1926 was Agatha Christie’s annus horribilis. Brian Donaldson recalls that fateful year and tracks down modern scribes who reflect upon the Great Dame’s work.
When The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published 80 years ago, the leftfield plot twist and unreliable narrator left her readers and the wider crime fiction community feeling betrayed. Only the tie-breaking vote of Dorothy Sayers prevented her from being kicked out of the Detection Club. Perhaps shaken by this storm, she ended the year by doing a runner. After her car was found abandoned, she turned up three days later in a Harrogate hotel claiming a mixture of amnesia and nervous breakdown.
Little did she realise that she would go on to become the biggest selling novel writer of all time. But what do modern writers think of Christie’s monumental oeuvre, a vast output which has made household names out of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot?
Stella Duffy Some believe there are only seven stories in the world anyway, but must she be so obvious about it? Everything is always too neatly tied up at the end, which couldn’t be further from real life, not least in the period Christie was writing. Marple is smug and Poirot would be an awful person to sit next to on a train. He’d tell you everything he knows. For hours. And someone would be bound to get killed and then you’d be really late for wherever you were headed. On the other hand, she was a woman writing a woman hero who knew more than the blokes, especially the police; many writers today (female as well as male) regularly fail to manage that bold feat of imagination. Unlike many of her time, she had baddies from all social classes. The (wealthier) women are often very well dressed and I do like a nice bit of crèpe de Chine. In her personal life Christie wasn’t Marple; she clearly had some good secrets and sounds like she might have been a damn sight more fun to play with than her characters.
Alex Gray My own take on Christie is that she told a ripping yarn, keeping the reader hooked all the way through, then delivering a truly moral punch at the end. She may now be considered old-fashioned but her stories certainly paved the way for so many writers who might otherwise have neglected the genre. Let’s hear it for a great Dame!
AL Kennedy Reading Agatha Christie is something I only do when I’m alone in a dank B&B, it’s raining brimstone outside, I’ve broken both legs, there’s no radio, no television and some sadist has left a single, yellowing copy of some Marple/Poirot effort just to tip me over the edge. I get six or seven pages in through the parade of ugly foreigners, loud Americans, stupid servants and utterly boring murderers and murderees and find myself drinking bleach to relieve the pain. At best, her plots are like being trapped with all your least favourite aunts while they discuss people you don’t care about and may eventually wish to murder yourself. At worst, you need a shredder handy and a hot shower to wash away the underlying enjoyment of death and distress. If you have to do Christie, watch the inadvertently funny films or the new TV adaptations, where they’ve gingered up the plots and you can rely on the fact that no actor will voluntarily be as wooden as her characters. I wouldn’t read her again unless you paid me a great deal of money.