Six by Agatha: A PBS Masterpiece Mystery

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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Six by Agatha: A PBS Masterpiece Mystery!

PBS stations, Sundays June 21, 2009 to July 26, 2009 at 9:00 ET/PC
DVD will be available through Acorn Media and ShopPBS at

Good News — From June 21, 2009 to July 26, 2009, PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! is presenting Six By Agatha, two new stories about the renowned Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot, starring David Suchet, and four new Miss Marple mysteries, introducing Julia McKenzie as the innocent looking but deviously minded sleuth.

The first Poirot mystery in this new series, Cat Among the Pigeons, begins on Sunday, June 21, 2009. It is delightful to see David Suchet (Henry VIII, The Way We Live Now) resurrect Poirot, a role Suchet has personified for twenty years.

Cat Among the Pigeons was written in 1959, almost 40 years after Christie’s introduction of Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Therefore, it is not surprising to see Poirot grown older and plumper — an exaggeration of his younger self; but the “little grey cells” are still energized.

Poirot solves the engrossing succession of mysteries at the Meadowbank (Girl’s) School, from finding hidden rubies, to solving beguiling puzzles of international intrigue, murders and kidnapping.

Poirot successfully concludes the affair without the help or hindrance of Captain Hasting, Miss Lemon and Chief Inspector Japp. The presence of his cohorts is sorely missed. The interactions among those characters not only furthered the plot but also added to the fun. However, their absence is explainable as Poirot is living in the country nurturing his marrows.

I found Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, written in 1952, less successful. The complicated plot about a missing person connected to a pair of 30-year old murders was confusing without being particularly exciting or skillful.

Poirot is accompanied by Ariadne Oliver, a mystery novelist who appears in several Christie works, such as Cards on the Table, Elephants Can Remember, and Hallowe’en Party. Oliver is a self-caricature by Christie and provides needed comic relief.

The new Miss Jane Marple, played by Julia McKenzie (Cranford), grew on me during the four Miss Marple episodes. McKenzie didn’t show much character or spark in the first episode, A Pocket Full of Rye, although this mystery about the string of murders committed by a killer obsessed with the nursery rhyme, Sing a Song of Six Pence, is a superior one.

In Murder is Easy, Miss Marple meets a woman on a train who tells her about a series of accidental deaths in her village that may actually be perfect murders. When the woman later falls to her death, Miss Marple investigates.

Claiming to be an acquaintance of the victim, Miss Marple insinuates herself among the suspects in the village and stays there for more than a week. Why the villagers would want her to stay, I don’t understand. At least Jessica Fletcher knew the murder victims and suspects she visited.

Although Miss Marple is more active in this episode, Julia McKenzie still seemed to be lacking in subtle humor and verve.

In They Do it With Mirrors, a more logical premise finds Jane Marple paying a visit to her old school chum Ruth, who fears that something is very wrong with her sister, Carrie Louise. Miss Marple is sent to investigate at Stonygates, the Victorian mansion cum delinquent boys’ home in which Carrie Louise lives.

The plot surrounds a rehearsal of an amateur show, during which a murder occurs. There is a surfeit of suspects, including untrustworthy do-gooders and undependable delinquents. This episode is well done, but, with its convoluted plot and unsympathetic characters, it is not up to Christie’s finest. However, Miss Marple starts to perk up.

The final Miss Marple in the series and the best in my opinion is Why Didn’t they ask Evans? In this exceptional yet lighthearted episode, Bobbie Attfield comes across a dying man, whose last words, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” peaks his interest in investigating who the man was and what happened to him. Bobbie teams up with Lady Frances (Frankie) Derwent, a beautiful socialite, and Miss Marples as they land in a hotbed of murder and intrigue.

In Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, Julia McKenzie hits her stride playing a gutsier, more animated Jane Marple. Surprisingly, Miss Marple did not appear at all in the original novel, yet her presence seemed apropos and added structure and character to this entertaining TV version.

It’s a pleasure to watch these Six By Agatha, despite the fact that some of them may not be Christie’s best material. Those were made starting twenty years ago. But why quibble, Six By Agatha is going to be one of the best things on television this summer.

©Emily S. Mendel 2009    All Rights Reserved.

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