Agatha Christie: Miss Marple novels

July 8, 2014

I wrote about the Miss Marple short stories here; I wasn’t wonderfully impressed. I’ve been doing some lighter holiday reading these last few days and have worked my way through quite a few of the Miss Marple novels; they are a lot better, I think. Novel length allows more complexity of plot, and some character development, although I don’t feel the eponymous heroine has much depth.

There are some limitations to the setting – a small country village – which Christie extends by having her sleuth go away on holidays and be invited to stay with friends and acquaintances. Conan Doyle avoids this problem by setting his stories and characters almost exclusively in the largest city on the planet at the time of writing. This means that the range and number of crimes Holmes and Watson encounter is pretty plausible; a small village doesn’t allow the same scope. Some of the crimes Miss Marple solves do seem incredibly far-fetched. I know realism isn’t the only criterion we use in evaluating detective fiction; local colour and entertainment value are possibly equally important. Many of the plots do involve the reader in the sense that it’s possible to go some way to working out the mystery oneself; occasionally there is a very annoying deus ex machina which comes along near the end and spoils everything.

Miss Marple is an acute thinker and observer, as is Holmes (my touchstone, always) and her idea of character types, whereby she measures the actors in a mystery against ‘real life’ people in her village, I find quite illuminating, though it is probably over-rigid. I’ve enjoyed reading most of the mysteries, and am looking forward to seeing them on film, with the excellent Joan Hickson in the leading role; we are saving them up for the winter.

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