Gentle readers, Afficionados of Agatha Christie mysteries will have one more chance to see an original Miss Marple mystery on Masterpiece Mystery! this Sunday. My good friend Hillary Major has reviewed the last episode. What did she think? She thought it was well worth her while, as did I. See this episode on Sunday, July 26th, at your local PBS television station. The series airs 9 pm local time.
When vicar’s son Bobby Jones (Sean Biggerstaff) discovers a dying man abandoned on a Welsh cliffside, he is determined to elucidate the man’s cryptic final words: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Fortunately, Bobby has help — from childhood friend (and romantic interest), the impetuous Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (played by Georgia Moffett), and from an old friend of the family, just arrived in town for a visit.
Miss Marple doesn’t appear in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (first published in the U.S. as The Boomerang Clue), but the good-humoured tension between the mild-mannered detective and the eager young pair of would-be gumshoes makes the opening of this Masterpiece Theatre episode sparkle. While critics could argue, with some merit, that Miss Marple’s presence is extraneous to the plot and that, in fact, the stakes would be higher if her protégés were forced to discover the truth on their own, it is hard to complain when Julia McKenzie is on the screen. Miss Marple may appear to be absorbed in her knitting, but McKenzie’s bright eyes are keenly tracking Bobby and Frankie at they plot to uncover the criminal, and soon Miss Marple is an acknowledged co-conspirator. Viewers of many ages will feel a bit smug when Miss Marple proves, time and again throughout the episode, that older is wiser when it comes to solving mysteries.
The search for the murderer sends Bobby, Frankie, and Miss Marple “undercover” to the Savage family estate, where suspects abound — the recently widowed and seemingly out-of-touch matriarch Sylvia Savage; the suspiciously ubiquitous psychiatrist; Mr. Evans, former business associate of the deceased and, like most orchid-lovers in fiction, just a bit creepy; not to mention the truly creepy Thomas Savage, a teenager who spends most of his time with his pet snake. Then there are the psychiatrist’s beautiful but disturbed wife and the handsome young piano teacher, who between them manage to complicate Bobby and Frankie’s blooming courtship.
Immune to such distractions, it is Miss Marple who begins to suspect that the heart of the matter may lie in the Savage family’s past, in time spent in China between the world wars. Christie has cleverly used the personal drama to illustrate a larger, societal guilt surrounding Britain’s post-WWII relationship with China. As one of her characters puts it in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, when Britain withdrew their presence they “practically gave it to the Japanese.” While this political issue creates an underlying frisson in the episode, the focus really is on individual crimes and their consequences, as the Savage history is revealed.
Although a few of the plot point may stretch the viewer’s credulity (like the chance meeting of Bobby and Frankie at the beginning of the episode or Bobby’s semi-successful impersonation of a chauffeur), overall, the mystery is well-structured and makes for an action-filled hour-and-a-half. With eye-catching cinematography, strong acting, and a complicated knot to unravel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? will be appreciated by many a Sunday-evening armchair sleuth.