Looks can be deceiving when it comes to murder. When it comes to detectives, sleuths are often not quite what they seem either. Miss Jane Marple certainly does not look like anyone's idea of a detective. An elderly and frail spinster, she's often seen knitting pink fluffy things or fussing with marigolds in the garden of her cottage in the quaint village of St. Mary Mead.
But take a closer look. Miss Marple may be a ‘fluffy octogenarian’ prone to gossip, but she is also a keen observer of the frailties of the human spirit. From a lifetime of living in a quiet English village she's learned an awful lot about the evil lurking just below the surface of civility. “In an English village,” Miss Marple observes, “you turn over a stone, and you have no idea what will crawl out.”
So it is with the darker elements of crime. What one perceives to be true about a stranger or even a friend, may simply be a smiling mask worn to disguise an evil or tormented soul. Jane Marple has an uncanny ability to see through the veneer of others and often what she discovers is frankly and frighteningly murderous.
Created by famed mystery author Agatha Christie in 1927, Miss Marple has become one of the world's most beloved fictional detectives. Christie explained that in many ways she modeled her elderly detective after her own grandmother. The author noted that her grandmother usually, “expected the worst of everyone and everything and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.”
Many of the Miss Marple stories take place in and around the peaceful country village of St. Mary Mead. Occasionally, however, Miss Marple travels to London or even as far away as an idyllic Caribbean isle when her doting nephew, Raymond West, treats his Aunt Jane to a holiday. Wherever she goes, a body or two is sure to turn up and before long, Miss Marple is investigating a string of puzzling clues.
The Miss Marple mysteries have been published as books, short stories and adapted as radio broadcasts, screenplays and numerous television series. Among the actresses who have played Miss Marple are Dame Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, Gracie Fields, Helen Hayes and Geraldine McEwan.
To most Marple fans, however, the definitive portrayal of Jane Marple was created by the British character actress, Joan Hickson. Interesting to note that Agatha Christie, having seen Hickson's acting abilities in 1946 when the actress had a role in Christie's play ‘Appointment With Death’ on the London stage, saw something she liked. Christie sent the then 40-year old actress a note which read, “I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.”
In 1961 Hickson had a small role as a housekeeper in one of the Margaret Rutherford film adaptations of a Miss Marple mystery, Murder, She Said. It was not until Joan Hickson was 79 years of age, however, that Christie's prophecy would be fulfilled. Hickson would go on to play Jane Marple in the highly lauded BBC series which ran from 1984 to 1992 and the actress has been lauded as the ultimate Miss Marple by critics and fans alike.
Agatha Christie wrote 12 Miss Marple novels and 20 short stories including:
The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
The Body in the Library (1942)
The Moving Finger (1943)
A Murder is Announced (1950)
They Do It with Mirrors (1952)
A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
4:50 from Paddington (1957)
The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1962)
A Caribbean Mystery (1964)
At Bertram's Hotel (1965)
Sleeping Murder (1940, published 1976)