In other news, guess which hugely popular book turned 75 this month?
I’ve been asked to do a short feature about Agatha Christie for The Hindu. This is a bit daunting because it’s been at least 15 years since I read the last of her books, but it’s always nice to revisit something like Murder on the Orient Express. It’s such a good example of Christie’s talent for taking a vicious murder and spinning a genteel, homely whodunit out of it. The premise of this book – a victim with 12 stab wounds, a snowstorm that prevents anyone from entering or leaving the train, thereby narrowing the list of suspects to the people who are on board – is inherently claustrophobic, threatening and unpleasant, but in her hands it becomes a refined mystery where Hercule Poirot’s deductive powers have the reader gripped and reassured at once. And where even the murderer, once unmasked, is likely to be ruefully courteous rather than dangerous. They don’t write them like that anymore.
P.S. Some of my favourite Christies, not that anyone asked: Murder in Retrospect (the first Christie I read), And Then There Were None (original, politically incorrect title Ten Little Niggers), Crooked House, Taken at the Flood, Death on the Nile, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Appointment with Death. Incidentally the last two involve large families and the killing of an elderly person whose domineering personality gave many different people motives for murder. (Both books also end on a comforting note for the reader, confirming the uprightness of all the likable characters and allowing the basic fabric of the family to stay intact. Perfection!)