Marple: Twelve New Stories has me reflecting on what it is that I’ve liked about other anthologies of this nature, most particularly Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration — they’re modest.
That’s not to say Marple: Twelve New Stories is unambitious — it’s a collection of work by twelve accomplished authors offering their take on one of the most read, known, and loved characters in fiction. But when the objective is to pay homage to the original artist and give her fans another cheeky go around then you colour within the lines, unlike, say, the torrents of Holmesian fanfic that delights in teaming the great detective with Fu Manchu, the better to take on Jack the Ripper.
In fact, the most striking feature of these stories is how calmly familiar they feel. They’re all stylistically different and, with some rare but amazingly cack-handed exceptions, they’re lyrical and likeable. Much like Christie’s original clinical prose, the narrative clicks along and reports the events and is only really noticeable when it rises above (or falls wincingly, amateurishly short of) the standard.
However (again, with a few startling exceptions), the professionalism is in the plot. The stories are quick and concise and the reader can observe the deft Christieology in a Petri dish — the meaningful detail and the absence of meaningless detail, the psychology, botany, and criminology, and the nearly always surprising and nevertheless inevitable solution.
I probably learned more about Agatha Christie’s ingenious mechanisms reading these stories than I did from the original Marples. I can’t say for the moment to what degree or precisely how this will inform and improve the next Anty Boisjoly mystery, but I look forward to finding out.