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Miss Marple is still our favourite sleuth as new short stories are published


The tweed jacket is being dusted off and the hat is about to go back on again as super snooper Miss Marple returns to her crime-busting ways.

After solving a dozen or more poisonings, six strangulations, two drownings and one death by arrow, the sleuth has been revived by a crack team of female writers.

They have produced 12 new Miss Marple short stories – 45 years after the last novel.

And while Miss Marple was a product of the 1920s, experts on author Agatha Christie are certain the new project will appeal to fans old and new.

James Prichard, Christie’s great-grandson and head of Agatha Christie Ltd, declared: “It is time for readers to rediscover Marple.”



Agatha Christie originally thought that Miss Marple wouldn’t catch on
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Popperfoto via Getty Images)




The stories hit shelves this month and more TV and radio adaptations seem inevitable too.

But what is it about the so-called “fluffy old lady” from fictitious St Mary Mead village that wins the hearts of new ­generations? Tony Medawar, author and producer of the International Agatha Christie Festival, says: “With Miss Marple, we all know an old lady who knows too much. She’s just very real.

“She’s also a symbol of Britishness. The country tea, the country village… it’s in part why other countries love her too.”



Miss Marple has been played by a number of actresses, including Margaret Rutherford
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Author and Agatha Christie expert Anna Carey adds: “She shows us you don’t have to live in a big city to see humanity in all its facets.

“She often brings things back to the domestic. People also like the contradiction of the ­seemingly idyllic village.

“Her sort of golden age crime almost makes murders safe. The case is always solved and it is never too disturbing. There’s no kidnap or torture. She’s a cosy figure who comes in and she is driven by this moral code that if something terrible has happened then justice should be brought.









“It’s good versus bad. There are all these references to her knitting, looking harmless in a cardigan.

“But she has a mind like a steel trap. She runs rings around everybody and is always observing. She herself points out that she has seen every sin just living in a small village.”

It was in 1927 when Agatha Christie revealed Jane Marple to the world. In short story The Tuesday Night Club she described her as a relic of the Victorian era, an elderly spinster dressed in a black brocade dress, pinched in at the waist.

During the tale, Miss Marple – older than the woman depicted in later stories – tries to solve the case of a travelling salesman, who dies after eating dinner. No surprises… he was poisoned. Twelve novels and 20 short stories later, Marple had solved some 68 crimes and 43 murders. Yet ironically, Christie was initially convinced the ­character would not catch on.

The author was an established crime writer when The Murder At The Vicarage, the first full-length Marple novel, appeared in 1930.

There were no further outings for 12 years as Christie focused on her fastidious Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a character from her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, in 1920.

After a childhood immersed in her father’s library, Christie’s first Marple novel was inspired by working during wartime in a Torquay dispensary – where she came into contact with poisons.

“My grandmother wrote the first Miss Marple almost as a relaxation from writing Poirot,” Prichard has said previously.



The 12 new Miss Marple short stories hit shelves this month
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“Murder In The Vicarage was to be a one-off, written for fun. She never thought she’d be ­living with Miss Marple for the rest of her life.

“She thought that to create a famous character like ­Poirot was one thing but to do it again would be like lightning striking twice.”

Yet of all her output, Miss Marple is the creation Christie had the greatest connection with.

While she could be scathing of Poirot – by the 1960s she felt he was “insufferable” and an “egocentric creep” – she appeared to express only affection for Marple.

In 1950 she published her 50th book – and, notably say experts, it was a Marple mystery, A Murder Is Announced. Christie said the sleuth was based on her ­grandmother and “some of my grandmother’s Ealing cronies, old ladies whom I have met in so many villages as a girl”.

There was, she said, “no unkindness in Miss Marple, she just did not trust people”.

Tony Medawar says: “I think she probably was her personal favourite. Unlike Poirot, she never killed off Miss Marple.

“Like Agatha, Jane Marple is religious. She goes shopping in London Victoria, something Agatha did with her mother.



Angela Lansbury took on the role for one film in 1980
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“She talks about Miss Marple going to boarding school in Florence, Italy. Agatha Christie went abroad to finishing school.” The last Marple novel – Sleeping Murder – was released a few months after the writer died in 1976. It had been kept in a safe for years, during air raids in London in which Christie feared she might die.

Miss Marple has been immortalised in umpteen TV and film adaptations. Margaret Rutherford played her as an eccentric in four movies in the 1960s, while Angela Lansbury took the role for one film in 1980.

Joan Hickson, who played Marple on TV from 1984 to 1992, was voted by fans as their favourite Marple in a poll – and was Christie’s choice too. The author once said: “Joan is most like my visual image of Marple – small, bird-like and slightly twittery.”

Later actresses were less popular among fans, many feeling the adaptations were too far removed from Agatha’s work.

They included Geraldine McEwan, who played her in an ITV series from 2004 to 2008 – while Julia McKenzie took over from 2009 to 2013.

There were radio incarnations too. On BBC Radio 4 June Whitfield played her between 1993 and 2001. And as far
back as 1956, British actress Gracie Fields played Marple in an episode in America. Fast forward to 2015 and CBS launched a much younger version of Marple to a new generation of fans in the US – a granddaughter who takes over a California bookstore.

In Tenerife, where the author once visited, Miss Marple is celebrated at an Agatha Christie festival.

And in Japan, she was adapted by illustrators into a 39-part anime. Back in the UK, the International Agatha Christie Festival gets under way later this month.



Agatha Christie first revealed Miss Marple to the world in 1927
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Image:

ITV/REX/Shutterstock)




And Anna Carey is convinced fans are not about to grow tired of her characters any time soon.

She says: “The plots are so good and so satisfying.

“Marple and Poirot are incredible, effective, characters. They are not just a tormented detective – the sort we’ve seen a million times.

“They are not like anyone else. I think Agatha, and Miss Marple’s appeal, will last forever.”

* The International Agatha Christie Festival is from Sept 11-18. See ticketsource.co.uk/agathafestival for details.




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