Agatha Christie’s Favorite Music?

I have no idea what music Christie found inspiring or uplifting or merely entertaining. Her autobiography might tell us, but I don’t remember anything about music being emphasized there (it’s been many years since I read it, however).

Gramophone Magazine was certainly popular among Britain’s more literate and cultured citizens during Christie’s lifetime. The magazine asked a number of famous Brits including Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, and G. K. Chesterton about their favorite music. The article  is amusing, if only for the uneven results of the survey, with some taking the forum seriously and others attempting to be funny (perhaps for 1926 they were funny).

Sadly, the only mystery writer surveyed is Chesterton (Father Brown series), and he’s not described as such. Did they ask Arthur Conan Doyle, I wonder? Although 67 years old, Doyle had just released his book The History of Spiritualism. Was Doyle at this time considered the esteemed creator of Sherlock Holmes, or a superstitious crank? The latter might not have fit the bill for Gramophone.

The Gramophone survey is not, unlike so many things of that era, a boys-only club. Women, from poets to actresses, are well represented. So why did no one query Agatha Christie about her favorite music? At this point she had written five novels and one short story collection. She was certainly a public figure. Her “break out” novel (as they would say today) came out that year: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Was she one novel short of being surveyed by Gramophone, interviewed by the BBC, and parodied by Punch?

Probably not. Chesterton is most likely on the list for nothing having to do with his creation of Father Brown. He and Hillaire Belloc (also surveyed) were better known as essayists and Catholic apologists in a still fiercely Protestant England.

No, it is much more likely that the survey reflects, however obliquely, the belief that high culture and mystery novels (or novelists) do not go together. While this provokes head-shaking today, we now live with the polar opposite bias. Today, thriller novelists lecture us on military matters and Stephen King prattles on about tax rates.

I’m not sure which is worse.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Midsomer Murders on Netflix

If you are one of the many who complained to Netflix when they deleted the first ten seasons of Misomer Murders, you may hoist a glass of your favorite pub ale and do a victory chant worthy of any football (rugby) hooligan.

Netlfix now has 13 “series” [Is that British for "seasons"?] up and streaming. From the pilot of series one, “The Killings at Badger’s Drift” (based on the novel by Caroline Graham) to “Fit For Murder”, the last appearance for DCI Tom Barnaby, his wife Joyce Barnaby, and their daughter Cully Barnaby, you can now view all the episodes of the original cast.

Tom Barnaby’s replacement, his cousin DCI John Barnaby, makes an appearance in the second episode of series 13, “The Sword of Guillaume” before taking over the lead in series fourteen.

The actor who plays DCI John Barnaby, Neil Dudgeon, has a part in the first episode of series four, “Garden of Death”, in which he plays a gardner who likes to spread his seed.

Years ago I purchased a small paperback copy of Graham’s novel The Killings at Badgers Drift through Amazon UK. With the exchange rate and the shipping it turned out to be a significant expense. But you can purchase a nice, large paperback edition of the book through Felony & Mayhem Press at a very domestic and affordable price.

How good is Midsomer Murders? Well, the show is in its fifteenth season in a country where three seasons of six episodes per season constitutes a long-running hit. I’m quite sure Midsomer Murders is in violation of some old socialist law forbidding any TV show from taking up too much space on the telly in deference to other, less fortunate shows. Midsomer Murders has seen her share of cast changes, controversy, and one or two episodes where the screenwriter couldn’t resist bringing the drama down by making a political point, but she soldiers on into her fifteenth series and remains one of the best mystery series ever adapted for the screen.

This American fan is greedy for more.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Watch Poirot and Marple for Less

Acorn TV is running a special on their streaming service, which includes both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple episodes. You can subscribe for $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year.

This also includes free standard shipping on any DVDs you purchase from Acorn.

So why pay for this if you already have Netflix? Because while Netflix streaming has a wonderful selection of British mystery titles, Acorn has much that is not available on Netflix streaming.

For fans and fanatics of Brit mystery multiple sources of streaming are a necessity.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Murder on the Links

What if you told a lie and it turned out to be true?

The Murder on the Links is Agatha Christie’s third mystery novel and her second Hercule Poirot mystery, after The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Poirot is summoned to the Northern coast of France by Monsieur Paul Renauld, who believes his life is in danger. Renauld was correct; when Poirot and Hastings arrive they find the man dead, stabbed in the chest and left on the golf course. It turns out the victim rewrote his will two weeks before he was murdered, leaving virtually everything to his wife while denying his son everything but a pittance.

