1920s, Books, heroines, influences

Influences: Agatha Christie

As a kid, I had pretty bad problems with nightmares. The tabloid pictures of the infamous “Bat-Boy” scared me so badly I couldn’t walk through the checkout line at the grocery store for years. Years.

So it may come as a surprise that I adore mysteries. However, I don’t read the really gruesome stuff. I mostly love the mystery writers from the Golden Age – Dorothy L Sayers (LORD PETER FTW!!!!!); Anthony Berkeley; Margery Allingham (Campion may start out as a pale imitation of Lord Peter, but quickly develops into his own charming self); Josephine Tey; Ngaio Marsh; and I’ve been trying to read Freeman Wills Croft for years but only just recently found ONE of his books free for Kindle so I’ll finally be able to give him a chance …

And of course, the queen of them all, Agatha Christie.

The first Agatha Christie I ever read was The A.B.C. Murders. I know, an odd pick for someone prone to nightmares! I should have started with Tommy and Tuppence. Still, it was better to start with that one than with And Then There Were None, which was my other choice at the time. And amazingly enough, though I didn’t dare put it down before finishing it (for fear the serial killer would come after me before I learned his/her identity, duh), I didn’t get any nightmares from it. Just extreme fascination.

David Suchet IS Hercule Poirot. No one else comes close.

I quickly fell in love with the fussy little Belgian detective Poirot, and with the masterful way Christie wove her stories and her characters so intricately with each other. It wasn’t long before I’d read every Christie book that my mother owned, and had moved on to the library, and then onto buying them for myself. At this point in my life, my Agatha Christie collection has spilled off my bookshelves, and I am now stacking the books on top of each other because I’ve run out of room for them anywhere else.

Some are less brilliant than others; some recycle the same plot under a different guise (as Dame Agatha herself slyly informs us in the person of Mrs Oliver, the most beautiful self-insert ever created); some are implausible; some frankly impossible; all of them are a delight to read. I started out a die-hard fan of Poirot, grew into a Tommy and Tuppence fangirl, and at this point in my life am firmly Team Marple. Murder at the Vicarage is one of my favorite stories of all time, and who can help but love the opening to The Body in the Library?

“But the worst is so often true.”

(While on the topic of Mrs Oliver, her indignation at the assumption she bases all of her characters on real people, as well as her description of how she does come up with her characters (in, I believe, Hallowe’en Party), is so exactly along the lines of how I feel and the way I work that it never ceases to astonish and gratify me, every time I read it. And whenever I read now about authors who DO blatantly base characters off of real people, I wonder how on earth they can do so and still feel that the character belongs to them.)
Much of Maia, the MC of my 1920s adventure fantasy, is inspired by Virginia Revel of The Secret of Chimneys, as well as Bundle Brent, Anne Beddingfeld, Frankie Derwent, Tuppence herself, and others of Christie’s “plucky girl sleuths.” I think I love Virginia especially because she is older and has already HAD adventures, and yet is eager for more (“Oh Anthony! How perfectly screaming!” she says upon revelation of the hero’s Dark Secret), and Anne for her impulsive yet essentially practical outlook on life (the way she cheeks Lord Nasby into giving her a job is priceless). “Let’s have an adventure” is pretty much what my outlook on life has always been, and it’s mostly thanks to Christie (well, CS Lewis shares some responsibility for that).
This image of Tommy and Tuppence is sheer delight
Agatha Christie truly is one of the greatest writers of all time, and while I’ve come a long way from that young girl delightfully shivering as she read about Poirot and Hastings tracking down an alphabetical maniac, I will never outgrow my pure enjoyment of her books. What better tribute can I give?

