Some time ago, I had a thought about my favourite author: there is an Agatha Christie story for every season. I thought about Death on the Nile and Evil under the Sun for summer, Sittaford Mystery and Murder on the Orient Express, as well as the play Mousetrap, for winter. Autumn being, of course, as the proper time for mysteries, a no brainer. (Plus the gothic/supernatural/horror stories she wrote that are not as well known as her mysteries–she was a versatile writer, make no mistake about that.) Then there are the seasonal novels Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Halloween Party. But I struggled to think of a story for spring; nothing immediately came to mind.
In recent years, Agatha’s estate have been releasing collections of short stories based on a theme. We’ve had Midwinter Murder and Midsummer Mysteries. And now they published a new one, and guess what! Meet Sinister Spring.
I bought it and did some still life photos of it, as usual.
I hope you’re having a good spring and that if it’s sinister, it’s only in fiction.
I didn’t go to Manderley but I did buy this gorgeous edition.
I’m mostly a Kindle and audiobooks person, but I do like to have my faves in physical form, preferably in hardback. I grabbed this on my recent visit to Waterstones–although it’s not brand new as the book’s 80th anniversary was in 2018. I only had it in paperback previously, with a not very impressive cover. I’m so glad I got it, I could finally take a nice picture of it and post it here, in the seven and a half years I’ve been running this blog, it’s long overdue!
Daphne du Maurier fascinates me, and the character of Rebecca de Winter also fascinates me. A dead woman dominating the narrative like that must have been quite a personality. I approach Rebecca the same way I do Jane Eyre–how do we know that Maxim is telling the whole truth? In addition to the second Mrs de Winter being a biased narrator herself.
The second Mrs de Winter is a character I relate to more than any other fictional character. Or my younger self at least; I’m Maxim’s age now and hopefully more confident. But it’s amazing how Daphne depicted social anxiety so well, it’s pretty much textbook, without realising she did so.
Maxim de Winter makes me feel conflicted because I can’t decide whether I want to 1. throw things at him or 2. throw him against the wall.
So, that’s my thoughts on Rebecca. Anyone else a fan?
This weekend’s Weekly Prompts Challenge is a colour challenge and the colour is pinkish. Colour challenges are the ones I most like to participate in, so I dug through my archives, as pink definitely features in my collections.
One of my dearest books in the whole world, of course. Pink was Anne’s favourite colour, but she felt she couldn’t wear it because of her red hair. (Also for some reason, looking at the teapot on the cover reminds me of Mrs Potts of Beauty and the Beast, voiced by the absolute legend that was Angela Lansbury, whom we recently lost…)
Anne was also a fan of pink roses.
The only real roses are the pink ones. They are the flowers of love and faith.
Anne of the Island
She says this as she ties the ribbon around Diana’s bouquet on Diana’s wedding day.
You think the characters of Dr Strange, Hermione and James Bond are creations of Marvel comics, JK Rowling and Ian Fleming respectively? Welllllll, not necessarily. They were all created by the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie.
Or it depends which ones!
In book Three Act Tragedy, (also published as Murder In Three Acts in USA) there is a character named Dr Strange, namesake of the Marvel character Dr Strange.
Although he’s referred to as Sir Bartholomew throughout the story, he is a doctor and his surname is Strange.
Three Act Tragedy was first published in 1934. It’s a Hercule Poirot mystery, which also features Mr Satterthwaite, who appears in the Mysterious Mr Quin stories. (Speaking of which, Mr Quin’s first name is Harley, so he’s Harley Quin–a very similar to the character in DC comic universe, except hers is spelled Quinn, therefore I have not included this in the post.) Dr Strange’s first appearance in the Marvel comics was in 1963, almost three decades later.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch–who is also well known for his role as Sherlock Holmes, the other famous detective! (He was also in Murder Is Easy, but that was incorrectly adapted with Miss Marple, who is not in the story.)
