If I had to choose between a set of Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot books, given that I was about to be marooned on that famous desert island, which Agatha Christie detective would I take?
Well I love them both, and it would be a hard decision, but it would probably be Hercule Poirot’s adventures I would want to read under a shady palm tree.
They are both wonderful Agatha Christie creations, but there is more humour in both Hercule Poirot's personality and many of the stories in which he appears.
We can, and do, admire miss Jane Marple, but she doesn’t make us laugh. She has a brilliant mind and a fascinating way of recalling incidents that have occurred in St Mary Mead, and by comparing them to what is happening at the moment, reaching the correct solution. She has few, if any, foibles of the kind that characterise Poirot.
Jane Marple is an intelligent, refined, kindly middle-aged spinster who loves her garden, and that is about as much as we know of her. Oh, and she knits a lot!
Hercule Poirot with his obsession for order and method, his outrageous mustache and his inflated ego could, without skillful handling, have become a preposterous figure. And we do laugh at his eccentricities, but never unkindly and without ever losing our respect for him.
Even when he is at his most conceited, not hesitating to tell anyone who will listen that he is the greatest detective who ever lived, I detect a twinkle in his eye – if people choose to think that he can’t possibly be as clever as he thinks he is, well, so much the better!
In my opinion, it is these very idiosyncrasies that give Hercule Poirot the edge over Jane Marple as far as ‘readability’ is concerned.
Having said that, I utterly reject the criticism that Agatha Christie’s characters are one dimensional. I believe the lack of extraneous personal data is deliberate. She tell us what we need to know about the character, and then concentrates on blowing our minds with her devious plots.
To give her main characters tortuous love lives or tempestuous family relationships would only have detracted from her main object, which is to baffle and entertain.
As I said elsewhere on the website, there are similarities between miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
They are both elderly, they are both unmarried, neither of them has any real family ties (yes, I know Miss Marple’s nephew Raymond occasionally puts in an appearance, but he hardly counts as close family.)
I think it is the absence of emotional baggage that helps concentrates their minds on their real raison d’etre, that is the solving of crimes. And they both use psychology - or to put it another way, a knowledge of human nature – to help unmask the guilty party.
Of course, they are adept at spotting clues and making sense of them, but it is often the personality of the different suspects that helps provide the final piece of the jigsaw.
Jane Marple has acquired her understanding of the human psyche from close observation of village life. Hercule Poirot from his wider experience of the world and his time in the Belgian Police Force, but they both believe that people basically run true to type.
Where they do differ is in their life experiences.
Miss Marple has lived all her life in St Mary Mead. She does take one trip to the Caribbean, and visits London and friends around the country occasionally, but that is the extent of her travelling.
Apart from those times when murder rears its ugly head, she lives the quiet life in her home village.
Hercule Poirot, on the other hand, visits Egypt, and Mesopotamia and travels throughout Europe on various trains and planes. He is a gourmand and a cosmopolitan – he hates the country, although he did once think it might be nice to retire to a small village and grow vegetable marrows – bad idea!
Hercule Poirot is a celebrated detective – people actively seek him out to solve their murder cases. And he relishes his fame. Miss Marple has a much lower profile and would hate the kind of public acclaim that Poirot enjoys.
But the thing that connects them most strongly is that they both - to quote an oft repeated comment of Poirot’s ‘disapprove of murder.’
And now I’ve finished writing this piece, I realise that I am really going to have to insist that they let me take both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple with me to that desert island!
Who Would You Choose?