Whew. I am not going to lie – this was a slog.
Let me explain.
I’m an Agatha Christie fan – I’ve read all of her full-length mysteries at least once, and most more than once. I’ve read much of her short fiction; I’ve read The Mysterious Mr. Quin and Parker Pyne Investigates; I read, and loved, the linked Poirot anthology, The Labours of Hercules, and the linked Marple Anthology, The Thirteen Problems, and the Tommy & Tuppence short stories collected in Partners in Crime. I haven’t read every single Poirot or Marple story, but there are only a handful left that remain unread.
So, I feel like I know Agatha. She’s a friend of mine.
Half of the stories in this book are not worthy of publication in any way associated with her name. From best to worst: The Mystery of the Acid Soil by Kate Mosse was excellent. It was a believable Marple story. It actually made me want to read more by Kate Mosse, as she was unknown to me.
Val McDermid’s The Second Murder at the Vicarage and Elly Griffith’s The Villa Rosa were both well done. I felt like McDermid, in particular, really accepted the challenge of writing a Marple story with an appropriate amount of respect and love for the source material. In addition, the Vicar – Len – and his wife – Griselda – are two of my favorite characters from the Christieverse, and she did right by them. Griffith’s story was set at a luxury resort on the Amalfi Coast and I thought it was really fun and well done.
The third tier stories were the contributions by Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok and Dreda Say Mitchell. Each of them had elements worked. They were fine. There was a lot of hauling an aged Marple around continents in this anthology – and the Kwok story had her on a cruise to Hong Kong. It also had two of the best placed Marple-ish clues in the entire anthology.
Now we come to the fourth tier: Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware. Ruth Ware’s story, Miss Marple’s Christmas, shamelessly stole its plot from a Dorothy Sayers/Peter Wimsey short story. She acknowledged it, but still. Lucy Foley’s story, on the other hand, has Marple acting like an idiot with a non-functioning sense of self-preservation, which is not how Jane Marple would ever act.
But, it gets worse from there. The only resemblance that the final four stories bore to a Marple mystery was that they included the word “Marple” and there was a mystery. They were irredeemably bad. I don’t have an issue with YA, and I have enjoyed books by both Karen McManus and Leigh Bardugo, but their stories were horrid. McManus’s story might not have been bad, if it hadn’t involved Jane Marple and if it had been in a YA mystery anthology. Bardugo’s story was the worst piece of fiction in the book, and that’s saying something, because Alyssa Cole’s Miss Marple Takes Manhattan was truly terrible. And Naomi Alderman’s story was better written than some of the others, but it had a plot hole the size of Greenland.
So, overall, if you are actually a fan of Miss Marple, I would give this anthology a miss. It’s a publisher’s money grab and I’m surprised that the estate of Agatha Christie approved publication.
I couldn’t agree more! My impressions were largely the same, and I couldn’t make it through Alyssa Cole’s story. Overall, I felt like most of the authors did not respect Agatha Christie’s creation and tried to shoehorn their own pet issues and soapboxes in. I read this last year and it was probably my most disappointing read.
I was skeptical of the project, so I waited to get it from my library, which was a good decision on my part.
I thought that Bardugo’s contribution was the most offensive, although I agree that Cole’s was real bad. I don’t want to spoil it for other readers, but the fact that Bardugo ended her story the way she did just really pissed me off on behalf of both Dolly Bantry and Jane Marple.
I know what you mean. It was clear that Bardugo did not ‘get’ Miss Marple, her personality, her motivations, her morality. But then the same could be said for a few of the authors participating in the project. Whoever wrote the story set in Oxford clearly didn’t. The idea behind the project was such a good one, but I felt like they needed a stricter oversight and direction. I bought the hardback as soon as it came out and I couldn’t wait to offload it onto a secondhand bookstore afterwards!
P.S. Slightly unrelated, but if you haven’t read The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple by Anne Hart, it’s worth checking out. It’s basically a biography of Miss Marple based on actual information in Agatha’s books, and I wish all the authors had read it before writing their stories.