Last year with the Reading the Detectives group on goodreads (find that here), I read Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books chronologically for the first time. The series has fourteen books, twelve full length novels, and two short story collections. Miss Marple is an elderly (though by today’s standards she wouldn’t be considered all that old) spinster, who lives in the little English village of St Mary Mead, and solves mysteries, mostly some fairly complicated murders, using her observation and knowledge of human nature, which is essentially the same everywhere, irrespective of setting. She first appeared in 1927 in a short story, ‘the Tuesday Night Club’, published in the Royal Magazine. I really enjoyed reading these books for the mysteries of course, but also the characters, Christie’s incorporation of changing society and mores, and also the fact that the books make a statement against stereotyping on account of age. Miss Marple herself also changes over the course of the series and only becomes the more familiar version of her, down the line (becoming less lacy and fluffy, and even a little more active in the middle of the series).
Murder at the Vicarage, the first full length Marple book.
I had thought of doing a series review when I finished these last November but didn’t end up doing that, so instead am doing this post which is some of the books in the series which I especially enjoyed. These are not in any order of preference but chronologically as I read them. So here goes.
The Body in the Library is the third book in the series and features Col. and Mrs Bantry who have earlier appeared in the short story collection, The Thirteen Problems. In this one, the Bantrys wake up one morning to find a body of a glamorous young blonde in their library, a woman neither of them recognise. The police take on the investigation of course, but when this incident leads to aspersions being cast on the poor Colonel, his wife calls in the one expert she knows–Miss Marple. Miss Marple, of course, uses her knowledge of human nature to solve this puzzle which is far from simple, with an interesting cast of characters including a rich invalid and people from the film industry. this one made for great reading, with plenty of twists and a surprise denouement.
A Murder is Announced is not only among my favourite Miss Marple books but also among my favourite Agatha Christie books and mysteries overall, and will certainly feature when I make those lists. The sixth in the series (though it is number five in publication order), this one is set in the village of Chipping Cleghorn. Here an advertisement appears in the personals column of the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette announcing a murder at a house, Little Paddocks that evening. Most residents of the little village arrive there of course, expecting a murder game, but when the owner of Little Paddocks, Letitia Blacklock is shot at, and an unknown young man turns up dead, things begin to take a more serious turn. The puzzle/mystery in this one is one of my favourites, and I also enjoyed the various characters with all their idiosyncrasies. In addition, this one is set in the post-war period, with Christie weaving in the various changes and challenges it brought.
4:50 from Paddington, or What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw, is book seven in the series, and another of my favourites. In this one, Elspeth McGillicuddy, a friend of Miss Marple is travelling down by train to visit Jane Marple after a Christmas shopping trip to London. Through the window, she witnesses a murder in a train passing by, but when she reports it, the police find no body and no evidence that a murder took place. Miss Marple however, believes her friend and begins her own investigation which takes her to Rutherford Hall. Helping her is Inspector Craddock, who we’ve met in A Murder is Announced, and Lucy Eyelesbarrow. Again, one of Miss Marple’s more complicated puzzles with a fair few twists along the way, this was one I really enjoyed. I’d also recommend the adaptation with Dame Margaret Rutherford, which takes many many liberties with the book (so not good if you want something true to the plot) but is still great fun.
The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side takes us back to St Mary Mead, where the house that the Bantrys lived in, Gossington Hall, has now sold been to glamorous actress Marina Gregg, who lives there with her husband. When the silly, talkative Heather Badcock falls down dead there at a tea party, and the case finds its way to Chief Inspector Craddock, he heads straight to Aunt Jane for help. This once again has a complicated plot, though part of it is somewhat similar to another Marple that I’ve mentioned in this list. What I also liked in this one was Miss Marple along with her part-time help Cherry Baker getting the better of Miss Knight, a nurse/companion sent to her by her nephew Raymond, who insists on treating her as an ‘old dear’ in need of no excitement. Also this book deals with the changes in St Mary Mead, with a new development, department store, and even a film studio which Miss Marple (and the others) tries to adapt to.
A Pocket Full of Rye is the twelfth book I read for the challenge, though it falls earlier in publication order. In this one, the wealthy Rex Fortescue falls dead (poisoned) just after having his tea in his office. This is followed by other deaths in the family, but when the maid Gladys, former maid to Miss Marple (one of her trainees) is also killed quite ruthlessly, Miss Marple comes down to Yewtree Hall to look into the matter herself. There is plenty amiss at Yewtree Hall, and Miss Marple uses the stereotypes associated with her age to her advantage, gossiping and obtaining insights into the characters of those involved. While this did not have as many plot twists as some of the other Marple books, the mystery (which I didn’t guess the first time around), the nursery rhyme pattern (‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’), how the murders were committed, and the country-house setting, I really enjoyed.
So these were some my Marple favourites, though in general, I quite liked the whole series–there were books I liked less than these but none that I disliked. (From those i Liked, I’d also like to mention The Moving Finger, which again had some interesting studies of character, but I didn’t feel I should include it on this list, since Miss Marple comes onto the scene fairly late in that one.)
Do you like Miss Marple? What are some of your favourite Marple mysteries? Looking forward to hearing about them!