A few weeks ago I did a survey…
Sure, it wasn't exactly scientific, but after more than 100 responses to my question "Who's your favourite amateur sleuth?", I think we can safely say that Miss Marple is Queen of the Quizzes, Master of All Mysteries and the least amateur of all amateur sleuths.
And I'm not surprised.
Agatha Christie had already penned the perfect professional detective in Hercule Poirot (who appeared in her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles), so it's no surprise that she got her amateur sleuth so spot-on. So how did she do it?
They're in it for love (not money)
There are a few core ingredients to a good amateur sleuth (AS). For starters, they really do need to be an amateur. They can't be a police officer or a detective or even a private eye (which is why Poirot does not make the list). They must be a layperson, someone incidental, someone who just happens upon mysteries and can't help but use their natural instinct for intrigue to get involved. But it must also be justifiable, reasonable, logical that they would get involved. Otherwise it's all a bit of a stretch.
That's why so many amateur sleuths are priests and doctors—people who naturally interact with the public and come across suspicious corpses.
Miss Marple is neither of these yet she ticks all the boxes, which brings me to another core ingredient:
They're nosey parkers
The best AS's are naturally nosey and Miss Marple is your classic nosey neighbour, the 'little ole biddy' next door who peeks through curtains and eavesdrops on gossip. It's no surprise she spots criminals sneaking about and overhears death plots. She's got a constant ear to the ground and knows everybody's business whether they know it or not. Which brings me to the next ingredient of a good AS.
Well, perhaps not literally but it's hard to poke about when you're the centre of attention, which is why women of a certain age make terrific AS's (Jessica Fletcher anyone?). Invisible Woman Syndrome really does exist—just ask any woman (and some men, for that matter) over the age of 50 who have ever applied for a job or tried to order a drink at a busy bar. It's like you're not there! Which can be so frustrating—unless, of course, you're trying to solve a murder. Then you can use it to your advantage (mwahaha).
Even when she does get noticed, Miss Marple comes across as sweet, harmless, even a little slow-witted. She's an 'elderly spinster' after all! Few people take her seriously and that is her superpower. Both cops and bad guys underestimate her, letting clues slip and being disarmed in her presence. Yet she's whip smart and playing them all! (It's a trick that works for pros like Vera Stanhope, Columbo and Monk.)
And while there are plenty of AS's who disprove the rule—there's nothing invisible about Phryne Fisher, while Nancy Drew uses youth to her advantage—I still believe nobody does it better than Jane Marple.
And, it seems, most of you do, too.
Meet MY Bookish Sleuths!
My Agatha Christie Book Club series features a club full of passionate amateur sleuths who clearly love a good mystery—hence the reason they've joined this particular book club—and each bring their own ingredients to the mix.
Club founder Alicia Finlay has a rather eerie way of looking at the world, seeing the worst in everything and suspicious of everyone, which really helps when it comes to crime, while her stunning sister Lynette and classy club member Claire have a splash of Miss Fisher about them. They often use their 'feminine wiles' to flirt their way to the truth.
Yet it's probably librarian Missy who most resembles Miss Marple. Missy might be young but she does waffle on, and can seem ditzy and airheaded. The truth is she's as switched on as Miss Marple and people underestimate her at their peril.
There's also a fastidious Poirot-style character in Perry and, one of Christie's achetypes, a dashing doctor with a penchant for poison—Anders.
Want to meet the whole gang and see how they got together? You can grab the first eBook and paperback in the series now from any good online bookstore, or at Amazon here.
Happy reading, everyone, and happy amateur sleuthing, too. Because when you think about it, we're ALL amateur sleuths!