`Mystery!' casts a new Miss Marple. In quaint case of `The Body in the Library'

There's a new Miss Marple in town -- in St. Mary's Mead, that is. The Body in the Library (PBS, Sundays, Jan. 2, 9, and 16; 9-10 p.m., check local listings) is the first of two new Agatha Christie mysteries on ``Mystery!'' and both star British actress Joan Hickson, who is nothing at all like previous Jane Marples played by Margaret Rutherford, Helen Hayes, Angela Lansbury, and Gracie Fields. Joan Hickson more closely resembles Christie's Marple. According to Dame Agatha, Miss Marple was thin, white-haired with pale blue eyes and a pink crinkled face. She was supposed to have lived all her life in the tiny English village of St. Mary's Mead, where she learned about the wide variety of characters in the world by observing her neighbors.

``The Body in the Library'' is vintage Christie, full of oddball characters, but all blessed with charming idiosyncrasies. Almost anybody could have murdered the blonde found in the library of the manor house, and by the time the crime is solved, Dame Agatha will have viewers' heads swirling with a variety of clues and potential culprits. For some viewers it may be a bit difficult to follow the complex story line, but what does it matter? We know it is all headed for a grand climax where Miss Marple, cl ad in well-cut tweeds and sensible shoes, will finger the guilty one triumphantly.

Directed by Silvio Narizzano for BBC, this production is presented on PBS by WGBH/Boston. While it may be a treat for Christie enthusiasts, other viewers may find it a tame, overextended throwback to a time when mystery addicts were quite willing to settle for quaintness and charm rather than sex and violence.

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