverend Milewater. As villagers gather at the golf club to welcome the new captain, the generous millionaire George Pritchard, it is clear to Miss Marple that there are many tensions bubbling beneath the surface of this small village. Miss Marple observes George arguing with his brother Lewis, a struggling novelist who relies on handouts from his wealthy brother, while George's agoraphobic wife Mary arrives with her attentive doctor Jonathan Frayn against her live-in nurse Caroline Copling's advice. Mary suffers with her "nerves," while all around her suffer her egotistical rudeness.

When the sharp-tongued Mary publicly humiliates the Reverend, it becomes apparent how widely disliked she is throughout the village. Miss Marple also meets Mary's cheerful sister Philippa and the Reverend's niece Hester, as well as local artist Hazel Instow, who arrives in a fluster. The welcome proceedings are brought to an abrupt end when a dead body is discovered by the river. Marple identifies him to Detective Inspector Somerset as the strange young man she met on her bus journey that very morning.

Some days later, Mary's fear that the color blue would bring her bad luck — as told to her by a veiled fortune teller she had called to the house to satisfy her mawkish desire for drama — is realized. She is found dead, and the geranium in her wallpaper has turned blue. Miss Marple cannot fathom how her death or the flower-changing color could have occurred, particularly as Mary's bedroom door was locked all night. Then another murder occurs. Could the mysterious fortune teller or a secret love affair help Marple unlock the mystery of the blue geranium? And can Sir Henry stop the trial before it is too late?

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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers

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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers

The sudden death of wealthy hypochondriac Mary Pritchard coincides with a most curious phenomenon: a geranium on the wallpaper behind her bed has turned blue! The shocked members of the household know that Mary's fortune teller, Zarida, had forecast that this very sign would herald her death. Did Mary succumb to a truly supernatural event? Or did one of her many enemies contrive to do her in?

Six months later, it appears to be the latter — since someone is about to be convicted for the deed, and Miss Marple has just realized it's the wrong person. In an extended interview with her retired Scotland Yard friend, Sir Henry Clithering, she explains how she botched her original analysis and now hopes that Sir Henry can intervene to see that justice is served.

Her tale unfolds as follows: Half a year earlier, on her way to visit her friend Reverend Milewater in Little Ambrose, she falls to talking with fellow passenger Eddie Seward on the bus. He is an agitated young man, who seems to be steeling himself for a fateful encounter. Later, when Miss Marple is with Milewater at the local golf club, a body is discovered washed up on the river bank: it's Eddie, whom police detective William Somerset concludes has been murdered.

Somerset's investigation of Eddie's death centers around the local manor house, now owned by millionaire George Pritchard. As the detective follows up clues that Eddie's wife, who disappeared two years earlier, is in the area, and that George knows more about Eddie than he lets on, George's high-strung wife, Mary, is found dead — blue geranium and all.

With two suspected murders on his hands, Somerset soon has a third: Susan Carstairs, Mary's former nurse, now living in an abandoned mill house on the estate, is discovered strangled — and six-months pregnant.

Things are looking bad for George, since his tie was around Susan's neck and he was known to be having an affair with her. Furthermore, evidence shows that she was the fortune teller Zarida, who scared Mary, perhaps fatally, in a very convenient outcome for the philanderer George. Finally, Somerset has discovered that George borrowed a large sum from Eddie for a failed business.

Case closed? It would seem so, since George makes a full confession to all three murders. However, Miss Marple believes he is protecting Eddie's wife — now a local artist living under the assumed name Hazel — with whom George is desperately in love. George thinks that she is the real murderer, acting out of excessive zeal to clear the path to their marriage.

But, as Miss Marple convinces Sir Henry, this theory, too, is wrong. In court, Miss Marple gets to recount how a chance encounter with a gardener preparing insecticide made her realize that Mary did not die from fright but from poison. For years, Mary's sister, Philippa had been doctoring Mary's food to make her ill out of revenge for having married Philippa's true love, George. Philippa went on to wed George's dissolute brother, Lewis, but she never forgave her man-stealing sister.

Nevertheless, the adulterated food is not what killed Mary. Her new nurse, Caroline Copling, realized what Philippa was doing and gave Mary the fatal dose herself, making Philippa think that she was responsible, leading to Philippa's panicked accusations against George and Hazel, which deflected suspicion from Caroline.

It was also Caroline who masqueraded as Zarida, inventing a prophesy that Caroline knew she could make happen: the turning of the wallpaper geranium from pink to blue — an effect achieved with litmus paper. Cyanide crystals, which Caroline substituted for Mary's habitual smelling salts, guaranteed that the fright from the apparition of the blue geranium would prove fatal. Caroline later strangled Susan to further incriminate George.

Caroline's motive? Extortion. With Mary dead and George hanged for murder, Philippa and Lewis would inherit the estate and be subject to perpetual blackmail. As for Eddie, based on her heart-rending conversation with him on the bus Miss Marple has always believed that the case for suicide — out of lost love and disappointed hopes — is conclusive.

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