Tory Historian is back

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, January 12, 2010 ,

Temporarily, anyway, as a trip to Central Europe is looming next week. In the meantime, it is worth noting that today is the very sad anniversary of the day when we knew that there would be no more Christies for Christmas. Dame Agatha Christie, one of the greatest and certainly the most widely read detective story writer died on January 12, 1976, having written 83 books under her own name and that of Mary Westmacott. Tory Historian has read but one short story by M Westmacott. It was very readable. The general opinion is that the Westmacott novels and plays are good middle-brow stuff and higher praise than that is difficult to find when discussing literature.

Here, incidentally, is a handy list of all Christie's detective stories that also tells you who does the detection (well, more or less).

Two Christie curiosities were published shortly before the lady's death: a Miss Marple novel, which is rather good, Sleeping Murder and a very bad Hercule Poirot one, Curtain. There is no question, she really hated Poirot by this stage. Both novels were written forty years earlier but put aside for posthumous publication, though it is not clear why that should be so with Sleeping Murder. As it happens both came out prematurely, so to speak.

Christie's books, the good, the bad and the rather weak, all stay in print. It is hard to tell what it is about her work that attracts so many people. The style is largely pedestrian but absolutely clear and correct - the books are often used for teaching English and, one must admit, often there is a good deal of light irony. She could write considerably better as she demonstrated in the delightful story of her life as Sir Max Mallowan's wife, Come Tell Me How You Live. The actual autobiography, published the following year, is far less interesting.

The stories move at a cracking pace though some of the plots creak just a tad. Others, of course, dovetail perfectly. The characters tend to be one dimensional but highly entertaining. And don't even mention time lines or dating. For someone who helped at archaeological digs she is very cavalier with dates and lapses of time in her novels. As against that, she often uses archaeology and archaeologists in the novels. When one thinks about it, the process of working out what there is in a dig and what it means is very similar to the process of working out what happened when a crime was committed.

There is a great deal more to say about Dame Agatha and no doubt Tory Historian will do so on some future occasion. Now it is time to recall the lady who has given more pleasure per page of writing to more people all over the world than anybody else.

She has also inspired books about her [scroll down]. Last year there was Elena Santangelo's Dame Agatha's Shorts (no it is not a little tale of Dame Agatha's career as a footballer) as well as Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, which proved to be less than revealing, though the book also included two hitherto unpublished and unknown Poirot short stories.

Tory Historian's favourite of these studies remains the very French and intellectual Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? by the psychoanalyst and literary critic, Pierre Bayard. Professor Bayard not only thought Poirot got it wrong but explained at great length why though there is some evidence that he might have been playing games with the reader of the kind he accuses Dame Agatha of doing.


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