Saturday, September 14, 2013

Of Shoes and Ships and Cereal

I might as well have tried to explain to a man dying of thirst that the water was being saved to do the laundry with.
- Archie Goodwin, The Silent Speaker

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you of course know by now that I love the work of Agatha Christie. She is the original Queen of Crime, the woman who introduced me to the world of detective fiction. For a long time she was my favourite author; with books like A Murder is Announced, Five Little Pigs, And Then There Were None, and Murder on the Orient Express to her credit, I consider her one of the most important figures in all of detective fiction.

Unfortunately, her popularity and historical importance have one major drawback, in that they’ve spawned a group of haters who mindlessly claim that Christie is psychologically shallow, a hackneyed writer repeating old clichés, “cozy”, naïve about sexual matters, or just plain “bad”. The most cursory look at Christie’s work is enough to dispel these notions, but the public perception of Christie has been influenced by many factors. And one of the most fatal is that Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, is willing to put his grandmother’s name on just about anything.

Perhaps you’ve guessed what the subject of this article is going to be. If not, perhaps you haven’t heard the news yet. Well, last week reports surfaced that the Agatha Christie estate (read: her grandson, Matthew Prichard) has commissioned a brand-new Hercule Poirot novel, to be written by author Sophie Hannah. This book is expected to hit bookshelves next year. And if you look really carefully at the publicity photos, you can see that Matthew Prichard’s eyes have dollar signs in place of their pupils.

Quite simply put, Matthew Prichard has stooped to an all-time low point. He has already sold his grandmother’s name to ITV’s Sub-Par Scripts Department. Never heard of it? Well, let me explain their job: they take a sub-par television script, slap the Christie name onto it, and then film the blasted thing. Don’t believe me? Then please explain who in their right minds could have written the adaptation of Murder is Easy having read the book first. And Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?. And The Sittaford Mystery. And The Secret of Chimneys. And The Mystery of the Blue Train. The list goes on.
A reminder of what ITV's Sub-Par Scripts Department is capable of.

This has accomplished only one thing: it has cheapened Agatha Christie’s name. Nowadays, it is slapped onto something in order to sell it. For instance, last year HarperCollins reissued the novel Ask a Policeman, a round-robin novel written by The Detection Club. This was a novel written by John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gladys Mitchell, and Helen Simpson. Agatha Christie got the top billing, despite having contributed nothing to the book. How did they manage that? They simply took an essay of hers, stuck it at the beginning, claimed it was the first time it was being published (it wasn’t), and hey presto! You have a book that’ll sell well. They didn’t even proofread the Kindle edition properly; it has so many recurring spelling mistakes that it quickly became irritating.

Unfortunately for Matthew Prichard, Christie’s work is not an unlimited cash cow. David Suchet has just wrapped up the Poirot series, and only a handful of episodes remain. The Marple series is similarly close to the end of its lifeline, with very few stories left to film and not much demand for more of them. How on earth can we rake in more money from Poirot if the TV series is finished? The answer is simple: make more novels!

I have nothing against Sophie Hannah. From what I’ve read, she genuinely admires Christie and I’m glad she does. But the truth of the matter is that Christie is much admired for her ingenuity. Her best novels are often her most ingenious, and they hold up remarkably well even when you know the solution beforehand. The only way Hannah can produce something remotely comparable to Christie’s work is by producing something that is mind-blowingly ingenious, and that’s very unlikely. It’s not a reflection on Hannah, that’s just how good Christie was at plotting. Nowadays, when lazy and slapdash plotting is praised as “Realistic”, few authors even try to be ingenious, let alone succeed. There are some exceptions, but that’s just the problem: they are the exceptions and come along only once in a while.

Quite apart from that, there is no legitimate reason to write more Poirot novels. In the news article by the Guardian, Sophie Hannah is quoted as saying: "I know some people will say, 'Once a writer's dead, leave their characters alone.' But so many famous dead writers are having this done – James Bond, Sherlock Holmes – it becomes a kind of weird omission if Agatha Christie doesn't have that done for her. It almost feels it needs to be done. I think it is great that beloved characters from fiction don't have to die." That is terrible reasoning. If the only reason you’re doing this project is because “everyone else is doing it”, then that doesn’t bode well for the finished product. Here, two can play this game: “I know a lot of people want Agatha Christie to stay in print. But so many dead mystery writers are being forgotten – John Dickson Carr, Helen McCloy, Ellery Queen – it becomes a kind of weird omission if Agatha Christie doesn’t have that done for her. It almost feels it needs to be done.”

