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FICTION : MISS MARPLE: THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES by Agatha Christie (Dodd, Mead: $14.95). : THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MISS JANE MARPLE by Anne Hart (Dodd, Mead: $13.95).

July 06, 1986|John Espey

Though the creator of Hercule Poirot, that pompous little Belgian detective, would gladly have done him in long before public demand forced her to invent case after case for him to solve, Agatha Christie never tired of her other famous sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. She gave her repeated adventures and puzzles to solve in 12 full-length books and 20 short stories that covered a span of 40 years.

A complete contrast to Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple lived a life of seeming quiet in the pretty village of St. Mary Mead, but over those years her readers learned so much about her that Anne Hart has been able to produce a biography of Aunt Jane. That so seemingly sheltered--though far from inactive or unworldly--a spinster should somehow either attract or be attracted to murder, either during her occasional sallies into the greater world or at home, is one of the mysteries that her biographer has to solve, and Anne Hart does this ingeniously even as she details what she calls her subject's "tottery knitting life in St. Mary Mead."

The forgetful reader can refer to the map of that village as it was drawn for "The Murder at the Vicarage" and reproduced here. The 20 short stories--best taken one at a time; say, on going to bed--are equally satisfying, as Aunt Jane dithers along with her purling projects, picking up stitches dropped by her less attentive companions and coming up with the completed dastardly design in a little flourish as she binds off at the end.

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