Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Bodies in libraries

What was I thinking?

My mind works fast – occasionally – when coming up with ideas. And then it forgets again. I took this picture waiting for my train recently, to remind me what I was thinking. That worked well, didn’t it?

The Body in the Library bag

I believe I mused a little on my long ago reading of Agatha Christie. Because nearly all of it happened forty to fifty years ago, and I’ve not re-read much. I decided I couldn’t remember who dunnit in the library. Or who died, for that matter. The body will not be the same as the one in the vicarage, where there was also a murder.

Decided I could look it up, and then decided against. Just in case I happen to read the book again, any time soon. Or, for that matter, if it turns up on television, like that Ordeal by Innocence the other week. I gather one way of dealing with well known novels being adapted for the screen is to change the plot and the ending. In which case there is only annoyance for anyone with a good memory, or a recent encounter with Wikipedia.

So, looking on the bright side, I could have a brand new reading experience by reading The Body in the Library again, purely through poor memory and the passing of a lot of time. Or, I could have that anyway, by watching the BBC do their stuff. As long as it’s retro, who cares?

My apologies to the lady with the bag. I just liked the look of such a well-used bag, illustrating such a well-known crime novel.

Advertisements

Which Orient Express is yours?

You can choose your Poirot – and mine is David Suchet – and you can choose your Orient Express, if you have one. Unfortunately, for me the two didn’t coincide.

But never mind.

Actually, I don’t remember the David Suchet Orient Express some Christmases ago terribly well. I only recall quite how weird he was. Not David so much, perhaps, as the way he had to portray Poirot in that film.

If we’re talking films, the 1974 express is mine, Albert Finney notwithstanding. And say what you will, but his moustache was far better. Kenneth Branagh’s took over the whole film, especially considering that on a cinema screen you get pretty close up to such growth. But, the man’s entitled to have whatever he wants in the middle of his face.

The question is, do I prefer the old film, because it was better (I’d like to think it was), or because it was my first? As with the Branagh express, the film is full of stars, but I suppose I feel the 1974 stars were starrier, as well as more my kind of star. In this new version all I could think of was who someone had been played by in the older film. Judi Dench vs Wendy Hiller; Michelle Pfeiffer vs Lauren Bacall?

Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

It’s mainly a matter of personal taste. And if this new film was your first, you are likelier to prefer it, even if you try the older one later.

Apart from the ghastly moustache, I mainly objected to the [unnecessary] changes Kenneth Branagh had made. I got the impression from an interview I read somewhere, that he was jolly pleased with his ‘originality.’ Whereas it seemed to me as if he borrowed the worst from the Suchet version, and then changed how the murder was committed. Those sleeper compartments are small, even on a fancy train. Just saying.

I had read the book before seeing the 1974 film. Today it appears many cinema goers might not have, but have bought the book since, judging by increasing sales. This is good. I hope that even a mediocre film can grow fresh fans for Agatha Christie. And crime. And train travel.

Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

Closed Casket

I must admit I can’t work out what the four words are. Having finished reading Sophie Hannah’s second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, I remembered her saying at the Edinburgh launch that four words describe the whole thing. You know, something like ‘the butler did it.’ Except he didn’t. I mean, maybe he did. I’m saying nothing.

There is an outlandish character in Closed Casket, but one I had no trouble believing in, as I’ve met someone like that myself. I wonder if there is one like that in most people’s lives?

Sophie Hannah, Closed Casket

In this second Poirot outing we meet an Enid Blyton kind of children’s mystery author. Very rich and famous, this woman changes her will, leaving everything to her dying secretary, which is a weird thing to do. And from that we have our mystery. Who will die, and who murdered them and why?

More so than in Sophie’s first Poirot novel, I felt this one gave more space to Poirot’s Scotland Yard friend Catchpool, letting Poirot work around him. They have been invited to the author’s home in Ireland, and while the house itself is fancy, the surroundings seem less attractive than we are used to in Agatha’s own books. Much less vicarage chintz for the blood to spill on, so to speak.

There is a whole cast of likeable – and less likeable – characters, and it really was difficult deciding who must have dunnit. In fact, I didn’t. I just let myself  float along, happy to let any of them be the bad guy.

Women

For International Women’s Day I thought I’d tell you about Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science, as well as Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s books about Agatha Christie and Marie Curie in the Little People, Big Dreams series. They are the perfect way for children – boys and girls – to learn about Agatha and Marie, as well as the many intelligent and successful women in Rachel’s illustrated book about female scientists.

But I’m going to tell you about Mother-of-Witch instead. For obvious reasons, newspapers have had more ‘women articles’ in the last week. And the more I read them and the more I thought of this special day for women, the more irritated I got. The Q&A with Gloria Steinem in the Guardian was better than expected, but when even someone like her can write about reading Little Women as a child saying ‘it was the first time I realised women could be a whole human world,’ I thought enough is enough.

It’s the kind of thing I never discovered. Because I didn’t need to. As the only child of a single mother I never harboured doubts about what women did or could do or were allowed to do. The whole idea is alien to me.

