Friday, May 5, 2017

Long Time Loves: Agatha Christie Mysteries

In honor of Goodreads' 2017 Mystery and Thriller Week - as well as the recent release of photos from the set of Murder on the Orient Express - I thought I'd dive into one of my oldest novel fixations... and no, it isn't Nancy Drew!

It started when I was in middle school... two of my best friends, Jule and Megan, were total Anglophiles - mainly because both of their families had direct-transplants from Britain - and it colored a lot of our mutual interests (like breakfast tea!). Especially when Megan had sleepovers at her house, we loved listening to The Beatles, watching British television (more Red Dwarf than Doctor Who), and, of course, talking about Agatha Christie novels.

Both Jule and Megan had their favorites long before we founded our little group, which meant I had some serious catching up to do, spawning the second largest collection in my already-voluminous bookshelves (the first of which is, of course, Nancy Drews. You can tell that I definitely have a type.). Pretty soon, I had already amassed over 30 titles, picking up at least one or two every time I visited a bookstore, especially when I went on vacation.

My obsession lasted a little over 20 books in, until we got to high school. With that, we splintered, at least for the time being: Megan went off to a local Catholic high school, while Jule and I stuck close with a larger friend group we'd been in the middle of since middle school, as well. While I still loved reading mysteries in my own time, I wasn't talking about books with my peers as much (unless we were the ones writing them: this was the same friend group that introduced me to NaNoWriMo!).

From that point, my love of mysteries developed in various directions: with the popularity in Sherlock Holmes stories in movies and television that hit when I was in high school, I started gravitating towards that particular British standby, Arthur Conan Doyle, while my Dad's love of local mystery writer Aaron Elkins led me to one of my other favorite mystery-solvers, forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver.

I recently read an Agatha Christie that had long been sitting on my shelves, in my favorite way to do so: with the accompaniment of tea, in one afternoon. It's my enjoyment of that particular novel - Mrs. McGinty's Dead - that prompted me to write this blogpost: while the titles are long-missing from both my blog and Goodreads backlog, it's because for a long time, I powered through these so quickly that I didn't know how to go about discussing them!

So, it's an old love, and a long-term one, and one that I know I can always come back to in the case of needing a little buffer room in my reading habits. At the end of the day, Agatha Christie was known as the "Queen of Crime" for a good reason: her prolific canon of work, as well as the standard of excellence they were known for, have made Christie a standby in the overall mystery genre, as well as my own bookshelves.

I thought I might as well brainstorm a list of why these particular mystery novels will always chart among some of my favorites. Hopefully, you can find a good reason or two to pick up a copy yourself!

  • They follow the classic mystery-solving format. While the typical plot progression of your standard mystery novel might come off as formulaic for casual fans in the genre, for those of us with the power to power through multiple Scooby Doo episodes in one sitting, it's par for the course. After the grand reveal at the end of the novel, it's nice to reflect on the straight-forward nature of the overall story... one of the reasons they serve as a great palate-cleanser for me is because it still can be engaging, without needing to color too far outside the lines. 
  • They're essentially period pieces, and are so totally British. Mrs. Christie's canon stretches through several decades, but each still retains a quaintly historical and distinctively English tone. I think this is why they often lend themselves so well to film adaptation... it's always a sure bet with a '30s or '40s fashioned Brit mystery! 
  • Her characters are classic, yet not: instead of a hard-boiled footprint-follower or dogged detective typical to the Mystery and Thriller genres, we get genial Belgian Hercule Poirot, and unsuspectingly sharp granny Jane Marple (who is also probably the reason behind my high school obsession with reruns of Murder, She Wrote). Even Tommy and Tuppence, some of her lesser popular detectives, are pure fun! So while they now set a standard for mystery protagonists, they still stand out as novelty voices in a novel genre. 
  • She absolutely defined the Mystery game. Christie laid the groundwork for modern mystery novels, and her impact gave credence to the legitimacy of an entire genre. There are awards named after her, and some of your favorite contemporary authors probably hold her up as the stuff of inspiration, too.

And to think: during a period of history that stretched for multiple decades, there were both new Nancy Drews and new Agatha Christies coming out at the same time! Still, I think I may have got it better now: I don't have to wait for any new book releases, and can carefully collect the installments of each, from a few more comfortable decades away. 

Are you a fan of mystery novels? Who is your favorite author? What's your favorite Agatha Christie story? Let me know, in the comments below!

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