I discovered Agatha Christie while looking for “easy read” audiobooks to listen to during my runs. I listened to one, then another, then checked out three from the library, and somewhere along the way I was hooked.
If you were to show me the titles of all the 20-some of her novels I’ve read, I don’t think I would be able to recall the plots of more than half. Nonetheless, I would recommend every one of her books to just about anyone I met on the street.
Its hard to put a finger on what it is that gives the books their indistinct, yet engaging quality. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole I guess. While I won’t pretend to have a perfect explanation for why her books are so engaging, one fact sticks out—the mysteries are not solved via high-tech machines, calculations, and surveillance equipment. Instead, they are solved by sharp perception of human nature.
The hero of many of Christie’s books, short, pompous, bachelor-uncle-like Hercule Poirot, often reminds his audience that all he does to solve his cases is to use his “little grey matter”. (He often confuses policemen by claiming to be working on a case whie sitting motionless in his armchair).
The hero a of smaller series of Christie’s books—“The Body in the Library” included—is one Miss Jane Marple, an elderly maiden aunt living in a provincial English village. She is observant, immersed in the town’s goings-on, and points to a simpler cause for her murder-solving success: a keen understanding of human nature and motivations.
Both Poirot and Miss Marple appear to be of a different caliber than the casts of characters they appear with. Others are stumped and stymied by the various killers but not the two self-made master observers. Elderly Miss Marple dances circles around inspectors for extraordinary details, like chewed fingernails and what outfits a girl would or wouldn’t wear on a date. It’s almost too good to be true.
But I would like to present another view of our insightful detectives. They are not the mysterious wizards of detecting, but instead the Everyman of detective work, Miss Marple even more so than Poirot.
Jane Marple has no police training, no special qualifications. She does not have infinite quantities of data at her disposal, or the power to trace a phone call or satellite-track a suspect’s whereabouts. She is the definition of normal, and yet, she sees what others do not.
The ordinary intersects with the extraordinary in Christie’s books, and regular people see what others do not, simply by focusing on truth and motives. Do I think I could turn around and solve a crime tomorrow by employing such methods? Certainly not. But, it’s an interesting thought.