Posts Tagged ‘Miss Marple’

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.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes

June 8, 2013

I’ve been an avid Holmes fan since I was seven. I know that there were antecedents in the annals of detective fiction, as well as imitators, but I had never got round to reading any; I knew vaguely of the existence of three anthologies of stories edited by Hugh Greene, and recently I laid my hands on a copy.

Gripe about 1980s penny-pinching publishers: they used awful glue in mass-market paperbacks for several years; it dried hard and creamy-while and soon crumbled like cheap toffee, showering you with debris as you read and pages and whole sections became detached from the book. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve had to take apart completely and re-bind in order to read them. This was another: shame on you, Penguin Books.

There was an astonishing variety and range of stories here: some involved absolutely no detection at all; some involved individual sleuths, some the traditional pair of detective and side-kick; some had female detectives and foreshadowed Miss Marple; others involved criminals and other shady characters using the skills of detection to further their own interests… Some of the mysteries were worthy of the master, and sometimes I detected not quite plagiarism, but influence and imitation, particularly in the matter of plots.

If you are a Holmes fan, then I think you will enjoy reading these stories; Conan Doyle had rivals and imitators, some who were pretty good. Hugh Greene gives useful information about sources and potted biographies of the writers, too: clearly a labour of love.

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