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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Marple – twelve new stories, twelve great writers, one Agatha Christie

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then having 12 well-known writers recreate one of your most famous fictional characters might bring a satisfied smile to the lips of even the most legendary of writers. And it would be nice to believe that is the case for the spirit of Agatha Christie who brought the eponymous amateur sleuth, Miss Marple, to life nearly a century ago, in 1927.

Miss Marple first appeared in a story written for Royal magazine and such was her popularity, she went on to be the central character in 12 books, beginning with Murder at the Vicarage in 1930. She then loomed large over the crime genre right up until the death of her creator in 1976.

Since then, both television series and film have continued to capture the eccentric and ageing Miss Marple, and she has been kept constantly before readers and audiences. Most recently in Murder is Easy, a new series for BBC TV and Britbox, which is currently in the offing; together with yet another new film, A Haunting in Venice, based on one of Christie’s books.

How one of her most unassuming characters, an elderly spinster living in a small rural town where nothing is ever supposed to happen, has continued to entice each new generation of crime lovers, might still be Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery. Except that she also created the unforgettable character of the fastidious and blunt Hercule Poirot. The hirsute Belgian detective has been even more successful than the character of Miss Marple. Poirot appeared in 39 of Christie’s novels, 50 short stories and numerous adaptions of those stories for film and television; perhaps most famously the recent adaption of Murder on the Orient Express.

Between these and others of Christie’s characters, there is so much material to draw on, it might seem an easy task to find sufficient inspiration to successfully imitate her craft. I would disagree. It’s a steep hill to climb, even for 12 female authors, each of whom is internationally famous in her own right/or write. It’s still hard to compare with someone as prolific as Agatha Christie who has been dead for almost 50 years. First there’s the challenge of inhabiting, not just her writing style, but also her mindset. As writers for film and television adaptions of her stories have found, there is also the imperative of also removing the outdated and culturally offensive expressions of someone who was born in the late 19th century when the Empire was at its most virile and expansionist stage; and colonial thoughts of white supremacy were at their height. Yet, I think these 12 women pulled it off. For someone like me who loves a good whodunnit and who also loves the dip-in, dip-out nature of the short story genre, this is the perfect book for holiday reading. And that’s exactly what I plan to do again early next month when I set off on my no-frills flight for a short holiday in a warmer, and hopefully drier, place.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Harper Collins


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