I Love Her, But She Loves Agatha Christie*

Agatha Christie BirthdayAs I post this, today would have been Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday. Whether you enjoy her work, adore it, or think it’s over-rated, it’s hard to deny the impact it’s had. And if you’re kind enough to read this blog even occasionally, you’ll no doubt have guessed by now that I’m a fan of her work.

I won’t go on and on about why I love her work. And I’m certainly not claiming that every novel she wrote was of stellar quality (I know – I was thinking of Postern of Fate too). But I do have a lot of excellent reading memories from Christie’s work. And speaking as a writer, I’ve learned an awful lot from her. So, to commemorate her birthday, here are

 

Margot’s Agatha Christie Mosts…

 

Most Atmospheric Setting

 

Indian Island (And Then There Were None)

Gipsy’s Acre (Endless Night)

Hillside (Sleeping Murder)

The Orient Express (Well….you know)

 

Christie was well able to create very atmospheric settings – the kind that pull the reader in almost as much as the plot does. That’s important to a good story, and there are some memorable such places among Christie’s novels and stories. My vote (and it wasn’t easy!) for most atmospheric setting goes to Indian Island, where ten people accept an invitation for a visit that turns quite deadly. It’s not just the house, either, that feels deliciously creepy. The island itself adds suspense, as does the storm that cuts everyone off from the mainland.

 

Most Appealing Recurring Character

 

Chief Inspector Japp

Ariadne Oliver

Mr. Satterthwaite

Raymond West

 

Christie isn’t always celebrated for her character development, but there are some recurring characters who truly add to her stories. It was difficult to choose just one, because I’ve enjoyed all of them. But my vote here goes to Ariadne Oliver, Christie’s fictional detective story writer, who is said to have been Christie’s way of poking fun at herself. Mrs. Oliver is a delightful blend of apparent scattiness and shrewdness. She makes some telling observations, too, about what it’s like to be a writer. If you’re an author who’s read some of her remarks and experiences, you’ve probably caught yourself nodding your head or laughing in sympathetic understanding. Mrs. Oliver also has a very distinctive kind of look and personality, and doesn’t mind that she doesn’t ‘fade into the background.’

And on a side note, I particularly like the great Zöe Wanamaker’s televised portrayal of Mrs. Oliver.

 

Most Ingenious Plot Twist

 

Murder on the Orient Express

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

And Then There Were None

The Moving Finger

 

Christie is, of course, very well known for her plot twists, some of which really are ingenious (or perhaps that’s just my view). She did them so well that it was very difficult for me to even draw up a short list, let alone choose one. But my vote here goes to the plot twist in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. One thing that really distinguishes it is that at the time, Christie took her share of criticism for it. It was said that she ‘wasn’t playing fair.’ What many people argue happened is that she took people’s assumptions about what crime novels ‘should’ be like, and turned them upside down. Everything’s right there if you read the book carefully, but people’s expectations led them down the proverbial garden path. That innovation and willingness to do something different really set this plot twist apart for me.

 

Most Memorable Lines

 

Lord Edgware Dies (AKA Thirteen to Dinner)

The Man in the Brown Suit

Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client)

The Moving Finger

 

Christie sometimes wrote quite memorable lines – the kind you can think about for quite a while. There’s the final line of Lord Edgware Dies (AKA Thirteen to Dinner), Anne Beddingfield’s clever retort to a police officer in The Man in the Brown Suit (I like her use of the word brachycephalic), and Megan Hunter’s remarks about Shakespeare and other English literature in The Moving Finger, among others. Christie could make you smile at the same time as she was making a rather pointed observation. My vote for most memorable line goes to Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). In this novel, Poirot and Captain Hastings are investigating the suspicious death of wealthy Emily Arundell, who’s left behind a group of relatives who are only too pleased to have their hands on her money. At one point, they’re talking with an old friend of Miss Arundell’s, Miss Caroline Peabody. They’re hoping to get some background information on the Arundell family, and Miss Peabody knows a lot of the family history. In the guise of, respectively, biographer and secretary, Poirot and Hastings visit her:
 

‘‘You are his secretary, I suppose?’
‘Er – yes,’ I said doubtfully.
‘Can you write decent English?’
‘I hope so.’
 ‘H’m – where did you go to school?’
‘Eton.’
‘Then you can’t.’’
 

