Friday, January 4, 2013

MISS MARPLE: CHRISTIAN SLEUTH

One of the reasons author Isabel Anders and I decided to co-author a mystery entitled Chant of Death was a mutual interest in mysteries, and both of us shared an attraction to the work of Agatha Christie, The Queen of Classical Mysteries. We often pondered why we were attracted to the mystery genre, and I penned a poem about this subject, the last stanza ending with a query:

“Is it the heavy step of justice on the stair,
a voice announcing case closed,
last appeal denied, tragedy averted…
no more monsters under the bed.”

However, Isabel answers the question more fully in the introduction to Miss Marple: Christian Sleuth, just released by Circle Books/John Hunt Publishing. “[In] dramatizations of various detective series through the years, we’ve found that they offer more than brainy entertainment,” she writes. “Escape, certainly, from one’s own issues and struggles. Answer to mysteries that make one feel that the problems of the world can be understood and intelligently dealt with. Satisfying resolutions within a limited scope and time frame…”

Isabel continued to probe what she calls the knottier issues in mysteries, that of struggling with what it means to deal in discernment of good and evil – and to enable the good to win out…” and the result was Miss Marple: Christian Sleuth, a literary criticism of Agatha Christie’s famous character whom Christie said in her autobiography she “had no intention of writing about for the rest of her life.”

Isabel presents readers with lessons about life, through an analysis of the personality and psyche of this Christian sleuth, a quiet , elderly woman who insinuated herself into Christie’s life in the same manner that she entered Isabel’s life – then became a major force in both women’s lives. Although Isabel does not set out to defy Hillary Waugh’s criticism (Guide to Mysteries and Mystery Writing) that Christie was weak on characterization, her explication of the genteel Miss Marple as a force to reckon with is a cogent defense against Waugh’s assessment of Christie’s ability to create a strong fictional character – one that she ended up writing about for a major part of her life.

Through the twelve novels described as the “Marple/Christie oeuvre,” Isabel offers us insight into the truth and good in a literary character who appears to be an old woman knitting, gardening, and, yes, interfering in village murders, but who is a redoubtable Christian and a model for those who want to live out a productive old age. Isabel writes, “Jane Marple herself illustrates in exquisite particularity how the Christ-life can be lived through discipline, by attention to facts, and especially to loving concern for the needs and problems of others, in whatever circumstances one finds oneself, provincial or cosmopolitan…”

Isabel reveals to us that the elderly amateur detective reads Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ every night and prays about everything, and we are surprised at how much of her spirituality is revealed through Christie’s novels which Isabel probed deeply. However, through Isabel’s lens, we also see that Miss Marple is no prude and entertains the prospect of danger with both compassion and grit – Isabel points out her unflappable attitude in The Moving Finger, in which Miss Marple says: “…we are not put into this world, Mr. Burton, to avoid danger when an innocent fellow-creature’s life is at stake."

Miss Marple is an icon and heroine of detective fiction deftly presented as a model of Christian charity, a true “woman for others,” as Isabel calls her. A reading of this excellent literary explication can only bring us to the agreement that “professional detectives are no match for elderly spinsters.” (Agatha Christie upon the publication of The Body in the Library).

This is a journey with a lovable character that will take readers of the Miss Marple series by surprise and provides an exploration into the Christian aspects of Christie’s work, delivered in nine discerning chapters. The book is complete with bibliography, notes, and study group discussion questions.

Isabel Anders is the author of more than 25 books for adults, children, and young adults, including three recent spiritually-themed study guides Becoming Flame, Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold: A Tapestry of Mother-Daughter Wisdom, and Miss Marple, Christian Sleuth.

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