In the same book, we meet a character of Hermione.
Okay, so I admit this one is a bit of a stretch, as it just happens to be a character with the same first name as the beloved witch of Harry Potter fame. But it’s not like it’s a very common name, is it? Besides, if you took the character of Hermione Granger and put her in a murder mystery, you’d have her do some sleuthing, wouldn’t you? Just like the Three Act Tragedy Hermione, nicknamed Egg, does. Well, Hermione Granger does a sort of sleuthing in Harry Potter too; I always insist that the HP books are in the most part mysteries, it’s just that they include the elements of magic. It’s no wonder that the author turned to writing mystery novels. Though I for one wish she’d rather shut up… Sigh. But let’s not get derailed.
The first HP book was released in 1997.
Save the best one for the end.
One instance of the same surname, one of the same, unusual, first name–but now we have the full name.
Yup, that’s right, it was Agatha Christie who first introduced the character of James Bond! In the short story The Rajah’s Emerald, published for the first time in 1934. Same as Three Act Tragedy, as it happens.
It’s a different James Bond, of course, but it’s interesting.
The famous spy James Bond made his first appearance in 1953 in Ian Fleming’s book Casino Royale. These days he’s better known from the films. James Bond of The Rajah’s Emerald is but a humble man–but he does stumble upon a mysterious jewel, the titular emerald, while holidaying at a seaside resort, not exactly enjoying himself.
And so my mind goes on a wander…
James Bond was last (as of this blog entry, July 2022) played by Daniel Craig. And Daniel also plays the detective Benoit Blanc in the film Knives Out (which is shortly to have a sequel), one of my most favourite films of all time. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s pretty much an Agatha Christie mystery, set in modern times in America (it’s its own thing enough so as not to cause trouble with the Agatha Christie estate). It also stars Ana de Armas, who made appearance in the latest (as of this blog entry, July 2022) James Bond film No Time To Die. And Chris Evans, who was Steve Rogers aka Captain America in the above mentioned Marvel films!
Note: This post was originally published on Some Photoblog in October 2020. However, I deleted it after I grew unsatisfied with the pictures. I took some new ones and I hereby, with some minor changes, republish the post.
No spoilers ahead, except for The Final Problem, which I think is safe to say everyone knows anyway.
The game’s afoot!
If you’ve ever visited Some Photoblog, or ever talked to me at all, you know I’m all about Agatha Christie. But I have much love for Sherlock Holmes too.
Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), a writer and by profession a medical doctor, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now, I feel kind of bad because I always try to promote lesser known works by authors (e.g. Agatha Christie’s books without Poirot or Marple that are not And Then There Were None and non-Anne of Green Gables works by LM Montgomery) but this time around I’m going for the most obvious choice. It’s also a well-known fact that the author ended up hating his most famous creation and had wished his other writings received similar attention. (Sorry, Sir Arthur!) I have read other works by him; a couple of Professor Challenger books and a short story collection Tales of Terror and Mystery and the guy does deserve to be known for his non-Sherlock writings–he was quite prolific and wrote sci-fi, historical fiction, non-fiction. I remember a few years ago a commenter on ACD’s official Facebook page post said “I didn’t know he wrote stories other than Sherlock Holmes” and I thought, how stupid can you get? Please.
Anyway… today, I’m basic.
Sherlock Holmes is without a doubt the most popular fictional detective in the world and this is unlikely to change, in our lifetimes or perhaps ever. What is it that makes him so appealing, more than a century after his first appearance?
I don’t know the answer. He just is. An eccentric character, with brilliant mind, skilled in detection, what’s not to love? (He was also a cocaine user, but this was legal at the time.) Mystery is a popular genre, people love their detectives. And Sherlock Holmes is a classic. I think there is certain appeal in Victorian and Edwardian era London as well.
