Book Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries – a dozen contemporary authors reimagine Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth

So here’s the thing. I’ve been reading Agatha Christie since I was a girl and even though I think I’ve read them all, in some instances multiple times, I still pick up an Agatha Christie when I want something light and relaxing. Her eighty or so volumes of crime fiction are still in print and have inspired TV series and movies, while Sophie Hannah has brought Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot to life in some brilliant new novels. I guess I’m not the only one who still reads Christie.

Not surprisingly, when twelve contemporary authors were asked to write a story for a new collection of mysteries for elderly spinster, Jane Marple to solve, I pricked up my ears. These authors include ones who have written books I’ve enjoyed immensely, particularly Ruth Ware, Elly Griffiths, Val McDermid and Lucy Foley. Marple is an interesting collection because it reflects not just the Christie we’ve all come to enjoy over the years, but a response to the original stories that is as individual as these authors themselves.

And the writers have done their homework, ensuring that the little tricks and mannerisms we remember from the original Marple stories turn up regularly here too. We’ve got the knitting and the cosy shawls encompassing Miss Marple’s elderly shoulders. The references to the people in the village who remind Miss Marple of aspects of human nature that are relevant to the case in hand. We’ve got connections to former stories such as A Caribbean Mystery and At Bertram’s Hotel. I loved Val McDermid’s story, ‘The Second Murder in the Vicarage’, told from the perspective of the poor vicar, now with a dead housemaid in his kitchen.

To have one murder in one’s vicarage is unfortunate; to have a second looks remarkably like carelessness, or worse.

This story isn’t as twisty as some of them, but is very witty and true to the original Miss Marple, and brings in good old Inspector Slack, harrumphing as always. For twisty stories, Lucy Foley (‘Evil in Small Places’) delivers a tidy story that reflects the dark side of small-town life. And only Miss Marple could have sorted out the twists in ‘The Open Mind’ by Naomi Alderman, which transports our sleuth to a Fellows’ dinner at Oxford where a poisoning dramatically takes place. As you might recall, Agatha Christie really knew her poisons.

… typical of Miss Marple to have found a housemaid who was walking out with the postman. And if the village had no postman, she would doubtless have acquired a gardener who was brother to a delivery boy.

Miss Marple’s empathetic nature and ability to inspire confidences crops up in a few stories too, including ‘The Jade Empress’ by Jean Kwok, where thanks to nephew Raymond, she’s been treated to a sea voyage to Hong Kong, and ‘A Deadly Wedding’ by Dreda Say Mitchell. Good old Raymond treats his aunt in several stories, including a holiday at a hotel on the Amalfi Coast in ‘Murder at the Villa Rosa’ by Elly Griffiths. This is another witty read (one of my favourites) told from the point of view of a crime author with writer’s block and a hero he can no longer abide.

Jane also has Raymond to thank for a trip to Manhattan, to see an adaptation of one of his stories on Broadway, and to Cape Cod, where Raymond’s granddaughter is spending summer with a school friend. But wherever she goes murder is never far away. Another standout for me was ‘The Mystery of the Acid Soil’ by Kate Moss, which had a very Christie-like flavour and a nice suspenseful ending. Rounding the lot off, ‘The Disappearance’ by Leigh Bardugo is loads of fun, and also brings back Dolly Bantry, one of my favourite minor characters, sticking her nose in at her old stamping ground, Gossington Hall.

The stories in Marple are engaging and quirky, and very much in the spirit of the original Miss Marple stories, some more so than others, but all worth a read. I’ll be happy to read these again, and am inspired to pick up Christie’s The Thirteen Problems which I love for the way that the quiet, overlooked Miss Marple solves a series of murders discussed by a group of people interested in crime. I’ve also got a few new authors I’m keen to try, which is the other other good thing about collections like this new one. Marple score a four out of five from me.

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