1) I have discovered lately that in spite of Oprah and her minion with the cute glasses trying to get me to declutter my library, I should never, never give away books. This is because there's about a 15-year statute of brain limitation on anything I read before that. An old, forgotten (no kidding) book is a brand new book to me.
2) I discovered this because -- as part of my eternal quest to be a better writer in the genres of mystery and detective fiction -- I've started rereading my favorite series. Serieses? This summer, I read all the Sue Grafton, Kinsey Millhones, from A is for Alibi right up to but not entirely including R is for Ricochet and enjoyed them a bunch. Had no clue (as they say), no recollection at all, about who done what to whom or why. Nice surprises all around. And now I have gone back to the very foundations of the detective story (No. Not all the way to Poe, but close.) and started reading or maybe rereading Agatha Christie's Miss Marple Series.
Here, my darlings, is what I deduced:
Agatha Christie doesn't give a crap about her characters.
And neither, so much, do I.
The Miss Marples are as follows, in order:
- 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, or Murder with Mirrors (1952)
- I AM HERE
- A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
- 4.50 from Paddington, or What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! (1957)
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, or The Mirror Crack'd (1962)
- A Caribbean Mystery (1964)
- At Bertram's Hotel (1965)
- Nemesis (1971)
- Sleeping Murder (written around 1940, published 1976)
As evidenced by Point #1, above, I don't actually know whether I ever read these novels but I did have a mental picture of how they would have been if I had. Each little jewel would have been a delectable sojourn in the quaint, atmospherically English village of Saint Mary Mead. (A misty, marvelous getaway such as I had discovered more than fifteen years ago (Woo Hah!) in the gardens of Brother Cadfael.) There would be the feisty, adorable Miss Marple solving crimes that would have me on the edge of my fluffy couch. Wringing my hands. Hoping for the best.
Not in the least.
The Miss Marple series IMHO is about as gutwrenching as a game of Sudoku. Oh, it's entertaining. But it's not romantic or even engrossing. Each of these short novels is a puzzle. And that's pretty much it. I want to know who done it. I want to know bad, because certainly the stories are engaging, like any puzzle or game. There are so many suspects. And murder is always stalking somebody. Miss Marple is always looking elderly, fragile and confused and being very tough, sharp and cynical. And I don't care very much. If Miss Marple got run over by a lorry, I wouldn't put flowers on her grave, if you know what I mean.
The Sue Graftons turned out to be just the opposite. I don't really care very much about the crime. I didn't remember the slightest detail until the fog began to clear slightly in R is for R and I quit rereading. It's Kinsey I love. Kinsey I remember everything about, even now, even when her antics are obscured by the mists of Ann Brain Time. Kinsey and her sweet, cute 84-year-old landlord, her efficient shiplike apartment, fitted out in teak -- with a porthole. OMG. I want that. I love her peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. I envy her every Big Mac. I'm impressed by the insouciance with which she makes some very poor romantic choices. When she goes off to do something incredibly stupid, I worry, I fret, I pace (Mental pacing; very good exercise.) If she died, I'd be personally sad.
So? So what? So I've stopped beating myself up so much about my own novels not being incredibly plot driven. Stopped worrying about not having enough "red herring" characters in the storyline. I love feisty, scared-but-still-daring, Allie. And Tom, her blind bombshell. I just do. I think if I can ever find a &**(^^%$% agent and a %^&;$%^^^ publisher, readers will, too. And if not?
I'm happy as I am.