Friday 23 November 2012

An Agatha Christie Question

Hope you like the cartoon - I experimented with a strip format!  It's probably a case of click-to-enlarge or you might not be able to read it...

On with the show.  As I mentioned yesterday, I have a question (or three) to ask you about Agatha Christie!  This is only for people who have read some of her books, but I imagine that is most of us.  James Bernthal, who gave the paper on Agatha Christie which spurred me on to revisiting her, had some research questions about readers' experience with her novels - and who better to help him with his thesis, thought I, than my lovely readers?  Feel free to answer in the comments or, if you prefer, email your answers to jcb228[at]  Over to James's questions!

Nearly everyone seems to have a definite opinion on Agatha Christie. As I’m writing my thesis on Christie’s place in popular culture, this fascinates me! If you have the time, and if you have heard of Agatha Christie at all, could you email me a couple of lines, which would inform a thesis chapter, about:

- How you first became aware of Agatha Christie (e.g. a film, heard a reference in a fish shop, attracted by the vibrant cover art)

- Your first impressions of Agatha Christie (e.g. cosy escape, Poirot, boring, ‘oooh, this is a grown-up book with no pictures’)

- What you think of Christie now (e.g. a guilty pleasure, a British institution, a cultural document, the name conjours up images of a moustachioed David Suchet)?


  1. OK -- nice idea and good luck to James.
    1. I can't remember! Not very helpful. But I'm sure it must have been through my mother, who introduced me to "golden age" writers when I was about 13.
    2. I took to Christie like a duck to water -- as a young teenager I was simply enthralled by the mysteries and their solutions.
    3. I admire her tremendously. Yes, I've been through the stage of mild criticism of her characters/dialogue, but now I just love her for the brilliance of her plots. I suppose she's a slightly guilty pleasure, but who cares.

  2. 1) I grew up in a mixed culture household and discovered Christie in my local library via a copy of The Thirteen Problems at the age of 12. My parents knew of Christie but neither read her or would have watched TV adaptations of her work so my discovery was entirely down to a lovely librarian who thought the short stories might appeal to me.

    2) I remember thinking the stories were neat, interesting and one in particular made me realise that 'ooh, I saw that clue, I could have figured that out' - I loved the idea of the reader being offered the chance to solve the puzzles. Still do.

    3) I tend to think of Christie's work as enjoyable but don't read crime fiction very often now. I wouldn't cite her work as fabulous writing or historical record but I would point out the careful plotting and I admire the impact her techniques have had.

    Good luck, James. :)

  3. 1. It was probably through a library of some sort - either at school or the York Public Library, though I imagine I was pointed towards them either by my mum or a teacher. I remember seeing the films of Death on the Nile and Orient Express fairly early too.

    2. Loved the mysteries, and they are wonderfully self-contained stories, usually with a twist in the tale. I always hoped I would figure it out but was usually wrong. I only really read the Poirot books though, never was interested in Marple. They all had great covers too, really art deco, which was appealing.

    3. I haven't read one in years. I think of them as very much of their time - the style of writing, the attitudes - and of course Poirot is one of those things that is 'always on TV somewhere'. I can see myself reading my favourites as a nostalgia kick but I think it's a bit of a shame that Christie is really the only remaining big name from that era of crime, given that there's a lot more out there to discover.

  4. - How you first became aware of Agatha Christie? I always remember being familiar with the name. My high school theater class did a play of 10 Little Indians (And Then There Were None) which was the first concrete memory I have of a specific work. Didn't start reading Christie on my own till after Marple films started - I wanted to read the books before I watched them. And so still haven't seen all the films because I haven't made it thru all the books yet...

    - Your first impressions of Agatha Christie? Very British. Proper literature (possibly because they were old and she was so famous). Prefer Marple to Poirot. Don't like Poirot at all really. Belgian "foreigner" with accent doesn't stand the test of time as well I think. Plus I prefer the books set in Britain, so safer with Marple on the whole.

    - What you think of Christie now? Does fall in the category of comfort reads - old classics that I know won't be too disturbing or sad, etc. Nice mid-century British story which is a genre I love. Still trying to make my way through all of them. Has led me on to Dorothy L. Sayers and others. Have also bought a few of her non-mysteries under a pseudonym, but haven't read them yet. On the to read list.

