I’ve been on a Miss Marple binge, but now I’m satiated before the end.
It started when I opened a random Miss Marple (8, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, because I couldn’t remember ever having read it) and noticed that it referred strongly to Murder at the Vicarage. I knew I disliked that so I skipped it at first –though I went back to it later in a misguided fit of completism– and didn’t feel like reading The Body in the Library, so I read 3-6 and 9 thinking I’d already read 8 in full when I’d only read the first chapter or so (I do have 7, 4:50 from Paddington, but only on paper and I was bingeing on my Kobo).
1. Murder at the Vicarage
As I said, I don’t like it. What I mostly don’t like is the first-person narrator, who is far too smug and condescending for my taste. I remember that I did like the film because that didn’t have a first-person narrator and the character was probably nicer too. Most of the other people are not particularly likeable either. I’m not a good judge of the actual quality of the mystery because I read mystery novels for the story and the people, not as a puzzle, but it seems contrived.
2. The Body in the Library
Abandoned this halfway through because yesterday in church I suddenly realised that I wanted to reread King Kelson’s Bride, in which Katherine Kurtz gets Orthodoxy right. I think I know whodunnit, and even why. Might get back to it when I’ve finished that, but on the other hand the Miss Marple mood is probably gone.
3. The Moving Finger
I like this one, especially the way it unfolds slowly and elegantly. The reviewer quoted on Wikipedia who complains about characterization and verisimilitude is probably right, after all he’s a professional reviewer, but it didn’t bother me at all. That the vicar’s wife calls in Miss Marple as an expert is a nice touch.
4. A Murder is Announced
I must have read this before because I remembered Miss Hinchliffe and Miss Murgatroyd, who Wikipedia calls “two spinster farming companions” but it’s abundantly clear that they’re a couple, and also parts of the ending, but it still was an almost new (and pleasant) experience. Another vicar’s wife (a darling!), who is Miss Marple’s goddaughter.
Oh, and writers? If you have characters nicknamed Bunch and Bunny in the same novel, please do something with that. I don’t necessarily mean change one or both, but make at least some allusion to the names. Even if you’re Agatha Christie, or someone in the same class.
5. They Do It With Mirrors
Another sufferer from No Nice Characters Syndrome. Well, two people apart from Miss Marple (who isn’t exactly nice anyway) but one gets killed and the other doesn’t show his true character (that he has character at all, in fact) until very late. Also unconvincing setting, and this time the critics and I are on the same side.
6. A Pocket Full of Rye
Meh. No nice characters here either, and the puzzle could have been delightful but seemed contrived. Perhaps (anathema!) it would even have been better without Miss Marple, who is mostly an annoying busybody here. I think it’s in this one that it’s made clear that Joan Hickson, not Margaret Rutherford, is the right actress for Miss Marple: she’s described as small and frail. (Note, 2018: in one of the first Miss Marples she’s described as tall and thin. Must have shrunk a lot from aging.)
9. A Caribbean Mystery
The setting (tropical resort hotel) doesn’t appeal to me at all so that spoils it a bit– I can’t figure out whether I like it because the setting keeps getting in the way. We tried to watch the film but weren’t interested, perhaps for the same reason. Molly is splendid, though, and I want one of those scarves too.
I know I’ve read 10, At Bertram’s Hotel, and I’m pretty sure that I prefer the film (but I might give it another try). I’m not sure if I’ve read 11, Nemesis; it seems faintly familiar. I’m absolutely sure that I read and liked Sleeping Murder, but so long ago that I now confuse it with By the Pricking of My Thumbs. So much, in fact, that I keep picking up By the Pricking of My Thumbs thinking it’s Sleeping Murder and being disappointed that some of the scenes I expect aren’t in it.
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