Just because other estates have approved of pastiches doesn’t mean that Christie should have them written. I can name dozens of terrible Sherlock Holmes pastiches, but very few that keep the spirit of Conan Doyle’s original tales. My only attempt to read a James Bond continuation was absolutely terrible, far worse than anything Ian Fleming ever put to a page (and yes, I’m thinking of The Spy Who Loved Me when I say that). The fact of the matter is that most continuations are derivative, don’t match the spirit of the original, and have no reason to exist. In my experience, 90% are mediocre at best. It’s just the very rare exception where a continuation actually makes sense.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at a situation where a continuation makes sense. How about Max Allan Collins, who has taken it upon himself to complete Mickey Spillane’s unfinished Mike Hammer novels? This makes boatloads of sense. Why? Let me give you a few reasons:

(a) Mickey Spillane started to write these books and left them unfinished for one reason or another. Bottom line: they are his ideas and his unfinished work, and not someone else’s idea sold under his name.
(b) Collins is a gigantic fan of Spillane and was heavily influenced by him (see my review of True Detective). Not only that, he knew Spillane, and thus has a unique insight into what drove the man.
(c) Because of this, Collins is able to uncannily reproduce Spillane’s writing style, to the point where, reading Lady, Go Die!, I was unable to tell where Spillane stopped writing and where Collins started.

These make for far more compelling arguments than “Everyone else is doing it”. Even that’s not true. As it stands, I can name plenty of estates that have not approved continuations. There are no new Chronicles of Narnia novels. (And yes, C. S. Lewis did effectively terminate the Narnia universe in The Last Battle but Agatha Christie just as effectively killed off Poirot in Curtain.) Dr. Gideon Fell is happily enjoying retirement (Paul Halter was refused permission to write a continuation novel and ended up creating the character of Dr. Alan Twist as a result). The 87th Precinct has closed down its operations (budget cuts). Matt Cobb hasn’t stumbled over a corpse in years (despite an unfinished novel reportedly somewhere about). And master thief Parker hasn’t joined in on the latest score, either.

“Ah, but Patrick, what about Sherlock Holmes?” Well, what about him? Most authors miss the point completely. For everything of Sherlock’s calibre, we get a dozen of “The Breath of God”s. For every René Reouven we get twenty Caleb Carrs (why yes, I did hate The Italian Secretary!). Every imaginative pastiche is followed by a hundred standard Holmes-vs.-the-Ripper stories with all the clichés. If Sherlock Holmes is to be used as an excuse for a Hercule Poirot pastiche, then we should all be very afraid…

Here’s another reason a new Poirot is a bad idea: by definition, it will be a historical novel. The press release says it will be set sometime between The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) and Peril at End House (1932). However, Sophie Hannah is a modern-day writer, and will bring that modern-day perspective to the historical period. The Golden Age is often decried as a period of racism and bigotry disguised as fiction, which is an exaggeration, but that was a common attitude at the time. Unfortunately, reading historical detective fiction today, the protagonists are never allowed to share those common attitudes. They’re always unusually enlightened for their time period (although the murderer is allowed to expresse a racist/bigoted attitude in the second act). When this kind of historical revisionism happens, you end up getting crap like Father Brown. (But this isn’t the place for me to recap my rage at that show.)

So, apart from the book sales, what reason is there to do this to Christie’s work? Poirot has been resting since the 70s. Nobody ever felt the need to do a series of continuations before. Why start now? Ah, yes: Christie has a devoted fan base and they will buy just about anything related to Christie. (They’re so devoted that they’ve patiently endured five seasons of Marple, a show that often spits in the face of a Christie fan by “reimagining” her work for a modern audience.) So this means that a new Poirot is guaranteed to sell well, whether it’s good or not. So why bother making sure it’s good? Either way, it means more money in Matthew Prichard’s pockets. And if it sells really well, we might see an entire series of these continuations! Hell, they can rope in Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, and others and have multiple series going at the same time! With the Christie name on them, they will sell like hotcakes, and someone will be able to afford a nice, long holiday.

As far as I can see, the only way out of this is for the book to flop. I don’t like saying that – I don’t want to wish people ill and I really have absolutely nothing against Sophie Hannah. But if the book succeeds, I can’t imagine Matthew Prichard not commissioning more. If not more by Hannah, he’ll rope in someone else. The only good thing about this announcement is that at least they didn’t get Dennis Lehane to write this book. (My dislike of Lehane is a story for another time, but it can be summed up in two words: Shutter Island. Wow, what a middle finger to the detective story!)

