So what’s the Agatha Christie challenge all about, I hear you ask? Let me explain, gentle reader. As a child I was a reasonably avid reader. Not as avid as some, but avider than others. My favourite author was Enid Blyton. Not so much the Famous Five or Secret Seven, I preferred what I referred to rather pompously as her “stand-alone novels”, like The Six Bad Boys or The Put-em-Rights. Of the “series” type books I liked the “Secret” ones – like the Secret Island, or the Secret Mountain. And I really loved The Five Find-Outers and Dog. It was my first exposure to detective fiction in print, and I found the genre instantly irresistible.
Sadly, a time comes when you grow out of Enid Blyton. Every so often I would re-read the Five Find-Outers books to get that whodunit thrill. But I needed more. Then one day, I was off school, sick. I used to get terrible ear infections as a child, that would inevitably end up with my being prescribed double the adult strength dose of penicillin tablets (as a result my teeth are very striated). By the end of the week’s treatment, the penicillin would make me very moody and miserable. But to get some exercise, I used to accompany the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle on her daily trudge up the High Street in Wendover to do her grocery shopping. In the middle of all the shops was the newly opened library – a rather palatial place for its time. We popped in, with the intention of me finding something to while away my miserable time with sore ears. And that’s where I discovered Agatha Christie.
My only exposure to Mrs Christie at that stage had been the Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. The Dowager loved them, and I caught her enthusiasm for them. The infectious theme tune, the outrageously over-the-top characterisation, and marvellous dénouement moments with lines like “I’ll have you know I was Ladies’ National Fencing Champion of 1931!” as the redoubtable old girl parry-riposted to save her life from the duelling murderer. But – as I was to discover – those films bore scant resemblance to any of the books, and Miss Rutherford’s interpretation of Miss Marple is, whilst totally brilliant, a complete fabrication of Mrs Christie’s original.
Back to the library. They only had one Christie in stock – A Pocket Full of Rye. Hardback, grimy with previous perusers’ thumbprints, I selected it, took it home, and read it all in one day. I’m not sure quite how much of it I understood – I was only about 11, I think. But I got the drift, and I understood whodunit, although maybe not quite whydunit. But I was instantly hooked. Next time I went to the big bright shining metropolis of Aylesbury, I visited W H Smith and bought the two Christie paperbacks that looked most intriguing – At Bertram’s Hotel, and The ABC Murders. After they were read, I thought I’d tackle the book that was (allegedly) her masterpiece – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I went to a village fete and the bookstall there had three hardback Christies (sadly none with their dust jackets) – The Clocks, Crooked House, and They Came to Baghdad. Then I thought I ought to read her first book – The Mysterious Affair at Styles. And after that, I thought I’d just read whatever books came my way. I think I was in my early twenties when I’d finally read each and every one of them.
Since then, I’ve had a regular ten-year treat. Every ten years or so, I decide to re-read all, or the majority of, her books. I did so in 1990; I did in 2001; but I realise I haven’t done so since. So I am well behind on this decade’s Christie Challenge. So I’m embarking on all the books again, and, if you can bear it, gentle reader, I’ll share my thoughts and feelings about each one as I go. As usual, I’ll re-read them in the order I originally read them. Thus I’m currently halfway through Pocket Full of Rye, and I must say, enjoying every minute! So please watch this space for some Christie blogs over the next few weeks/months/years. I’d be very happy to hear your comments about the books too, as we go. Looking forward to it!