Ok… I was going to write about murder today then I deleted the whole thing and wrote a piece about how I was struggling to come up with ideas. Now I have ditched that thing about ideas and decided to get back with the murder thing, sort of. Not in the same way. There is a reason for this. I might have found that Agatha Christie’s long running play, The Mousetrap, is going on tour and coming to Liverpool. And I might, just possibly, definitely did buy myself a ticket. I love Agatha Christie too much to pass up this chance. As I mentioned in a recent ‘travel plan’ article on London, The Mousetrap is one of the plays I might want to see when I’m there. Well instead of seeing it in London I have the chance to see it in Liverpool and I couldn’t resist. This week has been a bit of a bummer (ending with today where my brain has been half blank) but it couldn’t have had a better ending than this.
My first encounter with Mrs Christie was the David Suchet Poirot TV series on ITV and somewhere in my teens I bought myself a copy of The ABC Murders. I still have that copy although the pages are a bit purple from where I pushed it up against the wall and it got stuck to the paintwork. After that I began to very slowly work my way through the rest of the Poirot books (I still haven’t finished) whilst making a brief detour through Tommy and Tuppence. N or M might just be favourite Agatha Christie story but I wish I still had my copy. I can’t think why I would throw it out. I haven’t got By The Pricking Of My Thumbs either, the story that first introduced me to Tommy and Tuppence (I bought that one after liking the TV adaptation, the one which they made as part of the Marple series.)
I can’t recall how many years it has been since I first picked up The ABC Murders, my slightly purple paged edition says it was first published in 2001 so it can’t be any earlier than that. I think I was about fourteen, maybe. I have some compilations I bought not long after which say 2004 and I recall leaving college during some of my free periods and scoping out the crime section of Borders, back when there was such a place as Borders, so I can’t have been more than sixteen.
By then, of course, I was reading other crime fiction as well. I got into Ian Rankin’s Rebus series for a while and whilst I enjoyed reading them I didn’t get the same kick I got from reading Agatha Christie. They were a bit too grim and gloomy, and even a bit samey in places, so I stopped reading them after a couple of years. I had a go at reading The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter at one point but failed to get past the first chapter. Quite liking the two Morse TV series (the ones with Morse in- I don’t like Lewis because the character just isn’t interesting enough for me) I really should go back to them. And in recent years I’ve also found myself enjoying G.K Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.
Even outside of Father Brown G.K Chesterton is, for my mind, one of the cleverest and the best writers of the early twentieth century. The Man Who Was Thursday is a brilliant farce and if you can spare few minutes then I would really recommend his essay, How I Found The Superman. Like Agatha Christie, Chesterton’s mysteries are fiendish ones but he is fiendish in an entirely different way. With Agatha Christie, even when it comes to her most devilish works, the murders, even if the method is complex, are usually a straightforward stabbing or a poisoning or something such as that. She makes it clear how they were done, just not by who and they’re not always when you think they were. She often uses the suspects and their actions to deceive the reader, throwing in a lie and a red herring here and there, rather than using the crime itself. Chesterton on the other hand uses the murders. With Chesterton it isn’t only the who but quite often the how that matters. That how is invariably always somewhere outside the box but when you think about it afterwards it is always something incredibly simple and obvious.
Speaking truthfully, Agatha Christie isn’t half the writer Chesterton is. If I were to compare her to others on writing style alone then she probably wouldn’t even come into the top ten. She writes in a simplistic, non complex kind of way and a lot of her side characters can be described as cardboard caricatures at best. But there’s something about her books, even in her non-murder stories, that draws you in and makes you want to keep reading. The fun is in the joy of the challenge, of solving her devilish puzzles and she uses that to hook you and reel you in. She intrigues you, tempts you. She’s like someone hiding down a dark alley, wearing a trench coat and fedora, whispering ‘Psst… Mate… Wanna see something special?’ And you go along because she does it in a way that makes you want to go along with her.
There is something about murder that fascinates people. It isn’t just a national thing, but international. People the world over love to get their teeth into a good mystery, to catch a killer. From America to Zambia murder is, and this is going to sound a bit weird, beloved. It’s the reason Agatha Christie remains so popular, the reason London production of The Mousetrap is the longest running theatre show in the world by a considerable margin. The works of Agatha Christie encapsulate the human love for a gruesome killing, the thrill of finding the culprit, and she does it so much better than anybody else, even the otherwise brilliant G.K Chesterton. She captures the moribund joy of murder, a moribund joy that right now is making me wish it were April already.