Friday, May 29, 2015

Well, Christie Or Non Christie?

Well today I have a burning question for you all, something that is considered not really proper to talk about in polite crime writing  circles, although it is discussed and argued about, behind closed doors, whispers in the restroom,  murmurings in the cloisters and gossip at the vicarage.

So are you or aren’t you? Do you or don’t you?

Are you in my boat or out my boat?

Are you a devotee or a non believer?

Put simply, do you like Agatha Christie or not?
Are you with me and Sophie Hannah?  We believe that Agatha is a complex narrator of time and place, a shrewd observer of the human condition. Or are you with Lucy Mangan, who thinks Christie is not so much as a ‘whodunit’ but an ‘idontgeddit.’ And then there is some Chandler bloke who disliked Christie. But he wrote crime books and never put an innocent blonde in any of them so I am not listening to his opinion.

It is now a  popular pastime amongst upstarts  and pipsqueaks to ‘Christie bash’ and I will have none of it. She is often thought of as a master plotter and little else. Stereotypical characterisation, class ridden, often xenophobic are the criticisms flung her way.
Lucy Mangan in the Guardian reports that most of Christie’s time was spent on plotting and that, as a writer, she found the actual 'get the words on the paper stuff'' a bit of a chore.  Lucy quotes Christie; "I think the real work is done in thinking out the development of your story and worrying about it until it comes right," she once said. She began with the crime and worked backwards. "Then, when you've got all your material together, all that remains is to find time to write the thing."
Mmm, well I too spend  a long time plotting. Is that not what crime writers do?  If I didn’t and the story didn’t pan out I’d have to go back and redo the whole thing. I looked up what Mangan writes as a novelist herself. Her book is called ‘Hopscotch and Handbags.’
So I think we are comparing apples and pears here. And I think the lack of a crime writers heart is bourne out by the fact she gave up on the book ‘ The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ‘ despite recommendations from her friends to read it, as she would never ‘get it.’

I am sitting here looking at my book case. It holds two books about the book ‘The murder Of Roger Ackroyd’ as that book nearly changed/destroyed crime fiction for ever.
PD James   was another non Christe-ite, objecting to her  "cardboard cutout characters" and likened her to "a literary conjuror . . . The American writer Edmund Wilson also objected to her on the grounds that he liked murders that happened "for a reason, rather than just to provide a body".

Well I have just listened to the Christie short story collection, the Tuesday Night Club. ( I think that’s what it is called. Does anybody else with Ipod and kindle devices suffer from the fact that they don’t get an image of the cover each time they pick it up and put it down? So the title can float past you?)
And what are the motives for murder in those stories? Love. Avenging love. Avarice. Politics. Religion.  Yip, pretty much what  crime writers have been writing about since the year dot. The only thing she really misses out on are serial killers, as they haven’t been thought of yet.
And reading about psychopathy nowadays, she was writing about it back then. She just called it something else. I agree you might have to dig a big bit deeper to get to the killer’s psyche but I argue that it is still there.
Take ‘Towards Zero’, one of my favourite Christie books. How far back are the seeds of murderous thought sown?  In Christie’s day it might appear simplistic, but the genesis of that idea is pure ‘Criminal Minds.’  Hotch would nail Neville Strange as the unsub I’m sure of that, but not until at least 40 minutes into the episode.
So, let’s get down and dirty. Over 4 billion (with a b, not an m) copies of her books sold since 1920. She is THHHHEEEE most translated author on the face of the planet.
Google gave her a logo of her own to celebrate her 120th birthday.

The case for the defence now rests. As we cannot trust the ‘Witness For The Prosecution.’

Caro Christie    29 05 2015


  1. Funnily enough, I am just now re-reading Christie for first time in many years. It was reading her at age 11 that made me a crime fiction fan and eventually a crime writer. I find the books brilliantly plotted, funny, and very tightly put together - my book group keeps finding new books too full of 'padding' to get the word count up - none of that in them days. (Big fan of Chandler too, I think he was rebelling, necessarily, against the idea that golden age crime was the only crime fic on the block.) We need more books in just the lengths they need to be to tell the story - that could be 100k or 25k. I don't find her especially xenophobic etc by the standards of the time - even if she'd been a raving liberal, her characters would have had the attitudes of their class, gender and ethnicity.

    1. I really want to reread some Christie. She was definitely my gateway drug to crime fiction. I'll go on the minority side here and argue for Miss Marple over Poirot -- the Miss Marple books as I recall have a real dark streak to them!

  2. Caro, It's brave of you to bring this up. I've been around partisan discussions of Dame Agatha that tried even the legendary mutual good will of crime writers. Like Lydia, above, I read Christie as a young teenager and loved the books--as much I recall for their exotic locations as for their twisty plots. I still enjoy rereading my favorites. But I feel ho-hum about some others. Poirot, yes. Miss Marple, not so much. But there is no denying that no one can beat dear Agatha at her best.

  3. Now wait just a minute... Are you implying that YOU are an innocent blonde? Or am I just inferring that from what you wrote? Some things stretch the willing suspension of disbelief TOO far.

    I must confess that I've only read one or two Christie's, and long ago, in my teen years (particularly "And Then There Were None" or "Ten Little Indians" as it was so politically incorrectly titled, or the even more p-ic original UK title...) I was side-tracked by science fiction for 30 years, a genre that has sadly been side-tracked by the future becoming the present, and somehow never made it back to reading Dame Agatha.

  4. I need to read a few of these again. You mention Edmund Wilson. My employers wanted me to drive them to his house shortly after after he died and look at the words etched in the window glass. It was the summer of 1972. I hadn't thought of that in many years. Thanks for the trigger.