on 7 April 2001
Mysterious drownings, wallpaper changing colour, and mysterious bodies found in churches, who else could pull together such a varied mix of oddities other than the great Agatha Christie; who else could solve them other than the great Miss Marple. In this collection one of the most unlikely of detectives reflects on past crimes and puzzles, unravelling them as if she was unravelling a ball of wool (which is hard not to imagine in her lap). For all those people who, like myself, like puzzles there is an added bonus. The reader can solve all of the stories, all stories make sense and it is this that will stop you putting this book down.
If one had to pick a single word to describe the book, or at least the stories within, "compelling" would be my choice. This collection of short stories is distilled Agatha Christie at some of her best. The short length of each stories just adds pace and fun of each story/puzzel. What make Agatha Christies stories so captivating for the reader is the sheer challenge of trying to solve the mysteries before your told, and with the stories reduced in size it becomes a greater challenge. The only disappointment comes when you realise you have pegged the wrong person down from the start, and it is this that is the true essence of all great "who-dun nits", although it is something that is often lacking in books of this genre. This book is one of the most well written of any genre I have read, not because it is literally masterpiece or a radically innovative classic, but because it succeeds perfectly at what it intends to achieve; they create an atmosphere of mystery, and the compel you to guess.
on 31 August 2010
The words quoted above appeared in a short story by Agatha Christie called "The Four Suspects." They were not spoken by Miss Marple but by "that well-groomed man of the world, Sir Henry Clithering," retired now and residing in St Mary Mead or nearby, but "until lately Commissioner of Scotland Yard." The words were addressed to Sir Henry's new neighbour, a certain Miss Jane Marple. There is EVERY reason to assume that Miss Marple agreed.
An earlier Amazaon US reviewer quoted a short passage from "An Autobiography" by Christie. I shall quote a little more extensively from the same source: "Miss Marple," wrote Dame Agatha, "insinuated herself so quickly into my life that I hardly noticed her arrival. I wrote a series of six short stories for a magazine, and chose six people whom I thought might meet once a week in a small village and describe some unsolved crime. I started with Miss Jane Marple, the sort of old lady who would have been rather like some of my grandmother's Ealing cronies--old ladies whom I met in so many villages where I had gone to stay as a girl. Miss Marple was not in any way a picture of my grandmother; she was far more fussy and spinsterish than my grandmother ever was. But one thing she did have in common with her--though a cheerful person, she always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right...."
Later, she added, "Miss Marple was born a the age of sixty-five to seventy--which, as with Poirot, proved most unfortunate, because she was gong to have to last a long time in my life. If I had had any second sight, I would have provided myself with a precocious schoolboy as my first detective; then he would have grown old with me."
The first sextet of magazine stories were published in the late 1920s but did not achieve the dignity of book publication until 1932, two years after the publication of "Murder at the Vicarage," the first novel to feature Miss Marple.
The 1932 volume contained the first sextet of stories mentioned by Christie in her autobiography, plus a second sextet and one more story to provide a satisfactorily ominous title for the collection, "The Thirteen Problems." (In the US, the book appeared--less happily--as "The Tuesday Club Murders.") Christie wrote seven more short stories for Miss Marple. They all are included in this volume. The later stories are good enough, but Miss Marple had so grown in stature that her true milieu was the full-length mystery novel.
I suggest that special note be taken of the tenth story, "A Christmas Tragedy." This story represents a sea change in Miss Jane Marple. In all prior appearances she had been a mere device, a voice through which the author could resolve her little puzzles. With this story, the fully developed, elderly, tough as nails, knitting Nemesis of the novels emerges.
These twenty stories are competent, if not brilliant. No-one, least of all Agatha Christie, would call them literature. They are amusements, clever puzzles set to dialogue. As such, most of them are splendid. There are a couple of minor misfires, one in which the solution to a coded message is in English when by the logic of the story it should have been in German, another in which Christie chose to emulate the mechanically-oriented stories common in those days among the works of her less-talented contemporaries. A classic Christie work incorporates some deceptively simple example of what might be called mental sleight-of-hand. Stories that depend on gimmicked mechanical implements and the like seem somehow beneath Dame Agatha's dignity.
Reading these stories quickly demonstrates that Agatha Christie was born one of nature's great re-cyclers. Dame Aggie had a strong tendency to ... ahem, quote from herself when a good plot was involved. For those who would put a more positive spin on the simple facts, then it might be said that within these stories may be found seeds that later sprouted into full-length mystery classics such as "A Murder is Announced" and "Murder Under the Sun."
The collection, I was surprised to discover, was dedicated to Leonard and Katherine Woolley. Sir Leonard Woolley was a great archeologist who famously excavated the ancient city of Ur in Sumeria, a land that would one day come to be known as southern Iraq. He became a media superstar when he dug down through the artifact-laden soil of Ur to find a very thick layer almost entirely free of man-made remains, and beneath that yet another layer of artifacts. Woolley attributed the break in the artifact layers to an extensive flood--or as he suggested a bit prematurely and the newspapers shouted loudly to all the world, not a flood but The Flood. When the shouting was at its height, Christie was already a world-famous author and an enthusiastic traveler. She visited the dig at Ur and stayed on for some time to lend a hand. There she met and fell in love with archeologist Max Mallowan, whom she married in the same year that she published "Murder at the Vicarage."
Doubtless, anyone who has slogged this far is wondering why I've wandered so far off-track with all this biographical blather. The reason is simply that I am astonished to see Katherine Woolley's name in the dedication. When Christie arrived, Lady Woolley was very much in residence at her husband's archeological site. She regarded herself as Queen of all she surveyed and she went out of her way to make sure that the upstart mystery novelist knew it. Christie got on with Leonard Woolley, but she simply could not abide his wife. In one of her novels, she made a perfectly obvious caricature of Lady Woolley into the murderess. When she transformed the book into a stage play, Christie slyly converted her novel's villainess into her play's comic relief.
This collection of the twenty Marple short stories are, as I've said, not literature themselves, nor even necessarily vintage Christie. Nevertheless, they are clever, entertaining and an invaluable memento of one of the great literary characters of the Twentieth Century.
Five stars for Agatha, for Jane and for St Mary Mead.
on 23 December 2003
To start with, the book is just great.
I knew it when I ordered it, because I had one copy of it already.
I ordered it once over, along with all the three volumes of the Miss Marple Omnibus containing all the tweltwe novels for one single purpose, to have four books of the same design containing all stories (short stories and novels) about Miss Marple.
The problem is as follows - what I got was a book of the same edition I already had and that does not correspond with the cover photo available on amazon.co.uk
So, to conclude it, I can only recommend this book but if you want a complete collection with the same cover design, beware, you may end up like I did.