GUEST BLOGGER – MILLIE MACK
I recently attended a course on Agatha Christie. At the first class the teacher asked—what makes Agatha Christie’s mysteries as popular today as when they were first published? I found this question of interest, because I have some personal experience with the popularity of one of her characters — Miss Marple.
Back in October of 2012, I wrote a blog entitled the “Quotable Miss Marple.” To this day, this blog remains one of my most popular. Therefore, like my teacher I will ask a similar question. What is it about this detective that continues to attract readers, fans and admirers?
Miss Marple is not your typical detective. She’s elderly, she knits and she’s nosy. She lives in the tiny village of St. Mary Mead where her knowledge of village life and human behavior allows her to make comparisons with the current crime. No crime occurs without reminding her of an event or a person from St. Mary Mead.
However, don’t be fooled by her age, her knitting or her apparently muddled thoughts and questions. Miss Marple fully understands the evil that men—and women do and the behavior that exposes their criminality. Miss Marple is like a laser that zeros in on the motive and the person with the motive.
The police of course are skeptical of the advice from Miss. Marple. They, along with the reader can’t imagine how this elderly spinster can possibly help with the solution of the case. Yet if we pay close attention, Miss Marple always points us in the right direction to uncover the villain. If we don’t follow Miss Marple’s process we can easily be misdirected by the red herrings and the dark horses that Christie so cleverly places in her stories.
Miss Marple has a razor sharp mind. And like the best detectives she has an understanding of the depravity of the criminal mind along with a true understanding of why people act and react the way they do. To quote Miss Marple, “it is almost always the obvious person.”
She’s not afraid to view and examine a dead body as we discover in The Body in the Library. Nor is she afraid to face the villain in a final confrontation as in A Caribbean Mystery. She is most capable of organizing the forces that will protect her from harm when this confrontation occurs.
I’ve described Miss Marple’s detecting skills, but why do readers continue to read her mysteries? Here are some possible answers. Her books are easy to read. Readers are comfortable with Miss Marple because she is not threatening, demanding or egotistical. Her stories are full of good humor with interesting characters. And for mystery lovers her stories are fair—the reader has the same opportunity as Miss Marple to solve the case based on the clues.
I believe readers also enjoy the sojourn into Miss Marple’s world. We learn about the civility of life in an English village as revealed in The Murder at the Vicarage. There’s always a murder, but the blood and gore found in so many modern novels is missing from a Miss Marple story.
I also think one of the most powerful reasons why readers enjoy a Miss Marple mystery is the resolution to the crime. This resolution does not come with a judgment from her. Instead she discovers the facts and presents them to the reader. We understand her solution and ultimately the reason for the murder.
We also feel that when Miss Marple is on the case justice will be served. This justice may not always be through the legal justice system, but we know the villain will receive punishment. We see examples of this alternative punishment in the books The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side and They Do It with Mirrors. This sense of finality, justice and closure provides comfort for the reader.
I’m sure Miss Marple reminds us of elderly people we know. And perhaps we discount them because of the assumption they have lost a few gray cells and aren’t fully engaged with modern times. As she quietly knits, Miss Marple demonstrates that her little gray cells are still working. She is just as capable as the very best detective to solve a complicated mystery. So don’t overlook reading a Miss Marple novel or short story—you see, she’s still going strong.