Thursday 11 September 2008

A Murder Is Announced

A Murder Is Announced was the first Agatha Christie novel I read, probably in 1998 or thereabouts, just as I entered my teenage years. It led to a brief passion for Christie (more particularly Miss Marple) which has rather subsided over the years, but only because I got steered onto other paths. I'm no Christie snob, and certainly rank her as the best plot-creator I've read (see Harriet's recent post on Endless Night and a defence of Christie in style not just structure). I must return to her soon - The Carbon Copy is quite a Christie aficionado (spelt it correctly this time!) though more of a Poirot man.

Tonight Our Vicar's Wife and I went to see A Murder Is Announced performed at the Swan Theatre in Yeovil - I'd spotted a banner advertising it when we drove past the other day, and we thought it sounded like a fun evening. Sadly Our Vicar couldn't make it, and The Carbon Copy isn't coming down until next weekend, so it was just the two of us - and, horror of horrors, when we got there we found it was sold out! Nothing daunted, we asked whether we could have standing tickets, and the lovely people said we could, so long as we didn't block any fire exits. So we stood.

What fun. Nothing like a good murder mystery, even if I did know whodunnit already. Actually, that's what astounded me - I could remember the plot almost perfectly, nearly a decade after reading A Murder Is Announced. Not only did I know who'd dunnit, but I also noticed all the places where the play differed from the novel (quite a few, quite substantial, including one murder) - no great feat, perhaps, but there are books I've read recently about which I remember absolutely nothing. Not a thing. No names, plots, endings. Usually I've forgotten most details of a novel within a fortnight of finishing it, however much I enjoyed it - which has made re-reading Mapp and Lucia series immensely fun. Yet old Agatha's work is crystalised in my mind - perhaps because it was one of the first Real Books I read, rather than Teen Fiction? Perhaps because it was my first detective novel? Perhaps Christie is just talented in this way?

Answers on a postcard... and any closet Christie fans, do spill. Favourite novel of hers, which should I read to reawaken my Christie passion, and, most importantly: Marple or Poirot?


  1. I so loved reading this. I am a very new fan. I joined the Anything Agatha challenge, and am delighted beyond words. I love both Miss M and Hercule Poirot but think I am leaning just the slightest bit toward the Belgian fellow.

  2. Same here : it doesn't matter if I've seen an adaptation of one of her books 10 years ago or last month, I'll remember the name of the murderer. Which is why I don't buy books by Agatha Christie : rereading them would give me no pleasure at all.

  3. I'm a Marple fan - never gelled with The Belgian. Does anyone remember the Margaret Rutherford films? Priceless.

    One of the best things about you blog, Simon, is that you evoke literary memories, and keep alive the brilliance of past writers. Your good memory for plot suddenly alerted me to remember An Inspector Calls by JB Priestly. And I have never forgotten a Radio Four play encapsulating it's simple, but compelling, moral examination. That's it, now. I shall be on a J.B. re-visited readerthon now!!!!

  4. I too fell in love with Agatha Christie's work when I was in my teens and I often return to her world when in need for some comfort reading. My favourite is Miss Marple but the story that is closer to my heart is neither her nor Mr Poirot. It's called "Death comes as the end" and it is set in ancient Egypt. I love it not only for its exotic setting but also for one of Agatha's most gentle and lovely protagonists.

  5. Maybe I should pick up a Christie again - having read little else from about 12-15, I seldom dip in these days.
    But I'm very happy to re-read, even when I've remembered the entire story, which suggests that she's more than just a plot-setter. Curiously, though, some of them I've read several times and still can't remember whodunnit, whereas others it's ingrained.
    Marina - Death Comes as the End is certainly unique among Christie's novels, not only because of the setting, but also because it's the only one where she changed the ending at someone else's request - and regretted it ever after.

  6. Glad to hear I may have made a small contribution to your decision to see this play -- and what a nice evening it sounds. I think you are onto something here about recalling the plots -- what, exactly, I'm not sure! Perhaps because they are so ingenious and surprising, they imprint themselves on the brain somehow. If I had to choose between Marple and Poirot it would be Marple every time. But I'm beginning to wonder if it is in the novels in which neither of them appear that she really shines.

  7. I'm having a real Christie-athon at the moment. She fits in so well with all the Victorian murder and mystery stuff I'm reading, and makes an excellent break from Les Mis!

    I think I started out as a fan of Poirot - Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express being my favourites in my youth (also loved the old films of these, although Albert Finney should be shot for his portrayal of the great Mr P!)

    Now, I find charm in both of them, and I'm really enjoying getting stuck into them again. Just finished 'At Bertram's Hotel' and might carry on the Marple mania, or I might indulge in a bit of passion with Poirot.

    I'll stop now. I evidently need more coffee. Oh! Was that a gunshot I heard?

  8. Poirot for me - I think because there's a completion to him that I really liked. I remember my mother having an old hardback that had Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain bound together. So I read the first and last first, so to speak and then wanted to read everything in between. But I agree with Harriet about Endless Night - that's a great stand-alone. Favourite Poirot? Has to be Evil Under the Sun - I remember putting down the book at the end and just marvelling at the plotting. It still astounds me today.

  9. Miss Marple!

    "Death Comes As the End" is also one of my favourites, as are "And Then There Were None", "Sleeping Murder", and "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd".

  10. > Just finished 'At Bertram's Hotel'...

    That reminds me of my favorite Miss Marple line, delivered in the televised version of this story (Joan Hickson, of course) - something to the effect of "Those Americans have a lot to answer for." I think it had to do with what we on this side of the pond refer to as "English muffins."

    Not having read the story, only know it from television, I wonder if that line was in the actual text.

  11. Nancy - in answer to your muffins question - it is in the original text!

  12. James Lee Burke is good too ...

  13. Agatha's books fall into three main time spans for me - first one, very 1920s with lots of spiffing fun novels, her middle period when she really was writing well, and then as she grew older her plots and characters became very rambling.

    However, I am a huge fan of Dame A and re-read her books often and even though I know the identity of every single murderer in all the books, I still miss the clues placed there for the reader to find. This is why I like reading them again.

    I think one of her very best is Five Little Pigs. Murder on the Orient Express also excellent, Death on the Nile. All these written in this middle period.

    Miss Marple - love them all but Murder at the Vicarage my favourite. Nemesis is one of Dame A's later books and it is pretty poor, but oddly enough the TV series with Joan Hickson as Miss M (never to be outshone in my opinion) turned in a simply wonderful adaptation of this. this is one of those cases where the film is better than the book.

    A later one, Cat Among the Pigeons, set in a girls boarding school, very good indeed. It is a Poirot.

    Last night watched David Suchet who is sublime as Poirot Mrs McGinty's Dead, another good one in the middle period.

    I had better stop now ....


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