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The Case of Agatha Christie

John Lanchester, 20 December 2018

... Agatha Christie​ is, according to her website, ‘the world’s bestselling novelist’. That is a difficult claim to prove, and the official site makes no attempt to do so, but when you think that she wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections, all of them still in print in multiple formats in dozens of languages, you can begin to see how she got to a total of one billion copies sold in English and another billion-odd in translation ...

Clues

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 May 1983

A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie 
by Robert Barnard.
Collins, 203 pp., £7.95, April 1980, 0 00 216190 7
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The Agatha Christie Hour 
by Agatha Christie.
Collins, 190 pp., £6.50, September 1982, 0 00 231331 6
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The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes 
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Allen Lane, 1122 pp., £7.95, August 1981, 0 7139 1444 0
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The Quest for Sherlock Holmes 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Mainstream, 380 pp., £12.50, November 1982, 0 906391 15 6
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The Unknown Conan Doyle: Essays on Photography 
by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green.
Secker, 128 pp., £8.50, November 1982, 0 436 13302 4
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The Unknown Conan Doyle: Uncollected Stories 
by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green.
Secker, 456 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 436 13301 6
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The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie 
by Charles Osborne.
Collins, 256 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 0 00 216462 0
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... here is achieved, I suppose, by the writer who gets such a clue into the title of a book, as does Agatha Christie in Why didn’t they ask Evans? And it is Agatha Christie, too, who regularly contrives that just as the clue is dropped a distracting incident occurs. Here we are close to the art of the stage ...

At the Hydropathic

T.J. Binyon, 6 December 1984

Agatha Christie 
by Janet Morgan.
Collins, 393 pp., £12.95, September 1984, 0 00 216330 6
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... sight Janet Morgan does not seem the obvious person to choose as the official biographer of Agatha Christie. She describes herself on the jacket of the book as a ‘writer and consultant’, who now ‘advises governments, companies and other organisations on long-range strategic planning, new technology and different approaches to whatever ...
Ngaio Marsh: A Life 
by Margaret Lewis.
Chatto, 276 pp., £18, April 1991, 0 7011 3389 9
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... Of the four Queens of Crime who dominated the 1930s – Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers – Ngaio Marsh reigns supreme for excellence of style and characterisation,’ writes Margaret Lewis in her introduction. The proposition could be contested; it could be maintained that Christie is more ingenious, Allingham more lively and Sayers has more intellectual weight ...

Ballooning

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 June 1986

The Unknown Conan Doyle: Letters to the Press 
by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green.
Secker, 377 pp., £15, March 1986, 0 436 13303 2
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... he describes in a letter to the Morning Post, written on 16 December (ten days, that is, after Agatha Christie had vanished), and now reprinted in the present volume of selections from Conan Doyle’s letters to the press. Mr Leaf, this letter declares, is ‘an excellent psychometrist’ who ‘at once got the name of ...

Diary

Nicolas Freeling: On Missing the Detective Story, 11 June 1992

... The pensée that no woman has ever given more pleasure in bed than Agatha Christie, now mildly feline, is much too kind, we would have said in the early Sixties when trying to write crime fiction under that then-monstrous shadow, doing the splits in the process. Everyone then mouthed the inanity that ‘the plot must come first’: a sense of character in crime-writing was a Gothic gargoyle, an afterthought ...

Character References

Robert Taubman, 15 May 1980

The Echo Chamber 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Harvester, 154 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 85527 807 2
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Birthstone 
by D.M. Thomas.
Gollancz, 160 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 575 02762 2
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Kingdom Come 
by Melvyn Bragg.
Secker, 352 pp., £6.50, March 1980, 0 436 06714 5
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A Gentle Occupation 
by Dirk Bogarde.
Chatto, 360 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 7011 2505 5
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Innocent Blood 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 276 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 571 11566 7
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... it becomes clear that a wider reference is intended: the clues dropped are just like those in an Agatha Christie country house mystery, where both the number of characters under suspicion and their extreme simplicity – in most cases nothing but a name and a label – keep the reader alert to points of reference. This is ingenious of Mr ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Dead Babies, 16 November 2000

... Experience, of Amis himself. Marsh has said of Dead Babies: ‘Basically it’s a reworking of an Agatha Christie whodunnit, it’s just that it’s set in a hyper-real world.’ The same could be said of Pierre Bayard’s Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? (Fourth Estate, £10), which first appeared in France a couple of years ago, to be greeted by Le Monde as ...

