By Charles Apple
Ninety years ago, mystery writer Agatha Christie published her first Miss Marple novel. Christie wrote 66 novels – plus a handful of others under another name – 14 collections of short stories and the world’s longest-running play, “Mousetrap.” She’s said to be the biggest-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.
Miss Jane Marple is a single, unmarried woman who uses her keen observation skills, her knowledge of human behavior and her intuitive sense of detection to help her friends in the village of St. Mary Mead solve mysteries – usually murders. Marple is usually portrayed as elderly: In one book, hints are dropped that she’s 75 years old.
A big part of Marple’s success: Nearly everyone around her underestimates her. She has no formal background in criminology or experience on a police force.
Christie first used Marple in a series of short stories she began writing in 1927 for publication in magazines. She then wrote a novel around the character in 1930. Christie said she modeled the character after her grandmother – who, she said, “always expected the worst of everyone and everything. And was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.”
Christie used Marple in 12 novels and 20 short stories. A number of film and television adaptations of Miss Marple stories have been made over the years. A series that ran on the BBC from 1984 to 1992 was particularly well-liked for being accurate to Christie’s original stories.
“I am Hercule Poirot,” the Belgian detective says in his fifth appearance in novel form in 1926. “And I am probably the greatest detective in the world.”
Christie’s most popular creation stands just five-foot-four and is notable for his natty attire, his waxed mustache and what folks today would call a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Poirot was the star of Christie’s first novel, written in 1916 but not published until 1920. He would become enormously popular – starring in 33 novels, two plays and more than 50 short stories. But over time, Christie grew tired of the character, calling him “an egocentric creep.”
During World War II, Christie wrote what she intended to be her final Poirot novel. Finally published in 1975, the story ends with the death of Poirot. The New York Times observed the occasion by publishing his obituary – reportedly the first time the Times had run an obit for a fictional character.
Poirot has been portrayed in several radio, TV and movie adaptations over the years, by such actors as Peter Ustinov, Orson Welles, David Suchet, Kenneth Branagh and John Malkovich.
Sources: AgathaChristie.com, the Guardian, Radio Times, Internet Movie Database, Biography.com, the New Yorker