Friday, 2 December 2011
(Picture source: http://teawithmarykate.wordpress.com/)
I couldn’t very well ignore Agatha Christie, could I? The 1940’s was part of her Golden Age; she wrote 12 novels during that time, though her whole career span over 50 years after debut in 1920. If you are familiar with her works through the very excellent TV adaptations of Poirot, with David Suchet and the visually beautiful but not quite as good adaptations of the Miss Marple mysteries, then it may surprise you to that not all the Poirot- books takes place in the 1930’s and not every Miss Marple is set in the 1950’s. And not all of her stories feature her two most famous sleuths, of the 40’s books, six are Poirot novels and two are Miss Marple.
I started to read Christie’s crime novels when I was around 12 and I still re-read them. It’s true that she often uses stereotypes instead of fully rounded characters and if you read enough of her novels you learn to recognize them, like the handsome never-do well man with just a little to close between the eyes, the vamp, and the straight-backed military man and so on- but you can never count on who is the murderer. Of course, having read them all, I know who the murdered is, but I enjoy reading them anyway. Christie had a knack for describing atmospheres and they don’t have to be spectacular to appeal. Try reading 4.50 From Paddington when you feel sick to death on household chores. I promise, when you have followed Lucy scrubbing the kitchen table, you can feel her enthusiasm. It helps that she does so looking stylish too.
Though it’s easy to feel that Christie’s describes every detail, she actually doesn’t. She often just gives the reader an outline that you can then fill in with the rest. She can tell you a woman is paler, pretty and with dark wavy hair, but nothing about her build, eyecolour or the shape of her features. If a detailed description is there, then you can be almost certain that it has significance for the plot. A fun way of reading is to take particularly note on the character’s clothes. Christie use clothes as a way to enhance characters. A pale, calm woman will have an evening gown in silver; the fiery one will wear red. The vampish beauty on the beach will flash her tanned body with a white bathing suit but take note that her green coolie-hat is described so carefully. Because clothes, or other characteristic like nails and hair, very, very often, will tell you something important about the plot itself. This is especially important if something in an outfit doesn’t fit in. A cheap shoe with an expensive stocking, a no-nonsense woman wearing romantic pearls to tweed, a high maintenance girl with bitten down nails or a hat worn on the wrong side of the head. Not to be taken likely in a Christie novel.
(Picture source: http://www.etsy.com/listing/74332547/vintage-mystery-book-1946-agatha)
My absolute favourite of the 1940’s Christie’s is without doubt The Hollow. It’s actually my favourite Christie ever. It has unusually well-rounded and interesting characters, though the plot is a typical Christie-plot; a family gathers in a manor house and one of them wounds up dead, Poirot enters and the problem is solved. However, there are some rather interesting characters like the famous doctor who does a lot of good work, is handsome and full of vitality, but also egocentric and often both rude and ruthless. Or the artist Henrietta who finds her idea of a sculpture contaminated of the models nasty personality. There is also an absolutely wonderful Cinderella scene set in a ladies boutique.
The Christie’s of the 1940’s
Sad Cypress (1940) Another favourite
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940) For some reason I find Christie weakest when she tries to ground her books in time. This book is clearly set during WWII and suffers from it.
Evil Under the Sun (1941) Good classic Christie.
N or M? (1941) Also set during WWII and with the, in my view annoying, Tommy and Tuppence.
The Body in the Library (1942)
Five Little Pigs (1942)
The Moving Finger (1942)
Towards Zero (1944) Unusual because the killer is a psychopath
Death Comes as the End (1944) The story is set in Ancient Egypt, but the characters are all Christie.
Sparkling Cyanide (1945) Another favourite, probably because it was one of the first I read, but the plot is rather contrived.
The Hollow (1946)
Taken at the Flood (1948)
Crooked House (1949)