Regular readers of my blog may know that my over-riding literary passion is for Golden-Age detective fiction, particularly that of Queen of Crime Agatha Christie and her contemporary Dorothy L Sayers.
My mum is also a fan, and I was probably about 11 or 12 when she first suggested I tried Agatha Christie. The first novel I read was, coincidentally, the first Miss Marple book, Murder at the Vicarage, published in 1930. I can still see with absolute clarity the cover of my mum’s 1970s edition. I was instantly hooked, and have remained so over the last quarter century. In my last year at university we had to choose two special topics which we would research in detail before producing two two 5,000 word essays, which would count towards our Finals. My choices were Chaucer – fairly conventional – and Golden Age detective fiction – not very conventional at all. I was a solid 2.1 student, and my grades for all my Finals papers reflected this, all except my detective essay for which I got a First!
This month has really rekindled my fascination with all things Christie. First of all I discovered the most amazing podcast. Called ‘All About Agatha’ it is an in-depth analysis of all her 70+ novels and most of her 100+ short stories. It’s already been running for a couple of years, and as I only discovered it a couple of weeks ago I have a blissful amount of catch-up to do, and it will continue for a long while yet. The podcasters, Camper Donovan and Katherine Brobeck, are of course devoted Christie fans, but they aren’t afraid to criticise her either, especially when she seems to espouse views of xenophobia, racism, sexism or classism which do not translate well into the 21st century, and have always been the aspect of her work which made me most uncomfortable. Each episode is roughly an hour-long examination of character, clues, plot and setting, drilling down in incredible detail. You have to be a Christie geek to appreciate it, but I very much am, so that’s ok.
I’ve been slow to get off the mark with podcasts, but this one has been transformational. I’m actually enjoying cleaning or hanging out laundry or chopping vegetables as it gives me 10 minutes to tune in to Christie world and out of my own.
Completely coincidentally, my birthday present from my husband was tickets to go and see Agatha Christie’s famous play, Witness for the Prosecution, which is currently on in London. It is being shown in County Hall, the former seat of local government in London, and takes place in the Council Chamber. For a courtroom drama you simply couldn’t imagine a better setting.
I’m not a big fan of reading play scripts, as opposed to watching the play, and so I was coming to this completely new, which isn’t an experience I get with Agatha Christie very often any more. I found the whole play gripping, brilliantly acted and directed, and the twisty denouement was Christie at her stunning best. My husband is not a Christie, or crime, fan at all, and was very much there on sufferance because he knew I would love it, but he actually admitted that he was incredibly impressed, and it did demonstrate to him what all the fuss is about.
I also discovered, via the podcast, that there is a 1980s TV adaptation of the Tommy and Tuppence stories, now available on DVD, and as one of my birthday presents from my parents was an Amazon voucher I was able to order it straight away and am working my way through those episodes too.
The work of Christie, Sayers et al appeals to me on so many levels. The intellectual challenge of the puzzle, the window into a society now passed by and what we can learn about both that society and our own through reading, the pure escapist enjoyment of snuggling up with a classic crime novel. Researching my Finals essay when I was still at university is one of the happiest periods of my working life, probably the happiest, that I can remember. I said at the time that if I ever did a Masters it would have to be in detective fiction, and I have revisited that idea several times in the past 20-odd years, but the timing has never been quite right. Very probably it isn’t right now either, but I feel more certain than ever that it will be one day, and I will attempt to make the leap from Christie geek to Christie scholar.