Posts Tagged ‘Agatha Christie’

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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Agatha Christie: Miss Marple Short Stories

March 17, 2014

Recently we have been watching some of the Joan Hickson Miss Marple TV series, and I felt moved to read the Miss Marple Short Stories, and these prompted me to some more thinking about the detective story genre.

The short story genre works very well for the Sherlock Holmes stories. In fact, as I consider two of the longer stories to be rather flawed by their lengthy excursions to the United States, I think that the short stories are far superior. Raymond Chandler writes both novels and short stories equally well, though I prefer the more leisurely character and plot development in the novels. But for Miss Marple, I feel that the short story does not work at all well.

There is a lengthy series of stories where the same group of (varied) characters sit in a room; each of them recounts a mystery in which they were involved or came into contact with, and the others try to unravel it: it’s inevitably Miss Marple who comes up with the answer, at the end, and all the others are astonished by her powers of deduction…

There are then some (not very many) stories where there is a crime to solve; again, Miss Marple comes up with the solution very easily: no detective work, no visiting the scene of the crime, no investigation or consideration of clues is involved. She merely uses information imparted by others.

I find all this highly unsatisfactory. Clearly she has considerable powers of analysis: she thinks a lot, as does Sherlock Holmes, ┬ábut without the crime scenes, the interviews, the clues, the confrontations, the puzzling, there is nothing there. Solutions are not prepared for, led up to, clued…at all. It seems to me that we lose a great deal from the fact that Miss Marple is an isolated individual – there is no Watson to be puzzled, astounded, to recount the unfolding of the mystery. And yet, an assistant is not vital; Josef Skvorecky‘s depressed and gloomy Lieutenant Boruvka is very much a lone wolf, yet his mysteries intrigue, and involve the reader in the search for a solution.

So, eventually, it will be on to the long stories. which I am told are much better; there is, apparently, much more local colour and investigation, and these are the ones that have been filmed and which I have enjoyed watching. But I have realised that success in the genre is even more complicated, and harder to achieve than I originally thought.

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