Sherlock Holmes first came to life in the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. Altogether he features in four novels (the other three being The Sign of Four, The Hound of Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear) and 56 short stories, majority of them written by his sidekick Dr John Watson. The character of Sherlock is inspired by Dr Joseph Bell (1837-1911), a surgeon and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, for whom ACD served as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Dr Bell used observation to carry out a diagnosis and was a pioneer of what we now call forensic science. He also served as a personal surgeon to Queen Victoria when she visited Scotland.
“My friend and colleague, Dr Watson.”
I am lost without my Boswell.
Sherlock Holmes about Dr Watson
The quote is a reference to James Boswell, who was a biographer of the writer Samuel Johnson.
The lifelong partnership–however you want to interpret it–was born in A Study in Scarlet. Dr Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes by an old acquaintance Stamford as someone to potentially share a place with, as he’s in a precarious financial situation. Stamford knows Sherlock from the hospital, where he, Stamford, works as a dresser and Sherlock likes to dabble with chemicals at the lab.
“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford, introducing us.
Watson, The Study in Scarlet
Sherlock already knows of a suitable lodgings to rent, 221b Baker Street. The next day they meet and go view the place, Watson decides it’s suitable, and they move in.
Everyone, raise a glass for Mr Stamford, without whom this iconic duo would never have existed.
Watson at first has no clue about Sherlock’s profession and for some reason is afraid to ask. Because he really has nothing else to do, he studies his flatmate and even makes a list of his skills and abilities. I made a graphic of this list, which I posted on my Tumblr where it enjoyed some popularity. This is it:
Watson is also shocked at Sherlock’s total ignorance of the Solar System. Of course, now it seems funny, because you’re thinking, haha he’s obsessed. He admits as such right there, in the text. He has nothing else to occupy his mind, has no close friends and his health is not in the best condition. This is what made me come up with a theory–I think meeting Sherlock Holmes saved Dr Watson’s life. Hear me out.
So, as we know from Watson’s narrative, he qualified as medical doctor, joined the army and served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, where he was wounded during the Battle of Maiwand. His injury healed, but then he contracted enteric fever (which a quick Google search informs me is the same as typhoid fever). Afterwards, his health was so poor, he was discharged and sent back to England to recuperate. Having no living relatives in England, he arrived in London and booked himself a room in a hotel. His description of the capital city is amusing: “that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained”. (You wouldn’t think it of him, but our doctor does have some good burns.) His army pension was eleven shillings and sixpence a day (another quick Google search informs me this should have been quite a comfortable income). He describes this period of his life as a “meaningless existence” and confesses to spending too much money. Hence the aforementioned precarious financial situation. He realised that he needed to change his lifestyle and having just made the decision to look for cheaper living, he bumped into Stamford.
What I wonder about–what was he spending his money on? Drinking? Women? Gambling? It was at a bar where he came across Stamford, so draw your own conclusions. (Also in The Sign of Four, we learn that Watson had an older brother with a drink problem.) Stamford comments that Watson is very thin and very brown (suntan from Afghanistan, presumably). It’s not unreasonable to conclude that he suffered from PTSD. And the “meaningless existence”–could that be… depression? When he moved in with Sherlock, he got his life and finances in order and his mind was revived from idleness by this intriguing new friend of his. Then, when Sherlock finally reveals to Watson what his profession is–a consulting detective–he invites him to come along to view a dead body. The rest is history.
Watson is at first sceptical of Sherlock’s science of deduction, but soon learns that yes, it really does work. It seems to me that Sherlock, whether intentionally or not, pulled Watson back into life. BBC Sherlock series pretty much plays it that way.
In the next book, The Sign of Four, a new client named Miss Mary Morstan enters the scene and she and Watson fall in love and get married. It was an extremely short courtship, but it seems to have worked out for them. ACD needed to marry off Watson, so he married him off. *shrug* Sherlock remained in Baker Street, as Watson says in A Scandal in Bohemia, “buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature”. In other words, he missed his friend. (The Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey Jr showcase this well.)
