As Agatha Christie’s 120th birthday (September 15) approaches, her genteel puzzle mysteries remain popular and British television regularly turns out new versions of the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories. Years after her death in the late 1970s, Christie is probably the most well-known mystery writer the world has ever produced. In a recent discussion on DorothyL, though, someone raised the question of whether she would be able to get her books published if she were writing them in today’s market.
True, if Christie were writing now she might be writing a different kind of story. But maybe not – well into the 1970s, after all the world-changing turmoil of the Vietnam era, she was still turning out the same kind of books she wrote decades earlier. By then she was a legend and everything she wrote was enjoyed as a “classic” mystery. If she were unknown, though, and submitting her work for the first time to major publishers, how would they receive it?
I don’t know much about British publishing, but I can imagine what New York editors might say about a Miss Marple mystery – in their rejection letters. (This is assuming, of course, that Christie could find an agent in today’s publishing climate.)
“There’s a lot to like about this, but I’m afraid I just didn’t fall in love with it. I’m not sure Jane Marple is a strong enough character to carry a series. She would be more intriguing if she were fleshed out a bit. For one thing, I think she needs an occupation (as it is, she doesn’t have any visible means of support), perhaps as a bookseller or manager of a yarn store.”
“Sad to say, I just didn’t fall in love with this. However, I think it has promise, and I would be willing to take another look if the author would play up the knitting hook and make Jane part of a knitting circle that gets involved in murder investigations. And, of course, a knitting pattern should be included.”
“I enjoyed reading this, but in the end I just didn’t fall in love with it. It has an old-fashioned vibe that I don’t think would appeal to our target audience. I’d be willing to reconsider if the author made some changes. For example, Agatha might make Jane younger – no more than 35 – and divorced from a sexy, bad-boy type who keeps trying to reignite the flame. A daughter would add interest – a precocious pre-teen who’s growing up too fast, perhaps. That would offer an opportunity for a plot about kids getting into trouble on the internet.”
“The puzzle is clever, but I’m afraid I just didn’t fall in love with Jane. Senior protagonists have limited appeal, and to gain an audience they must be exceptional. Jane is very bland. I was hoping she would be more surprising and funny – sort of a Grandma Mazur type. Giving her a young sidekick to play off would help – maybe a teenage granddaughter who’s into Goth, wears black lipstick, has multiple piercings and is fascinated by crime.”
“I tried to fall in love with this, but alas, I could not. The story doesn’t have the suspense and action that would keep readers turning pages. I never felt that Jane Marple was in danger, and the ending is much too quiet.”
“The mystery is interesting, but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t fall in love with the writing style. It lacks the snap and sparkle I’m looking for.”
And after six rejections, most agents would give up. Miss Marple would never see print. I don’t even want to think about the reception the fussy little Belgian Hercule Poirot would get if he were presented for the very first time to today’s mystery editors.