2 October 2010

Review: MISS MARPLE: complete short stories, Agatha Christie

Harper Collins 1997
359 pages
ISBN 9-780006-499626

Publisher's Blurb
Fans of the amiable, omniscient Miss Marple will be delighted by the first publication in one volume of all 20 short stories that Christie centered on the elderly sleuth. Wearing her black lace mittens, Miss Marple sits in her chair, knitting and digesting details of murders of all descriptions (from poisonings to a drowning to a shooting by bow and arrow). She manages, of course, to see through all false identities and bogus alibis, and neatly solves each puzzle, no matter how obscure or far-fetched. The bulk of the stories are gathered from The Tuesday Club murders, chronicling the meetings of a group formed by Miss Marple and a handful of her friends. The members take turns recounting mysteries to which they know the answers, while the others take a stab at cracking the cases. Readers will have fun playing along, but beware: Miss Marple is fierce competition.

I cheated a little once I discovered that the 20 short stories actually come from only 3 collections, one of which I had read. I didn't re-read The Thirteen Problems.
Here are the summaries of the stories in The Thirteen Problems
  • The Tuesday Night Club - Sir Henry Clithering, until recently Commissioner of Scotland Yard, tells a tale about tinned lobster that caused a fatal case of food poisoning. December 1927.
  • The Idol House of Astarte - Dr. Pender is an elderly clergyman. He tells the story of paganism and the time when he saw a man "stricken to death by apparently no mortal agency". January 1928.
  • Ingots of Gold - this story is recounted by Raymond West and is about a Cornish village called Rathole (a sly dig at the real village of Mousehole?) and treasure from the Spanish Armada. February 1928.
  • The Bloodstained Pavement - Joyce Lempriere, the artist, also tells a tale from the village of Rathole, of a husband and wife playing the cruellest trick of all, the duping and eventual murder of another woman. March 1928.
  • Motive & Opportunity - Mr Petherick is a solicitor, "a dried-up little man with eyeglasses which he looked over and not through." His tale is of spiritualism and of a will that is eventually found to be a blank sheet of paper. April 1928.
  • The Thumb Mark of St. Peter - this is Miss Marple's story, about her niece Mabel who married a man with a violent temper, and who is suspected by the locals of causing his death. May 1928.
  • The Blue Geranium - This is Colonel Arthur Bantry's tale. He is a red-faced, broad shouldered man who tells his "ghost story" at his wife Dolly's prompting. It is about a "dreadful" woman who had a weakness for fortune tellers, palmists and clairvoyantes, until the latest warns her against blue flowers, and the flowers on her bedroom wallpaper begin to change colour. December 1929.
  • The Companion - Dr. Lloyd is the grizzled elderly doctor who for the past 5 years has administered to the ailments of the village of St. Mary Mead. His tale is from time he spent practsing on the Canary Islands. Tragedy struck when two English ladies, one the paid companion of the other, came to stay, went swimming, and the companion drowned. February 1930.
  • The Four Suspects - Sir Henry Clithering tells the story of a marked man, hiding from a secret society, to whom he assigns a protector. Unfortunately the man is still killed, in an apparent accident falling down the stairs, but Clithering suspects the very man he sent in as the protector. January 1930.
  • A Christmas Tragedy - Mrs Bantry, Dolly, protests she doesn't have a tale to tell, so Miss Marple tells the story of the murder of a young wife, she had been convinced would happen, and failed to prevent. January 1930.
  • The Herb of Death - Mrs Bantry can't get out of telling a tale, and so she tells a tale of what had appeared to be a case of accidental poisoning when foxglove leaves were picked with sage, and roast duck stuffed with the mixture. But even she doesn't see what really happened, but Miss Marple works it out. March 1930.
  • The Affair of the Bungalow - Jane Helier, a beautiful young actress, tells the story of a "close friend" but Miss Marple sees through it and gives her some timely advice. May 1930.
  • Death by Drowning - a local St. Mary Mead girl has been drowned. At first it is thought to be suicide but Miss Marple is convinced it is murder. She asks Sir Henry to intervene in the local investigation to ensure that the true murderer is apprehended. She gives Sir Henry a slip of paper with the name of the murderer on it. November 1931.
