I wish I could recall when I picked up my first novel by Agatha Christie and which title it was. All I know is that as a child sometime after graduating from Nancy Drew, I made my way to the adult mysteries reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the prolific Agatha Christie, who wrote not only dozens of novels, but short stories and plays.
Today is the 40th anniversary of Christie’s death. So I’d like to remember the joy her books have brought me for 20 years or more.
I remember devouring her books (something I still do on occasion), reading all I could get from the local library with one exception: the novels set in Egypt did not captivate me at that time in my life.
And Then There Were None gave me such a fright I had to sleep with the lights the night I read it. Crooked House was the only one that so mystified me, I cheated … I read the ending to see who the killer was and then couldn’t make myself read the entire book.
When reading Christie, I preferred the Miss Marple stories to Hercule Poirot although I tackled them all as well as the short stories, the Mr. Quin and Superintendent Battle’s and the Tommy and Tuppence’s. But it was Marple’s keen insight into human nature, her correct assessment of people’s capacity for evil and insistence that I found more relatable than Poirot’s “little grey cells.” But both those characters, and other minor ones firmly believed in right and wrong and justice. The fact that justice would be done by the final page is part of what makes a murder mystery novel satisfying, the culprit is discovered and pays for his or her crime. If only justice was served with such regularity in the real world.
Christie created such delightful lesser known characters. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, with only five novels, are most underrated in my view. Although there were modifications to the setting, I was thrilled to see there is a recent television adaptation of two of those Tommy and Tuppence novels with the series Partners in Crime (To the right: screenshot of “Tuppence” in the new series). I don’t love the show as well as the books though. And they haven’t remade my favorite T&T book yet: By the Pricking of My Thumbs.
My favorite Poirot novels are the few that feature Ariadne Oliver, as a famous detective novelist, because there was so much of Christie herself in that creature. If I had to pick just one of those to recommend, I’d choose Elephants Can Remember.
Oddly enough, when it comes to film versions of Christie’s work my favoritism swings the opposite direction. I adore David Suchet’s incomparable performances as the famous Belgian detective (image to the left). If you aren’t going to watch his entire body of work, I recommend just two: The Mysterious Affair at Styles followed by Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. If you’re interested in hearing Suchet’s own story about playing Poirot for so many years I highly recommend his autobiography, Poirot and Me. It was so touching, I cried reading it.
Christie’s books have been such a part of my life for so long, I insisted on visiting the town of her birth in 2008, while I was visiting England. Although it was a rainy and cold March, I could imagine the English seaside town of Torquay in summer and what it might have been like as she grew up in that part of England.
I’m grateful to Agatha Christie, for her mind and her pen, which has brought me so many puzzles to solve, and so many hours of enjoyment over a great many years, and I expect will continue to bring me joy for the rest of my life.