There really is no good rejoinder to that…

 

Most Memorable Scenes

 

Death on the Nile

4:50 From Paddington

N or M?

The Hollow

 

There are also some very powerful, even moving scenes in Christie’s stories. The ‘big reveal’ scene in Murder on the Orient Express is often mentioned as one of Christie’s finest. But there are others, too, some less dramatic, that also deserve recognition. They add depth and even power to the story, and some are quite emotional. Hercule Poirot’s conversation with the killer in Death on the Nile is one such scene, and so is the ‘big reveal’ in 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!). And then there’s Thomas Beresford’s discovery that his wife Tuppence has come to the same resort to investigate the same case in N or M? My vote, though, goes to The Hollow, and Poirot’s (and one other character’s) interaction with the killer at the end of the book. There are also a few memorable ‘subplot scenes’ in that novel between two characters on the bumpy road to love, as the saying goes.

 

So there you have it: Margot’s Mosts. Your mileage, of course, may vary. I’d love to hear what your votes would be!

Happy Birthday, Ms.Christie!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Lucksmith’s English Murder Mystery.

 

62 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie

62 responses to “I Love Her, But She Loves Agatha Christie*

  1. Keishon

    Very helpful post and I do enjoy her work as well. I am still digging through her books and this will help me figure out what to read next. Thanks Margot!

    • Thanks, Keishon. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There’s a lot of Christie’s work to enjoy, so I hope you’ll find all sorts of gems as you work your way through it.

  2. Thanks for this Margot. I have included it on the ACRC Blog Carnival: http://acrccarnival.blogspot.com.au/

  3. I love love love Agatha Christie so will happily join you in celebrating her birthday today. I also have a long standing love affair with the delightful Captain Hastings, a gentleman beyond compare 🙂

    • He is quite the gentleman, isn’t he, PorterGirl? And I really like Hugh Fraser’s portrayal of him. And as for Christie? She’s my ‘desert island’ author.

      • I was struck by Hugh Fraser’s portrayal from a very young age and I think it is the very thing that spawned a fantasy love affair with the character that has endured to this day! I just love Christie, for me she is the very best.

        • I’m not surprised, PorterGirl. I think Fraser’s portrayal is excellent. And I think Christie is the tops, too. She’s been an inspiration for me for a long time.

  4. Col

    Probably not a fan, but I won’t knock what I haven’t read myself!

    • I like your attitude, Col, of not knocking without trying. And even if you don’t end up being a fan, hey, at least you’d be able to say you’ve read something by her.

  5. Happy birthday to Ms Christie! A lady whose work started me on my adult journey of crime fiction.

  6. Linda

    Always fun to talk Christie!

  7. Happy birthday to our beloved mystery queen…:)

  8. Great post and yes she has had a wide influence. There are lots of times when I’m reading or watching TV cop shows when I notice that characters have Agatha Christie names (as in names of some of her well known victims and culprits and families – little homages even today).

    I don’t know her full canon well enough to produce my own list but I must admit the house and family she created for Crooked House – which I only read for the first time early this year – has stayed with me – very atmospheric. And I do like Ariadne Oliver too – she’s one of the few who manages to unsettle M. Poirot a few times 🙂

    • Thanks, Bernadette. It is interesting, isn’t it, how Christie’s influence can be seen in so many different ways. As you say, sometimes even names of characters reflect it. That says something, even for those who are not really fans.
       
      Thanks, too, for mentioning Crooked House. I agree that it’s a very atmospheric setting. In fact, that’s one novel in particular that Christie is said to really have enjoyed writing. I can see why the place would have stayed with you. And as for Ariadne Oliver? Yes, indeed, she can keep Poirot in his place and on his toes, that’s for sure.

  9. Margot, this is a very nice tribute to Agatha Christie on her birth anniversary. While I still haven’t read many of her books, my favourites so far are “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” You and Moira have inspired me to read her novels.

    • Thank you, Prashant. And I’m very glad you’ve enjoyed both Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Both are, I think, excellent examples of her work. I hope you’ll enjoy more of it as you get to it.

  10. Agatha Christie is a legend, for sure! I didn’t know people didn’t like her. The other day someone retweeted someone Danielle Steel tweeted. I thought, “Danielle Steel has a Twitter?” I was surprised to find several of my friends follow her. I assume she still has a fairly strong fan base to still be going strong after all these years!

