Today I have visions of tea, scones and arsenic dancing in my head. While scouring the stacks at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, I discovered that we have an incredible selection of Agatha Christie novels. For a mystery lover, this is a treasure indeed.
Dame Agatha Christie, the doyenne of the proper English murder mystery, is the best-selling novelist of all time. Born in 1890 in Torquay, a seaside town in Devon, England, she was educated at home by her mother and wrote her first novel on a dare from her older sister. She wrote the best-selling mystery novel of all time, (And Then There Were None), and the stage play that holds the record for the longest run, (The Mousetrap.)
Christie is the creator of two beloved detectives. Miss Jane Marple, an elderly spinster who lives and sleuths in a small English village. (Christie once said that Marple was based on her grandmother who “expected the worst of everyone and everything and was usually right.”) And Hercule Poirot, a dandy of a Belgian investigator, known for his meticulous dress and comportment. Hercule Poirot is the only fictional character ever to be honored with a full-page obituary in the New York Times. This happened upon his demise in the novel Curtain in 1975.
While many of Christie’s works are widely known, (Murder on the Orient Express and Ten Little Indians, for example), there are many lesser-known titles worth checking out. Here are two of my favorites.
SLEEPING MURDER: Gwenda Reed, a young newlywed, arrives on the coast of England to purchase a home for her and her husband. She is drawn to a property called Hillside and, as she remodels the house, strange things begin to happen. She picks a certain spot to add a door and finds that a door had been there at one time. She envisions a certain kind of wallpaper, only to uncover that exact wallpaper in a locked room. She comes to believe that she was in the house before although she has no recollection of when or why. On an outing in London, she meets Miss Marple and the two hunt for the truth. Sleeping Murder was Agatha Christie’s last novel, published posthumously in 1976.
HALLOWE’EN PARTY: During a children’s Halloween Party, a young girl boasts that she “saw a murder once.” While her fellow party-goers scoff at the idea, at the end of the evening the girl is found dead, drowned in the apple-bobbing bucket. Was this the work of a random intruder or was she murdered because of what she said? Detective Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate. Not only is this an excellent read, there is a fantastic dramatization of the novel done by ITV, a British production company, and broadcast on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. If you ever have the opportunity to catch it, please do. It fleshes out the characters and settings in a rich and luscious way.
Christie was a prolific writer, routinely writing two books a year. There is much to enjoy in her sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections. The one to avoid? Agatha Christie claimed that The Mystery of the Blue Train was her least favorite to write. Don’t you want to read it and figure out why? I do. The Cedar Rapids Public Library has it…