I’ve just finished watching the first episode in a three part BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” (it’s the one where all the victims are stuck on an island and have to spend a weekend in a mansion just waiting to meet their fate. It also used to have a not very PC title which no one likes to mention now). Despite my fears, mostly related to the recent BBC adaptation/attempted murder of Christie’s husband and wife sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence, this one wasn’t terrible. In fact, in places, it was actually quite gripping and the cast was exceptional. There were too many drone shots and the pacing was a little off, but it was far from being the hack job I was bracing myself for. I know exactly how the story is going to pan out -I’ve read it at least 3 times in the past- but I still can’t wait for the next two episodes, so I guess the BBC must have done something right.
Or perhaps, it would be fairer to say, Agatha Christie did something right. Actually, I think Agatha Christie did an awful lot of things right, over and over again with awe-inspiring consistency. She may not be the most ground-breaking of writers but I honestly can’t think of any writer I’m more fond of , or anyone who has had more influence on my desire to write. Agatha Christie made me fall in love with novels. As a child I devoured her and I don’t think I’ve ever lost this appetite. “And Then There Were None” is one of the first Agatha Christie novels I ever read. I was inappropriately young at the time, (eight I think and much too young for murder and adultery). However, I didn’t need to understand every word to know I enjoyed Agatha Christie’s books. I was almost instantly hooked on the twists and turns of her plots, her signature characters, (particularly Marple and Poirot), and most tellingly, her sense of what George Orwell calls ‘an English murder;’ the idea that justice and logic will always prevail by the end of the story. There’s something terribly reassuring about an Agatha Christie novel. If you can manage to squint past the casual misogyny and furious xenophobia which makes most of her work a little dated, there was a wonderful wholesomeness about the way she wrote and shaped a plot.
Agatha Christie was above all else, a fantastic observer of human nature. There is much of Miss Marple’s small town busy-body about the way she approaches storytelling, describing her characters flaws and foibles in delicious, painstaking detail, making her readers distrust even the most innocent-seeming vicar or governess. In a writing career spanning seven decades, she consistently told truly engaging stories and managed, even after her death in 1976, to maintain a readership rivalling the Bible and Shakespeare. Her writing output is awe-inspiring, (66 crime novels alone, not counting short stories, plays and a number of romance novels written under a pseudonym). This particularly impressive in light of the life she lived, traveling, exploring and juggling all sorts of interests besides her writing. It isn’t just the novels which draw me to Agatha Christie. It’s Agatha herself who truly fascinates me.
So, I’ve set myself a little challenge. I’m going to attempt to read all 66 of Agatha Christie’s crime novels in order over the coming years. I’ve already managed 6 so far in 2015 and am hoping to make my way through 20 a year for the next 3 years. By this point I estimate I will have been exposed to almost 200 poisonings, stabbings, shootings and other devious murders. I can’t wait. It might be enough to turn me into a crime fiction writer. I might actually make some money off writing for a change.