The signature country home aside, Christie's literary world was far from homogenous. Her plots, like her life, were international, threading through urban and pastoral, gentry and working class, dipping occasionally into the truly psychotic or even supernatural. Christie murders were committed for all the Big Reasons -- love, money, ambition, fear, revenge -- and they were committed by men, women, children and, in one case, the narrator. Some of her books are truly great -- "Death on the Nile," "And Then There Were None," "The Secret Adversary," "Murder on the Orient Express," "Curtain" to name a few -- and some are not. But even the worst ("The Blue Train," "The Big Four") bear the marks of a master craftsman. Perhaps not on her best day, but the failures make us appreciate the successes, and the woman behind them, that much more.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, November 29, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
The Reading Life: In the Nov. 27 Arts & Books section, an article on Agatha Christie referred to the author as Dame Christie. The correct title is Dame Agatha.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, December 04, 2011 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
The Reading Life: A Nov. 27 Arts & Books article on Agatha Christie referred to the author as Dame Christie. The correct title is Dame Agatha.
To a modern eye, her books reflect many of the faults of her generation -- "And Then There Were None" was originally titled "Ten Little Niggers" (which was also the original title of the poem changed to the only slightly better "Ten Little Indians"), and the British class system, still in place when Christie grew up, is often replicated in her books without question or argument.
That said, there were no sacred cows -- her murders were as socially diverse as her victims, and Poirot's greatest asset was that, as a foreigner, no one thought him important enough to guard against. Through him and his less-than-perceptive British foil, Hastings, Christie was able to dissect the famous British reserve and rigid dictates of class. The running joke that no one seemed capable of believing that, although he spoke French, Poirot was in fact Belgian, served as a perpetual admonishment against Britain's often dismissive relationship with its European neighbors.
But it was Miss Marple who became the most vivid symbol of Christie's worldview. With her white hair, cornflower blue eyes and gentle ways, Miss Marple took a lively interest in the world around her but knew from experience, alas, that pretty much everyone was capable of anything, including murder. People can be wonderful creatures, my dear, she would inevitably say, but still it pays to keep your wits about you.
It's a dictum that has lost neither its social nor literary resonance, though it's difficult to think of anyone since who has wielded it more effectively. The problem was never that Christie wrote too many books but that she wrote too few.