A Love Letter to Miss Jane Marple

I’m a big Agatha Christie fan (as you may know). But while her Belgian detective gets a lot of limelight (including from award-winning director Kenneth Branagh) I’m increasingly obsessed with her unassuming village spinster Jane Marple. A woman underestimated by many, her keen wisdom about human nature inevitably uncovers the truth. I love her for many reasons, not least for the message (like Father Brown‘s) that kindness, humility, and observant social skills are just as powerful as Poirot’s ego and famed ‘little grey cells’. Miss Marple is also a fantastic role model for self-acceptance: she knows people see her as a doddering old woman, but she’s OK with that; she knows her limits and her abilities and lets them speak for themselves. If you haven’t tried a Miss Marple book before – I highly recommend it! Here are three of my favorite Marple reads to get you started:

In The Moving Finger, the narrator is Jerry, a man recovering from a plane accident. He and his sister come to stay in the town of Lymstock just as a rash of odd poison pen letters starts sweeping the community. The police start methodically searching for the sender, but not before someone dies. When another death follows, the vicar’s wife sends for an expert to help: Jane Marple. This is a fun read because Jerry, while a sympathetic and enjoyable narrator, is slightly oblivious both to the truth of the letters and his own feelings, which lets the wisdom of women shine – not only Miss Marple but also Jerry’s sister Joanna and the vicar’s wife, among others.

4.50 From Paddington is another classic story of women’s intelligence being overlooked. First, Elspeth McGillicuddy happens to see a woman being murdered on a passing train – but no one believes her. Everyone thinks she’s a vaguely hysterical old woman who’s seeing things. So she goes to her friend Jane Marple and tells her the story. Miss Marple believes her but knows no one else will, especially since they can’t find a body. So she hires Lucy Eylesbarrow, a powerhouse of domestic help, to work at a house near the scene and scout around. Sure enough, she finds it, and it’s up to Lucy and Miss Marple to help the police figure out who she is, and why she’d be murdered on a train and hidden on the grounds of the Crackenthorpe mansion.

In The Mirror Crack’d Miss Marple is called in after a reception welcoming famous actress Marina Gregg to her village. Famous for both her films and her dramatic personal life (including desperation to have a child), her move to St. Mary Mead is a source of wild excitement in town – hence the welcoming party. Suddenly disaster strikes – a local nuisance and blabbermouth collapses after drinking a poisoned cocktail. Everyone assumes the actress was the real target, but when her friend tells her the story Miss Marple isn’t so sure. As more people die and the stakes get higher it’s up to Miss Marple to dig into Marina’s past to figure out the truth.

You can also experience Miss Marple in short stories, large print versions, ebook collections, books on CD, eaudiobooks, or DVD adaptations.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie have worked together for ages, ever since they trained together 40 years ago. Now 60, they are set to retire and their company sends them on a lavish, all-expenses-paid cruise to celebrate. It’s not quite as generous as you might think though – someone has been sent to kill them. You see, the four women are highly skilled assassins employed by a secret agency known as The Museum and someone from the agency wants them silenced – permanently – in Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn.

Barely avoiding the first attempt on their lives, the four escape from the cruise ship (while making it seem like they’re lost at sea) but now they’re adrift on the ocean with no money, no passports and no one they can trust except each other. But just because they’re “of a certain age” doesn’t mean they’ve lost their edge – a combination of smarts, experience and yes, the skillful application of a knife or garrote as needed – keep them one step ahead of their pursuers as they race to find out who has set a bounty on their heads.

What follows is a fast-paced, roller coaster chase across multiple countries highlighted with sparkling banter and acerbic one-liners. The women lament their aching joints and the miseries of menopause, but they never doubt their ability to out-smart anything that’s thrown at them. Each of the characters are endearing in their own right, but this isn’t The Golden Girls – these women do not hesitate to  spill blood when needed and do so without regret (though they go to great lengths to protect any innocent bystanders).

Surely this is the start of a new series – Raybourn has left plenty of room for more adventures with these four! I have high hopes that we’ll see Billie, Natalie, Mary Alice and Helen working together again soon!