Marple: Twelve New Stories

From treat to travesty…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

There are some great crime writers in this collection of twelve new Miss Marple stories, many of whom are clearly dedicated fans with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the originals. As expected, some catch the style and tone of the originals better than others, meaning that some of the stories are treats, while a couple are total travesties. For some of the authors, Miss Marple has stayed in her own time with her own attitudes, while some have decided to have her as “woke”, pontificating on anti-Semitism, racial injustice, etc. Needless to say the woke ones and the travesties have a considerable overlap! While the good ones are very good and gave me much pleasure, the bad ones left me in my usual state of wondering why on earth Christie’s estate keep allowing people to mess with her legacy in this way. They surely cannot need the money, and this kind of thing does nothing, I’m sure, to attract new readers to the originals.

The collection starts off with a bang, with several good stories one after the other. Lucy Foley gives us Evil in Small Places, where Miss Marple gets caught up in an investigation while staying with a friend. Foley gets the tone brilliantly – the village setting, plotting, murder method and denouement all feeling authentic. And she delightfully references many of Christie’s book titles along the way. Val McDermid’s The Second Murder at the Vicarage takes place in St Mary Mead, with many of the characters from the original book – the vicar, Griselda, the maid Mary, and so on – and she reprises all this entertainingly and well. The plotting is a little weak, but it’s still a fun story. Next up is a new-to-me author, Alyssa Cole. Like many of the authors, Cole has used the trope of Miss Marple’s nephew Raymond providing her with little holidays to vary the location – here Miss Marple Takes Manhattan. While the story is decidedly un-Marple-esque and involves her being terribly progressive about race and communism (the latter being even more unlikely than the former) there’s a lot of humour to keep it entertaining, and I enjoyed the way Cole played on references to Miss Marple’s stay At Bertram’s Hotel.

Natalie Haynes’ The Unravelling is well written and amusing, but the plotting is weak and for some reason she has Miss Marple living in a village that is not St Mary Mead. Did she move? Why? Still, I felt she handled the generic village setting well, and I enjoyed the story. Ruth Ware’s story, Miss Marple’s Christmas, is the star of the collection for me. A Christmas party at the Bantrys, a mysterious theft, and a very Marple-esque plot, Ware’s love for the character shines through. She also references Agatha Christie’s own description of her youthful family Christmases as given in the intro to one of her collections, I think The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, which is a lovely touch. We discover that Miss Marple likes to read detective fiction, and is fond of the work of Dorothy L Sayers who also gets more than a passing nod here. A great story, very authentic and made me smile.

It all begins to go downhill after that, sadly. In The Open Mind, Naomi Alderman fails to catch the style completely – wrong setting (an Oxford college), wrong type of crime, and Miss Marple is given a bunch of modern social attitudes she would not have had, including a relaxed attitude to drug abuse. Jean Kwok’s The Jade Empress sees Miss Marple on a boat to Hong Kong to visit Raymond, waltzing with Chinamen, in a plot all about racial injustice. It’s well enough written, but has little to do with the real Miss Marple. Dreda Say Mitchell achieved the distinction of the only one-star rating for her story A Deadly Wedding Day, where she gets out her usual axe of white colonial oppression and grinds it mercilessly. More about Mitchell’s Caribbean heritage and black victimhood (as usual – her sole subject) than about Miss Marple, and one wonders why she bothered.

Elly Griffiths lifts the quality again in Murder at the Villa Rose, though Miss Marple plays a distinctly secondary role here and the story is not Christie-esque. It is about a crime writer who is bored with his main character and is thinking of killing him off. I felt it may have given some insight into why Griffiths herself tends to start a new series with entirely new characters every few years! In The Murdering Sort, Karen McManus takes a very elderly Miss Marple to Cape Cod in the 1980s, where she is staying in a cottage provided by Raymond for the summer. Raymond’s teenage daughter, Nicola, appears in this one. It’s rather full of plot holes, but is quite fun. I enjoyed The Mystery of the Acid Soil by Kate Mosse, which has a plot that rests on Miss Marple’s knowledge of gardening. She doesn’t quite catch the tone, but she tries, and while I feel authors should be careful not to give away the major clue in the title(!), the story is enjoyable.

Lastly, Leigh Bardugo’s The Disappearance takes us back to St Mary Mead in a story involving Mrs Bantry. Bardugo does a good job with the tone, barring one or two Americanisms that the editor should have picked up. But the ending – which of course I won’t reveal – is a complete travesty, totally out of tune with the originals and leaving a rather bad taste. A terrible way to end the book, sadly.

So a very mixed bag, although overall I enjoyed the good stories enough to make it worthwhile and was glad that many of the authors at least tried to recapture the original Miss Marple, some of them quite successfully. But the travesties left me feeling as I usually do – that authors should stick to their own creations rather than messing with other people’s.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

Amazon UK Link

45 thoughts on “Marple: Twelve New Stories

  1. Well, even though these are such a mixed bag, I’m still looking forward to them! Continuations and fan homages don’t bother me as an idea – I’ve read some that I love and some that I can’t stand, but as a concept I like seeing how writers respond to other people’s work. I listened to an interesting interview with the publicist (or agent? I’m still not sure of the different roles in publishing) who is responsible for the Christie estate and commissioned the collection, which was an interesting insight into why it’s done – apparently the continuations do attract new readers to the originals, and also a lot of publications/press/shops that don’t cover or stock backlist will stock new novels or collections, which acts as a prompt for people who maybe loved Christie as children to pick the originals up again.

