The Queen of Crime

Agatha Christie

I have been doing a fair amount of tidying around the house lately (not that you can necessarily tell because I do live with three kids and I’m not always the neatest napkin in the drawer), so I have been “listening” to YouTube while performing the mundane tasks of life. “Listening” to YouTube consists of finding a program longer than half an hour, inserting one earbud into my right ear, placing the iPhone in my pocket, pressing “play”, and getting to down to the task at hand. This usually works best if I am listening to familiar material. That way I don’t have to keep sneaking glances at the phone to see what I am missing.

I always love series because they eliminate the need to search for something new. That sounds like laziness, doesn’t it? It also has to do with the comfort of knowing what I am getting. And who better to start with than the great Agatha Christie?

I began reading Agatha Christie as a teenager, and it probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I devoured her novels. Every time we went to the library I would scour the mystery section for novels I hadn’t read. For those uninitiated, Christie created two major characters, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, an elderly crime specialist. She wrote scores of short stories and novels, as well as novels under the name of Mary Westmacott. One of my favourite non-fiction books is Come Tell Me How You Live, in which she writes about her journeys with her archaeologist-husband, Max Mallowan.

One of my favourite Poirot novels is Death on the Nile. I know that there are a couple of good movie versions, but there is just something about reading that story that puts me completely into that world. I am wholly transported to Egypt in the 1930s, traveling down the Nile by steamer, visiting the monuments, and trying to discover just who could have shot the lovely Linnet.

Also worth while are the two movie versions of Murder on the Orient Express. Can there be anything more chilling than the opening sequence of the 1974 version starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot? I remember watching it when I was babysitting as a teenager and I was so creeped out I had to turn it off even though I had seen the movie before. It’s even worse when you have kids.

But I think I’m even more impressed with David Suchet’s 2010 rendition. Suchet (and the writers) does such a wonderful job of portraying the great moral struggle that Poirot goes through as he discovers the identity of the killer, you see that his love for justice is coupled with his knowledge of the frailty and fallibility of human beings. (For an extra treat you can take a peek at David Suchet’s trip on the real Orient Express where he learns about the history of the railway, rides in the same coaches that Christie would have travelled in, and even gets to drive the engine!)

My favourite Miss Marple series is with Joan Hickson, who was actually tagged by Agatha Christie herself to play the character. She is so gentle, but so brutal and clear. Here she is in the first of the programs, Body in the Library. Do yourself a favour, check up the full program list on Wikipedia, and watch them all on YouTube.

In addition to watching her novels on screen, this last little stint of Christie-obsessiveness lead to a couple of interesting programs on the Queen of Crime herself. The first is Agatha Christie’s Garden which shows Greenway, her home in Devon which is in the process of being opened to the public. The second is a biopic called Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures that explores her mysterious disappearance in 1926 as well as her husband’s infidelity. I recognize some of the monologues as taken directly from her autobiography, and the meat of the story is apparently taken from her interviews with a psychiatrist after her disappearance. I’ve read a couple of reviews from people who were disappointed with the docudrama, and it certainly isn’t a factual, linear representation of this time in her life. Christie never spoke of the incident in public. However, I really liked how the film shows her sifting through the fog of depression to confront the betrayal of her husband. It is very stark, making you feel her loss very deeply.

So there it is. A glimpse into my lifelong appreciation of the writing of Agatha Miller Christie Mallowan. Now go borrow one of her books from the library or I’ll slip you some cyanide.

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