Marple (2022) by Various

Jane Marple first appeared in 1927 in The Tuesday Murder Club, in The Royal Magazine. She went on to appear in nineteen short stories and twelve novels. She has been played on the screen by many actresses, most notably Joan Hickson, and is one of the most popular fictional sleuths ever. And now she’s back – forty-six years after the death of her creator, Agatha Christie.

Twelve writers have banded together to produce this collection of short stories featuring Miss Marple. But can anyone recapture the charm and style of Dame Agatha? Or have they not even tried?

Continuations are a contentious thing, with Sophie Hannah’s Poirot novels appearing as Exhibit A in the case both for and against. For the most part, the Golden Age circles that I hang around in don’t like them, as they are (consciously) not written in the style of Christie and hence see little point in them. However they clearly sell well enough so as (for whatever reason) the most readily available Poirot novels in most bookshops, they are entertaining readers out there and, probably most importantly, making money for the estate. It was hardly a surprise to see Miss Marple follow suit, but it is notable that in this case, there is a notable change in format, namely the set of short stories. It is odd though that the cover proclaims “Twelve Great Authors. One Agatha Christie.” Surely the implication is no matter how great the writers are, there is only one Agatha Christie…

With a short story, you can get away without replicating one of Christie’s greatest skills, namely providing effective clues to a mystery, as while her novels are generally masterclasses in this, her short stories don’t always follow this. It’s probably the hardest skill to master and by using this format, the authors can generally sidestep this and get away with it. They can concentrate on Miss Marple and friends’ characters and surprising plots.

And you know what? Generally, it works.

What is interesting is the range of authors contributing. Only about half of the writers (all of whom are female) are established crime writers, the others having found success in or mostly in other genres. The stories are generally well told and generally loyal to the character. There is no “Young Miss Marple” or “Miss Marple In Space” nonsense as at least one person had speculated to me. There are a few “Miss Marple Travels The World” tales, such as to New York (would she really be more interested in visiting the linen department of Macys that going up the Empire State Building?), Hong Kong and Oxford University – oddly it’s the last one that feels the most off, feeling a little like Third Girl, thrusting the sleuth too far out of their comfort zone. There’s also one story in which Miss Marple takes the law into her own hands (in her own way, it’s not Death Wish Marple) which I’m sure some will find controversial. One story in particular is very strange – oddly, perhaps, it’s by one of the more established crime writers – but as I said in my review of The Thirteen Problems, they’re not all standard stories either. They’re not as strange as this one though.

One story stood out for me, and I feel I should credit the author of this one, namely Lucy Foley’s Evil In Small Places. I feel a little bad that Lucy’s The Hunting Party is my go-to example for the Reclaim The Locked Room campaign, so I want to praise this story as it does feel almost like a distilled Christie novel, with clues and a surprising solution. It’s my favourite story in the collection and definitely worth a look.

All in all, I enjoyed this collection a lot more than I thought I would. There are a few stories that didn’t click for me, but more than half of them did – a pretty good hit rate for a short story collection, especially from a variety of authors.

Many thanks to the publishers for the e-review copy via NetGalley. Marple is out in hardback and ebook this Thursday.

4 comments

  1. This makes me think of the recent ruckus over Val McDermid being called “The Queen of Crime.” Christie’s estate sent a cease-and-desist letter to her saying they had trademarked the phrase. But what killed me was that Christie’s grandson also sent her a letter saying that they must “protect” Christie’s legacy. We’ve seen how well that’s been done!

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