Screenshot of Sherlock Holmes, The Definitive Audio Collection from my Audible app. The complete works, all for one single credit, (a marvellous deal!), read by Stephen Fry, who played Mycroft in the sequel to the above mentioned Guy Ritchie film, Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows. Speaking of which:
“All men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.”
Sherlock on his brother Mycroft, from The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
Sherlock Holmes has a brother called Mycroft, seven years his senior. We first meet him in the story The Greek Interpreter; he also features in one of my personal favourites, The Bruce-Partington Plans. Mycroft possesses even greater ability for deduction and observation than his younger brother, except he can’t be bothered to do any actual detective work out in the field. No ambition and no energy. (I can relate.) He rarely ventures beyond his circle of home, workplace and the Diogenes Club. In The Bruce-Partington Plans Sherlock nearly falls off a chair when he receives telegram from Mycroft informing him of his upcoming visit to Baker Street. It must be something really serious to drag his brother away from his usual territory!
Mycroft’s skills enabled him to create his own position in the Government. He makes himself indispensable. That’s why Sherlock says Mycroft is the Government itself. But my favourite part about the older Holmes is the Diogenes Club. A gentlemen’s club set up for those who hate company, whether due to shyness or misanthropy, but who still like comfortable chairs and newspapers. Talking is not permitted, except for Stranger’s Room and three offences will get you expelled from the club. Mycroft was one of the founding members.
We don’t know what Mycroft’s politics is. From Sherlock’s description, he certainly can make any regime work for him, but I like to think he was at least somewhat progressive. There is nothing in the canon to say he wasn’t.
According to Sherlock, both of them may have inherited their talents from their grandmother, a sister to French artist Vernet. Vernet was a real artist that really existed, in fact there were three of them: grandfather, father and son:
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789)
Antoine Charles Horace Vernet, known as Carle Vernet (1758-1836)
Émile Jean-Horace Vernet, known as Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
ACD doesn’t specify which one of them it was, but based on the timeline, the youngest one is the most likely one. Horace Vernet mostly painted battle scenes and enjoyed patronage from, among others, King Louis-Philippe. He also took photographs by daguerreotype process, the first publicly available photography technique.
Check out his self-portrait:
It looks very Sherlock Holmes, doesn’t it?
Aside from this, Sherlock never mentions any other family. He says his ancestors were country squires, but offers no further details. In The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, after Sherlock returns from the dead, Watson moves back with him to Baker Street and sells his practice to a young doctor named Verner. Years later he finds out that this Verner was a distant relation of Sherlock and it was really Sherlock who provided the money for the practice, which was sold at the highest price. Verner, Vernet, sounds very similar, also R and T are next to each other on the keyboard. Most likely a coincidence, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
“The Best and Finest Man I Have Ever Known”
So, Sherlock believed his talent for observation and deduction came from his artist great uncle. “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms”, he says in The Greek Interpreter. Sherlock is the logical, scientific type. He also plays the violin and is fond of music. I think we can safely say that in the mind of our great detective, science and art combine.
Watson’s list of Sherlock’s skills is not entirely accurate for the rest of the series. In The Sign of Four, for example, Watson notes that “[Holmes] spoke on a quick succession of subjects,—on miracle-plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the war-ships of the future,—handling each as though he had made a special study of it.” Yet none of those subjects are mentioned on the list in A Study in Scarlet. Quite the opposite–any facts he considers irrelevant must be forgotten at once, as to not clutter his mind. When ACD came up with the character of Sherlock Holmes, he couldn’t have known he would still write about him decades later (he didn’t even want to!). With time, he developed his character more, realising that, when you work as a detective, no knowledge is useless. This can be easily explained by Watson not knowing Sherlock that well in their early days yet. There is also another inconsistency. Watson’s wound was in the shoulder in A Study in Scarlet, but in The Sign of Four, he tells us it’s in the leg. Not that it matters much, in any case he could have sustained more than one injury in the war. BBC Sherlock got round it by making Watson’s leg pain psychosomatic–quite clever, I think.
