When I was at school I tried to start an Agatha Christie Club. Number of members (including the Chairman – myself ): three. Number of meetings: zero.
This somewhat unenthusiastic response has not tempered my love of ‘good old Agatha’, although she was rather – as one of my friends described her – ‘a fascist in tights’. In her huge collection of whodunnits, the dodgy women always live around Bayswater, there is always a ten-to-one chance that the husband did it, and in Poirot, her much-loved Belgian detective, she gives us a wonderfully clichéd portrait of A Foreigner. But perhaps that’s why I enjoy her books. Reading Agatha Christie is a welcome relief from both political correctness and the convolutions of the modern world. She wrote books you can take into hospital with you – indeed, they were what my mother read when she was awaiting the birth of the Agatha Christie Chairman – or curl up with when you feel like being simultaneously scared and sentimental about an age you didn’t even experience.
The Miss Marple books are perfect for this. Their stock characters and rather cringe-inducing prejudices can easily be ignored by losing oneself in their labyrinthine plots. Miss Jane Marple, our sleuth, is a kindly Edwardian lady ‘with a sweet, placid spinsterish face, and a mind that has plumbed the depths of human iniquity and taken it as all in the day’s work’. I first came across her on a lazy Sunday afternoon when the BBC was showing a repeat of its excellent 1980s adaptation, starring Joan Hickson as the deceptively dithery old maid. I was immediately transported into a world of box hedges, working vicarages, steam trains and Just William – in the Miss Marple books Agatha Christie sets murder among the tea things, painting a halcyon picture of rural England while demonstrating how claustrophobic a country village can be.
Jane Marple is prone to saying such things as: ‘One does see so much evil in a village’, ‘The wicked should not go unpunished’, and ‘I do not like evil beings who do evil things.’
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