15 thoughts on “Influences: Agatha Christie”

  1. I can appreciate this post because my daughter has been reading Agath and watching both Marple and Poirot! She loves them. :) And I talked about another detective duo on my blog today too! :)

  2. I've never read anything by Agatha Christie *blushes* but I have seen a few of her stories on Master Piece theater and I adored them. I should really pick one up :)

  3. What you said at the beginning, about being easily scared (I had a problem with tabloids, too), and yet– mysteries were my FIRST literary love, and I even loved horror! Also, I don't have a crush on Poirot as a book character, but I always had a weird crush on David Suchet's Poirot. Which I felt embarrassed by, so it's good to know I'm not crazy.I haven't read nearly as much Agatha Christie as I ought to have, though I read a lot. And Then There Were None has always been my favorite. Have you ever read her autobiography? I really enjoyed it– one of my favorite autobiographies ever.

  4. I haven't seen any of the new Marples – I heard they had an "edgier" spin to them, which just didn't quite seem to fit the Miss Marple of the books. But I might give them a go sometime – they can't be any worse than the one Margaret Rutherford film I saw. She was so very, very much NOT Miss Marple.

  5. I haven't read her autobiography. I'm always nervous about reading biographies of people (especially writers) I admire, because sometimes it's almost better *not* knowing all about them (ahem LM Montgomery). And Then There Were None CREEPED me out. Completely and totally – though oddly, it was the bit at the end, with Vera, that was worse than anything else. The psychological murder, so to speak. Brr.I can't do horror. Not at all. And at this point in my life, I refuse to feel sheepish about that anymore. Hey look! I have matured some in the last ten years. Go me!

  6. I also haven't read any Agatha Christie, though I've seen copious TV and film adaptations. I'll work on that. I also wasn't aware of all the characters you mentioned, so thanks for the education!

  7. I always love being able to introduce new people to my favorite writers! Miss Marple is definitely my current favorite of Christie's detectives, but for most people, Poirot is who automatically comes to mind when you say Christie, so he is, perhaps, more ubiquitous. Let me know if you do read anything by her, and what you think!

  8. There's nothing too idol-falling in Christie's autobiography– in fact one thing that's striking is how oddly ORDINARY her background is– well, she came from a well-off family, which isn't ordinary, but it isn't full of trauma or scandal or anything that doesn't feel… NORMAL. And yet she writes it in such a compelling way!

  9. I love how Chrisie does create such rich mystery plots without going gruesome. Have you ever read the Maisie Dobbs mysteries? They're contemporary-written but set in the 19-teens and 1920s and have a very Christie feel to them. I struggled with nightmares as a kid too. My hubby teases me that Close Encounters of the Third Kind haunted me for years with nightmares of alien abductions. I can't watch movies with torture or horror of any kind.

  10. I read a few of the Maisie Dobbs books, and I liked the idea of them (I'm a sucker for anything set in the between-war period), but I couldn't quite get into them all the way. Not exactly sure why … I think Maisie just grated on me after a while. I did love the richness of historical accuracy in them, though!

  11. I also don't like scary stuff. I have nightmares. I don't read any mysteries and action books unless they're trending. I will read The Hunger Games because the movie got me into it, it's hard not to. I watched Insidious and that has scared me ever since. It still scares me when I think about that one movie.

  12. Urgh, yeah, Margaret Rutherford is awful. And yes, the newer Marples with Geraldine McEwan and then Julia McKenzie are definitely grittier, and, what's worse, they sometimes change the plot – different motives, sometimes even different murderer! But then that's done with some of the David Suchet Poirots, too. They're still good watching though. But for Miss Marple, Joan Hickson is the ultimate. Apparently Agatha Christie herself said to Joan Hickson "I hope someday you'll play my Miss Marple."

  13. I'm totally with you! Super-easily scared, but adore mysteries. I wonder if a good "cozy" mystery doesn't actually make us feel safer – because, one, it's set in a very regulated, tidy environment (upper-class historic England), and two, Poirot always solves the mystery, so peace & justice are restored. All's well, let's have some tea.

  14. I am an unabashed Anglophile, so the English-ness of Christie's works is definitely a huge draw for me. As for Margaret Rutherford, Christie must not have held a grudge against her for butchering Miss Marple – The Mirror Crack'd is dedicated to her!

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