The authors of a new collection of stories depicting one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved creations, Miss Marple, have described the character as a “feminist icon” and “one of the great unknown heroines of literature.”
The collection, titled Marple, marks the first time anyone other than Christie has written “official” Miss Marple stories (as Christie’s has acknowledged). The 12 women who contributed to the collection include award-winning crime writers Val McDermid and Derrida Sy Mitchell, historical novelist Kate Moss, classic writer Natalie Hines and New York Times bestselling author Lucy Foley.
Jane Marple first appeared in 1927 in the short story The Tuesday Night Club, which was included in the collection The Thirteen Problems. Miss Marple’s first complete novel was The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, and the character has gone on to appear in a total of 12 novels and 20 short stories. She was partly dependent on Kristi’s grandmother and her great-grandmother’s friends, though Kristi wrote that her fictional detective was “more jerk and spinster than my grandmother ever.”
Miss Marple is “a feminist icon in a way,” according to Foley. “It’s nurtured, it’s ignored, it’s insulting but it runs rings around everyone.”
Mitchell said Miss Marple was a “cracking figure” who was “a rocking her to unmarried ladies, and to postmenopausal women”, while Mossie called her “one of the great unknown heroines of literature”. Moses added that she was “an extraordinarily disruptive figure”, due to her “an old woman who is right there in her own right”.
“I think hiding for older women is still a problem,” said the Labyrinth author. Miss Marple stands out, being one of the “great permanent figures” in her demographic. Moss notes that the stories “have nothing to do with who you marry or who you love.”
Certain criteria were given to Marple’s 12 books, which also include British crime writers Eli Griffiths and Ruth Weir, Israeli-American fiction author Lee Bardugo, and New York Times best-selling novelist Jan Kwok. First, the stories had to be placed within the period covered in Agatha Christie’s fiction by Miss Marple. They could draw on characters and situations that occurred in any of Marple’s novels and short stories, but they were not allowed to incorporate characters or events from any of Christie’s books other than Marple, nor to create any backstory that Christie herself did not touch on.
Foley’s story, Evil in Small Places, finds Marple visiting an old school friend as the village she lives in celebrates its version of Halloween. The author was partially affected by “being locked up with my father” during the pandemic in a small village.
“There’s a lot of quivering in the curtains,” Foley said. “I like this kind of village dynamic [where] If you’re a newcomer, you’ll be marked as a sore thumb.”
Moss’ story, an acid soil mystery, takes place shortly after World War II and involves Miss Marple solving a mystery using her knowledge of horticulture. “I think the wonderful thing about Miss Marple is that everything she understands comes from her character,” Moss said. “She’s observed human nature for a very long time, and the things she knows are the things that give her clues to tell what’s going on.”
A Deadly Wedding Day, Mitchell’s story, sees Miss Marple team up with her friend Miss Bella – a former member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force whom Miss Marple met at an air raid shelter – at her niece Marie Baptiste’s wedding.
Mitchell said she was fascinated by the role of Caribbean women in the war effort, and that the story gave her “a chance to create an amateur detective character, like Miss Marple.”
The book also includes stories from Naomi Alderman, Alyssa Cole, and Karen M. McManus. Mitchell thinks it’s a good time because it comes at a time when we “talk about the role of women,” especially “women who are going through a certain cycle in life.”
Moses agreed that the character is very relevant at the moment. “I think she has integrity,” she said. “We’re in times where there seems to be a huge lack of that.”