Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al.

Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al.Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Naomi Alderman, Leigh Bardugo, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Elly Griffiths, Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok, Val McDermid, Karen M. McManus, Dreda Say Mitchell, Kate Mosse, Ruth Ware
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Miss Marple Mysteries
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow & Company on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A brand-new collection of short stories featuring the Queen of Mystery’s legendary detective Jane Marple, penned by twelve remarkable bestselling and acclaimed authors.
This collection of a dozen original short stories, all featuring Jane Marple, will introduce the character to a whole new generation. Each author reimagines Agatha Christie’s Marple through their own unique perspective while staying true to the hallmarks of a traditional mystery.

Naomi Alderman
Leigh Bardugo
Alyssa Cole
Lucy Foley
Elly Griffiths
Natalie Haynes
Jean Kwok
Val McDermid
Karen M. McManus
Dreda Say Mitchell
Kate Mosse
Ruth Ware

Miss Marple was first introduced to readers in a story Agatha Christie wrote for The Royal Magazine in 1927 and made her first appearance in a full-length novel in 1930’s The Murder at the Vicarage. It has been 45 years since Agatha Christie’s last Marple novel, Sleeping Murder, was published posthumously in 1976, and this collection of ingenious new stories by twelve Christie devotees will be a timely reminder why Jane Marple remains the most famous fictional female detective of all time.

My Review:

Unfortunately, Agatha Christie isn’t writing any new Marple stories, or for that matter any new Poirot stories. But she was the creator of the iconic “little old lady” amateur detective Miss Jane Marple and will be credited as such for as long as Miss Marple is read. And this collection of new Marple stories from the pens – or computers – of Dame Agatha’s successors in mystery is certain to keep Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead in the minds and hearts of readers for another generation.

I have to confess that personally I prefer Poirot to Marple. It’s not so much about either of them as it is about the way they are treated and the world that surrounds them. Both are just a tad eccentric, a bit of an exaggeration in Miss Marple’s case while a huge understatement in Poirot’s, but because of both their respective genders and the times in which their stories are set Poirot’s eccentricities are considered a mark of his genius while Miss Marple is often disregarded and disrespected, sometimes even after she solves the case.

If Miss Marple had half of Poirot’s foibles she would have been locked up in a lunatic asylum. Men were allowed to be over-the-top, even to his degree, without being thought to be insane. Or hysterical as she would have been. Certainly, few would have taken her remotely seriously, discounting her because of her age and her gender.

While Christie got around some of the restrictions on women at the time by making Miss Marple an independent woman past a certain age who had outlived any male who might have had authority over her, the authors of this collection have taken that a step further by setting all of their stories rather later in her “career’, meaning that she already has a well-earned reputation for solving murders and has garnered a circle of influential friends in high places – at least among the police.

So she doesn’t face quite as much disrespect and disregard as she would have earlier. (It’s been decades since I read her first outing, A Murder in the Vicarage, so I just picked up a copy so I can read it again and see if memory and supposition are correct.)

One of the stories in this collection (The Second Murder at the Vicarage by Val McDermid) takes the reader back to that very place where Miss Marple solved her first case), while Miss Marple’s Christmas by Ruth Ware takes us back to St. Mary Mead for a traditional Christmas gathering Marple style, as Miss Marple finds herself solving a case of theft instead of indulging in the Christmas pudding.

Escape Rating B: For the most part, these stories were enjoyable as I read them but weren’t quite long enough to really dig into the mysteries. They also don’t feel remotely like ‘fair play’ mysteries as the detection and investigation seems to hinge a great deal on Miss Marple’s comparisons to people and situations in St. Mary Mead that we don’t know about. Her leaps of logic and inferences about human nature do give the reader an “A-ha!” moment when revealed but I never felt like I had enough to follow her trail.

I still had a good time reading this collection, and wouldn’t mind – AT ALL! – to see another collection like this one or something similar featuring my old friend Hercule Poirot. Alternatively, several of the authors in this collection of Miss Marple stories would make excellent candidates for writing a series of NEW Marple novels just as Sophie Hannah has taken up the task of writing the New Hercule Poirot series that began with The Monogram Murders.

Anyone who loves Miss Marple or is looking for a trip back to the Golden Age of mystery will enjoy this collection – and hope for more!

Review: The It Girl by Ruth Ware

Review: The It Girl by Ruth WareThe It Girl by Ruth Ware
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on July 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of One by One returns with an unputdownable mystery following a woman on the search for answers a decade after her friend’s murder.
April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford.
Vivacious, bright, occasionally vicious, and the ultimate It girl, she quickly pulled Hannah into her dazzling orbit. Together, they developed a group of devoted and inseparable friends—Will, Hugh, Ryan, and Emily—during their first term. By the end of the second, April was dead.
Now, a decade later, Hannah and Will are expecting their first child, and the man convicted of killing April, former Oxford porter John Neville, has died in prison. Relieved to have finally put the past behind her, Hannah’s world is rocked when a young journalist comes knocking and presents new evidence that Neville may have been innocent. As Hannah reconnects with old friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realizes that the friends she thought she knew all have something to hide…including a murder.