I rated the above collection at 4.5.
To be quite honest, I thought the remaining 7 tales in MISS MARPLE: COMPLETE SHORT STORIES were a bit patchy, and a couple of them were downright improbable. All the stories tended to suffer a bit from the need to write sparingly, to keep the plot to short story length. Sometimes the story was finished off, and tidied up, a little too quickly for my liking. For example I would have liked this to be a little more expanded:
    Miss Marple had stalked out before Inspector Slack had recovered. 'Whew?' he muttered. 'I wonder if she's right?' He soon found out Miss Marple was right again.
Miss Marple's Final Cases (from the Christie site: Despite the title, the six Marple stories recount cases from the middle of her career, rather than her final adventures, and all are reprinted from earlier collections.)
  • Miss Marple Tells a Story: Miss Marple is staying with her nephew Raymond and his wife Joan. Her solicitor Mr Petherick brings to see her a young man Mr. Rhodes. Rhodes and his wife were staying in a hotel in a nearby town when his wife was stabbed to death. Rhodes is likely to be accused of the murder because access to his wife's room was only through the room he was sitting in. Mr Petherick believes Rhodes is innocent. aka Behind Closed Doors, 1935
  • Strange Jest: Charmian and Edward were expecting a great-great-uncle to have left them his fortune, but he appears to have left them nothing. Miss Marple believes he was playing a joke on them. aka A Case of Buried Treasure, 1941
  • Tape-Measure Murder: Miss Politt calls on Mrs Spenlow to do a dress fitting, and when she breaks into the house with a neighbour, they find her dead on the floor. Mr Spenlow's alibi for the time the murder took place includes Miss Marple. aka The Case of the Retired Jeweller, 1941
  • The Case of the Caretaker: Miss Marple is not feeling herself. She has the flu, feels depressed, old, and useless so Doctor Haydock brings her a murder to puzzle over. 1941
  • The Case of the Perfect Maid: Miss Marple's maid Edna asks her advice. Her friend Gladys has been unfairly accused by her employers and been given her notice. Miss Marple soon discovers that all is not above board with the Misses Skinner. aka The Perfect Maid, or The Maid Who Disappeared, 1942
  • Sanctuary: The vicar's wife Bunch, Miss Marple's god-daughter, discovers a man dying, shot, in the church. The man dies almost immediately. But why did he come to the church? Bunch visits Miss Marple who solves the puzzle. aka Murder at the Vicarage, 1954. Christie donated this story to the Fund for the Restoration of Westminster Abbey.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
  • Greenshaw's Folly:Miss Marple's nephew Raymond West takes a house guest to see a local architectural monstrosity that only a true family member could love. While they are there they witness a will. After the house owner, whose will they witnessed, dies, they discover the will beneficiary is not the person they thought it was. 1956.
    This I thought was the least successful of all the stories.
My rating for this collection : 4.1
I've read this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.

    3 comments:

    Margot Kinberg said...

    Kerrie - Thanks for this review. Short stories are a bit tricky, aren't they? I honestly think they are harder to write in their way than novels are. The right amount of detail, but not too much... It's difficult.

    Margot said...

    I didn't know that all the Miss Marple short stories were collected in one volume but, of course, it makes sense. I still have mine from previous year's purchase so I'll probably stick with them.

    I'm sorry to hear that the later stories are so patchy. Could be she had too much on her plate? But this is what we wanted to see by reading all these books in their publication order. At some point, I guess, there has to be some decline.

    Nice complete review. Thanks.

    Em said...

    Oh! The memories it brings back. I used to read Agatha Christie's novels quite a lot when I was younger. I'm pretty sure I must have read some of these stories.
    I understand how you might find unsatisfied; I feel that the short-story genre and Agatha Christie do not mix easily and are even contradictory. The short story is more about suggestion than detail and plot, whereas Agatha Christie's works are all about plot and about how every little detail is resolved at the end...

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