My love affair with Agatha Christie
When at university and studying for my finals, I lived in a flat above a charity shop. This charity shop was for some local animal charity and was the kind of place that sold things cheap. Very, very cheap. I still regularly use a pile of side plates that I picked up there for just 10p each, but the other thing they sold for just 10p was paperback books. In particular Agatha Christie books, which they always seemed to have a load of.
Living on my own at the time and spending pretty much every spare minute studying I struggled to fall asleep at night as my brain was just going at 100mph. My solution was to pick up an Agatha Christie book. The plots were gentle enough that I felt relaxed reading them, but at the same time they engaged my brain in trying to figure out who the murderer was so I stopped thinking about engineering formulae and complex mathematics instead. And so my Agatha Christie love affair started.
Finding my people
The classic age of detective fiction has always been one that I’ve loved and over the years I’m slowly working my way through many of the titles from the British Library Crime Classics series and picking those up secondhand where possible. During my many hours of driving kids I was on the look out for something new to listen to and earlier this year happened across the Shedunnit podcast on BBC Sounds. The first episode I listened to was entitled Agatha’s Archaeologists and as I listened along I realised two things. Firstly that I actually knew very little about Agatha Christie myself, and secondly that I had finally found “my people”. But I was left wondering how it had taken me so long to find them.
In the same week I took the kids to the local library and Lucy Worsley’s Biography of Agatha Christie caught my eye. I picked it up and started reading it there and then, and was instantly hooked. The fact that both these links with the golden age of crime fiction came so close together was a tad surprising, but also a very happy coincidence. Another coincidence is the fact that there is a actually a whole episode of the Shedunnit podcast with Lucy Worsley as a guest talking about her book. Also well worth a listen.
Agatha Christie – A very elusive woman
Back to Lucy Worsley’s book itself. Although it’s hard to separate the subject from the author as Worsley’s style of writing means that as I read it I could so clearly hear her voice telling me all about Agatha and her life. The writing style draws you in in exactly the same way that her numerous television programmes do. A voice of such passion and fact combined that it draws the reader (or viewer) along with her. Her enthusiasm for everything is just so contagious.
For me, just one read of this book isn’t enough. I need to go out and buy a copy and read it again whilst also re-reading all of Agatha Christie’s works in chronological order. I need now to read each book again and cross-refer to the point in her life when Agatha wrote it. To be able to see the influences of what was going on elsewhere, and also see how her characters develop over time, sometimes based on influential characters and experiences in her own life.
I also want to take a step back and imagine what Agatha’s life must have been like. I’m keen to visit her home in Devon (now owned by the National Trust), but also to go back to The Old Swan in Harrogate, the hotel where she was found after she famously went “missing’. Her travels round the world which provided inspiration for so many of her books also fascinate me.
Of course there’s absolutely nothing new in what I’m hoping to learn. Many others have done their own research on Agatha Christie’s life and works, and the Shedunnit podcast covers many of the topics in excellent detail, but Lucy Worsley’s book has given me a drive and enthusiasm to learn so much more for myself. If that’s not a sign of an excellent biography then I really don’t know what is.
A televisual delight too
And if re-reading the biography alongside all of Agatha Christie’s books, and catching up with the whole back catalogue of Shedunnit podcasts isn’t enough to keep me out of mischief there is also Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on The Mystery Queen on BBC iPlayer too. I fear my to do list might take a bit of a back seat in my life for a while.
Where to buy
Lucy Worsley’s Agatha Christie biography is available to buy online here.
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