An enjoyable posthumous short story collection featuring the deductive powers of Christie’s lovable sleuth, plus two additional supernatural stories.
I’m still a long way away from completing my Christie re-readathon, but I’m now very close to completing the Miss Marple series, with only three novels left!
Unlike The Thirteen Problems, the earlier Miss Marple collection, the short stories here lack any connection or overall narrative frame, and despite the somewhat foreboding title they don’t take place at the very end of Miss Marple’s life either. Speaking as a Christie fan who found Curtain unbearably sad to get through, I’m secretly relieved that she never wrote a final ending for Miss Marple the way she did with Poirot, and that one could just imagine the old lady going on forever. Then again Christie was clearly a lot more fond of Miss Marple than her little mustachioed Belgian.
Seven of the stories with Miss Marple were originally published in various magazines between 1930s and 1950s. Predictably, they vary in quality; the opener Sanctuary reminded me too much of one of Christie’s silly underwhelming thrillers with Miss Marple thrown in, but thankfully it gets better. The observant and insightful Miss Marple helps a young couple find an inheritance left to them by an eccentric uncle; solves a murder that happens in her home village of St Mary Mead; and attempts to clear the name of a local servant girl. She of course does it all in her usual inimitable style, self-effacing, charming and shrewd. According to Miss Marple, if something looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Christie often re-used the elements of her short stories in her longer novels, and this collection is no exception: the murder in Case of the Caretaker bears a striking resemblance to the plot of Endless Night, one of Christie’s best books. The stories also feature some familiar faces like Dr Haydock, who brings Miss Marple a murder puzzle to solve in order to cheer her up after a bout of illness, Inspector Slack the classic disdainful policeman, and Miss Marple’s snooty-but-caring nephew Raymond West.
My favourite short story in the collection however is one of the two non-Marple entries, an eerie tale about a creepy doll that terrorises a dressmaker’s establishment, with a twist ending that makes you see everything from a completely different angle. The second story, In a Glass Darkly, is likewise supernatural-themed, and reminded me a lot of the spooky Arthur Conan Doyle short stories I loved as a teenager. These two were probably included to fatten up the collection, but they made me wish that Christie wrote more in this genre.