I have just made the acquaintance of one charming Miss Marple, by way of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Cracked (originally titled The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side in its British release). She is a dear, and I would love to sit and knit with her and drink tea and discuss the recurring nature of humanity at large; I can see why so many readers see in her a kindred spirit.
The Mirror Crack’d begins quaintly enough, with life in St. Mary Mead going on in its relative quiet though new Developments are going up regularly and word has it that movie actress Marina Gregg is moving in. Miss Marple has been getting a bit restless and frustrated (not helped by the interfering presence of one Miss Knight who is forever asking, in the condescending manner of too-chipper caretakers “if there’s anything we need” when she full well should be using the proper second-person pronoun “you”); fortunately for her, Dr. Haydock has just the cure for her doldrums: unraveling a murder mystery. On the day of Marina Gregg’s fete, Mrs. Heather Badcock suddenly takes ill and dies of an overdose slipped into her drink. Who could have done it? Her henpecked husband? Marina Gregg’s seemingly-devoted husband, intending to poison his wife? The butler? The photographer? While detectives are on the case, it’s Miss Marple’s keen eye for human nature that will ultimately unravel the case.
Cozies are one subgenre I have not read much of, so I used this as an opportunity to observe master of the art Agatha Christie. I was somewhat expecting the curious details of small-town residents and their private motivations and histories, and I was not surprised at the lack of gory details surrounding the deaths themselves. What I wasn’t expecting was the droll humor, largely present in the dealings of Miss Marple with Miss Knight (the former’s tactics to discreetly shake off the latter’s doting presence made me smile as she sent the woman off on futile errands as far away as possible to buy some quiet time). I also wasn’t expecting the forceful personality of Miss Marple. I knew somewhat vaguely that she was an older woman who sometimes knitted, but I wasn’t expecting to find this vibrant woman with whom I wouldn’t mind chatting with and getting to know. In a way, I wish I had read this a few years earlier so I could have gotten to know one of my grandmother’s favorite characters and been able to talk with her about Miss Marple. As it was, through Miss Marple, I could certainly hear echoes of some of my grandma’s views on celebrities and their lives and affairs.
One of the things I knew to look for when I helped my grandmother pick out books from the library was murder mysteries without a lot of graphic violence or explicit material, and this is something I often hear from older patrons I help in the library; Miss Marple stories definitely fit that bill. This would also be a good choice for those looking for a series with strong character appeal as the book is as much about its protagonist as it is the mysteries she solves. Setting is another strong appeal here as many readers long for the (idealized) small town simplicity of places like St. Mary Mead where even if terrible things like murders occur, there is still a timeless charm to them.
Miss Marple’s keen eye for details reminded me a bit of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache, whom I first met recently in Still Life, and both tales have the charming small-town air about them. For more cozies, I found an entire website dedicated to the subgenre, which I will definitely be perusing to bolster my RA skills.