This is not one of those true will – false will – who knew about the will mysteries that became so popular in the 1920s and 1930s. The will is important, but not essential, to solving the crime.

A home invasion, a kidnapped husband with a secret — or so say the captors — and an empty grave on a golf course begin this second adventure of the Belgian detective. He needs all of his little grey cells to solve this one. This mystery is more complicated than The Mysterious Affair at Styles and involves one of those ingenious plot devices that would set Christie apart from other mystery writers of the day.

Once again Poirot’s detective skills are doubted. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles it was the narrator Hastings who doubted his old friends ability to solve the mystery (Poirot having recently left the police force). This time Poirot is pushed aside by French police detective Monsieur Giraud, who finds Poirot’s deductive reasoning a feeble competitor for modern police methods. Poirot finds clues that Girard regards as merely the flotsam and jetsam of the crime scene, while building his solution around the deceased man’s watch, which was two hours fast.

It would be difficult, but not impossible, for the reader to solve this mystery. To do so you must latch onto the act of deception that occurs early in the investigation. The problem with this task is that the act of deception is an entirely honest reaction. It’s the honesty that reveals the deception.

The entire mystery is bookended by instant attraction and eternal love, but not, of course, for Poirot.

How does this one rank against her other heretofore published mystery novels? It is absolutely the best of the three. It is also very French in its feel (if that makes any sense). Those who read the Poirot novels out of order will either regard it either as a special treat or as a French diversion. No one who loves Christie’s plots or Poirot’s solutions will be disappointed.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Even if You Don’t Like Bridge…

The Traditional Mysteries Blog has reviewed Christie’s novel Cards on the Table. It will be a while before I review it. This Poirot novel was published in 1936, between the more well known novels Murder in Mesopotamia and Dumb Witness.

Read the review here.

Yes, I know, I need to post a review of Murder on the Links. I’ll either have to pick up the pace of reading/reviewing or else commit to living to the age of 90.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

And Then There None vs. Ten Little Indians

Two good film adaptations of Christie’s major novel about a murderer amidst a houseful of guests stranded together. The highly regarded (at the time and now) 1945 film can be watched streaming on Fandor if you have a subscription.

Twenty years later a hip, 1965 version was directed by George Pollock. Pollock is famous (or infamous) for directing the four Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies which take a few (a-hem) liberties with the source material. Personally, I have a soft spot for them, but only because they exist in the world with the excellent adaptations starring Joan Hickson.

Pollock’s Ten Little Indians stars, among others, teen-idol Fabian. Which is rather like a 2012 adaptation with Justin Beiber among the cast. In all fairness, Fabian does a decent job of playing an celebrity addicted to alcohol and adoration. This version doesn’t stream anywhere that I’ve found, however (the horror!), so you’ll have to have Netflix mail the disc or just buy it from Amazon (right now Amazon’s price is a ridiculous $68.89, so Netflix is a better bet). Sadly, iTunes doesn’t have the movie, either.

So which adaptation do you think is better? The 1945 version is acclaimed, but restrained a bit by the Hays Code. The 1965 is sexier and has a better location, but somehow doesn’t feel like a classic mystery in the way that the original does. The original strays less from Christie’s novel, but includes a fair amount of humor that keeps the movie from having the gothic feel that it should. The humor is good (especially the last line of the movie) but the movie needs that Rebecca feel to it, and humor undercuts that.

It’s a close call. I like them both. But the earlier version wins the day, in my humble opinion.

Neither, however, can touch the novel.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Everyone Likes Agatha Christie

Even the pope. At least, Pope Paul VI appears to have held Christie in high esteem.

When England and Wales switched from the Tridentine (Latin) Mass to the new, post Vatican II Mass, Catholics in these countries asked for an “indult,” or permission to do something that is not allowed (i.e., celebrating Mass the old way).

Along with English and Welsh Catholics, many non-Catholics and non-believers also asked the Holy See to not completely disallow the Latin Mass. Writers such as Robert Graves, Cecil-Day Lewis, and Nancy Mitford were among the signers of a letter to the pope.

Agatha Christie also put her signature on the letter.

Reportedly, when Pope Paul VI read the letter he said, “Ah, Agatha Christie!” and then signed the letter, thus granting the indult.

