I know we have the same conversation every time some new contemporary author is compared to Agatha Christie but it’s the kind of thing that bears repeating. Modern readers really underestimate her skills. It seems as though all you need to do these days to be compared to her is either mention her/her books or write a small scale crime thriller. By small scale, I mean not one of these overly dark, psychological thrillers but more of a slow burner that revolves around a domestic or small setting. Here’s the thing: Agatha Christie knew what she was doing. She understood people, she understood motivation, and she understood murder. She had the ability to shock and she knew exactly what her readers wanted. Her books are light on detail and character study because they don’t need it. They do what they set out to do. She wasn’t an indulgent writer because she understood how to craft the perfect whodunnit. She didn’t need gimmicks or excess plot to distract her readers. She hid everything in plain sight. Something writers these days tend to struggle with.
If you were to ask me which Agatha Christie novel is my favourite, I would give you one of two answers. The first answer, and the real one, would be And Then There Were None. It’s an obvious choice but it’s the right one. It is the best book she ever wrote and is one of the best-crafted thrillers ever written. The twist has to be one of the best in literary history. It still gets me no matter how many times I reread it. Not in the sense that I forget but in the sense that I can’t see it coming. Her red herrings are perfect. It makes so much sense but it almost comes out of nowhere. So, yeah, that’s my real answer. However, I might also tell you that it’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Partly because the Indie Kid in me likes to be different and pretty much everyone says And Then There Were None. The other reason? Roger Ackroyd was iconic. It was groundbreaking. It was the first novel to do what it did. The twist might be a cliche now but you have to respect the book that started the trend.
So, I’m not going to lie to you. Yet again, I haven’t finished a book. It’s been a hectic week and I’ve been feeling shit. So, reading has taken a bit of a backseat. I’m away this weekend and I wanted to get ahead with posts so I didn’t have to worry about anything. I’ve been writing and taking photos in every spare second. Because I’m away in London this weekend. I’m finally getting to see Hamilton and I have no words for how excited I am. I can’t… WAIT FOR IT. Geddit? Aaah. Anyway, in the absence of a review and, needing to write something, I decided it was the perfect time to do the Hamilton Book Tag. This is a super old tag but if I’m not going to do it now when am I? I found this on DreamlandBookBlog but I think it was created on YouTube by Maureen Keavy. Either way, I’m doing it now.
Let’s look back to the end of 2017 when I foolishly decided that I would reread Murder on the Orient Express before I watched Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation. Unfortunately, I started reading Autumn by Ali Smith and it took me all fucking month to get through it. So, I decided that this was the year when I would finally do it. And, today, nearly a whole month later, I closed the final page. I should just realise that December isn’t my reading month but, if I start doing that, I’d then have to admit that no month is my reading month. It’s why I can’t ever set myself a reading challenge unless it’s read 1 book. But, let’s not get too bogged down with 2019. We’re still in 2018 and, unless I miraculously gain the ability to read super quickly, this will be the last book I finish this year. So, let’s make this review a good ‘un.
We’re only 6 days from Christmas day and I’m feeling anything but festive. Forget one of my dark days, it’s been a dark week so far. I understand that the idea of being completely happy in your job is a lie that we’ve been fed since childhood but I was, at least, hoping the happy moments would outweigh the sad. Not this week. Out of the 4 shifts I’ve done so far this week, I’ve come away wanting to sit in the dark and cry after 3 of them. Which has had a massive knock-on effect on my reading so I’m nowhere near finishing Murder on the Orient Express. It’s a rereading so, realistically, I could still have written a review of it but, to be honest, I just want to go to bed and forget this week ever happened. So, I went searching for an easy book tag to fill in the space in my schedule and even that proved to be too draining. And now I’m sat here feeling defeated and quite pathetic for letting this get to me so much. I hate being the kind of person who constantly moans about work and who gets so upset about it. But, unfortunately, some days there are just so many frustrating things that, instead of washing over my head, they just end up drowning me. Still, I’d hate myself just as much if I didn’t get a post up, so I searched the internet for an appropriately Christmassy tag. Let’s see how this goes.
