Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My take on: The Queen of Mystery


I am a fan of books. I am a big fan of mystery books. I love the movies based on Agatha Christie's books. Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Evil under the Sun and Appointment with Death are some of my favorite film adaptations. I've never read the Miss Marple mysteries or seen any of the films. I think I just connected with Hercule Poirot right away. Albert Finney has his moments in Murder on the Orient Express, but I just feel Peter Ustinov had the right amount of campiness to play Poirot.

When the opportunity arose to read Agatha Christie's autobiography and one of her novels, you know I jumped on it. I've seen the movie adaptation of Evil Under the Sun, but I had never read the book. I was also intrigued about reading about the Queen of Mystery in her own words.

Right off the bat, Agatha makes it clear she doesn't care for chronological order. She wasn't kidding. Her mind wanders from moment to moment, so much so it was hard for me to follow her. She could be talking about her love for books and listening to her nanny's stories (of course she used the word "nursie" in her book), and then she's talking about her religious background. I kept thinking, "Pick a topic Agatha!" But on the other hand, it's a great insight into the mind of a writer. You have to retain a lot of information and creativity to write 80 novels, several short-story collections and plays, and six novels under a pen name.

She grew up privileged with several nursemaids. The family was thrown for a loop after her father died when she was 11. In those days, children weren't taken to funerals. Instead, Agatha was left to wander the family home. It seemed to me that Agatha didn't quite understand death. Agatha tells her mother that their father is at peace, isn't that good thing for him? Her mother wanted him back, she wanted him there.

While I respect and admire her creativity, I found Ms Christie to be a little snobbish and also a little racist. I have to remember that she started to write this book in 1950, and didn't finish it until 15 years later. To see the word "negro" and others like it in a book doesn't sit right with me. But again she grew up in a different time, and certain words were politically correct at the time.

When I finished Evil Under the Sun, I felt it was a stark contrast from the ending of the film version. The principal characters, Hercule Poirot, Christine Redfern, Patrick Redfern, Arlena Marshall, Kenneth Marshall, and Linda Marshall are still there. I kinda wish I had read the book first instead of seeing the movie first. Film versions are always different from the book, which is why I usually try to read the book first. With Evil Under the Sun, I didn't realize that some of the characters in the film are composites of those in the book. Some characters are cut out altogether. Emily Brewster's character becomes Rex Brewster in the movie. But the overall theme of the book just like the movie, as Hercule Poirot would say, is "murder!"

Arlena Marshall is a woman every man loves. She is also a woman every woman loves to hate. When she isn't draping herself all over Patrick Redfern, she is rubbing the Jolly Roger Hotel guests the wrong way. Linda and Arlena don't have a good relationship. Christine is still the "long-suffering" wife. All the while, Poirot is trying to enjoy his vacation, but the clever Belgian is still observing and taking mental notes. Mrs. Gardener is still a chatter box, but there is a key difference with her character in the book. In film she is with Patrick when he "finds" Arlena's body, but in the book that distinction belongs to Emily.

Just like in the film, you are wondering who did it in the book. It's a very quick read and wastes no time getting to action. Of course people don't like Poirot asking so many questions. He keys in on the details that others dismiss as insignificant. The little clues are all pieces to a larger puzzle, which Poirot must solve. You think he's crazy or eccentric, but there is always a method to his madness. He wants all the guests to go on a picnic during his investigation. It seems weird, but it's all a ruse to see if the murderer/murderers will slip up. It's all very tongue-in-cheek. Check both books out, they are worth the ride.

Note: I received copies of the books from the publisher (HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.

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