  5. 1. I think I must have moved on to Agatha Christie after Nancy Drew. My mother was a librarian and she probably encouraged me to give her mysteries a try. I have never looked back.

    2. I loved her puzzles and her solutions. Still do. And as I live in America but have an affinity for all things British, how else was I to learn about English teas, manor houses, and vicars? To this day, I don't read much fiction unless there is a mystery to be solved.

    3. I have recently taken to rereading Dame Agatha and find I still adore her. I can never figure out 'who done it' but don't really try too hard. I just let her lead me where she will. The only detectives of hers I have not really taken to are Tommy and Tuppence. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Poirot but that may be influenced by David Suchet's prissy performance of the great Belgian detective.

  6. In my early teens (early 1960s) I was vaguely aware of Agatha Christie as the name of some grown-up writer. That's all. Until I was at our summer cottage, where you tend to read the ancient paperbacks that have been there forever (and oh, I wish I had a few of them now) or books other people have with them. (That still applies today, by the way.) So I read Murder at the Gallop, newish paperback with Margaret Rutherford on the cover, despite the fact that it was really After The Funeral and featured Hercuile Poirot. What did I know?

    I was instantly, totally hooked. The characters, the events and, darn it, the CLUES. They were all there. You just had to look, pay attention. It's been a lifelong affair. I saw The Mousetap in 1973, just before it moved from the old theatre. I saw it again here in Toronto where it ran for many years. I own the DVDs of all the Joan Hickson Miss Marples (including, yes, her appearance as the cook in Murder She Said (aka 4:50 from Paddington).

    These days, I remember them all (mostly) with affection. When I get an urge for a reread, I go downstairs to the Christie shelf, or over to my nearby secondhand book store and indulge.

    And to come full circle, I recently obtained the video of Murder at the Gallop.

  7. Yikes.Usually I don't correct my typos, but I'm ashamed to have misspelled Hercule Poirot. Forgive me, St. Agatha.

  8. I thought I'd better do my own answers too, otherwise I'd be rather a hypocrite!

    1.) I first became aware of Christie by seeing the covers on the bookcase at the top of our landing at home. I don't remember quite what spurred me on to reading one of them, but perhaps it was at the encouragement of my parents. Although, having said that, they didn't (and don't) read Christie often, so perhaps I just wanted to pick up the author I'd vaguely heard of.

    2.) My first book was A Murder Is Announced, and my impressions were that Miss Marple was fun, the plot was really clever, and that it was better than all the Point Horrors I'd been reading for ages!

    3.) I've come to appreciate how extraordinarily good she is at plotting, having read many worse plotters, and I've rethought the cliche of her being a poor writer with stereotypes as characters. Now I think she's a funny writer, not a great prose stylist but nowhere near as poor as she is sometimes thought.

  9. 1. I'm not sure when I specifically became aware of Agatha - she was in my mental landscape of modern classics that I should read at some point

    2. I started with Murder On the Orient Express and was riveted. I was amazed by her plotting and by how vividly she set the scene/mood. In short, I was hooked from the start and was excited to find engaging mysteries that evoked the past and that didn't have too much explicit gore, which puts me off a lot of other mysteries.

    3. I see her as a modern master - I know people hate on her for having flat characters, but I think that that's a misreading of what's she trying to do. Her characters are perfectly drawn types and if you accurately assess what kind of type they are, you know who the murderer is, even if you don't know how they did it. I compare her to Austen in her ability to pick out one or two details about the character to let you know what kind of person they are... plus she's so funny! And, of course, she is quite possibly the best plotter of all time. I've read all but about 10 or so of her books, and my appreciation grows with every one.

    Good luck!

  10. 1. I don't remember ever not knowing about Agatha Christie. My parents had both paperback and hardcover copies of her books scattered on the bookshelves around our house and every friend and family member I ever visited had a least one Christie title in their library. Also, my parents were (and continue to be) great fans of the television adaptations of the Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries so I remember them watching those when I was young.

    2. I was around eleven when I read my first Christie (Ten Little Indians). It was summer so there was no school to get in the way and I remember reading at least a dozen more of her books immediately after. I don't specifically remember my reactions to each book, but I found them fun and easy and very, very entertaining.

    3. I don't read a lot of mysteries now but Christie is one of the few mystery authors I happily return to. I still find her books very fun and, more importantly, very funny.

