The Three Grand Dames of Mystery: Meet Miss Marple

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Miss Marple Now that we have concluded our review of all the Hercule Poirot books, we are on our way to study Miss Jane Marple, the character most beloved by Dame Agatha Christie. Even today, the media have little room for senior women, but in 1932, the idea of an older woman as the main character, especially in a mystery, was unheard of. In fact, Christie’s publishers did not approve of the idea, but she went ahead and created Miss Marple anyway, with real success. This little old lady was welcomed by most critics in The Tuesday Club Murders, enabling Christie to follow this with 12 novels and another book of short stories.

Miss Marple uses her own special brand of logic. Just as Poirot’s watch word is psychology, Miss Marple has her own ways of thinking about her cases. She uses her deep knowledge of human nature garnered from living in the small village of Saint Mary Mead to apply to everyone she meets anywhere, whether in the vicarage next door or London or even the Caribbean. When she meets a person, she is reminded of someone she has known from Saint Mary Mead and thus understands everything there is to know about that person.

Besides being clever, Miss Marple thinks the worst of everyone and is usually right, since “one does see so much evil in a village” (The Body in the Library). One of Miss Marple’s old friends is Sir Henry Clithering, the former head of Scotland Yard, who admires her abilities immensely. As he explains to Conway Jefferson, the bereaved man in The Body in the Library, “Downstairs in the lounge, by the third pillar from the left, there sits an old lady with a sweet, placid, spinsterish face and a mind that has plumbed the depths of human iniquity and taken it all as in the day’s work. . . . Where crime is concerned, she’s the goods.” In the first Miss Marple novel, Murder at the Vicarage, the vicar, who serves as the narrator, talks about the various women in the village who come to tea at his house, and no matter how vicious others may be, Miss Marple “is by far the most dangerous,” never thinking positively about anything.

Sir Henry continues to rave about Miss Marple in A Murder Is Announced as he teaches his godson, another detective, to listen to the “old pussies,” by which he means sweet-looking elderly ladies. They usually know not just what happened, but also who and why. Sir Henry laments that his own special pussy is not in Chipping Cleghorn, only to be sent into ecstacy when she shows up, “the pussy of all pussies!” The reason? This woman understands evil like no other, yet she seems like such a gentle sweet lady.

Miss Marple paved the way for such detectives as Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote and plenty of cozy mystery characters. In fact, Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple opposite Liz Taylor in 1980’s The Mirror Cracked, and even though the movie was not very successful, it opened the door for Lansbury to take on the role so identified with her.

So grab your books, sit back with some nice tea, and prepare to be delighted by one of my favorite detectives in literature.

To purchase the complete set of Miss Marple books on Kindle for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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