This is a popular outline of Sherlock’s profile (drawn my myself), thanks to illustrations by Sidney Paget. It is Paget that gave Sherlock the iconic deerstalker hat, never mentioned in the actual writing. Paget’s illustrations accompanied ACD’s Sherlock stories in The Strand Magazine, where they were published. (Random fact: Agatha Christie also published her Poirot short stories in this magazine.) ACD himself requested Paget to continue illustrating in The Strand when he resurrected Sherlock. Sidney Paget definitely deserves some credit for contributing to the famous detective’s image.
The Birth of a Fandom
ACD killed off Sherlock in 1893 in The Final Problem, hoping this would help him concentrate on the more serious fiction and non-fiction he wanted to work on. Sherlock faces his ultimate antagonist, Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime. Interestingly, Moriarty is also a man of science, a mathematical genius. During their last showdown at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, they both plunge to their deaths.
The reaction of fans to this move was like nothing else ever experienced before. Angry letters poured into ACD’s mailbox, people wore black armbands, The Strand Magazine suffered 20,000 cancellations. These days you’d shrug your shoulder, just another Tuesday in the fandom. But then, it was new. ACD eventually brought the beloved sleuth back; he needed the money and people wanted their Sherlock. Luckily the way he wrote Sherlock’s end enabled him to explain it away with “actually he didn’t fall into his death, only Moriarty did” and “he quickly realised that faking his death would help him break Moriarty’s criminal network and protect his dear Watson”. ACD though killed another character, Mrs Mary Watson, off page, so that he could reinstate Watson back into 221b Baker Street. (It’s kinda shitty if you think about it, but I understand why it had to be that way, besides, readers likely didn’t care about her. Apart from all the other qualities of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, I like that their Watson remained unmarried and Mary Morstan exited at the end of The Sign of Four episode.)
And so the adventures continued.
Sherlockians, or Holmesians if you want, were the first modern fandom. (Ahhh, fandoms, yes, fandoms, that’s a discussion I’d rather not have today.)
Aside from the books written by ACD, Sherlock appears in numerous books by other authors. This is called pastiche. Most of ACD’s works are in public domain now, which means you can get them free as eBooks. Project Gutenberg is the best place for this.
I truly hope that if Sir Arthur can see from beyond how loved the character he grew to hate is, and how much Sherlock Holmes means to people, he is not too angry. After all, Sherlock, and all the related adaptations and pastiches, bring many of us joy and in the end, that is what really matters.
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.
It’s time to honour the Queen again, the real queen of crime and books and storytelling, still one of the best selling writers in history, Agatha Christie. I finally managed to make still life photographs that I’m happy with–the trick was using one particular table I bought in December (and thought I would end up not needing for anything) as a background. Also Mr Kipling’s French Fancies.
I went with Miss Marple this time, as she tends to get outshined by Hercule Poirot. That’s understandable–there are more Poirot books than Marple books. Miss Jane Marple first appears in The Murder at the Vicarage, released in 1930. She’s lived her whole life in a little fictional village of St Mary Mead. At first glance, she appears a very unremarkable old spinster who knits, gardens and takes part in church activities. Then she blows everyone’s minds by solving the murder.
Living in a village gives Miss Marple an opportunity to observe people and study human nature. And, as she always reminds her nephew, Raymond West, human nature is the same everywhere, village or city.
This edition of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side featured in my previous post, Agatha Christie Paperbacks with (maybe) Tom Adams Covers. What I didn’t realise at the time was that this cover is taken from John William Waterhouse painting The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot. The book title is a line from Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott, which also inspired Waterhouse’s painting. Without giving too much away, the mystery has nothing to do with Arthurian myth, it refers to a look on the face of one of characters, Marina Gregg. Miss Marple, who wasn’t even present when Marina had that look and is merely told about it by a friend, uses this tiny detail to crack the mystery.