  11. Like many, I believe my mother suggested Agatha Christie to me when I was about 10. I only remember Miss Marple from those early reads, and I loved the books, and this American loved all things English. Miss Marple WAS England for me. It wasn't until many years later, and the television series, that I came across Poirot, which I enjoyed, but it just wasn't the same, and I never read that series. I haven't read anything by her for many years, except [ Cannot Remember! ]because, on our mutual list, it was mentioned that this was a book written before the outcome of the war was known. I enjoyed it, but am not as drawn to the "cozies" as I was as a child I think. Sarah W.

  12. I'm too much of a hedonist to think pleasure should be "guilty". I probably read some AC before I saw any film or TV adaption. I do indeed think of Suchet as the best (most like my internal view I guess) of the Poirot actors. I like some of her books a lot, but I rarely re-read them. Murder on the Orient Express is surely a classic.

    I like the cover art of the books printed in the 1960/70; I think a lot of it is very well done.

  13. 1. I feel like I've always known about Agatha Christie, I can't think when I first saw one of her books.

    2. I thought she was an author for older people, someone that my Grandma would read.

    3. Now I enjoy her books very much. I think that someone who has stood the test of time as she has deserves some respect.

  14. What a brilliant Poirot comic strip. You are genius.

  15. 1.I first read Agatha Christie when I was 11 - (I am now 44 and can't really remember how I came to the novels, I was probably looking for adult books to read and some kind adult pointed me in their direction as they are relatively safe).

    2. I have loved her ever since then, have even collected a few of the less expensive first editions. I watch the tv adaptations with glee too.
    I read them now for pure escapism. I don't read modern crime fiction much - those I do tend to be historical. But AC are cosyish I suppose and I love the settings, over the years I have just developed a huge fondness for the characters of Poirot and Marple.

    3. Christie has become a British institution I think. Her stories are great, the early ones fantastic time pieces. It amuses me that Poirot who is described as middle aged in the first Poirot novel is still going strong - although a tiny bit aged in the 1960's and 70's. It's one of the things that Christie lovers forgive Agatha, just as we forgive her for cheating a bit in her novels. Not giving the reader all the information until the reveal. I can happily re-read AC even when I know who did it. To be honest though I almost always forget the exact ending. I think she still has a place today - not everyone likes the modern slasher type crime books, and these novels are more cosy - but not rubbish - decently written stories, with a hint of nostalgia, steam trains, afternoon tea and telegrams.

  16. 1. I first found Agatha Christie on my parents' shelves. They had mostly mysteries, and quite a few of hers in nice hardbacks (probably from a mystery book-of-the-month club).

    2. My first impression, at age 10 or so, was fear. Without asking my parents, I read A Caribbean Mystery. Though I was a fanatical Nancy Drew reader, an actual murder mystery with a dead body was quite a shock, even with Miss Marple on the case. I actually had nightmares about it.

    3. Today, I think Agatha Christie is one of the greatest mystery writers ever. I do think though her books often favor plot over character, so they aren't always as memorable as some of her peers - though that may also be a result of there just being so many that it's hard to keep them straight.

  17. 1/ My grandparents had a book by Agatha Christie (in Dutch translation) with two novels and three short stories. I remember trying to read it when I was nine or so, but it did not appeal to me then.

    2/ I tried again a few years later, first the book my grandparents had, then her other books from the library. At first, I liked miss Marple the best, because it was so English, with the village etc. Later I came to love Hercule Poirot and he is still my favorite, although I also like miss Marple.

    3/ I have most of her novels in Dutch translation, because I started to buy them for myself when I was fifteen (I did not read English then) I read and re-read most of them several times. When I was studying, there was the feeling that Agatha Christie was nog really a good writer and you should be ashamed for reading her. Now, I can see she has many really good plots and some wonderful characters. It is perhaps a bit dated, but also lovely and comforting to read. I still love her.

  18. 1. My grandmother had just the one bookcase and it was mostly full of Agatha Christie novels, so I was curious about them as a child and finally read one at about 11.

    2. To begin with, I found them terrifying. Christie can be quite an atmospheric writer, and at that age, with only Enid Blyton behind me, she was strong medicine. My mother actually forbade me to read another one until I was older. I returned impatiently at 12 and read through her entire works.

    3. I still think she is a masterclass in how to plot. When I was writing academic criticism, she was the model I used of how to tell a story of analysis.

  19. 1. First discovered her at a teacher's recommendation when I was in middle school - that transition time into "adult" books.