Off Narragansett

Karl Miller, 28 September 1989

Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn 
by Paul Watkins.
Century Hutchinson, 269 pp., £12.95, August 1989, 0 09 173914 4
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Blood and Water 
by Patrick McGrath.
Penguin Originals, 183 pp., £4.99, February 1989, 0 14 011005 4
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The Grotesque 
by Patrick McGrath.
Viking, 186 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 670 82987 0
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... coalesce, and the genre has seemed to satirise itself. Wodehouse may be thought to be alluding to Agatha Christie when he has someone say: ‘I’m speaking from an undersized hamlet in Hampshire called Marsham-in-the-Vale.’ But he or some adjacent joker of the time might also have written the lines assigned by ...

What women think about men

D.A.N. Jones, 5 February 1987

The Progress of Love 
by Alice Munro.
Chatto, 309 pp., £9.95, January 1987, 0 7011 3161 6
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Ruth 
by Jeremy Cooper.
Hutchinson, 187 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 09 167110 8
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... eyes and bushy grey eyebrows, they form as dim a background as the village gentry in early Agatha Christie. Ruth rattles on about her Xmas prezzies: ‘Mrs C’s bumper Rowntree pack and Auntie Peachey’s Beano Annual. She knew for certain Dad’s present was another family boardgame and desperately hoped it was Cluedo – “I accuse ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, 30 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express 
directed by Kenneth Brannagh.
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... of these figures much resembles the ‘short, stout, elderly man, his hair cut en brosse’ that Agatha Christie describes. Well, they often manage the stout bit, but for the rest they are tallish, more like middle-aged, and Finney’s hair in particular looks like a terminally oily black carpet. They all have moustaches with an old-fashioned twirl, but ...

How did she get those feet?

Alice Spawls: The Female Detective, 20 February 2014

The Notting Hill Mystery: The First Detective Novel 
by Charles Warren Adams.
British Library, 312 pp., £8.99, February 2012, 978 0 7123 5859 0
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The Female Detective: The Original Lady Detective 
by Andrew Forrester.
British Library, 328 pp., £8.99, October 2012, 978 0 7123 5878 1
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Revelations of a Lady Detective 
by William Stephens Hayward.
British Library, 278 pp., £8.99, February 2013, 978 0 7123 5896 5
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... for solving the mystery’ was the first rule. The Detection Club, whose members included Agatha Christie, Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers, agreed. Their protagonists mix deduction with intuition and observation, making the impossible seem not only logical but obvious. It took some time for the neat formula that is now characteristic of the ...

The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Original Sin 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 426 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 571 17253 9
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Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 1 85619 507 4
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The Hidden Files: An Autobiography 
by Derek Raymond.
Warner, 342 pp., £5.99, December 1994, 0 7515 1184 6
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Not till the Red Fog Rises 
by Derek Raymond.
Little, Brown, 248 pp., £15.99, December 1994, 0 316 91014 7
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... catalogue of deaths and suicides announces the final surrender of the Golden Age Murder Mystery: Agatha Christie force-fed on Pevsner and the humbug of Kenneth Baker’s latest flag-waving anthology. A sub-genre that has always been profoundly conservative (hence its popularity, up there with P.G. Wodehouse, in America) is reduced to editorialised ...

‘The Killing’

Theo Tait, 31 March 2011

... because it features a mayoral election and a crime story, but it’s nothing like that. It’s Agatha Christie writ large across Copenhagen; or, as my wife put it, like the best episode of Taggart you’ve ever seen, lasting 20 hours. This is not a criticism. Detective fiction is a conventional form, and it’s hard to imagine it otherwise. Where ...

Short Cuts

Christopher Tayler: King Charles the Martyr, 21 February 2019

... recited at a sustained G sharp. ‘One pair red trousers’, I scribbled, ‘one orange. Woman in Agatha Christie cloche hat.’ Ermengarda Greville-Nugent was remembered in the prayers. The sermon, when it came, didn’t allude to Brexit or prorogation. Instead the preacher quoted secular historians as grudgingly impressed witnesses to Charles I’s ...

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