The Moving Finger is one of my favourites. It features my favourite couple of all Agatha books, Jerry and Megan, and Megan is also one of my favourite characters. She’s got no job, is not in education and has a stepfather whom she dislikes. The early 20s me could relate to this a lot. Unlike the other two, The Moving Finger does not take place at St Mary Mead but a different village. Miss Marple is there on a visit–luckily for the residents, she’s able to catch the culprit.
Miss Marple knows that it’s a wicked world with very wicked people in it and she expects the worst from everyone, but she still keeps a kind heart. And that’s what makes her so great.
Well, it’s been a while–and a long one at that–since I took part in a challenge on Some Photoblog!
Almost exactly two years ago, I posted an entry Home, hence the number 2 in today’s title. I had in my mind an idea of the comfort and cosiness of home, the warmth and blankets and cups of hot coffee or tea, the snug leisure wear, that sort of thing. As the days shorten and weather gets colder (in the Northern Hemisphere, of course!), this is appreciated even more.
I also made “home” a tag on my blog, although it only features a few posts so far.
Hercule Poirot, one of my favourite fictional characters ever, liked being at home–he was definitely not an outdoors person. Quite a contrast to your traditional English country squire, fond of sports and hunting!
I’m very much like Poirot in this, though I do like to take my walks and photograph the outdoors. Staying in and watching movies or TV shows on streaming is how I spend a lot of my free time. I have three streaming services, so there’s always something good to pick. I like a lot of stuff of various genres.
My home is not only a home for me, it is also where my cat Pepper lives. She doesn’t go anywhere else–she’s an indoor cat, and no doubt she considers herself the boss around here!
There is a lot I could write about the subject of home, with regards to immigration, for example (where is home, really?) but I’ve talked about it enough and I’m tired. So, I’ll end it here.
Note: This post was originally published on Some Photoblog in April 2019. However, I deleted it after I realised I hated the posted photographs. I took some new ones and now I hereby, with some minor changes, republish the post, in time for Agatha Christie’s birthday.
No spoilers for any books or short stories ahead.
This is the post that was always meant to be. I have never specially planned it, but I was always conscious of its existence outside Some Photoblog’s space-time continuum. And here it is now.
World, welcome to my most favourite author ever.
Some call her the Queen of Crime and even if you’ve never read any of her books, you know who she is.
Of course, I’ve mentioned Agatha Christie multiple times on this blog. I will probably keep mentioning her.
I got into Agatha Christie sometime in my mid-teens; my first book was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, an Hercule Poirot mystery, which also happens to be one of the best. It could hardly have been a better start. But her best selling, and indeed the best selling mystery novel of all, is And Then There Were None. Not a surprise at all, I’m sure everyone has at least heard of it!
(Yes, it’s the-one-that-one-that-used-to-have-that-racist-title, but this was taken from a children’s rhyme, which is not Agatha’s creation. In newer editions, the racial slur in the rhyme is replaced with “soldier”.)
Hercule Poirot, a private detective from Belgium, and Miss Marple, an old lady who has lived all of her life in a little village of St Mary Mead, are Agatha Christie’s most famous characters. But she’s much more than that. There are Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, the couple that first appear in The Secret Adversary as young adventurers and who, unlike Poirot and Marple, age with each subsequent book. Then we have short stories featuring Mr Parker Pyne, who is an unusual type of detective, if he can be called that. Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne, runs his advertisement in the newspaper. His speciality appears to be the matters of the heart (as in, love, not the organ). And then there is the most mysterious character Agatha ever created, Mr Harley Quin. Not to be confused with Harley Quinn, the DC comics character. He appears and disappears again just at the right time, with no explanation, and we never get to find out anything about him. The short stories featuring him are written from the point of view of Mr Satterthwaite, a middle aged socialite, who–not in a malicious way–enjoys other people’s drama–and who also makes an appearance in Poirot novel Three Act Tragedy. Harley Quin short stories have this spooky atmosphere, almost touching on supernatural.
