Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Queen of Crime

She's the world's best-selling mystery writer. She wrote the world's longest-ever running play. She holds the record for the world's biggest book. She's the only mystery writer to have come up with two equally-beloved -- and equally-iconic -- detective characters. And she was the first crime writer to have one million copies of her books published in a single day (publisher Penguin released 100,000 copies of 10 of her titles on the same day in 1948). She was also an accomplished singer and pianist, a World War I nurse, and remains at the center of her own real-life mystery to this day.

And she only wrote her first novel because her older sister dared her to.

Dame Agatha Christie was the author of over seventy novels (including six under the pen name of Mary Westmacott), fifteen plays, and several books of poetry and memoirs. She was born on September 15, 1890, and died in 1976 -- but she's still remembered, not only as one of history's best-loved mystery authors, but one of the best-loved authors of all time from any genre.

Her books are wildly popular, in part, for the super-sleuth detectives she created to populate them (Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple among them). But Christie was unusually skilled at inventing uniquely clever puzzles to formulate her stories. Her books feature ordinary folks plopped into extraordinary (and highly mysterious) circumstances -- be it a series of victims being murdered in alphabetical order, to revealing the narrator of one story to also be the murderer (title of the tale withheld here to avoid spoilers).

For being such a fan of mysteries as I am, it's somewhat surprising to me that I've only ever read one of Christie's novels. It is, however, one of my favorite mystery stories.

And Then There Were None is one of Christie's classic puzzles: ten people, from all walks of life, are invited to a mansion on a secluded island. Most think they're there to visit friends, or to enjoy a weekend getaway. At least, until that evening, when it's revealed (via recorded voice on a gramaphone record) that the ten of them are being accused of murder by their unseen host. What's more, their host has already found them "guilty" ... and so, as the guests remain trapped on the island, they begin to turn up murdered, one by one. And the murders follow a pattern: each guest is dispatched in line with the children's poem, "Ten Little Soldiers." It's only a matter of time before the guests realize the truth: the mysterious murderer is one of the guests themselves.

As a "locked-room" mystery, Christie keeps the twists and turns coming -- but what so captivates my imagination about the story is the way she weaves the poem into the narrative. It turns a simple children's rhyme into something far more sinister -- which only serves to add to the top-notch tension and mystery. I've read the book and seen stage adaptations twice, and the story never fails to entertain and captivate. (It doesn't hurt that all three versions had a different ending!)

Agatha Christie remains one of the best-selling novelists of all time (some estimates put her behind only Shakespeare, the Bible -- and J.K. Rowling). If you're never read Christie before, give her a try. So prolific was she that you're bound to find a story that particularly appeals to you. And you'll see, firsthand, why she earned the nickname "the Queen of Crime."

-- Post by Ms. B

1 comment:

  1. I was in my college's production of "Mouse Trap" long, long ago.