For a girl who grew up on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Mandie books (anyone else remember those?), I came rather late to Agatha Christie. The inimitable Book Club Girl hosted a read-along last summer, and before long I was head over heels for Christie’s clever plotting and utterly English characters. I gushed this summer about Tommy and Tuppence, so I thought Miss Marple deserved her turn in the spotlight.
I’ve read nine books featuring Miss Marple so far (there are 12 novels, plus several short story collections). I was a bit put off at first by the widely varied narration – some books are narrated in the first person by a minor character, some told in a third-person-omniscient style. So Miss Marple is sometimes the center of the story, and sometimes comes in from offstage (rather like an elderly deus ex machina) to solve the mystery and save the day. She is a wonderful character, though: a “fussy, fluttery” old lady, with snow-white hair and old-fashioned clothes and usually a knitting project in her hands, but with a keen mind and a sober sense of the evils people are capable of committing. Although she has lived her whole life in the village of St Mary Mead, she has a rather low (or unflinchingly realistic) opinion of human nature, and a seemingly endless insight into the motives of criminals (and victims).
Because Miss Marple is not always the center of the narrative, and because her primary role is always to solve the mystery, we don’t always get a sense of her as a character: her background, her internal journey, her emotions. However, we do know a few things about her: she enjoys surprising the police (and everyone else) with her quick mind; she is kindhearted and compassionate, especially to misguided young women; and her years as an observer of village life have made her wise.
I loved The Murder at the Vicarage, which marks Miss Marple’s first appearance and is also the first Christie I’d ever read; the plotting was brilliant and so was Miss Marple. I also loved A Pocket Full of Rye, in which she is the first to grasp that a pattern of killings is following (in a deadly way) the old “Sing a song of sixpence” nursery rhyme. My favorite Miss Marple book, though, is probably Nemesis (in which an acquaintance of Miss Marple’s asks her to solve a mystery after his death, but leaves very few clues as to what it is). The story follows Miss Marple’s thoughts quite closely, since she must solve the case largely by reflection and rumination (there are few obvious clues until later in the book). As usual, she pulls off a brilliant solution, to the astonishment of many.
Have you read any of the Miss Marple books? What do you think of them? (And what are your opinions on the various TV adaptations? I haven’t watched any of them yet.)