    Stephanie
    http://stephie.5741.blogspot.com

    • I agree, Stephanie, that Christie is definitely a legend. And if you look around, you see all sorts of societies, Twitter groups, blogs and the like that are devoted to her and her work. That most definitely says something. I didn’t know Danielle Steele is on Twitter. Interesting how authors are picking up on that social medium and getting/keeping new readers.

  11. Kay

    How very clever of you, Margot! Loved this. Yes, I love Agatha Christie’s work – love it. I agree that Ariadne Oliver is my favorite ‘extra’. The books she appears in always seem to have an extra bit of humor. And who wouldn’t want to travel on the Orient Express after reading that one? I also loved the scene between Poirot and the murderer on Death On The Nile. I remember when I finished The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd and just sat and thought – wow! Sigh – oh, to have to pleasure of a first read of all of them again.

    • Thanks, Kay. I think you’re absolutely right about Ariadne Oliver. her character always lends some wit to a story, and some ‘character leaven,’ too. And to be honest, a trip on the Orient Express is on my ‘bucket list.’ Haven’t done it yet, but someday… About The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? The first time I read it, I had very much of a ‘Wow!’ reaction too. I’d always thought of myself as an astute enough reader, but that one completely caught me off guard. It was quite the reading experience.

  12. Great post, Margot. I figured you’d come up with something clever for AC’s birthday 🙂

  13. Agatha Christie is truly a legend. She gave us so much to enjoy and inspired so many after her. Margot, a wonderful post. 🙂

    • Thank you, Mason. I couldn’t agree more about Christie’s influence or her status as a literary legend. She’s really been an inspiration to a lot of people (including me).

  14. Happy Birthday, Ms. Christie, indeed! And thank you for the wonderful mysteries and for inspiring me to write mystery and giving me this uncontrollable need to solve all puzzles and mysteries. I’m a fan. I’ve often heard people complain about her writing style, many calling her writing technique ” cheating,” as you pointed out. I agree with you that the clues and the answers are in the books, if you look closely. It is difficult to choose a favorite book, but if I had to pick only one, it would be The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
    She was a master of plot twists and was able to bring her settings alive, making them another character. This is something I can’t seem to do. The biggest weakness in my writing is my lack of fully developing the settings. This post has inspired me to re-read some of my old favorites, paying particular attention to setting.
    Thanks for sharing your opinion, views and favorites and for honoring Agatha Christie on what would have been her 125th birthday. She wrote some amazing books that all of us remember and contributed a great deal to the literary world.
    Melissa Sugar
    Sugarlaw13@live.com
    @msugar13
    http://melissasugarwrites.com

    • Thanks for the kind words, Melissa. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Like you, I’ve learned a lot from Christie’s writing; it’s one reason I’m the fan that I am. As you point out, she did create some memorable settings that are so effectively conveyed. It’s a good lesson for any modern-day writer, really. I agree with you, too, that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has a really well-written and engaging plot. As you say, the clues are there if you pay attention. And yet people are still taken by surprise. That, to me, is the mark of a book with very a well-done plot twist.

  15. I’m definitely with you on Ariadne Oliver – great character, and I loved Zoe Wanamaker’s portrayal of her too. Roger Ackroyd gets my vote for plot twist, and one of my (many) favourite scenes is from Sleeping Murder when Gwenda is at the theatre watching The Duchess of Malfi – “Cover her face, mine eyes dazzle, she died young”.

    • Oh, that is a powerful scene, isn’t it, FictionFan? I’m not in the least bit surprised that you chose it. It’s very well-crafted and memorable. And I do have a very soft spot for both Ariadne Oliver and Zöe Wanamaker. As for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, what a groundbreaking twist…

  16. I loved this, Margot, nothing I enjoy more than a good wallow in comparing Christie books, and you’re the person to do it. Of course some of my choices might be slightly different, but I am with you on a lot of this, and I love your categories. And am off to look up some of the items you mention!

    • PS and I think I recognize the Battery Garden at Greenway in the background of the photo – scene of the murder in 5 Little Pigs….

    • So glad you enjoyed this, Moira. I couldn’t agree more about the joys of discussing Christie’s work when you’re a Christie fan. And thanks for the kind words, too. 🙂 – I’d expect everyone’s choices might be a bit different. I really hope you’ll post your own..hint…hint…

  17. I got to know Christie after going to see The Mousetrap aged 10 and totally agree with your best books list and my favourite secondary character has to be Inspector Japp – great post and a great way to celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday!