Last Monday I was lucky enough to see Bianca Del Rio perform in Manchester. It was something I addressed last week in my review of Hurricane Bianca so you may well be wondering why I’m bring it up over a week later? Well, I’m currently writing this the week before I go on holiday so I can schedule it to be uploaded whilst I’m away. It’s a level of dedication I’ve never strived for before and it feels weird. Good but weird. So, I’m still on a bit of a drag high. I mean I’m always on a bit of a drag queen high. I definitely thought I would hate Drag Race when a friend suggested I watch it but I was, as she predicted, quickly obsessed. I’ve watched all but the first season of the show at least three times in the last 12 months. Okay, I’ve not rewatched season 10 yet but Eureka annoyed the fuck out of me. I can’t go through that again. So, yeah, I love a bit of drag. And, as it’s on my mind, I decided to try to see if there was a Drag Race book tag. For one thing, there’s a book tag to do with anything these days. And, for another, I needed something to bosh out quite quickly. Luckily, I’m not the only Drag Race loving book nerd.
Dear Agatha Christie,
I admit that I probably took a bit of time actually getting around to reading your books. There were so many times that I’d heard them dismissed as “cosy crime” that I thought they were beneath me. They definitely sounded like the kind of thing that I, a super serious and embarrassingly pretentious literature student, shouldn’t be reading. I was, to put it mildly, an idiot. I cared so much about the image I was portraying that I stopped reading for enjoyment. When I remembered that was the main aim I was able to see what I’d been missing. I’ve had lots of enjoyable reading experiences over the years but none compare to your novels. Even now, when I reread books I know the ending to, I still find myself utterly engrossed in your plots. Still convinced that the ending I know is coming will never happen. I was a fool to dismiss you. But, in my defence, it’s not like I’m alone. So many people see you in a nostalgic light. As something silly and old that takes them back. You’ve essentially been categorised as an old friend, which you are, but it’s not the end of the story.
The thing is, you aren’t just “cosy crime”. I mean you are when compared to the identical examples of psychological thrillers that are being churned out every few months. Books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. The ones that need to rely on unnecessary violence and supremely grim ‘reality’ because it’s all they have. The truth is, for all the sexual violence and pseudo-psychology of these books, I hated them. They bored me. They weren’t well written and they were super obvious. I could tell from the first few chapters of Girl on a Train who the killer was and I stopped reading Gone Girl because it was blatantly obvious where Gillian Flynn was going with it. These books are all style and no substance… but they have that high fashion thing that nobody in the real-world really likes but has to accept because they don’t get it.
You’re books are the real deal. To dismiss them as “cosy” is the biggest injustice of all time. To refer to them as casual reading that you do between heavy reads is an insult. You didn’t write to shock your audience or to make headlines. You didn’t need to be the next big sensation. You wrote for real readers. Readers who don’t need thoughtless melodrama to excite them. You wrote well-plotted stories about characters that seem realistic. You had such a sense of people. That’s the reason your books have lasted. You understand the importance of the plot and what drives the plot. At the heart of every one of your murder mysteries is the one piece that moves everything else forward: the body. Once that’s in place, you have all the pieces you need to explore all aspects of humanity. To dig deep into the effect that evil has on the world. To question why people would commit murder. There’s a lot of depth people often refuse to see.
And yes, you also happen to have written some of the most exciting and shocking plot twists of all time. I remember the first times I read The Murder of Roger Aykroyd and And Then There Were None. I was genuinely shocked by the twists. I pride myself on being able to figure out where mystery writers are going with their plots but, more often than not, you stump me. You’re so detail focused that the reader becomes embroiled in the mystery. They don’t have a choice but to take on the role of detective and solve the crime too. Some of your endings were groundbreaking and still haven’t been surpassed to this day. Roger Aykroyd changed literature for fuck’s sake. It’s changed my view of you and of the genre.
You have written some of the most deceptive plots in all of literary history but the biggest piece of deception you are guilty of is your own writing. You manage to create books that can be enjoyed by people of various ages. They are simple enough for a younger reader whilst still with enough depth for a seasoned one. You skirt on the edge of darkness and evil without every firmly planting yourself in it. These are books that are so easily dismissed as childish and simplistic. But there is so much hidden away beneath the surface. You just need to engage you little grey cells to see it.
Very few of us are what we seem.