You may not be reading this until tomorrow (Monday) because I’m sure that, like everyone else, you’re outside celebrating Agatha Christie’s one-hundred-twenty-eighth-and-one-day birthday! Some fools posted yesterday during the pre-celebratory festivities, but the real fans are out there right now, spreading the cheer about the world’s most famous mystery writer.
Okay, look, I had a really busy day yesterday. So what follows is one of those embarrassing belated birthday cards we all hate to receive. Forgive me, Dame Agatha!
I thought I would just take a moment to mention a few Agatha-related thoughts or events on this most happy day of days. So here goes:
After a career spanning fifty-six years, Christie shows no signs of stopping, even forty-three years after her death. And this is in spite of, not because of some deluded modern writer’s “continuation” of the Poirot saga, with all new characters, shaky puzzles, and a wholesale abandonment of Christie’s substance and style. Her books fill bookstore shelves and sell well; her plays pop up on stages all over the world; movie and TV adaptations of her work continue to be made and to earn high ratings (we can only hope some of them might actually be good). In short, people still talk about her – in the blogosphere, on podcasts, in classrooms and during book parties everywhere.
Gratitude is what I feel every time I pick up one of Christie’s books for a re-read or plunk an audio book in the car in preparation for a new analysis. If you follow me at all, you know I picked up my first Christie (And Then There Were None) at the age of 11. This coincided with a rough time in my life, brought about by a new move, a loss of friends, the incipient call of puberty, which was full of joyful surprises for me. Christie calmed me down, like she did all those people from post-WWI through the second World War and beyond, and she excited me as no author had before with her cunning puzzles and shocking twists. I think perhaps like others I’ve met here, GAD fiction has often centered me when I felt off kilter, and Christie worked for me better than anyone.
Announcement #1: You may have seen me mention the podcast All About Agatha, which is heading toward its second anniversary. Kemper and Catherine are two charming young fans who each episode tackle a novel or story, analyze and rank it. I can’t say I always agree with their rankings, but you show me two Christie fans who have the same top ten list and I’ll show you . . . well, you show me yours first, and then I’ll show you mine. The latest novel to receive the All About Agatha treatment was Sad Cypress, which means Catherine and Kemper have entered the 1940’s and should find themselves in hog heaven for a while. They were discussing the intricate structure of Cypress, with its movement back and forward through Elinor’s trial. Kemper was trying to express how this differs from some earlier novels that were stuck in that old “question/answer” rut, and he said (I’m paraphrasing), “We had a listener who refers to this sort of middle of the book interview rut as dragging the Marsh, after Ngaio Marsh’s tendency to do just that.” In case you had forgotten or were unaware, A. Listener is an alias for yours truly! In three+ years of blogging, it’s probably the cleverest thing I’ve done! Very proud . . . very proud . . .
The A.B.C. Murders is the next adaptation to hit the BBC and the first of this modern incarnation to feature Hercule Poirot. Let’s all wish John Malkovich the best of luck in the part. We wantthese to be good, right? And I think this one is going to hit all the right marks because recently this confidential BBC memo came into my possession. I would like to share it with you all now.
August 27, 2018
TO: Tony Hall, Director-General, British Broadcasting Company
FROM: Sarah Phelps
Tony, I received your letter expressing concern that my most recent Christie adaptations have “gone off the rails.” This, I presume, is based on feedback from perceived fans of classic Christie, most of whom, as you know, are very very very old. However, I have taken your criticisms to hark, and I have created a treatment for A.B.C.that holds very closely to the original. I feel like I’ve channeled the old Dame most accurately this time. For your edification, I list below the few very minor changes to the original I felt needed to be made in the interests of verisimilitude, conspicuity, and outlandish perspicuity:
- Ascher remains the first victim. She is no longer coshed on the head but burned alive in her shop.
- Have added that Mrs. A. ran a child pornography ring behind the tobacconist shop she owns. Mr. Cust was one of the child models, thus creating a deeper connection between the victim and our red herring;
- Betty Barnard is no longer strangled. She is raped and then drowned. (Or drowned and then raped – I haven’t decided which is more dramatically satisfying.)
- Betty’s sister Meghan has been changed to Michael and is having a homosexual affair with Donald Fraser, Betty’s fiancé. Makes things so much richer and more relevant, don’t you think?
- Franklin Clarke is no longer the killer. The killer – you will love this! – is Hercule Poirot! Only he isn’t Poirot; he’s Franklin Clarke! The big clue is the beard! Who in their right minds would let Poirot have a beard?!? This will give Malkovich so much wonderful stuff to play. Banking on their remarkable physical similarity, Clarke knocked Poirot out, left him for dead, and took his place.
- Of course, it turns out that Alexander Bonaparte Cust . . . is actually the real Hercule Poirot!!!! He has been undercover this entire time, trying to find out why he was attacked. I’m going to tie the whole thing in to a past conspiracy, either a WWI German infiltration or an Indo-Eurasion sex trafficking ring. I’ll let you know when the final details are ironed out! I’m excited!
Happy birthday, Agatha Christie. I may be a day late, but I will be a fan of yours forever. I have students who are fans of yours. We talked yesterday about how we hoped you were spending your birthday in heaven nothaving to open a fete or talk to fans but maybe deep in rehearsals for the stage adaptation of your 100thnovel or relaxing on a dig with your beloved Max, your mother, your sister and your daughter at your side.
Announcement #2: I am absolutely thrilled to let you know that one of my writings on Dame Agatha Christie has been accepted for publication in the next issue of CADS, the wonderful Crime and Detective Stories compendium of articles created by Geoff Bradley. Geoff is hoping to get this one out by the end of the year. Kate at CrossExamining Crime is a frequent contributor to CADS and is usually great at getting out the word. Naturally, you should check this space as well, and I hope you will pick up a copy!