Quite frankly, I’m disappointed with Matthew Prichard. It seems that if he could, he would put his grandmother’s name on a cereal box. I’m guessing the only reason that hasn’t happened yet is because nobody’s come up with a good cereal name that has the word “Murder” in it.

OK, I stand corrected. (I honestly was not expecting that.) But still, this is yet another example of mining the Christie name for all its worth, and I’m genuinely concerned about it. The more this kind of exploitation happens, the more Christie’s credibility will erode. And it’s not a bottomless pit - there’ll come a point when all of it is sucked dry. Already, there are plenty of people out there who mock Christie and her contributions to the genre. Most authors these days are mortified if compared to Christie, and are quick to correct the comparison by putting down her work as shallow, poorly-written, or what have you. Very few authors take her seriously as do John Curran (in his two Notebooks books) or Robert Barnard (in A Talent to Deceive). And turning Christie’s name into an umbrella for pastiches will not help matters…

Oh, what the hell. Maybe I’m over-reacting. After all, it’s happening. Might as well accept the inevitable. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Hey, maybe Poirot should do a crossover with Fifty Shades of Grey, too! After all, he has little grey cells… and Christie wrote romance novels as Mary Westmacott! Yes, this almost feels like it needs to be done! Quick, someone get Matthew Prichard on the phone!!!

Update: Since posting this rant, I've found an audio interview with Prichard and Hannah where Prichard protests that he isn't doing this for the money and Hannah insists that she knows what she's doing. I'm afraid this still doesn't look good. Hannah apparently has no intention of copying Christie's style. I guess that means we can expect Poirot to have a 150 page existential crisis while he moans about how bad a thing murder is. This doesn't look like it'll end well...


  1. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we knew this possibility was looming over our heads like the sword of Damocles, especially when the well for the television material was beginning to dry up, but you can never really prepare yourself for the actual blow.

    As I said before, I'm not expecting lightening to hit twice for the Crime Queens with Christie receiving a similar, respectful treatment as Sayers did with Jill Paton Walsh. There's a commercial interest to hawk that book to a much bigger reading audience (not just snobbish little purists like us ;-) and the covers of reprints from the past ten years seem to implore the readers from the depth of their souls to consider them as serious literature. So I fully expect a botched attempt at something Christie already successfully did in books like Five Little Pigs and The Hollow.

    If you want another, rare example of pastiche succeeding as a continuation is "The Book Case" by C. Dale Andrews and Kurt Sercu (webmaster of the encyclopedic EQ website), in which a 100-year-old Ellery Queen solves one last case. It worked for pretty much the same reasons you cited for Spillane and Collins: they are gigantic fans who drew on their knowledge to reproduce something canon worthy.

    By the way, I think our resident ghost struck again. I wanted to do a similar rant, but with the addition of another writer who's currently suffering a similar faith, Appie Baantjer (hence the reason I have mentioned him more often lately).

    Baantjer's old publisher first tried to live off the name with a secondary series, BAANTJER INC, which, judging by the reviews by M.P.O. Books, are YA-like mysteries with schoolyard banter, which resulted in a drop of sales after the first installment. So now they carted an idea out of the fridge that was suggested by the fans, years and years ago, to novelize scenarios from the TV series. This was actually done with episodes from the then new Grijpstra and De Gier TV series.

    Well, that's exactly what they are doing now and they being numbered in the official series, but instead of starting off with the best episodes, they've opted for the worst from the entire series – followed up by two equally baffling picks. The episodes are converted by one of the original scenario writers/creators, Peter Römer, who’s also the son of the late Piet Römer, lead actor from the series, which just makes me mad at the opportunity they allowed to slip through their fingers.

    Why take the time to convert and shoehorn existing stories, written according to a formula differing from the ones used in the (later-period) books, when you can write new plots altogether and advertise them as follow: Appie has left us, the actors have gone home and studio lot is dark, but there's one scenarist who's still at work! BAANTJER & RÖMER, coming to a bookstore or webshop near you! It's not that hard to put a grain of creativity in your money making schemes, if you try to make an effort.

    This comment went on a lot longer than it should've been.

    1. P.S.: On your idea about the Poirot/Shades of Grey crossover... do you think mustache wax could be used as a lubricant?

