THE BOOK Fontana 1979 pp 154
The cover above features some items from the stories – the dressmaker’s tape-measure, some envelopes … The back cover does at least hint that not all of the stories feature Miss Marple (whatever the title might claim).
The somewhat more intriguing cover on the right was created by Tom Adams in 1980. His last for Fontana, it was for publication abroad and thus not issued in the UK (hence both books have ‘new in paperback’ on them).
These stories were published for the first time as a collection after the author had died. Four had been published in The Strand magazine and three in Woman’s Journal, the last one in 1954. Miss Marple Tells a Story was a commission for BBC radio in 1934 (and the story was told on air, appropriately enough, by Agatha Christie herself).
There are eight stories in this collection, with six featuring Jane Marple.
Agatha Christie returns to Chipping Cleghorn, which had been the setting for A Murder is Announced. Vicar’s wife Bunch Harmon comes across a dying man whilst decorating the church with chrysanthemums; he gasps a few words before dying. Two people claiming to be relatives come to the vicarage and identify the man, but arouse Bunch’s suspicions whilst doing so. She decides to consult her godmother …
Two young people are set a test of their ingenuity by their uncle as they try to secure their inheritance after he has died. Jane Helier1 advises them to consult Miss Marple.
Tape Measure Murder
An excellent and original murder story, set in St Mary Mead and featuring some familiar village names – Constable Palk, Inspector Slack, Miss Hartnell, Colonel Melchett – plus some names that Agatha Christie ended up using elsewhere – Ted Gerard, Murgatroyd, Harmon.
The Case of the Caretaker
A young scapegrace returns home to St Mary Mead having married a rich heiress. Soon afterwards, his wife is thrown from her horse, which had apparently been startled by the sudden appearance of an old woman cursing and waving her arms about. Dr Haydock is not convinced that all is as it seems, and sets Miss Marple the challenge of working out what actually happened.
The Case of the Perfect Maid
Miss Marple’s maid, Edna, asks her to help restore the reputation of her cousin Gladys, who has been dismissed from service on suspicion of attempted theft. A classic St Mary Mead story, beautifully done, with Miss Marple in fine form:
‘They won’t get away with it this time! I’m not going to have one of our village girls’ character for honesty taken away like that! Gladys Holmes is as honest as the day, and everyone’s going to know it! Good afternoon!’ Miss Marple had stalked out before Inspector Slack had recovered …
Miss Marple Tells a Story
An old solicitor friend of hers, Mr Petherick1, asks Miss Marple to investigate the murder of a woman, for which one of his clients is almost sure to be convicted. She uncovers a story steeped in genuine tragedy.
SWIGATHA RATING 6/10
These are some excellent stories in this collection, but one gets the impression one has heard many of them before.
For example, compare the start of Sanctuary with that of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, in which a vicar’s son comes across a dying man, who gasps a last few words before dying; two people claiming to be relatives come to the vicarage and identify the man but arouse suspicions … etc.
Similarly, The Case of the Caretaker is an early version of Endless Night, and Strange Jest is almost an identical plot to one of the stories in Poirot Investigates.
Having said that, this book is a treat for fans of Miss Marple’s home ground: not many of the Marple novels are set in her home village, but most of these stories are set in St Mary Mead or nearby.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
As mentioned above, some of the stories were re-used for full-length novels, which suggests that the author did not expect them to be published in book form.
In a Glass Darkly was adapted as one of the stories in ITV’s The Agatha Christie Hour, but, apart from the BBC Radio series featuring June Whitfield as Miss Marple, none of the other stories have been.
1 All characters that originally appeared in The Thirteen Problems.