“The vicar’s wife came round the corner of the vicarage with her arms full of chrysanthemums.”
I checked back, and all the books I’ve read recently seem to have been published in the last few years. In fact, this year the blog has been very heavy with contemporary releases. I decided it was time to slip back a bit, but I only made it as far as the seventies. Thus, I bring you Miss Marple’s Final Cases, a collection of short stories about everyone’s favourite old lady.
The collection is of nine stories, seven of which contain Miss Marple and two are more supernatural in their nature and feature none of the usual characters. The final story, “Greenshaw’s Folly”, I read feeling like I’d definitely read it before, then realised I had, as it’s also in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. I covered that one there, so here’s a brief rundown on the other eight.
First up is “Sanctuary”, in which a down-and-out man is found dying in a church after weakly asking for sanctuary. When it is discovered that he had recently escaped from jail and he’s left a suitcase at Paddington station, Miss Marple and vicar’s wife Bunch set about trying to find out why he came to be at that church in particular. In the second story, “Strange Jest”, a young couple are foxed when their wealthy uncle dies having left them far less money than they thought he would. However, it seems the old man was fond of jokes, and it takes Miss Marple’s memories of an old uncle to work out where the rest of the money is hidden.
In “Tape-Measure Murder”, a dress fitter attends a client only to find that she’s dead. The local police are stumped but Miss Marple’s sharp eyes find a clue that everyone else deems unimportant that allows her to pin down the murderer. Fourth in line is “The Case of the Caretaker”, in which a young couple move to the village of St Mary Mead much to the apparent anger of the former caretaker of the house they knocked down to build their own. The new wife is convinced that a curse has been laid upon her, and it isn’t long before tragedy strikes. The fifth story is “The Case of the Perfect Maid”, which is a tale of servants, domesticity and theft as Miss Marple attempts to clear the name of a poor maid and uses her own methods to achieve things that the police, in all their wisdom, are unable to do. The sixth tale, “Miss Marple Tells a Story” is, I believe, unique among the canon as it is to my knowledge the only story told from Miss Marple’s point of view. She is regaling her nephew Raymond and his wife Joan about the time she solved a murder for her former solicitor, when a friend of his is accused of murdering his own wife.
The seventh story, “The Dressmaker’s Doll” is enough to put the creeps up anyone, telling the tale of a doll that seems to have appeared very suddenly in a dressmaker’s studio. It seems to be moving of its own accord and the women in the office cannot remember how the doll arrived, nor understand what it wants. I hate all stories of creepy dolls (it’s something that really bloody weirds me out), and this is right up there with the best/worst of them. The final new story is “In A Glass Darkly”. The narrator goes throughout being nameless, but is staying with friends when, in a mirror, he sees another guest being strangled by her lover, although when he turns around in fright, there’s nothing but a wardrobe there. Did he really see her being killed, or has he had a premonition?
Often with collections of short stories, the quality is highly variable, but here I found all the stories to be relatively strong. My favourite was probably “Strange Jest”, which had a satisfactory ending regarding the many different forms that money can take, and how some people just can’t resist a practical joke. I was least impressed with “In A Glass Darkly”, which I happen to have seen adapted for television, and don’t remember being too keen on then either. It just doesn’t feel very Christie, especially in a book surrounded by Marple stories.
Although not collected and published together until 1979, these stories were written between 1934 and 1958, and they’re a great testament to the skill Christie had, as all her work is. Despite most of the stories being less than fifty pages long, she manages to fill them with so much in the way of plot and character that even minor figures jump out of the page, and there isn’t a word wasted. As usual, all the clues are there if you’re smart enough to piece them together before Miss Marple does, and as usual, I proved that I’m not.
And so, with this final collection, I bid a fond farewell to Miss Marple – I’ve read them all. No doubt I’ll return to them eventually, but this feels like something of a momentous occasion. Goodnight to you, Jane Marple, you will remain one of the finest detectives ever committed to paper.