    2. Immediately started collecting all of her books (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was my first, and was the one I introduced first to my own children). That was over 30 years ago, and I still have all my old paperbacks.

    3. Lately I've been rereading some of them, esp. as my dc have dipped into them - so fun to enjoy them with the next generation. :)

  20. Long time ago (I was probably 14-15, but don’t remember exactly) a friend of mine, who was a big fan of Agatha Christie, lent me few of her books. I loved crime fiction at that time, but read mostly Polish authors. I remember I found Christie’s books very cleverly written and I loved the endings I didn’t expect. I should probably mention that all the books I’ve read were in Polish translation. Now, I hardly read crime, but wish I had more time so I could read some of Christie’s books again, this time in English.
    James, good luck!
    Simon, brilliant sketch :)

  21. Simon, thank you so much for hosting my question. And thank you also to everyone who has commented or emailed -- your responses have been invaluable, and downright fascinating! Thanks again

    - James/Jamie Bernthal :)

  22. 1) I discovered Christie on holiday at my grandparent's house when I was 9 and had run out of reading material. I think the book (Murder on the Links) belonged to one of my uncles or aunts. I'd never heard of Christie before although I already loved reading mysteries such as Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

    2) My first impression was how grown up and clever the book was. The ending took me completely by surprise and I was flabbergasted. Of course, after that I was completely hooked!

    3) I've read all of Christie's mysteries and she was one of my favourite authors for many years. Now I think of her as one of my favourite, cosy re-reads. And yet, when I recently re-read one of her novels, I was surprised once again at how modern and dark they are. Not so cosy after all!

  23. Ha, love the cartoon. You're in the wrong industry Simon!

    James - we'll try and drop you over an email in next few days

  24. My first memories of Agatha Christie are from when my mom took me to see the wonderful film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, still one of my favorite movies of all time. This was back in 1974 so I was probably about 8, which is kind of crazy now that I think about it -- the flashback to the Armstrong kidnapping was really scary.

    Of course I let my girls watch it with me when they weren't much older and they didn't find it scary at all! Maybe it wasn't as intense watching it on our TV than seeing it on a huge theater screen.

    Anyway, I've always loved AC since then and read all her mysteries (haven't read all the Tuppence and Tommy novels, which I don't care for much); and I've seen most of the TV and film adaptations as well. Her plotting is just brilliant.

  25. I forgot!! I also went to see The Mousetrap when it was playing in Toronto when I was a kid! (I grew up near Detroit so it was great place to go on vacations, not too far and the dollars went farther in Canada). Anyway, it was a live theater where it had been playing for years. I was totally blindsided by the big reveal about the murder. Wish I could take my girls someday.

  26. 1. I was about 12 & borrowed "Mrs McGinty's Dead" from the library. Can't now remember why.

    2. My first impressions were "this is clever" & I loved trying to follow through the clues & guess the murdered (I was almost never right)

    3. I read them occasionally for nostalgic reasons. Quite a few of them are so of their time that the political incorrectness now makes me wince. (Prime example would be the one that had its title changed from "10 Little ......"!! I still think that you would go far to find a better maker of plots than Christie & I have read a *lot* of crime fiction. "The Body in the Library" remains a masterclass in how to deliver a spectacular closing twist.

  27. I was given a pile of about ten of her books which had been judged as being a bit too tatty for sale at a WI bring and buy sale my mum was running when I was about 11. Mum had read a lot of them when she was in her teens and thought that I might like them so she made a small donation and brought them home.
    As I recall they were mostly Miss Marple stories but there must have been a couple of Poirot books as I distinctly remember reading Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile at around that time.

    2. I read the lot one after the other andreally enjoyed them and felt very clever when I got the clues right. I liked the Marple books as the village reminded me very much of the Bedfordshire village where the WI was based, and I suspect that I have Agatha to thank for my life-long love of crime novels (the next pile of books that were deemed too tatty were Ed McBain - and that was me hooked!)

    3. I haven't read a Christie in decades although funnily enough the Poirot books always make me think of my Auntie Gertie (my maternal grandmother's elder sister)because she travelled on the Orient Express and on a boat down the Nile in the 1920's - thankfully without any fatal incident!)
    Nowadays if I think of her it is in connection with her disappearance and discovery in Harrogate as I travel past the hotel where she stayed every day on my way to and from work!


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