I'm an omnivorous if you're being polite; undiscriminating if you're not reader. I am no fan of the modern world and particularly not of the gore that increasingly besplatters it whenever the words "murder mystery" or "crime fiction" heave into view. But I have always found Christie unreadable. Frank Skinner in his autobiography explains that he can't enjoy fiction — any fiction — because the minute he opens a book to read "Alan walked into the room", he thinks, "No, he didn't.
There was no Alan. There is no room.
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You made it all up" — and the game is up. I have a similar problem with Christie. It comes as no surprise to learn that the bulk of Christie's time and interest went on plotting, and that she found the actual writing of the story something of a chore. She began with the crime and worked backwards. There is little to distract the reader from the sense of information being parcelled out at careful intervals by an unseen but all-controlling hand. Nothing arises organically. In many ways, she reminds me of Enid Blyton. Her characters are ciphers, developed according to Occam's-razor principles — each one developed precisely as far as he or she needs to be for efficient propulsion of the plot, and no further.
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The dialogue is frequently risible — either purely expository, or banal musings on human psychology — and, for all that the early Christie books are venerated as beguiling period pieces, there is actually very little description in them, let alone any that makes the 20s, 30s and 40s glint in the mind's eye. The Mysterious Affair at Styles her first book, and the first appearance of Poirot , The Murder at the Vicarage Miss Marple's debut — she is, at least, less irritating a character than Poirot.
She was based on Christie's grandmother and thus evokes something of all grandmothers, which — as mine remains a beloved memory — is a point in her favour , and Christie's two last published books, Curtain and Sleeping Murder , written 40 years earlier to bring a satisfactory end to Poirot's and, to a lesser extent, Miss Marple's respective careers.
It takes me a long time, though, with much inward huffing and occasional exclamations of pain "Extract of calabar bean! What the what?! You'll really never guess who this murderer is! I don't know, and I just don't care enough to find out — were started but abandoned. I'm sorry. I might add that I am not alone in my Agatha antipathy — the great PD James has objected to her "cardboard cutout characters" and likened her to "a literary conjuror.
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She has her cards and she shifts them with those cunning fingers until, of course, the reader reads enough to see the kind of trickery she operates. But I am in a minority. Around 4bn copies of her more than books and short story collections have been sold since that Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in Four million copies of her books in different languages, making her the most translated author in the world still fly out of shops around the world every year.
Her play The Mousetrap opened in November and is, famously, the longest-running play in history over 24, performances and, at St Martin's Theatre in the West End, still counting. And if you need any further proof of her enduring appeal and international fame, on her th birthday recently, the Google logo was changed for the day in tribute. I didn't see it, alas. I was in the wireless broadband-free bosom of Torquay at the time, attending the annual Agatha Christie festival , hoping to talk to the fans — massing, on the first day, at the village fete on the green — in an attempt to fathom her appeal.
This festival is something of a period piece itself — what must be the nation's last working set of wooden hoopla hoops are in operation, along with a splat-the-rat contest and the most courageous charlestoning by the game ladies of the local Rotary club that I have ever seen.
There is a stall selling slices of the special th birthday cake, Delicious Death , created by Jane Asher from the recipe in Christie's 50th novel, A Murder Is Announced. On the assumption that one of them at least must be poisoned, I decline to partake, but it looks lovely.
Also looking lovely is Poirot. Yes, all the way from Belgium comes zee leetle man wiz ze egg-shaped head full of leetle grey cells. Smiling fans come up to him as he strolls around and ask to have their photo taken with him. This is, of course, a testament to the power of television — the Marple and Poirot series are broadcast everywhere, from Sweden to South Korea — rather than the books themselves.
Gaisford, strictly speaking, is of course a David Suchet lookalike "I met him, after I'd watched all the DVDs to try to get the mannerisms right," says Gaisford. Very keen to know if I was happy with the walk, because without that, it simply doesn't work.
There is no sense that you are in any way a lesser Agatha acolyte if you have read few or even none of the books, but are au fait with every minute of your Miss Marple boxset. Again, I have seen very few of the television adaptations although I have naturally absorbed their essence through cultural osmosis. This is mainly because they are more redolent to me of agonisingly boring Sunday evenings sitting on the sofa with my parents, chafing inwardly at the thought that I could be out somewhere, anywhere, doing something — anything — more interesting than this if only I were older, lived elsewhere and were a totally different kind of person.
But to others, they mean much more. We enjoy sitting down in New Zealand and having a little trip down memory lane. Maybe, when time permits, we'll go back and read the books. It occurs to me that the books and the television series exist in an unusually profitable symbiosis, with the latter fleshing out the former, effectively adding the description and supplementing the nostalgia offered by the books.
The modern reader brings perhaps more than is actually there, and so breathes new life into them. There are a few people for whom the era is self-evidently the greatest attraction, and they are the ones in what I initially and wrongly term costume. Emma Klausner, 24, is wearing a cloche hat, vintage jewellery, a pair of wide-legged 20s-style trousers and a vintage silk blouse. Her eyebrows are carefully pencilled, her face carefully powdered and she looks fantastic. It would be lovely to go back in time and see that era.
It was just so elegant, so stylish. Alas, I do not meet Michele and Stephen Marck until a few days later, so I cannot introduce these kindred spirits. The hottest bartender in Manhattan leaves his partner, goes to Jamaica and falls for a nice girl. An ex-convict plagues a couple and their two children after they move into his former mansion.
During the Civil War, a wounded Confederate soldier abandons his duties to make his way home to his sweetheart. His search for the truth soon becomes a quest for revenge against a psychotic drug lord named Viking and his sleazy henchmen. A notorious outlaw helps a cowboy fight political corruption in Texas. Collision Frank Grillo, Jaimie Alexander. Deceit and betrayal rise to the surface after newlyweds survive a deadly car accident in the Moroccan desert. In the midst of his daily commute, insurance salesman Michael MacCauley is contacted by a mysterious stranger who forces him to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop.
A young executive and two older employees struggle to find work and redefine their priorities after losing their jobs in a wave of corporate downsizing.
Company Town San Francisco turns into a playground for tech moguls of the sharing economy. Meanwhile, middle class and ethnic communities are driven out by skyrocketing rents and evictions, sparking a grassroots backlash that challenges the oligarchy of tech. KVCR Tues. Chuck Barris produces game shows for television and leads a double life as a CIA assassin. Caesar the ape leads simians in revolt against the governor enslaving them on future Earth.
A year-old teen adores a promising composer, who is quite fond of the girl, but his romance with her older cousin and following marriage create an emotional rivalry that affects the three. A scientist seeks alien beings after receiving mysterious messages from deep space via radio telescope dishes. When a celebrity marriage counselor is left high and dry at the altar, her contractor steps in as the groom to help her save face. Abandoned by his wife, a big-city lawyer loses his job and moves with his young son to rural Kansas.
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A French sailor, framed and sent to an island prison, escapes and seeks revenge on those who betrayed him. Four police officers begin to question their faith and their abilities as fathers after a tragedy hits close to home. A Texas cowboy saves indebted cattlemen from a crook in cahoots with a banker.
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