As 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
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?’
‘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?
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.