Having reviewed an Hercule Poirot book, it would only to be fair to do a Miss Marple as well. Most people prefer Poirot, and I must confess, so do I. The Miss Marple novels can get quite tedious. I will add, though, that reading them in your twenties is quite different from reading them in your early teens. The delicate exploring of class society in semi-rural England is, if not completely accurate, very entertaining. And you do have to be a certain age to really appreciate that as it comes out with much more subtle craft in the Miss Marple books.
Miss Marple ranks right up there with the great characters of detective fiction, so much so that she’s become a cliche, the demure old spinster who spends her time knitting but has a brilliant mind and is the semi-official consultant of the Inspector General of Scotland Yard. This relationship is established in The Thirteen Problems, which is a series of short stories. It begins as a kind of murder mystery club, formed by Miss Marple’s writer nephew, Raymond Gandle. Apart from his fiancée Joyce, the club includes Sir Henry Clithering, Senior Inspector at Scotland Yard, and two of Miss Marple’s closest friends, her lawyer and pastor, both of whom are wily old men. Raymond suggests that as they are representative of a broad spectrum of viewpoints, it would be entertaining for each of them to tell a mystery story and the others to guess, or logic-out, the solution to it. They condescendingly allow Miss Marple to play, and naturally she turns out to be the only one to get them all right. As she herself answers, when her nephew asks her with genuine incredulity how she “does it”, living in a village makes one a keen observer of human nature. And people are very much alike, particularly in their criminal tendencies.
Some of the stories are terrifically crafted, especially the one narrated by Miss Marple herself, where everything hangs on the tonal interpretation of a single word. It’s a bit contrived, but on repeated reading all of Christie’s work is. The other stories? Some are obvious, like the lawyer’s rather dry tale of a mysteriously disappearing document, while others are diabolically clever. Joyce’s story in particular is very devious, involving a rapid series of circumstances that will definitely make you blink come the denouncement. I highly recommend The Thirteen Problems for a great night read. Finish it in an evening or over several, it works well either way
From Bangalore but based primarily in New Delhi, India, Samir has variously been and continues to be a professional musician, a pub quiz host, a political campaign aide, and a student of the guitar, as well as history and international relations. He is currently Research Director for the Global Security Centre in India. He is also a freelance editor and research consultant, having worked for the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Public Health Foundation of India, and a McKinsey-IBM KPO, as well as Random House and Oxford University Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org