The Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie

(This is a translation of the preface I wrote for this second volume of Agatha Christie short stories.)

In volume 2 of Agatha Christie's collected short stories we get to know the author's second big problem solver, miss Jane Marple. In all, Christe wrote 20 short stories about the old lady, most of them from the end of the 1920s.

Between 1927 and 1931 she wrote 13 short stories for the British magazine Story-Teller. The first twelve of these have a common theme where the guests at a dinner party tell each other criminal anecdotes, and at the end Miss Marple gets to show off and explain the circumstances. These thirteen stories were later collected as "The Thirteen Problems". The other seven short stories are mainly from the 1930s and early 1940s.

In this volume, like the one for Poirot, the stories are not presented in publication order but rather in an internal chronological order (according to "The Life and Times of Miss Marple" by Anne Hart).

We start off with "The Tuesday Night Club" where the guests at the first dinner party are introduced. A nice little story, where the reader needs to be well versed in British nursery rhymes to be able to solve the problem.

Next is another example where Christie tackles an impossible mystery, "The Idol House of Astarte". A very good example of the genre and one of her cleverest Miss Marple stories.

"Ingots of Gold" is more of an adventure tale. I kind of enjoy it simply because it breaks up the mood. Otherwise, not the best of Christie's stories.

"The Blood-Stained Pavement", like its predecessor, takes place in Cornwall, and is somewhat reminiscent of the Poirot short story "Triangle at Rhodes". This comparison is not wholly to this story's advantage.

 "Motive vs. Opportunity" is probably the most easily solved mystery in this collection. The astute reader should have no problem to find the solution, which makes this story a bit of a disappointment.

"The Thumb-Mark of St. Peter" is one of many Christie tales which revolve around the spreading of gossip after a mysterious death. An all right story, nothing more.

With "The Blue Geranium" we're introduced to a new dinner company. Otherwise, the set-up is just the same as in the previous six stories. This is another rather clever least likely suspect story - and an impossible mystery, though that part is not played up at all.

The story "The Companion" has a murder motive that reminds you of many other Christie stories, and an avid Christie reader shouldn't find it too hard to see through the author's tricks.

In "The Four Suspects" we suddenly find ourselves in a spy tale, though disguised as a fair play mystery. Miss Marple produces a surprising culptrit, but surely there aren't very many clues here?

"A Christmas Tragedy" takes place in a hotel where Miss Marple has to crush a seemingly ironclad alibi, so it's another impossible mystery. The solution has some similarities with a certain Poirot novel, though they differ in a very important respect. This is one of the better stories here.

"The Herb of Death" has some similarities with the novel "Postern of Fate", and it has to be said that the solution is produced from the flimsiest of clues.

The final of the twelve dinner party stories is "The Affair at the Bungalow", which to be honest is quite confusing - not unlike the person who's telling the anecdote. Not the best story to finish this suite with.

After these tales, Christie rounded out her first Marple collection with "Death by Drowning". It reuses sir Henry Clithering from the earlier twelve stories, but takes place "in real time". Miss Marple asks sir Henry to investigate a death where she fears the wrong person is going to be accused of murder. Of course, she turns out to be right at the end. The main problem here is perhaps that Miss Marple herself is absent from a great part of the story.

The next story, "Miss Marple Tells a Story" has a chequered history, as it was originally written to be read on a radio broadcast, by Christie herself. This is also the only story which has Miss Marple herself as the narrator. It is somewhat reminiscent of "A Christmas Tragedy" since it's another impossible mystery taking place in a hotel. Another clever and enjoyable story, though I'd say it's impossible to find the killer here, because they're hardly in the story at all.

"The Case of the Caretaker" reminds me a bit of the first twelve stories insofar as Miss Marple has to solve a mystery which she is told about. There are some similarities here to the novel "Endless Night".

"Tape-Measure Murder" has a solution where the surprise hinges on Christie's clever storytelling technique. The reader needs to be on his toes to solve it before Miss Marple does.

We get one of the better stories of this collection in "The Case of the Perfect Maid". Miss Marple has to help out a servant girl who's been dismissed for something she didn't do. And of course it turns out that there is something more serious behind it all.

Next is one of those treasure hunt stories that Christie enjoyed, in the form of "Strange Jest". Miss Marple has to find out where an old uncle's fortune is hidden. Another tale where knowledge of old English idioms is to the reader's help.

"Sanctuary" is the longest of the Marple short stories, and also one of the most enjoyable ones. Here we return to the village of Chipping Cleghorn, the scene of the crime in "A Murder is Announced". A man dies on the church steps and Miss Marple needs to find out why he asked for sanctuary before shuffling off his mortal coil.

The final story here is "Greenshaw’s Folly". Another impossible crime solved by Miss Marple. The solution is actually quite clever, but I'm not sure how Miss Marple actually reached it. Surely she didn't just guess?


Miss Marple is the same in her short stories as she is in the novels. There is less of a focus on fair clueing. The first twelve stories are therefore perfectly suited to her, because there is no need there to produce any clues - we just accept that Miss Marple's explanations are the correct ones.

As for the impossible crimes here, all of them (with the exception of "The Idol House of Astarte") has some kind of problem, mainly in the fair play aspect. But most of them have a very clever explanation of the impossibility, which still makes them eminently readable.

Therefore, the only one I'll skip is "The Blue Geranium", because the impossibility isn't even addressed in the story. That leaves "Astarte", "A Christmas Tragedy", "Miss Marple Tells a Story" and "Greenshaw’s Folly" for inclusion in my project.

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