    • Thank you, Cleo. And lucky, lucky you to have had a chance to see The Mousetrap! I’ve not yet done that, but I will one day. And to be honest, I love Chief Inspector Japp, too. He’s such a great character; someone I really could see having a pint with, if that makes sense. And I’ve always liked Philip Jackson’s portrayal of him on the television series. I can see why you like him the best.

  18. Lovely post, Margot. Murder on the Orient Express is not my absolute top Christie novel, but close. A wonderful book.

    • Thank you, Tracy. I agree that Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s really find novels. It has interesting characters and a great twist in it. I don’t blame you one bit for liking it as much as you do.

  19. I haven’t read her books in years. But you’re right. She’s a writer to be adored and honored for a lifetime.

  20. Kathy D.

    Not really a fan, but enough said. I do like David Suchet portraying Hercule Poirot, though, the stories and his eccentricities — and the denouements at thee end which bring in secret codes, unknown relatives, urns from ancient Assyria, scrolls from the Nile River Valley, surprise photographs, etc.
    It’s kind of like the Sherlock Holmes school of detection, although the Great Detective lets on some of his thinking along the course of the story.
    The Belgian Detective usually waits and then pounces, revealing his clues and evidence at the end with the usual suspects in a circle around a room, wherever that may be.
    Have never seen any Ariadne Oliver that I know of, but would like to see movies with her character if there are any.

    • I’ve always thought that David Suchet is Poirot in terms of his portrayal, Kathy. He has all of the mannerisms, etc. down beautifully, but he also shows us Poirot’s way of thinking. And you’re right; Poirot’s style is to wait, gather facts and evidence, and then pounce when the moment’s right. As to Ariadne Oliver, she figures in several adventures. Cards on the Table and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead are just two of them. I think those two filmed adaptations are available if you want to see what she’s like on-screen.

  21. Margot did you know https://www.facebook.com/HarperCollinsAustralia are releasing a special boxed set – a “Queen of Crime”pack The pack includes the yet to be released October book, Little Grey Cells- the Quotable Poirot, as well a slipcase of Poirot classics, Sophie Hannah’s new Hercule Poirot mystery The Monogram Murders AND a Poirot moustache bag which is sure to turn heads

  22. I love her work too! And I think her Autobiography and Come, Tell Me How You Live are excellent and such good examples of writing autobiography and memoirs. Both are high up in my favourites of hers, both are like listening to her talk to me, so unpretentious and down to earth. I’m hard pushed to decide between her other books for favourites (so many good ones) and agree she had some not so good ones. Not surprising really writing so many books and over such a long period of time. An amazing person and a wonderful writer!

    • I couldn’t agree more, Margaret. And I’m very glad that you mentioned her autobiography and Come, Tell Me How You Live. She was talented at non-fiction/autobiographical writing as well as at writing fiction, and that’s not always the case with writers. She was such a very interesting person, too, with so many good stories to tell. And yes, I do like her down-to-earth writing very much.

  23. Kathy D.

    Both movies you mentioned with Ariadne Oliver are in dvd-form at the library, and David Suchet is in them. I put them on reserve. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead is on a “remastered” dvd with three other episodes, including Cat Among the Pigeons. Since I’ve heard so much about that book, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.

  24. One of the most memorable characters whom I love has to be Ariadne. She is so eccentric and ‘risky’ for her time. I adore Agatha’s books, I started reading her when very young, and still love her. She is Queen.

  25. Great post on Dame Agatha, Margot. I think, despite her immense popularity, in her way she’s actually a very underrated writer. Anyhow here are a couple of candidates for honorable mentions. Most atmospheric setting: the Devon hotel in Evil Under the Sun (the location changed to the even more lush setting of the Adriatic in the Peter Ustinov movie version). Other good setting: Caribbean Mystery. Best twist: Lord Edgware. Best character: Countess Rossakoff (a rare Poirot romantic interest). And yes, love the last line of Lord Edgware!

    • Thank you, Bryan. So glad you enjoyed the post. And I like your ideas. That twist in Lord Edgware Dies is terrific! And although I am not a big fan of Ustinov as Poirot, yes, that film is set quite effectively.

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