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    • If you’re OK with follow-ons then you’ll probably enjoy this. In general I don’t like them, so a 3.5 star rating from me for this type of collection is actually very high! Well, that’s interesting that they do feel it helps sales. I must say if I was a newbie who read one of these woke versions of Miss M and decided on the basis of that to read the originals, I feel I’d be in for a major culture shock! I wonder how many of those new readers read more than one of the originals…

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    • I can usually resist them easily, and had in fact already resisted this collection. And then the publisher sent me an unsolicited copy and my resistance crumbled! However, a 3.5 rating from me for a collection of this kind is actually very high, so I hope you enjoy them when you get to them!

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  2. This does, indeed, sound like a mixed bag to me, FictionFan. In general, thoroughly annoying purist dedicated fan who likes the originals best. Still, there have been times when a follow-on has worked for me. And it sounds as though some of these authors (not surprised that Ware, McDermid, and Griffiths did this well) created some really entertaining stories. These collections can be uneven, though. I wonder if this one will attract any new fans to Christie’s work?

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    • I prefer the originals too and had actually decided against this collection, and then the publisher sent me a copy so I decided to try it anyway. And I must say a 3.5 rating from me for follow-on stories is actually pretty high! If only someone had edited out the travesties, there are a lot of good stories in here. I find it hard to believe it attracts people to the originals, and if it does – if some woke child seeks out Miss M on the basis of her social justice warrior personality as portrayed in some of these – they’re in for a big culture shock! 😉

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  3. I’m reading these at the moment and of those that I’ve read, I agree broadly with your assessment. Overall, I’m enjoying the collection. Some, Foley and Ware’s stories in particular, are a joy; they capture just what a good Marple tale should be to make me smile. The weaker ones leave me feeling happily smug though heaven knows why. It’s not as if I could do any better! 😂

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    • Haha, I couldn’t do better either, but I like to think that that self-knowledge indeed gives us the right to feel smug! 😉 I can see the attraction of trying to write a story in Christie’s style but I can’t understand at all the mentality that makes some authors think they can improve on the originals by changing the tone. Hubris!

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  4. Wow. A definite mixed bag as you mentioned. I’m glad you enjoyed it for the most part and that the Christmas story was the star of the show. Back in the day, Christie wrote some excellent Christmas mysteries, so good on Ruth Ware to carry on that tradition. Still, I always wonder why authors bother to contribute to a project like this only to completely ignore what made the original so beloved. This reminds me of a movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel that I saw on Netflix. The tone and characterization didn’t match the original at all. I guess the whole idea behind that project was to provide a platform for progressive views. But why use a story written in the past to do that?

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    • Yes, that’s how I feel. I can see the attraction of writing a follow-on story about a character I love, or adapting a loved book for TV or film. But I cannot understand why some authors/directors choose to change the original to make it more suited to contemporary attitudes. If that’s important, then write a new story, and leave the old ones alone!

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    • Some of the stories are really good at keeping within the style of the originals and they’re worth reading, Some aren’t! I’ll never understand why some authors mess with another author’s much-loved work in that way…

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    • I can never understand why some authors insist on doing that. I can see the attraction of writing, and reading, stories “in the style of”, but not stories that just give an unrecognisable character the name of a much-loved one…

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  5. I love the idea of being back at the vicarage and at the Bantry’s, but out of St. Mary Meade? surely not, preposterous idea. I must read the christmas pudding mystery as well!

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    • That was very odd, to have her living in an entirely different village, and it gave no hint as to why. One of the Bantry stories, Ruth Ware’s Christmas one, was a lot of fun – the other was a travesty! The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding collection is great, and HC put out a lovely tinselly hardback edition of it last year. Perfect as a Christmas gift from Santa (to yourself!) 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Considering I’ve yet to read my first Miss Marple story, this isn’t one for my wish list. I’m glad there were enough good ones to make it worth your while!

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  7. Probably inevitable that mixed bag is the nature of the beast with a collection like this, but I’m always fascinated by what other writers do with such a well-known character. I am having difficulties imagining Miss Marple alive in 1980 though!

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    • Haha, yes, by my calculation she must have been about 130 by then – and yet still surprisingly sprightly! 😉 Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the authors had managed to stay within the style of the originals or at least valiantly try to, but I always wonder why some authors bother when they don’t even seem willing to make an effort.

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      • I’m working my way through these at present, slowly, so thought I’d see what you made of them (I shan’t be rushing to read Dreda Say Mitchell; thanks for the warning!) Lucy Foley’s is my favourite thus far. Great review but it does sound like some authors could’ve done a little more research!

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  8. I’m a real stick-in-the-mud when it comes to my beloved Miss Marple. Even the fact that they’ve called the collection Marple (no! Miss Marple if you please!) would put me off. The Christmas story does sound lovely though – I shouldn’t be so stiff about it all!

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    • I so agree – Marple is just rude! Happily none of the authors called her that, not even in the travesties. I wouldn’t have chosen this book but the publisher sent me a copy so I thought I should at least take a look, and actually I was pleasantly surprised that several of the authors had manged to do the style rather well. Other, though, hadn’t!

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    • I got the impression most of them had probably written it specifically – most of them had clearly read the original novels and made lots of little references to them, which was fun! Two or three seemed to just have thrown Miss Marple in to a non-Marple-esque story, though – the travesties!

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  9. Interesting that the Ruth Ware was your favourite, it makes me curious about that story in particular! I seem to recall seeing somewhere that Ware is a die-hard Christie fan, which makes sense that she would stay true to the originals quite well.

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