Listening to Agatha Christie, 2020

Part I: Introduction

Boredom can inspire. Covid-19 causes boredom. Logic would dictate, then, that Covid-19 inspires. Without realizing that 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the publication of Agatha Christie’s first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, last February I decided upon the lengthy project of listening to all of Christie’s mystery novels and short stories. I qualify this because she wrote several plays and six romance novels under a pseudonym that I haven’t included on my list. I am an audio book addict and opted to listen to, rather than read, her books. It helped that I already owned a selection of her audio books, and I could re-listen to them.

Between 1920 and 1976, Christie, or Dame Agatha as she is called by some, wrote 66 mystery/detective/espionage novels and 14 short story collections. The books were initially published in the UK and the US, sometimes under different titles. The short story collections vary in UK and US publications. To date, Christie’s books have sold over two billion copies. My impressions and comments are based on the audio versions sold on, mainly because I am a long term member. None of my comments relate to Audible.

Most of us are familiar with Christie’s two famous detectives, the Belgian ex-police officer Hercule Poirot and the “elderly” Miss Jane Marple, resident of St. Mary Meade. But she also developed a host of other characters, some of which weave in and out of her detective and espionage novels. Poirot and Miss Marple, however, never appeared in the same book. And she wrote a large number of standalone mystery/espionage stories that feature none of her recurring characters. Surprisingly, she was interested in the occult, the supernatural, and the unseen, which feature in many of her short stories.

My favorite character outside of Poirot and Miss Marple is Ariadne Oliver, a scattered, bewigged mystery writer who appears as a secondary character in several Poirot stories. She has some great dialogue. Check out Hallowe’en Party, 1969. Her only stand alone, The Pale Horse, is one of my favorite Christie books. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are featured in six books dealing with espionage and crime. They are the main characters in Christie’s second novel, The Secret Adversary, published in 1922, and her last written novel, Postern of Fate, published in 1973. The final Poirot, Curtain, published in 1975, and the final Miss Marple, Sleeping Murder, published posthumously in 1976, were both written in the 1940s and locked in a bank vault for later publication.

Superintendent Battle of the CID also gets the starring role in a couple of books, as does Colonel Race, who has an undefined job in the British secret service. Both Battle (The Secret of Chimney’s, 1925) and Race (The Man in the Brown Suite, 1924), appear before Miss Marple’s first novel Murder at the Vicarage in 1930. Battle, Race, and Poirot are all featured in Cards on the Table, which was published in 1936. Colonel Race is also featured in Poirot’s Death on the Nile in 1936.  

Moving away from the mystery/detective genre, we meet two intriguing characters who appear only in short story collections. Parker Pyne, (Parker Pyne Investigates, published in 1934) styles himself as a detective, but considers himself a detective of the heart. He is a fixer for the lovelorn, for people trapped in loveless marriages, and for the unhappy. Ariadne Oliver appears briefly in a couple Pyne stories, as does Miss Lemon, who goes on to become Hercule Poirot’s secretary. The Mysterious Mr. Quin stories feature Mr. Satterwaite, who drifts through high society, and Mr. Harley Quin, who may or may not be a figment of Satterwaite’s subconscious. The stories are hard to characterize. The supernatural feeling is strong throughout.

Of course, we can’t forget Captain Arthur Hastings, who is predominantly featured in most Hercule Poirot short stories and in several of the novels. After Murder on the Links (1923) in which he meets his future wife and moves to the Argentine, Hastings appears rarely in Poirot novels. Poirot regards Hastings as a not too bright sidekick, though probably his best friend. Hastings is never featured on his own unless narrating the story of one of Poirot’s cases. He is, however, with Poirot at the end in Curtain (1975), Poirot’s final case.

I am almost finished with my listening project. I have three novels left, and I have to revisit The Mysterious Mr. Quin. My current listen, They Came to Baghdad (1951), I must say is not my favorite book in the Christie library. More on that and other meanderings on Agatha Christie’s books and characters in the future.

Stairway to Hogwarts

Author, Author

Store shelves with author clay portraits, Livaria Lello, Porto, Portugal

The upper shelves in Livraria Lello (Lello Bookstore) are adorned with miniature portrait busts of authors. Porto’s Livraria Lello is famous because J. K. Rowling used it as the inspiration for the library in the Harry Potter books. When she lived in Porto, she spent time in the store imagining the world of Hogwarts. Crowds line up to visit the bookstore, which has resulted in the store having to sell timed entry tickets and charging a fee. Too many people were crowding in just for photo opportunities and not buying anything. Even with the fee, it was packed the day I was there.  Getting to the upper level was difficult because people were posing and blocking the stairs. The entry fee is refundable if you buy a book or item not related to Harry Potter.

Underside of stairway leading to upper level of Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal

Interior, Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal

Join Terri’s Sunday Stills: For the Love of Reading and Books

Join Cee’s Fun Foto: Steps or Stairs

Creative Reuse

Phone Books

Old phone booth now used as a street library, Sigtuna, Sweden

An old phone booth (telephone booth, telephone kiosk, telephone call box, telephone box or public call box) has been reused as a book kiosk in Sigtuna, Sweden.

Join Nancy’s A Photo A Week Challenge: Whimsical

CFFC: Furniture, etc.

A Place to Watch Books

Library, Morgan Library, New York City, New York

Mr. Morgan’s library, one of the historic rooms in the Morgan Library & Museum, New York City, New York.  Built for J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) between 1902 and 1906 as a Renaissance-style palazzo, the once private library possesses a stunning collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, several of which are on display in the raised display case. The collection also includes literary and historical manuscripts, early printed books, author and artist correspondence and papers, old master drawings and prints, and an important collection of music manuscripts.

Jane Austen Manuscript of Lady Susan, Morgan Library, New York City, New York,

Morgan had a great interest in British writers and acquired the only surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  The Morgan Museum & Library is a major repository of Jane Austen’s correspondence, possessing one-third of all her surviving letters, as well the autograph manuscript of Lady Susan (rewritten ca. 1805), the only surviving complete manuscript of any of her novels.

In 1924, Morgan’s son fulfilled his father’s wishes and transformed the library into a public institution. Since that time the Morgan has expanded its collection of rare books and works on paper, which now include drawings by Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso; three Gutenberg Bibles; a copy of Frankenstein annotated by Mary Shelley; manuscripts by  John Steinbeck and Mark Twain; Henry David Thoreau’s journals;  handwritten sheet music by Beethoven; and an original edition of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

For more information on the Morgan Library & Museum, check out their website.

CFFC: Furniture, etc. 

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