In the hands of Agatha Christie, the murder mystery is like a sonata crossed with a magic trick--an intricate formal structure that depends on ingenious misdirection. On top of that, the movies made from her novels are an opportunity for great British character actors to languish in icy disdain, insinuating glances, arch humor, and trembling suggestions of guilt. This set gathers together three fine BBC productions, starting with The Body in the Library (in which a blond stranger's corpse turns up in a British squire's house), A Murder Is Announced) (in which a supposed parlor game has fatal consequences), and A Pocketful of Rye (in which a nursery rhyme becomes a recipe for a series of poisonings). All star Joan Hickson as Christie's much-loved elderly sleuth, Miss Marple. The way Hickson's eyes light up at the mention of mysterious death makes her seem like a delightfully dotty old ghoul; she hovers at the periphery of investigations, noticing the telling details that police inspectors overlook. The productions lay out plot threads and clues with surgical precision, while the actors play stock characters with exquisite relish. --Bret Fetzer
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