My mother had a humble start, but she pulled herself up by her bootstraps, achieving a lot in her life. For me it seemed so natural and obvious that I hardly appreciated her efforts. (I’m a bit of a disappointment, not following in her footsteps or anything, but that’s another story.) If it needed doing, she did it.

That’s not to say she repaired the car exactly, but she had a car. And when our landlord came to change the washers in the bathroom taps, she peered over his shoulder to see how it was done. Later on as a house owner, she knew what to do (while her male colleague barely knew what a washer was).

For girls of her background the choice at school was cooking or typing. She was intelligent, so was allowed to learn to type. The – prizewinning – typing took her away from her home town, and she perfected her secretarial skills and was doing really well. And then I turned up, so she took those skills and got herself a teaching job, passing on her knowledge to countless students at a sixth form college, while still being the girl who’d left school at 15.

So she could enjoy the same level of education as her students, she did some distance learning by correspondence, and when I was seven she achieved her goal. A few years later she got herself a university degree in much the same way. That was ideal for me; evening lectures meant we didn’t see much of each other, and for a young teenager that’s a good thing. We were also so poor we ate a lot of macaroni and pancakes, which I loved. I didn’t spare much thought to how hard she worked, or how much she worried about money.

Teenagers!

Her old boss, the head teacher at her first school, was getting old and wanted to surround himself with his favourite staff, so he designed a teaching post requiring such specific qualifications that only she could apply for the job, and almost overnight we found ourselves back where we started.

At fifty she bought a house, even though some of her students told her that houses ought to be for younger people who could ‘enjoy them properly.’ She changed washers as required and enjoyed that house until she died, many years later.

Mother-of-Witch didn’t need any special days for women. She needed a job and an education and a home, and she got it all. She also surrounded herself with lots of friends, nearly all single women, which meant that I grew up in an almost exclusively female environment.

And that house purchase; for the second viewing she brought me along. The salesman was dreadfully disappointed as he’d counted on a sale when she came back [‘with her husband’]. I’m still working on perfecting the look she gave him as he enquired about her lack of male company.

End of year miscellany

I did that sitting up in the middle of the night thing again. We’d finished watching the Agatha Christie two-parter Witness for the Prosecution on BBC, and I’d blogged about it on CultureWitch. I claimed I didn’t really know the story, and then – midsleep – I wondered why it all felt so familiar, and how come I knew what the plot twist was going to be?

Elementary, my dear Watsons. I’d seen it before. Quite some time ago, although not as far back as 1957, which is when the film was made. And then I remembered something else. The Retired Children’s Librarian had watched it and she mentioned she’d not come across the book, and I made it my mission to find the book for her. But could I find a single copy of Åklagarens Vittne anywhere? I could not. Some second hand bookshops even had waiting lists for it.

Apparently I gave up at that point, and then I forgot the whole thing.

Forgetting is not something St Hilda’s alumni do. I was incredibly pleased to watch Val McDermid and Adèle Geras succeed all the way in the Christmas University Challenge, winning by beating the lovely Leeds team. But Uzbekistan, Adèle? It was the middle of the Pacific!

Never mind. We got a women only team winning, even beating another women only team in the semifinals.

And then. Then Daughter let her ancient parents accompany her to see Rogue One in the cinema. Oh dear, the amount of eye-rolling that had to be done when it turned out we’d not understood any of it. The Resident IT Consultant was silly enough to ask. I was going to play it cool and say nothing if I could help it.

I saw the first Star Wars film back when it was new, when you didn’t have to keep track of all the numbers of sequels and prequels. I didn’t get it. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I could never work out why they did what they did, nor who was good and who was bad. That Darth Vader chap seemed nice.

But I quite liked getting out of the house, if only to sit in a tightly packed cinema, with a constant stream of little children squeezing past on their way back from the toilets.

I suspect we won’t be invited again, though.

Dangerous book covers

And possibly dangerously murderous contents as well.

I rarely pay all that much attention to the more salesy emails I receive. No time, and no interest in buying lots of books. Especially if I don’t get round to reading them.

But there was this one yesterday, from the big bookshop chain. I have deleted it for my own safety, but I will admit to having looked more than once at the books they offered for Christmas.

I mean, they weren’t actually suggesting I buy these books to give to others, were they? I was more thinking I’d love the books for myself. But that’s a most selfish way of looking at Christmas.

What they had were a handful of crime novels, all with the most enticing covers. That’s the thing really. Some of the books may easily have been bad inside, but oh those dark, snow covered, often retro style houses, where murder is about to happen or has happened – in style, obviously – well, it’s just too hard to resist. Hence the email-deleting. Or else…

It’s the faux Agatha books, or perhaps even some real ones, that are so dangerous. Sometimes it feels as if I could sit and do nothing else but read snowy Christmas murders (as though that was a nice thing).

One Christmas, when I was 17 or thereabouts, I received The Secret of Chimneys (Hemligheten på Chimneys). I have no recollection whether Christmas featured in the story, or if it was my Christmas, all mixed up with a fancy house and all the people therein, murdering each other and stuff, but I so wanted to pack a suitcase right then and simply pop over to England.

Because that’s what it’s like, yes? All that snow, the pretty lights and the red of the holly berries. And the blood.