This indult has since been known by the (informal) name “The Agatha Christie Indult.”

Christie was an Anglican (a member of the Church of England).

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Happy Birthday Antonia Fraser

British mystery author (and biographer and historian) Antonia Fraser has a birthday today.

Let us wish the author of Quiet as a Nun a very happy birthday. This novel is an old favorite of mine. The female, amateur sleuth is a TV reporter who goes back to her old Catholic School (which is nothing like your old Catholic school) to investigate a murder.

Dame Antonia Fraser, DBE, wrote ten of the Jemima Shore mysteries, but I’ve only read the first in the series. Silly, really, when I think how good that first novel was, not to have read any more of them. Perhaps if they were on the Kindle…

What I remember most about Quiet as a Nun is that the solution surprised me. Given that Ms. Fraser is married to the late, great playwright Harold Pinter (rest in peace), I assumed her politics leaned a certain way. This is often a clue to the murderer, as many authors use their mystery solutions to reinforce their weltanschauung. But Fraser’s mystery is more complex than that, and her view of human nature more nuanced, therefore the solution both surprised and delighted me.

That’s what I get for being cynical.

Happy Birthday, Antonia Fraser.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Secret Adversary

The sleuthing team of Tommy and Tuppence must be put into context. They are engaged in espionage (or counter-espionage) almost as much as they are engaged in crime fighting. They do not possess the detecting skills of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. They do not have the level of reader loyalty and fan enthusiasm bestowed on the aforementioned crime fighters. Critics rarely list books featuring the duo as being among Christie’s best-written novels.

However, they are engaging characters that grow (and age) over the course of four novels and a collection of short stories. It is not uncommon for a Christie fan to declare the characters of Tommy and Tuppence, or one of the novels, to be among her favorites, irrespective of how the novels compare to other Christie novels.

The Secret Adversary begins with Tommy Beresford and Prudence Cowley (nicknamed Tuppence) meeting again after a long separation. Wikipedia describes them as a “young couple,” but they are not a couple at the beginning of the novel. Two coincidences — the overhearing of a name, and then Tuppence’s use of that name as an alias to someone who obviously knows its significance — begin the adventure.

Again, I won’t summarize the book’s plot. There are other sites for that and this blog encourages all to read the Christie novels. The story moves at a brisk pace, propelled along by obscure clues, false friends, dead ends, and no small amount of serendipity, all wrapped up in a communist (Bolshevik) conspiracy.

Crime and espionage novels are not usually described as ‘charming.’ The Secret Adversary manages to be both thrilling and comforting, with double nuptials at the end. The somewhat mismatched Tommy and Tuppence find they cannot live without one another. An interesting contrast to Christie’s other, more solitary, detectives.

The Secret Adversary was published in 1922 and takes place a few years prior. It is Christie’s second novel. It was well reviewed on both sides of the Atlantic. The communist conspiracy that binds the plot together was not controversial at the time, but became so later. After World War II many artists and intellectuals in both England the U.S. were solidly left wing. Criticism of the Soviet Union, communism, or left wing political activity was frowned upon. The communist threat was seen a less serious, if not fictitious, by many on the left.

Mystery author and reviewer Robert Barnard represents the gentler side of this anti-anticommunism:

The first and best (no extravagant compliment this) of the Tommy and Tuppence stories. It tells how the dauntless pair foils a plot to foment labour unrest and red revolution in Britain, masterminded by the man behind the Bolshevists. Good reactionary fun, if you’re in that mood”.

A later Tommy and Tuppence novel (N or M) has a Nazi conspiracy at its center, but was not considered fanciful or reactionary, due to the very real war with Germany.

Having Bolsheviks and their sympathizers as the villains is the novel’s most unique component. Other novels of that period deal with the communist threat, but Christie’s novels survive while other author’s works fade from public view. Even more prescient was Christie’s depiction of otherwise trustworthy organizations, like labor unions and political parties, becoming unwitting collaborators with England’s enemies.

A Secret Adversary is the best of the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries. Few will rate the novel as highly as Murder on the Orient Express, A Murder is Announced, And Then There Were None, or any of Christie’s classic work. But while some of Christie’s novels suffer in comparison with other of her novels, they still remain well worth reading. A Secret Adversary is both a pleasant diversion and a reminder of a time when Bolshevism was a force in the world.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter