Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dame Christie

Influential Woman—It’s a Mystery to Me

I was an ugly duckling girl who yearly packed boxes and endured the ritual of another first-day-at-school. I found solace in best friends who trained horses, hijacked trains … solved crimes. Though I certainly didn’t take it in at age thirteen, these friends taught me right from wrong. These friends intertwined love and hate like two-strand embroidery thread. One particular friend dashed about London society circles, digesting story snippets as well as gallons of tea and crumpets. Undaunted by a messy divorce, this friend rebounded with a marriage that granted passage to Middle Eastern archeological digs.

Dear friends, meet Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976), writer of eighty detective novels, short stories and plays. Only the Bible is believed to have sold more than the four billion volumes of Christie works rung up at international registers. Christie garnered the first Grand Master Award of the American Mystery Writers Association in 1955 and in 1971 achieved Britain’s highest honor, Dame of the British Empire.

Pretty amazing stuff for a Dame. But I knew nothing about Agatha’s accolades, only her characters. Hercule Poirot taught me how to hold a teacup, how to greet guests, had me swooning over snippets of the lovely French language (though he indignantly informed me that he was Belgian.) You see, mon ami, besides solving crimes, Hercule dispensed advice, oozed charm. Gave me a calling card into upper-crust society. Obviously others adored the man, who to date is the only fictional character honored with an obituary in the New York Times!

When I tired of the little man’s egg-shaped head, overwhelming pomade, and endless cocked glances, a dash to the bookshelf brought out Miss Marple, who hid a sharp eye and sharper mind behind piles of knitting and her sweets stash. Christie created an old lady who didn’t just sit by the fire and dream of yesteryear. Christie created characters to live by. Plots to live with. Books for a reader.

Dame Christie also penned books for a writer. Decades before God led me to capture stories on paper, Christie primed the inkwell with tantalizing plots (Murder on the Orient Express), great characters (Lady Edgware, Captain Hastings), KILLER dialogue. Lovers of mysteries still analyze, categorize, theorize on Agatha’s techniques. Did I mention the dialogue?

“So that is Lady Edgware? Yes, I remember—I have seen her act. She is belle femme.”
“And a fine actress too.”
“You don’t seem convinced.”
“I think it would depend on the setting, my friend. If she is the centre of the play, if all revolves round her—yes, then she could play her part…” Poirot paused and then added, rather unexpectedly, “Such people go through life in great danger.”
“Danger?” I said, surprised.
“I have used a word that surprises you, I see, mon ami. Yes, danger. A woman like that sees only one thing—herself. Such women see nothing of the dangers that surround them—the million conflicting interests and relationships of life. No, they see only their own forward path. And —sooner or later—disaster.” (excerpted from Lord Edgware Dies.)

As writer and postmenopausal wife, mother, teacher, friend, Agatha Christie’s work evokes emotion, lends instruction, and establishes The Moral Premise so key, as Williams declares, to successful literature.

Over forty years after Monsieur Poirot and Miss Marple and I made acquaintance, these old friends call, especially when my world has tilted askew and I need a comfortable, safe old reread from the chapters of ones who know just what to say, just what to do. If you haven’t met my English friends, I urge you to seek them out. Their appointment books are more open than you would suspect!

What’s your favorite Christie mystery? Oh, how I love them all. Still, my hands-down favorite is Curtain. Au revoir, Poirot. Au revoir, dear friends. “They were good days. Yes, they have been good days…”

If you’d like to be entered to win a copy of Curtain, just leave a comment on this blog. Please leave an email address so we can contact you if you're the winner (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address). Post by December 15th, please. We'll pick a winner at random and be in contact shortly after that!


  1. I like so many... The Man in the Brown Suit is a favorite.


  2. Patti, we had such a nice friendship going but now you are going to learn that I've never read a Christie. I've only seen them turned into screenplays. Oh, wait, I've listened to Miss Marple's cleverness on audio books! hurray!

    But you've convinced me I'm long overdue to see this master on page. Wonderful post. I love a mystery! And I'd like to learn more about her life. Did you find any biographies to recommend?

  3. Today I'm heading for the library to snatch from the shelves a Christie mystery, for I must confess that, though I've loved them on the screen, I've never read one. I think I'll opt for a Miss Marple. You, dear Patti, have whetted my appetite. I do love cozies! And tea. Crumpets are tasty, too.

    skc.storyteller ["at" sign] ballstate.bsu.edu

  4. Merry--I thought I'd read them ALL but have not heard of Man in the Brown Suit! Thank you for an early Thanksgiving present.

    Deb, I'll let this one slide--as long as you get busy on it. "Agatha Christie--an Autobiography" was said by one reviewer to be "the best thing she ever wrote." "Duchess of Death" and "Agatha Christie at Home" also receive solid ratings. But I'd stick to the mysteries, mon ami. The books.
    Au revoir.

    Sharon, SO COOL! I'm not sure if Christie's books are cozies or not. You will have to let me know.

    While I have the stage, I will unabashedly invite y'all to my new blog, necessary because my website kept crashing? Alas, no mystery involved. Pure author overload. www.pattilacy.com/blog

  5. Okay, true confessions time...I've never read an Agatha Christie novel. My son loved And Then There Were None.

  6. Dina, you and Debra have some reading to do. Start with your son's favorite; it's killer good.

  7. And it's already downloaded on my kindle. Extra benefit.

  8. I used to read Agatha Christie in school. Please include me in the contest. Thanks.

    I've also watched one movie.

  9. Adge, a teacher ALLOWED a MYSTERY in the classroom, or did you traipse off to the library and do a little reading, independent style? What was your favorite????


  10. I love Agatha Christie. Her novels played a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today. Particularly the whole anglophile part.

    She was a fascinating person too. Shortly before her divorce she disappeared for several days. All of England was out looking for her. Her car was found abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Most presumed her dead, especially when no ransom was demanded. She was later found at a spa under a different name. A statement was released that she had suffered a nervous break. But people have been fascinated by those missing days for years. And she never discussed it. Not even in her autobiography. The biography, The Duchess of Death presents an interesting series of events though.

    I think my favorites are... A Cat Among the Pigeons and Nemesis. I heart Tommy and Tuppence Beresford!

  11. Well, Patti, I must get busy and pick up some new Christies. I haven't heard of half these titles. I've read Murder on the Orient Express and enjoyed it so can't fathom why I haven't read more. Alas, so many books, so little time. Wonderful post. Thanks.

  12. Oh Patti, I loved your post. Fun! Fun! Fun! And I never knew that Agatha Chrisie became a Dame, although now that I think of it I'm not surprised. However, (blush, blush) I have never read her. I have watched Murder on the Orient Express and loved that. Did Poirot come across differently in the books than the movies?

    And I think I saw a series of her books on the BBC. Did she write, "The Mirror Cracked?" or maybe that was Miss Marple. :)

    Anyway, I'll hide behind the excuse of being the avid Sherlock Holmes lover and the Scarlet Pimpernell and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard and . . . you get the picture. :)

  13. Lisa, YOU should've written this article! How could I have left out poor Tommy and Tuppence, early Christie sleuths?

    Connie, you will indeed have to get busy. Just don't read "Curtain" first.

    Jill, "The Mirror Crack'd" is an Agatha Christie novel WITH Miss Marple as the detective. Unless there's an impersonator running around out there with old lady glasses and a pudgy figure, Miss Marple only lives in Christie's stories.

    Hmmm, does Poirot come off in the books like he does in the BBC? I'm so prejudiced toward the books, I'd just better not answer. Another question for bloggites!!!


  14. Thankfully, Jill provided me with at least the name of one I recognized as an audio book. The Mirror Cracked.

    I would think they'd all be considered cozies. But where is the line drawn? I know not.

    the thing about writing mysteries is coming up with that main character that's going to come back in each subsequent book, unless it's a one time deal and what's the fun of that.
    Can anyone tell me the first Miss Marple book? I'd like to start at the beginning.

  15. Oh, Patti, what a fun post. I fell in love with Dame Christie as a seventh grader. My friend Hillary and I would read & swap Christie books during free time in English class.

