Are you a Marple or a Poirot?

I think most mystery writing can be divided into these two categories: Jane Marple or Hercule Proirot. Even though Christie’s fiction is a little dated and has passed into the realm of “classic,” I think her approaches to weaving the mystery story are universal and timeless, for the most part.

Jane Marple was a little old lady. She wasn’t a person of action, nor did she have extensive education (she trained to be a nurse) or international experience (though she did travel). What she had, though, was a keen understanding of human nature, and while she lived in a small, remote village, all of the quirks and base motivations of human nature were there for her to observe. She solved the mysteries Christie set before her by understanding relationships and motivations. She could liken whatever crime or behavior she saw to characteristics of people in her village. She wasn’t going to chase down a perpetrator or hold a gun on anyone. She enlisted others to do that. Her mysteries were more character driven.

Hercule Proirot, on the other hand, figured things out with his “little gray cells.” Many of his mysteries hinged on the wrong word spoken imprudently or something discovered in the wrong place. His solutions were almost mathematical as he figured out timing or placement or other details. Train schedules seemed to play a part in many of his mysteries. He always figured out the “trick” that the mystery hinged on. And while he was rarely a person of action, he had been a member of the Belgian police force in his youth, and his friend Captain Hastings (like Watson) carried a revolver.

Christie had other sleuths. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford were a dashing young couple, and while they were clever, much of their crime-solving skill revolved around their youth and their ability to take action and risk. Harley Quinn, the one that Christie said was her favorite character, found a different route to serving justice: supernatural alliances.

I like to think that my sleuths, Ann and Greg Finnegan, are Marples. At least I try to create their mysteries from this direction. As I’ve noted, most of their stories don’t involve actual crime (and certainly not murder), but as I’ve also noted, there is plenty of evil that people can do that isn’t in the law books. When the Finnegans fix a problem it isn’t because they have pistol whipped anyone or deduced something from blood splatter patterns. Most of their stories culminate around the morning meal at the bed and breakfast where they are staying. They discern solutions by understanding the natures of the people involved.

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