    2. There's more bad news in the form of an interview I just discovered:

      Apparently Pritchard *isn't* doing this for the money! What an altruist! And Sophie Hannah isn't going to attempt to imitate Christie's style! Hooray! It's not like the name Agatha Christie implies an Agatha Christie style!

      Pritchard seems to think his grandmother would have approved. Has he ever read any of her books? Or even an excerpt from her autobiography? She'd probably be on the phone with her lawyers right now if she was still around...

    3. How prophetic my comments on the JDCarr forum proved to be (after they announced the modern adaptation for Miss Marple):

      "Everyone with a pocketful full of loose change can take them [Poirot and Marple] for a ride. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the next announcement is that Harlequin publishers acquired the rights to The Mysterious Mr. Quin, and revise them into a series of full-length romance novels – with all the detective stuff cutout of them, of course!

      You understand that a modern, sensitive audience has to protected and cuddled against violent imagery, but to make up for the lost of authenticity they have a hoot of an inside joke for genuine fans to enjoy. You see, the name they will slap on the covers is that of Mary Westmascott! Haha! Get it? Westmascott was actually Christie! Oh, those silly editors at Harlequin… how do they come up with this stuff?

  2. I'd have to disagree with you about Barnard. I found it an intelligent appreciation of Christie, written at a time where her critical reputation was at an all-time low and it was cool to hate Christie. He stepped in and said no, and this is why. It might still be cool to hate Christie, but at least there are some people out there who know what they're talking about.

  3. Patrick - No, you are not over-reacting. I admit to being a purist, especially about some authors, Christie being one of them. That said though, I think you make some excellent arguments. Like you, I have nothing whatever against Sophie Hannah. I confess I haven't read all of her books, but what I have read, I've enjoyed. But no-one - not even the best author - can be another author. Especially not Agatha Christie. There are other ways to introduce her books and stories to new audiences without doing this. I just cannot see any good coming from this. Of course, I am biased...

    1. Margot, I'm biased myself of course... I just don't see what good could possibly come of this whole nasty scenario.

  4. Lucy, I rather agree with you about "A Talent to Deceive."

    A couple points– I think we should all hold off on castigating Mr. Prichard (there's no "t" in his last name). I believe that people have talked about new Poirot/Marple novels for decades, but the decision to hire someone to write a new one came pretty soon after Acorn Media bought a large stake in Agatha Christie, Ltd. If Disney had bought Agatha Christie, Ltd. a year ago, there'd be a LOT more merchandising. Likewise, all the TV adaptations we're all complaining about came AFTER Chorion bought Agatha Christie, Ltd.

    The bad TV adaptations, though, deserve all the disparagement they get.

    In any case, you really should retract the comment about "dollar signs in the pupils." Even if you still blame Mr. Prichard, shouldn't they be POUND signs...?

    This is why we need to write more mystery criticism. The prevailing criticism are all wrong. But remember this– people have been leveling unjust criticisms about Christie for decades, yet Christie's sales continue to far exceed any of her rivals.

    1. Chris, you bring up an interesting point. It's quite possible that Matthew Prichard (sorry for the recurring typo) has no control over this whatsoever. *But* he's showing up in all these interviews and news articles saying how happy he is that this novel is in the works and how pleased Agatha Christie would be if she'd known. Sorry, but no. She probably wouldn't be pleased at all.

      You're right that these bad TV episodes coincide with Chorion taking over, but they also coincide with the death of AC's daughter in 2004. The really, really bad "revised" stories started a year or two later. That's why I blame Prichard, though I confess it might just be because he's an easy target to blame. At the very least he allowed John Curran access to Agatha Christie's notebooks...

      However, none of this changes my feeling that this new novel is going to be a disaster...

    2. I'm in the UK and heard that interview on the radio, and my immediate response was also that AC would not have been pleased at all.

      I can't see any legitimate artistic reasons for this, only financial ones.

      And I like 'A Talent to Deceive': Bernard certainly sailed against the prevailing wind with his evaluation of AC.

  5. I will probably read the Poirot pastiche upon its release next year, simply see how it is. I agree that it would be impossible to match the standards of Christie's plots, and I am pretty nervous now that Hannah says she won't try to emulate Christie's style - isn't part of a pastiche's raison d'etre?

    As for the television show, I really cannot say anything new, though the last few episodes ("Three Act Tragedy," "The Clocks," "Hallowe'en Party" and "Elephants Can Remember") have been of a higher standard than "Murder on the Orient Express," "Appointment with Death" and others.

