It is never a good idea to underestimate your adversary. Take the case of Miss Jane Marple, an elderly and rather kindly woman living in the tiny village of St. Mary Mead, not very far from London. Over the years, a surprising number of criminals have made the mistake of dismissing Miss Marple from their calculations - only to be confounded by her ability to see right through their schemes.
Miss Marple, of course, is the creation of Agatha Christie, who remains, after all these years, the queen of elegant plotting and careful misdirection in the traditional, Golden Age mystery. Miss Marple first appeared in Christie's "The Murder at the Vicarage," published in 1930, and our book for discussion today on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.
If you are new to Miss Marple, you should know that, while she has rarely left St. Mary Mead, she has become an expert in her chosen hobby of observing human nature, particularly by sharing the local gossip. The lessons she draws from simple and seemingly trivial village mysteries, such as the disappearance of a container of pickled shrimps, she applies to larger and more complex crimes - including murder.
So when a body is found in the vicarage, which is right next door to Miss Marple's home, she naturally takes a deep interest in the case. When the police inspector assigned to the case, Inspector Slack, goes running off in the wrong direction - well, really in SEVERAL wrong directions - it is up to Miss Marple to see through the various layers of false clues and find the real solution to the case. In true Christie fashion, of course, the reader has been led quite gently and firmly up the wrong path right along with the unhappy Inspector Slack before encountering Miss Marple's elegant - and correct - solution.
"The Murder at the Vicarage" is not necessarily Miss Marple's best outing - or Christie's; for one thing, Miss Marple really isn't given a lot to do until fairly late in the book. But it does introduce her, along with a number of other characters who would reappear in later Miss Marple books, and it is written with enough exuberance to carry the reader over some fairly dry stretches. 82 years after its first publication, it remains readily available in print and it also exists in an Amazon Kindle edition.