Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Queen of Crime

As we observed International Women’s day on 8th of this month, I felt I have to write about one lady whose books I read with same enthusiasm whenever I lay my hands on them from the last 18 years. The lady is Agatha Christie who entered the scene of crime fiction that was considered as a stronghold of men till then and was successful in an enormous way. It may be argued that her writing started out as an imitation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or the quality of her writing stands just a notch below the creator of Sherlock Holmes. But in quantity and popularity-wise Agatha Christie stands tall.

All her books are best sellers and in sales stand third only to Shakespeare plays and Bible. She is the most translated individual writer and her play The Mouse Trap holds the record for the longest running play. It is still running continuously after 50 years and has played more than 25000 times. Audience is asked not to reveal its twist ending after the play. (Quite recently I happened to watch another play that parodies the plots of detective stories generally and of this play particularly. More on that on a future post.)

Two of the great characters which Agatha Christie gifted the readers are Miss Marple, an old lady who lives alone and solves crimes in her spare time, and Hercule Poirot, the ego centric Belgian private detective who uses his “little grey cells” to enter the dark alleys of the criminal minds and expose them. The first Agatha Christie novel I read was Thirteen Problems, a Miss Marple mystery translated in Malayalam. By that time I had read a few novels of Holmes like Sign of Four and Hound of Baskerville. There was an English series aired in Doordarshan based on certain Poirot stories that I started watching. Fascinated by his antics, I started reading the novels where Poirot appears as central character, like The Mysterious affairs of Styles and The Big Four.

Agatha Christie never liked Poirot, who she felt was a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep”. But the public felt otherwise and wisely she never killed him off till her end unlike Doyle who bumped off Holmes to gain time for pursuing other interests and had to make him return from dead for the sake of public demand. Most of the Poirot books are strikingly similar to Holmes in their plotting. Like Dr Watson, there will be a narrator in majority of them who also serves as an assistant to the detective, the most repeated being Hastings. Another stock character is the police officer who starts investigation erroneously and later seeks help from him and finally takes the credit of the findings. If it is Lestrade in Holmes canon, here it is Inspector Japp.

But Mrs Marple was Agatha Christie’s favorite character. Her gentleness and other virtues may be the reason. Or it may be the stormy first marriage of Christie that caused her to like the solitary life of Miss Marple. Miss Marple novels are generally arm chair detective stories sans much action. She uses her huge experience of village life to see inside the minds of people and deduce their reasons for their deeds. There are stories which do not feature Marple or Poirot. One that I remember now is And Then There Were None. An Indian movie version (watered down) was made years before titled Gumnaam, famous for its haunting song Gumnaam hai koi… sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Recently I had one of the most comforting reading sessions in my life when, after months of reading several serious non- fiction books, I desperately wanted some light reads and found solace in an omnibus volume of four Poirot novels.

11 comments:

  1. I read the title of your post on my dashboard and the first line, and I knew you had to be talking about Agatha Christie. I didn't read much of Christie growing up; just a couple of books and a collection of short stories starring Poirot. I am getting to know her writing better now, and I agree, she really is the queen of crime!

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    1. Hi Priya.. Thanks for the visit.. I had read lot of Agatha Christie while growing up, but not remembering most of the titles... she writes in a simple but engrossing style..

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  2. Like Priya said,when I read the title of your post I knew it must be about Christie. She was the one who got me interested in murder mystery and I am proud to say that I have read all her books and have most of her books with me.BTW try PD James,you might like her too and check the TV Show Midsomer Murders for Christie like plots.

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    1. thanks Zach , I will try to get hold of P D James.

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  3. I had also read Agatha Christie though I was never a big fan.

    I used to feel that detective writing is not true writing but manipulative, so that you have the surprise of finding the most unexpected murderer. Reading some of the recent scandinavian detective writings, actually I have liked them much more!

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  4. Lovely post about an amazing author! I didn't know Agatha Christie never liked Poirot. I enjoy the books with Poirot, though I love Miss Marple as well. I can't remember the title of the first Christie book I read... it was about these anonymous letters and was a Marple mystery. My interest in her books and detective fiction in general has slowly dwindled but there is no doubt that she is the queen of crime and no one unravels mysteries like she does <3

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    1. Her books I feel are excellent for some light reading... thanks for commenting

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  5. One of my favorite authors! And the charcter of Poirot is her gift to us:) Thanks for reminding her on an eventful day.

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    1. Thanks for the visit. Me too love Poirot

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  6. She is one of my all time fav authors too! I really love her novels even though they are predictable and imitative. They always help me to relax and chill.
    I can see from your post as well that you did also adore her works!

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