Tampering with any icon is risky business, but fortunately in Marple, the anthology of new short stories featuring Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, the invited authors respect the reverence readers feel for this character while also managing to infuse their own styles into the included tributes. Each of the twelve stories in the collection is a worthy addition to the legacy of this beloved character.
As with any anthology work, different readers will have different favorites based on a host of varying criteria. In this case, some will be drawn to the stories that adhere most faithfully to Miss Marple as we already know her, some will find their interest piqued as favorite authors try penning their “version” of Marple, and still others will be interested to see what those writers not typically associated with crime fiction will do when playing in that sandbox.
Rather than analyze every story in this collection, it seems prudent to provide examples of all these approaches so that hesitant readers can feel safe opening the covers of Marple, knowing that nothing will tarnish the heirloom quality of Christie’s Miss Marple.
Taking probably the riskiest of approaches, Val McDermid’s “The Second Murder at the Vicarage” elects to pay homage to the first of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels by having a second murder occur at the St Mary Mead vicarage. Fortunately, McDermid is a huge fan and Christie purest, so she pulls off what some might consider an audacious feat with aplomb, providing a story that feels as though it flowed directly from the pen of the Dame herself. The Vicar is once again the narrator for this tale and the crime before Miss Marple is as realistic as her method of detection towards solving the murder.
A rising star in the crime fiction genre, Alyssa Cole takes Miss Marple to New York City in her story “Miss Marple Takes Manhattan.” While on her foray to the Big Apple, Miss Marple discovers American department stores as well as the allure of off-off Broadway. The contemporary-feeling narrative allows Cole to address ageism, sexism, and racism effectively within the context of a fascinating crime story. Micro-aggressions abound and stereotypes of all kinds are on display in service to the authentic story that readers will have a hard time forgetting.
“A Deadly Wedding Day” by the stalwart British crime fiction author Dreda Say Mitchell is set in the 1960s. This story finds Miss Marple attending the mixed-race wedding of a woman from St Honoré to an aristocratic UK gentleman. The native homeland of the bride is no doubt an intended homage to Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery which turns out to be a wise and inspired choice. A death at the wedding finds Marple and a strikingly similar woman from the Caribbean nation working together to solve a murder. Spiced up with a smattering of native maxims, details about the island’s landscape, and populated by a diverse cast, this story feels both progressive and traditional simultaneously. Miss Bella – Marple’s Island cohort – could easily carry a series of novels starring herself as the tropical Miss Marple.
Not all the stories are quite so traditional. For example, Elly Griffiths takes a delightfully different approach in her story “Murder at the Villa Rosa” and it pays off in dividends. While Miss Marple obviously features in this story and it contains several allusions to other classic works in Agatha Christie’s oeuvre, “Murder at the Villa Rosa” is really about the act of writing, the role of creation, and an author’s ability to find inspiration in both the stories of others and in the more mundane moments of life. It’s hard to imagine Agatha Christie herself feeling anything other than awe at this cleverly constructed examination of writing, celebrity, and the perils of both.
Karen M. McManus, one of the authors of young adult authors in the anthology, finds another unique way into her story, “The Murdering Sort.” In this story, Miss Marple plays second fiddle to her niece, Nicola West, who follows the family tradition to become an amateur sleuth herself. A complex situation in one of her school friend’s family sends Nicola down a twisting path of investigation. Nicola’s method of detection is right in line with Miss Marple’s, introducing a new generation of readers to the power of observation and intellect. This is another story that could easily spin off into a series of its own.
Leigh Bardugo – another writer of young adult works – is most well known for her exploration of the fantasy realm known as the Grishaverse, so seeing how she tackled the legacy of Miss Marple was one of the biggest unknowns in the new anthology. One need not have worried, as Bardugo is both an excellent writer and clearly a fan of Agatha Christie. In the story Miss Marple is called away from a holiday trip visiting her nephew by her friend Dolly Bantry. Dolly will be familiar to many Marple fans due to her appearance in several of Christie’s novels. Once again, mysterious goings-on at Gossington Hall will require some snooping and analysis by the great Miss Marple. Surprisingly, this ends of being the story that most directly ties to the Miss Marple legacy and will be remembered for a very long time by both fans of the elderly sleuth and those new to her charms.
That is a look at half of the stories in the Marple anthology, but rest assured that each of them is wonderful in their own ways. The other represented authors – some familiar, some less so – are: Naomi Alderman, Lucy Foley, Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok, Kate Mosse, and Ruth Ware. You can see the publishers of this collection had no trouble getting by-in from many of the authors whose own works have been so clearly inspired by the legendary Dame Agatha Christie herself.
The stories in Marple as a welcome addition to the legacy of Agatha Christie and one of her most beloved creation, Miss Jane Marple. Many of these stories are sure to be appearing on award short-lists in the very near future.
BUY LINKS: Marple – the new collection of twelve stories featuring Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.