It took me two books (“A Pocket Full of Rye” and “The Moving Finger“) to properly appreciate the role of amateur consulting detective Miss Jane Marple, because unlike Belgian detective Hercule Poirot she does not necessarily take a proactive approach in the investigations. Even in Agatha Christie’s “The Body in the Library”, in which Miss Marple is introduced comparatively early on, upon the discovery of the first murder – itself introduced in the title, in the forward, and within the first two pages of the book – she plays a supporting role in the background, and is only directly involved when asked to, right at the very end. Christie herself described “the body in the library” in her forward as a cliché belonging to the detective fiction genre, though Miss Marple’s modus operandi is a little more unconventional.
In this vein, whereas the police inspectors and officers involved – since the two murders, with a second body found charred in a burnt-out car, spanned adjacent counties – were methodical with their work, accounting for a list of suspects as well as their motives and alibis, and therefore leading the reader on with a few red herrings, Miss Marple was the omnipresent know-it-all. And it was these representatives of the police (some of whom had had previous contact with the amateur consulting detective) who described her methods as “specialised knowledge” and as using “interesting, though occasionally trivial, series of parallels from village life” (which the reader is constantly reminded of). Her meticulousness is evidenced, in particular, through her interactions with a friend of Girl Guide Pamela Reeves and later on through her direct involvement when she visits the cottage of Basil Blake, under the pretext of collecting donations for the vicarage.
As with most books by Christie, little clues are peppered throughout, usually at the end of each chapter: wealthy Conway Jefferson going to the police to report the missing Ruby Keene, the loss of George Bartlett’s car (which inadvertently foreshadowed the second murder), Miss Marple’s remarks that “the plan went wrong” and warning of a possible third murder, Hugo McLean’s warning to Adelaide Jefferson to watch her step, and finally Miss Marple’s attention to the traits and appearance of the victims, before her exchange with Dinah Blake. Of course, the overall coherence of these clues and how they fit into the narrative is likely to be appreciated only in retrospect, when Miss Marple provided the dénouement in a matter-of-fact manner, which is perhaps part of Christie’s literary brilliance.