Superintendent Battle is another Scotland Yard detective who makes regular appearances in Christie’s work for the first two decades of her writing career. As with many of her detectives, Christie’s description of Battle’s physical appearance belies his ability as a detective: ‘A big, square, wooden-faced man moved forward. Not only did the onlooker feel that Superintendent Battle was carved out of wood – he also managed to convey the impression that the wood in question was the timber out of a battleship. Superintendent Battle was supposed to be Scotland Yard’s best representative. He always looked stolid and rather stupid.’ (Cards on the Table, 1936.)
Miss Jane Marple’s fictional world is much more self-contained than Poirot’s. Although characters often recur in several of the novels and short stories featuring her, none of her detectives, such as Detective Inspector Slack, Detective Inspector Craddock or Sir Henry Clithering, turn up in the novels starring her other protagonists or in stand-alone novels. Nor do most of her friends, such as Colonel and Mrs Bantry, Dr Haydock or the other inhabitants of St Mary Mead. Also absent from other protagonists’ books are Miss Marple’s nephew, Raymond West and his wife and family. However, there are links that tie Miss Marple’s world to that of Poirot. One such link is in The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), in which Katherine Grey is reported to have come from the village of St. Mary Mead. The Miss Marple series began in 1930 with The Murder at the Vicarage, which is set in St. Mary Mead, the village that became synonymous with her, however no mention of Katherine Grey is made in that or following books.
As has already been mentioned, Cards on the Table (1936) brought together many different strands of Christie’s fictional world and two of the characters were Major John Despard and Rhoda Dawes, who become engaged to be married at the end of the book. In the stand-alone novel The Pale Horse (1961), even more links between Christie’s protagonists are introduced. The book features Mrs Oliver, who is present in the worlds of both Poirot and Parker Pyne; it also features Major Despard and his wife, Rhoda, who are part of one of Poirot’s investigations. Even more significantly, John and Rhoda Despard are friends with the Reverend Caleb and Mrs Maud Dane Calthrop, who are part of one of Poirot’s investigations. Even more significantly, John and Rhoda Despard are friends with the Reverend Caleb and Mrs Maud Dane Calthrop, who are also friends of Miss Marple, and had called her in to investigate the anonymous letters that led to murder in The Moving Finger (1942). It is fascinating to find five inhabitants of Christie’s wider fictional world taking tea together after helping to organise a village fête, and interesting to hear Mrs Oliver referring to an earlier case in which she helped Poirot to investigate, (Dead Man’s Folly, 1956.)
Of course, it makes sense for Christie to reuse her characters: why create a new protagonist when a perfectly serviceable one is there already made? But I believe that there is more than mere economy in Christie’s recurring characters, there is a wonderful sense of playfulness as well. It is evident in Cards on the Table (1930), when she brought together three protagonists that she had introduced in other situations and turned them loose to investigate alongside Poirot. Perhaps she was thinking, ‘I wonder what will happen if I do that?’ Also brilliant is the one-off juxtaposition of Poirot and Mr Satterthwaite as partners in investigation, a pairing that is truly inspired. (Three Act Tragedy, 1935).
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