Similarly, stories in The Hound of Death collection have the same feel. There have also been new short story collections released in recent years, which include such short stories.
Apart from all this, Agatha Christie’s work includes mystery novels without any regular detective; a few with Superintendent Battle, who also appeared alongside Poirot in Cards on the Table. And so on and so on.
I don’t know how many people are aware of the fact that she didn’t just write mystery/crime fiction. She wrote six novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. I’ve seen them boxed under “romantic novel”, though I’m unsure this is entirely correct. At least, I don’t think they’re strictly romances. So far I’ve read Giant’s Bread and Unfinished Portrait and enjoyed them both a lot. The latter is semi-autobiographical.
And that’s not all. She was also a playwright. The Mousetrap is the longest running play in UK–it was only the pandemic that halted its run, but it reopened as soon as it was possible. I have seen it performed here in Manchester on their 60th anniversary tour, in 2012. And kept the ticket for nine years!
What’s interesting also is that, although she wrote a few plays and even turned her own books into plays (e.g. there is a stage version of And Then There Were None with a different ending; Witness for the Prosecution was a short story before it was a play), her stories are still adapted for stage by other writers. For example, Love from a Stranger is a play based on the short story Philomel Cottage. You can find Philomel Cottage in the Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories collection (other collections too), or on its own in digital format. It’s a tense story about a newly married woman experiencing sudden anxiety, which she cannot identify. A domestic thriller, in fact.
I went to see Love from a Stranger year in July 2018.
Speaking of adaptations, it would be an unpardonable crime not to mention this guy.
David Suchet played Poirot on screen for 24 years and will probably always be the best, the most ultimate Poirot of all time. Not that other actors shouldn’t play him, or that they won’t be good as good Poirots; I mean that Suchet portrayal is iconic. He is so much associated with the little Belgian detective that he wrote a book about it!
Currently Hercule Poirot is being played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs the films. Murder on the Orient Express was released in 2017, the next one is Death on the Nile, which was set to be out in October 2020 but keeps being postponed. (Latest date is February 2022.) Branagh’s Poirot is more of a 21st century hero, with a more diverse cast. And that moustache is a legend!
I relate to Poirot in a way that he’s a Continental European living in England, and people keep getting his nationality wrong.
My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.
Hercule Poirot, The Mystery of the Blue Train
The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.
Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express
Human nature is much the same everywhere and, of course, one has opportunities of observing it at close quarters in a village.
Miss Marple, The Thumb Mark of St Peter (short story)
This above quote is the most typical of Miss Marple. She usually cracks the mystery because someone reminds her of someone else. I think in this way, her village serves as a microcosm of the world. She observes life closely, which then helps her solve crimes that baffle even experienced Scotland Yard officers.
Some of my collection:
So, as you can see, I’m an Agatha Christie fan. I know she’s not literally acclaimed–some male author or other apparently wrote some essay titled Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? (and who cares about your essay, male author?)–but so what. There is nothing like curling up with a blanket, nice cup of hot drink and a good old fashioned mystery. Does not mean you can’t appreciate Shakespeare as well. Agatha sometimes quotes Shakespeare–the novel Taken at the Flood is titled after a line in Julius Caesar. And I want to add another thing, the thing I think about often and which appears in her books quite a lot and is my favourite element of her entire work.
Whenever there is a crime committed, the perpetrator must be found. But the most important thing is not to punish the perpetrator. It’s to clear the innocent. I first came across this in the Miss Marple short story The Four Suspects. Miss Marple and her companions discuss an unsolved case presented to them by Sir Henry Clithering, a retired Scotland Yard Commissioner. Miss Marple, as is her fashion, comes to the correct conclusion without much trouble. Sir Henry is outraged by the fact that the guilty party got away with it, but Miss Marple points out that it was not the case–the murderer got in with such a bad lot that their end will be inevitable. But she urges Sir Henry to let the other parties know that they’re innocent. Well, she means particularly one party, the one she believes would suffer most from having that suspicion hanging over their head.
