Sunday 27 September 2009

Christie, Christie, everywhere

Wherever you have turned lately, it has seemed impossible to escape Agatha Christie. But that’s all right by me, as reading Christie remains one of my favourite forms of escapism, and my complaint about the latest episode of Marple was simply its lack of fidelity to the Queen of Crime’s original plot.

I’m eagerly looking forward to a chance to read Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, the book by John Curran which has attracted so much attention. Curran is a real Christie buff, and I liked his list of top ten Christies. It was especially good to see the inclusion of Curtain, which is so often under-estimated. My own list wouldn’t be very different.

I think I would, however, probably substitute The Mysterious Affair at Styles for Crooked House, despite the daring nature of the solution in the latter. Styles is a terrific novel for a debut whodunit writer, remarkably intricate and assured.

But wait a minute. What about Cards on the Table, with its focus on just four suspects? Very clever. Or Towards Zero, in which murder comes at the end, not the beginning – a dazzling concept, executed in gripping style.

Wait a moment. I’ve forgotten Evil Under the Sun, a classic Poirot with a memorable island setting and cunning misdirection. And I couldn’t overlook The Pale Horse, which supposedly inspired a real-life killer. And then there is…

No, the problem with these lists is that, despite occasional misfires, some dodgy thrillers and the tired late novels, Christie wrote a startling number of ground-breaking stories. It is no accident that she has become a legend. As a crime writer, she is unique.


Kerrie said...

I'm looking forward to a chance to read Curran's book too Martin. I saw it at the book shop today, but will wait for the library to have it available. The bookshop price was $45

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Kerrie. I've just started Agatha Christie at Home, which I'll be reviewing soon.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love Christie! I, somehow, haven't heard about "Secret Notebooks," but it sounds like it will be a treat.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, I'll report on the Secert Notebooks before too long.

vegetableduck said...

My choices:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (both a brilliant plot and a classic use of the archetypes--probably the most important twenties detective novel?)

The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple debuts, Christie's satire here underappreciated)

The ABC Murders (one of the great gambits)

Death on the Nile (brilliantly plotted, nice characterization)

Cards on the Table (bravura closed circle sitation, good humor, Ariadne Oliver)

And Then There Were None (brilliant plot, quite bleak too)

The Body in the Library (another bravura situation and a good example of the humor Christie rarely is credited with having--she was quite aware the title was a cliche and was having fun with it)

Five Little Pigs (unusually character driven, The Hollow runs it a close second in thsi regard)

A Murder Is Announced (easily her besr post-WW2 book)

The Pale Horse (wonderfully lively, fresh late effort)

Curtain indeed is underrated today, though rather a downer. Peril at End House, Lord Edgeware Dies and Death in the Clouds also are quite strong. And The Moving Finger. After the Funeral has a very good gambit. Didn't like Mrs. McGinty's Dead as much as I recalled on rereading.

Murder on the Orient Express has that wonderful classic sitation, but, on rereading, I found the characters disappointingly think for the really tragic situation evoked. I actually preferred the film, which I could not say of Death on the Nile.

I always enjoy rereading Sleeping Murder, I think it's underrated too.

Sandi said...

Martin -- I've read the book. John's editorial work is superb, and the evidence the notebooks show on Christie's development of plots is fascinating. The 2 new Poirot short stories are, however, nothing to write home about

Martin Edwards said...

Curt - our tastes are pretty similar, then!
Doug - I'm really looking forward to devouring it!

vegetableduck said...

I need to reread Towards Zero, that's another I liked a lot.

Anonymous said...

THE LABOURS OF HERCULES is easily her best short story collection, and probably one of the great detective short story collections.

Nan said...

I am on the last chapter of 'Styles' and have so enjoyed it. Hastings is such a humorous character.