My Review:

Elinor Glyn, inventor of the “It Girl”

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen. That marvelous book is a fictionalized biography of the English couturier Lucy Duff-Gordon. It shouldn’t link to this book at all, but it does. Lucy’s sister, the novelist Elinor Glyn, created the concept of the “It Girl” embodied, at least on the surface, by April Clarke-Cliveden, whose murder lies at the center of this book I’m honestly struggling with here today.

It was a hit with my reading group, which is what made me pick it up. But just like last week’s Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen, in spite of that recommendation, it just didn’t work for me. As this book – like that one – has already been reviewed and summarized by oodles of readers, I’m just going to get into why I think it did not work for this reader in particular and let you be the judge of whether those reasons will apply to your reading or not.

Because this is a thriller, it starts in a place where the tension is supposed to already be ratcheted up. But, and again because it’s a thriller, the way in which that tension is created cuts it as well.

In the past, which we see in flashbacks, Hannah Jones was a student at a prestigious college at Oxford. Her suite-mate and “best” friend was the “It Girl” of the title, April Clarke-Cliveden. April was murdered, Hannah discovered her body, and its Hannah’s testimony that put the nails in the killer’s coffin during the police investigation and at his trial.

But it’s ten years later when the reader enters the story, and April’s killer has just died in prison, still insisting that he’s innocent of the crime. Whether he was or not, his death certainly brings all the vultures of the press out again, trying to ambush Hannah for a sound bite.

Including one reporter who is absolutely convinced that the police – and by extension Hannah – pinned the blame on the wrong man.

And that’s where the tension started draining out of the story for me. If the police had the right man in jail, there wouldn’t be a story. Therefore, they must have had the wrong man, meaning Hannah made a terrible mistake that is about to unravel.

Leaving me certain that sooner or later it would all be revealed and just waiting for the story to get on with it.

It didn’t help that Hannah is not and was not a strong enough personality to carry this story that she is irrevocably pinned to like a moth displayed on a card. Because Hannah was the pale moth, while April was the butterfly.

And both are shallow but at least April is vivid where Hannah is anything but.

The story twists backwards and forwards in time, so we get to witness the barely post-adolescent posturing of April, her hangers on and Hannah, leading up to that fateful moment when April is killed and Hannah is left to pick up the pieces of her shattered world.

And to pick up the not-so-shattered pieces of April’s ex-boyfriend, who Hannah later marries. When this story opens, Hannah and her husband Will should be celebrating that they have a baby on the way, but Hannah gets herself involved in re-opening the case of the man she helped convict of April’s murder, leaving her angsting over the past and her terrible mistake.

I didn’t find myself captured by any of the characters. Hannah seems to still be stuck in passivity. April may have been the victim of the murder, but she had so many victims herself along her way that it ends up not being all that much of question why she was murdered, only a question of which of her victims finally got up the courage to do the deed if it wasn’t the man who was convicted for it.

Something I found extremely problematic along that way was just how that wrong person got convicted and the way that false conviction is treated by Hannah once she realizes the truth – or at least her first version of that truth.

John Neville, however wrongful his conviction for April’s murder, was not innocent. He was the one of the porters at Hannah’s and April’s college and did use his position and his access to the grounds to stalk and harass many of the female students, including both Hannah and April. He wasn’t just awkward and a poor communicator. He set out to harass young women and he did so with impunity, as he was adept at making them feel creeped on – because they were – while never quite doing anything that was unequivocally obvious. He used the way that girls are socialized to be polite and not cause trouble to his advantage. He was not harmless in the least – he just wasn’t a murderer.

The defense that “he’s just awkward” has often been used in geek spaces to defend men who may be awkward but are trading on that awkwardness to ignore boundaries and refuse to take “no” for an answer with the claim that the “no” wasn’t clear or emphatic enough. It seemed cheap to use that as a way to defend a sexual predator who may not have been a killer but was never innocent, diminishing something that is a very real problem.

Everything about the conviction does make the reader wonder what the police were doing as all this was going on. It was not April’s responsibility to conduct the entire investigation and it’s not her fault if the police weren’t thorough enough doing their jobs.

(Once upon a time, Oxford’s Thames Valley Police Department was the province of the brilliant Detective Chief Inspector Endeavor Morse in the series of mysteries by Colin Dexter. Morse would be ashamed of their handling of this case.)

Many readers found the twists and turns in this case compelling. I didn’t like Hannah enough to get caught up in her angst – and I didn’t care for April nearly enough to be that invested in discovering who killed her. The police don’t seem to have done their jobs in the beginning, and the reporter who re-opens the case doesn’t seem to have ever learned the difference between assumptions and red herrings. It’s not that he was wrong in the end, it’s that the reasons for his compulsions in that regard don’t hold up to any examination. Then again, even a stopped clock is right twice a day – I’m just not all that interested in watching it.

Especially as the way that the story opens begged the central question. If the right man was convicted, there would be no story. Since there’s a story, they got it wrong. (It is possible to get around this conundrum – The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson does extremely well – but it was obvious early on that just wasn’t the case here.) That Hannah takes the blame for that wrong all onto herself – and then proceeds to keep getting it even more wrong – just did not a compelling mystery make.

At least not for me. Your reading mileage may vary, as it certainly has for others. Escape Rating D