One mustn’t waste thought on the guilty–it’s the innocent who matter.
Miss Marple, The Four Suspects (short story)
This is also the whole premise of Ordeal by Innocence. Dr Calgary approaches a family claiming that he can provide an alibi for the son who got charged with murder. It’s too late for the son, who died in prison, but he thinks he can at least clear his name. But this causes distress to the family–if it wasn’t him, then who was it? And immediately they start suspecting each other again and their nightmare is back. Dr Calgary then decides to find the culprit–which he does in the end.
It’s not the guilty who matter. It’s the innocent. It’s we who matter. Don’t you see what you’ve done to us all?
Hester, Ordeal by Innocence
And that is why Ordeal by Innocence is such a good book and that is why the recent BBC adaptation got it so wrong. All the adaptations by Sarah Phelps (with the exception of 2015’s And Then There Were None, which is impossible to ruin) were bad. That is because the woman had never read any Agatha Christie book when she was tasked with adapting her books. She had previously worked on Eastenders, a degenerate soap opera, and is high up in BBC, but is in no way, shape or form qualified to adapt Agatha Christie books. Thankfully, those adaptations were not very memorable or popular with the audience, and hopefully will be soon forgotten. People still turn to David Suchet’s Poirot, or the older Peter Ustinov movies.
Two tropes that Agatha handles so superbly are: the dysfunctional family (examples: After the Funeral, A Pocketful of Rye, Crooked House, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) and the love triangle (no examples because that would be telling). Don’t let the latter put you off, this is no YA fiction! It’s possible she reused the trope so often because of her own experience. Her husband, Archie Christie, left her for another woman. That’s when she went missing for 11 days, that incident she never talked about, or mentioned in her autobiography, and that still fascinates people to this day. She was found at a hotel in Harrogate under a fake name, with the surname being the same as her husband’s mistress’s. She may have had a memory loss, or she may have been the original Gone Girl, who knows. She and Archie divorced, and she later met the archaeologist Max Mallowan, who became her second husband, and with whom she was much happier. She accompanied him on his digs and even set one of her books, Murder in Mesopotamia, at an archaeological dig.
Fun fact: when she went missing, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, consulted a psychic to help find the missing writer, using one of her gloves. He was into that stuff.
Some of my favourite Poirot books are: Sad Cypress, Five Little Pigs, The Hollow (mentioned in my Yggdrasil post), Murder of Roger Ackroyd, of course that will always remain my beloved. From Miss Marple collection I rate The Moving Finger and A Murder is Announced the highest. But the one I name as my top Agatha book is Endless Night. It’s a surprisingly good late gem from the author, whose late work is not as good as her earlier one. It’s got an aesthetic of a gothic novel… until it doesn’t. I recommend everyone to read it, if you haven’t already.
I make a point in my post about eBooks that works that enter public domain are available for free on Gutenberg to download in various formats. As of September 2021, Gutenberg has the first six books of Agatha Christie, link here.
I will end with a quote from the epilogue of Agatha’s autobiography.
I have done what I wanted to do. I have been on a journey. Not so much a journey back through the past, as a journey forward–starting again at the beginning of it all–going back to the Me who was to embark on that journey forward through time. I have not been bounded by time or space. I have been able to linger where I wanted, jump backwards and forwards as I wished.
Ooh, she really does float outside the space-time continuum!
A quick and lazy still life today, featuring the new collection of short stories by Agatha Christie. To complement previously released Midwinter Mysteries, the stories in this collection all centre on summer.
To emphasise, the stories are not new, they’ve all been released before as part of different collections.
It would have been better had the book been released on actual midsummer, but it wasn’t so. A missed chance, I say.