    My favorite is "Death on the Nile." Love the story, love Poirot, and I love the exotic setting...hmm, my favorites were always those with exotic settings. I marveled in the idea of people who lived so differently than I did, who were able to "take a holiday" on a riverboat up the Nile, or to some gorgeous little island ("Evil Under the Sun"), or visit a historical site ("Murder in Mesopotamia").

    I also read some of her books that she published under a pseudonym...they weren't mysteries. Can't remember the name. Now I'm going to have to Google it and come back. Wait! Mary Westmacott? Is that right?

    I've also read that you can visit her home now, and even rent rooms there. Sigh. I'd better get a jar to start saving pennies.

  16. I think Murder at the Vicarage is where we meet the lovely Miss Marple. Y'all, correct me if I'm wrong...

  17. Looks like the Inkwell ladies have another thing in common: Love for Agatha Christie.

    My pre-New Year's Resolution: I vow to pay my library fine so I can check books out again, starting with Ms. Christie's.

  18. Patti, I need to reread Agatha. I'm writing a YA mystery and I bet I could learn a thing or two. Thanks for reminding me.

    Love the blog. :) Great post.

  19. Gina, that's exactly why I BUY books! Can't seem to follow rules...

    Robyn, I will have to visit your blog and learn about YOUR works.
    Hey, all of us writers can learn from "THE DAME."

  20. Robyn,
    DID visit your blog. Way cool!


  21. Patti,
    I'm sitting here trying not too laugh too hard at myself for earlier statement. :) I better try for some more sleep tonight. Oh, and Death on the Nile as Susanne said is a good one too.

  22. Hey Patti, I never was a big Agatha Christie fan. I remember watching Murder on the Orient Express and another movie where they spent a lot of time around a dining table or in the parlor but that's about it. I was interested when they were on but not enough to run out and borrow a Christie book from the library.

    However, I have a lot of respect for the woman and the inroads she made as a writer in her time.

    BTW - been to your lovely site and will leave a comment soon. :)

  23. Thanks, Jill and Anita!
    Lots of ink flowing on this post today! Love my Inkies!!!


  24. Great post, Patti. I love Agatha Christie's books. In fact, I have a few on my bookshelf that I ordered recently and I'm saving them for a rainy weekend to enjoy after I'm finished with my classes. Poirot is my favorite, though I love them all. I love her descriptions and I love that she can carry me away to whichever setting she uses. I have a hard time picking my favorite book, but the ones that stick out the most in my mind are A Pocket Full of Rye, And Then There Were None, and Three Blind Mice. I'm not particular fan of the shows that have been on tv lately. I have never been able to stay awake through one. Is it me? Is it the time of day? Or is it the show? I want to enjoy the shows, but so far I haven't been able to.

  25. I, too, was introduced to Agatha Christie via the silver screen, with Death on the Nile, if I remember correctly. At that point I'd run out of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and started in on Agatha Christie's other works. I must confess I didn't get nearly as far as my daughter! Something for me to work on over Christmas break, perhaps!
    Thanks, Patti, for another awesome post!

  26. Agatha Christie was a favourite author of mine...still is...although I haven't read any of her books for years. Great memories.


  27. Suzie, well, I'm right there with ya, girl, on those TV versions!

    Karen K, glad to have you join the Dame's Unofficial Fan Club!

  28. Hi Patti

    After your great affirmation on my blog, I couldn't but not see who it came from. And I'm not disappointed.

    You guys have a place of substance over here.

    And you are so right. How much the books I have read have shaped the 'who' of me is immeasurable. Maybe that's why, when I find an Author of depth, I spend a 'season' absorbing all their work, their heart, their discoveries of life.

    Although, I hang my head when I admit that I have never read any Agatha Christie. Unthinkable yes. For one who mows through a book a week on average, almost impossible. But ... I hope to remedy that. Curtain you say ...}

  29. Sande, what an humbling, gorgeously written post!
    Yep, you've convinced me about your voracious word appetite!

    I do need your addy for the random giveaway but think I can use my magnifying glass and DNA to ferrit it out!



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