The Mum Challenge: Miss Marple

When your Mum sets you a challenge, you can't very well say no, can you?

I can't anyhow.

Somehow, now, at 36, the inbuilt need to make her happy is deeper set than ever and so when she text me at 11pm on a Wednesday night and said 'I'm setting you a challenge,' there was little I could do.

'I've seen your Instagram feed' she said 'and I'm setting you a challenge' and I thought 'Oh, God' because I post some rubbish on the 'gram and it could be anything. I needn't have worried; the challenge was not to end world hunger or walk an alpaca up Everest, it was merely to read a Miss Marple book. She'd even done the research into which was the cheapest on Kindle - she had even, because she's fabulous - offered to reimburse me for the cost of the book.

My Mum is better than yours.

I logged straight onto Amazon and downloaded Murder at the Vicarage. And no, of course I didn't let her reimburse me.

You're probably wondering why at 11pm on a Wednesday this challenge was issued. Here's the backstory:

I grew up reading Poirot books. Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, Poirot's Christmas (every year), The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The ABC Murders, Murder in Mesopotamia, Five Little Pigs, Curtain (sob) I read them all on repeat, book after book after book; adaptation after adaptation - Ustinov and Suchet - and back to the books, so and so forth ad infinitum.

Often Mum - who has read probably all the Agatha Christie but cut her teeth on Miss Marple as a teenager -  would say 'why don't you read a Miss Marple, love' and I'd smile and nod my head and pick up a Poirot again. I loved Hercule so much,  I think, that reading Miss Marple felt somewhat disloyal.

And so it is that I am 36 years old and until last week had not read a Miss Marple novel. 'Read one by the 1st July' Mum's text said after I confessed my Miss Marple truth on my Instagram story, and let's not pretend she didn't throw that particular date in on purpose - it's her birthday - I see you, Mum, I know what you're doing.

So I did read one, and today, the 1st July and in honour of my marvellous Mum, I am here to talk about it.

(Also I read it on the Kindle but I bought this copy because it's the first I ever read and I felt like I should own it and also it matches my Evil Under the Sun and looks pretty on my desk. I have such a bool related problem omg.)

So here's the thing. Dame Agatha Christie is the queen of crime fiction. You think I'm wrong? I'll fight you. With a pen - it's mightier than a sword. She is though - she's the best - her crimes, her victims, her suspects, her red herrings, her twists and her turns. She was the best at what she did - so much so in fact, that her her books don't lose anything over time. Orient Express is still being adapted for the big screen and it doesn't feel dated, not really; it's still a fun, clever mystery.

The thing I noticed right away when I started Murder at the Vicarage, and I read the first 10% in about half an hour, is just that: it doesn't feel massively dated, it's easy to read, it's smart and witty and if I'd picked it up and read it with zero background knowledge I wouldn't have guessed it was written almost 90 years ago. That's quite the feat. I mean, it is dated, of course it is, but not in a way that makes it hard to read or irrelevant. The vicar, who narrates, doesn't feel like a guy who were he alive today would have had probably at least 40 birthday letters from the Queen, he has a much younger wife and they both talk openly about what that means and what people might think and she tells him, quite frankly, that people will probably be expecting her to sleep around.

Miss Marple is excellent. I mean, I'm stubborn and I don't so much want Mum to be right (even though it's a fact of my life that she always is) but do you know what: I loved this book. Where oh where has this series been all my life ('on the bookshelf love, I tried to tell you...' I can hear Mum rolling her eyes all the way from her holiday cottage, where I imagine she's drinking wine and laughing at me).
I did expect Miss Marple to be a more major character though, I must admit. Perhaps the other books are different but in this one she sort of pops up 5 or 6 times throughout the book, is mentioned maybe 5 or 6 more as knowing everything and never being wrong and then arrives at the end having solved the crime. It's odd, because the whole story really is that of the vicar, and his investigation and we don't get to know Miss Marple or follow her deductions at all. That made me a little sad - I think because I was expecting to get to know her but really she felt like a secondary character in what I had expected to be her own book. Le sigh.

That said: I loved it, it was an easy read that made me happy, I didn't guess whodunit and I am very obviously planning to read some more.

Thanks Mum and I'm sorry it's taken over 20 years for me to listen to you, about this anyhow.