    We just have to play the waiting game now and see what happens...

    1. See Nick, that's just what I'm afraid of. People might say "It's probably harmless, Patrick. Read it for yourself and *then* judge its merits." The thing is, if I do that, that'll involve money leaving my pocket. A skeptical reader's money is the same as an enthusiastic reader's money on a stats chart. And if enough people read it to find out just how good it is, I can guarantee that this time next year another new Poirot will be commissioned. As I've covered in the article, it's all about the money...

  6. Fortunately, no matter what will be published, the original books will still stand and still charm readers willing to give them a try.

    As for what Christie would say ... I'm not sure. I've been reading up on her a lot lately. She hated the MGM movies with Margaret Rutherford as they took more and more liberties with her books. And Tony Randall as Poirot (check out the YouTube clip) would have had her in fits.

    I'm guess that she probably wouldn't have wanted it, but if she had control over the product, and if it would have brought in a ton of money? She was all in favor of earning what she could, despite the depredations of the tax-gatherers.

    But putting out new books can serve a purpose of bringing her name back into the limelight, making her briefly relevant again, and reminding readers that she's worth reading again. Like all the Shakespeare adaptations, whatever their quality, they make him relevant and new. Even if it is a Star Wars adaptation.

    1. Bill, I acknowledge the legitimacy of your point. If Sophie Hannah shocks us all and delivers a tour-de-force, wonderful - more power to her. If, however, she tanks and delivers something worse than POSTERN OF FATE or PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT, it won't change Christie's status as a major contributor to the genre.

      However, I'm worried about the effect it'll have on Christie's *perceived* status. It's cool to hate her if you're a mystery author, reviewer, or critic. Very few give her the respect she deserves. And if her name starts being used as an umbrella for pastiches... well, look at where Ellery Queen is today. The Ellery Queen was farmed out to prospective writers and their credibility took a nosedive, to the point where the only sign of EQ's existence still around today is EQMM...

      As for Christie, she hated Poirot by the end. I imagine her spirit today in some sort of criminal paradise, maybe playing croquet on the front lawn with Ronald Knox, Leslie Charteris, J.D. Carr, and other great mystery writers. She feels a tap on her shoulder, whirls around, and sees Poirot there behind her. "You????" she shouts, horrified. "But... I murdered you, you wretched, wretched man!!!"

    2. Bill,

      This new Hercule Poirot novel by Sophie Hannah, regardless of its quality, won't bring Christie back in the limelight for the simple reason that she never stepped out of it.

      You’d think that with "briefly relevant again" and "reminding readers," you were talking about an obscure mystery writer from the 1920s. It's only a new tap that will be placed (much lower) on the Agatha Christie cash barrel.

    3. Sorry for being so late to this, TomCat, but I must respectfully disagree. While Christie is not obscure, it's a big world out there, and there are plenty of readers who haven't read our favorites. Another writer (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) mentioned that she was participating in a bundle, in which several ebooks are sold together at a cheap price, a marketing technique. She told a friend that her novel will appear alongside one from Neil Gaiman.

      And the friend, who reads fantasy books, responded, "Who's Neil Gaiman?"

      Consider: Christie died in the mid-1970s. Every person born since then will not be exposed to "a Christie at Christmas." Unless they watch PBS Mystery, they won't see Poirot or Miss Marple. Unless they watch old movies, they won't see "Orient Express" or the other movies. There are a couple of generations to whom "Agatha Christie" won't mean anything.

      A new book, and the publicity surrounding it, will re-inject her name into mainstream culture, for its novelty value. One can hope that people will pick it up and like it. Or that they'll be reminded of her and read her old books. (Or pick up the annotated versions I published).

      Look at how the Sherlock series brought in fans who hadn't been exposed to the stories. The same could happen for Christie.

  7. Patrick, have you seen the short movie "Murder by the Book?" It's about a dying Christie actually meeting Porot.

    1. How ironic. This is a quote from Agatha Christie to Hercule Poirot from Murder by the Book:

      "I suddenly realized that the Germans might drop a bomb on me and bang, I would be gone and where would that leave you? Stranded. In limbo. Or worse still, a prey (?) of writers who would exploit you. Not look after you properly, like they did to poor James Bond and that would be so humiliating."

    2. Chris, that film is still a sore spot with me. Eons ago I recorded it onto a DVR intending to watch it. A few days later, when I went to do so, I'd found that my father had deleted it in order to record a TV movie that he was enjoying... even though he sat there and watched the whole thing and never once consulted the recording. So yeah, I should have seen it eons ago but never got the chance.

  8. Dear Patrick,
    I completely concur with each and every thing you said. Just yesterday I picked up a book by Laurie L. King and imagine my horror when I realized that it was about a girl with 'Sherlock Holmes' like powers of deduction, who bumps into him on the moors and then marries him, continuing to solve cases with him!!!! Oh God! I am physically and mentally ill. And believe it or not, this is actually a series; indicating that people are loving this. I had to do some deep breathing exercises to regain my equilibrium. Why can't people leave well enough alone. I have read some Jane Austen spin - off's and they are just as bad. The main problem being that the new authors just completely fail to understand the 'old - world - style' of writing of the originals. But you are right there is no stopping them.

    1. Malvika, so glad to see that Blogger and Wordpress are playing nicely today!

      When I wrote my last article for Mysterical-E, I had only this much to say about Laurie R. King's series:

      " I would like to confess now that I have never read any of Laurie R. King’s continuations of the Holmes saga. I know, that means I’m a foolish mortal and what business have I writing this article? But honestly, eleven-year-old-me was horrified at the prospect of Sherlock Holmes being married to this Mary Russell character I’d never heard of. Foolish as it may sound, my opinion on the subject remains the same — I don’t want to see Sherlock Holmes married and I don’t care how much more human that makes him — I’ll have some words on the subject when I get to talking about *Elementary*. With so many other unread books lying around my room, I just don’t feel the need to read King’s tales— a purely personal preference that will not apply to everyone."

      I'm horrified to hear that this Marry Russell person is apparently Sherlock's intellectual equal. So what makes Holmes so special in that case? I believe this is a classic case of an author not really getting the source material. But hoorah for feminism and all that rot.

    2. Haha! My feelings exactly.. though I feel obliged to tell you, Sherlock is more a background character in these books and there is even a 'moment of passion' that I accidentally stumbled upon while flipping through.. yikes! As much as I fantasized about Sherlock falling in love as a child, I never imagined passion in the equation.
      But at times I do wonder if we are too rigid, I mean how is it that such a huge demographic is going gaga over stuff that we can so clearly classify as 'horror'. I am not a person with an honors in English Lit and I can appreciate simple stories ( read -low IQ stuff) as much as the non-bibliophile- just-picked-up-a-book-by-chance person, but this just feels a travesty of an icon.

  9. Patrick mate, you're on fire here - nothing like a good rant! I have no interest in this book but have fewer problems with the idea of continuations per se as you know (I actually quite liked the TV Marple version of BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS for instance, though most of them are poor by any standarads). Carr did some nice Holmes pastiches, I thought Parker's first continuation of Chandler more than passed muster too - but the point you make about why bother in the first place is spot on. Christie wrote so many, left no major work unfinished at her death unlike Spillane or Sayers so there is just no particular reason to do it. I suspect it may have more to do with the the prospect of the original books starting to fall our of copyright ...

    1. Sergio, as much as I like a good rant I also enjoy a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately, while I was furiously typing this piece, my cup seems to have gotten cold...

      This might shock you, but I really like BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS. As the Marple series goes, it's the "Citizen Kane" of the drastically "revised" episodes. Much of this is due to all the creepy old ladies in this episode, especially the splendid June Whitfield as Mrs. Lancaster. The story makes little sense, but it has a lot of fun building up that delightfully eerie atmosphere. My only major complaint is that they turned Tuppence into an alcoholic. (Of the adaptations of non-Marple stories, I think "Towards Zero" and "Ordeal by Innocence" are the finest, with this one a solid third place.)

      As for Sherlock Holmes, there are plenty of Holmes pastiches, and to reference the famous Clint Eastwood movie, some of them are good, some of them are bad, and a lot of them are ugly. I am currently reading a book of them which is among the finest I've ever read - in fact, if I didn't know better I'd have sworn that Conan Doyle himself wrote them! However, those excellent takes on the material are quite simply outnumbered by all the derivative ones. Even Adrian Conan Doyle, despite being Sir Arthur's son, was entirely unoriginal in his solo pastiche attempts. Another example: after Loren D. Estleman introduced the idea of Holmes-vs-Dracula, there was a veritable explosion of books in which Holmes fights the legendary king of vampires... and I seem to recall one in which they are brothers/half-brothers/somehow related!