Category Archives: agatha christie

Silver Rain Was Falling Down

It’s a misty, rainy morning here in the English countryside, and the British appear to need the rain just as badly as we do back in Maryland.  We’re staying at a lovely country estate out in Hertsfordshire, a place that appears to be straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, all the way down to the tall windows that you can step in and out of, spacious sitting rooms, and gravel paths winding through the lawns. It’s too bad we have to leave here this afternoon to head home.

We had a fantastic time at Avenue Q last Friday evening.  The show was just as zany as we thought it would be, and one of the puppeteers — a young man named Tom Parsons, who performed Trekkie Monster and Nicky — was particularly impressive. While this was the first time we’d seen the show live, we’ve had the soundtrack for several years now, and Barb made the observation that it was almost a shame that we were familiar with the songs because we were unable to be surprised by the jokes. As if to make her point, the young man who sat next to us — he was by himself, and merrily clutching a beer in each hand — howled with laughter at all the right places. Still, there were many moments that surprised us (the Bad Idea Bears were new to us) and, knowing the songs as we did, it was fun to notice where lyrics had been slightly amended to make the jokes clearer to British audiences.  While Americans know who Gary Coleman is, for example, when the character makes his first entrance, the lyrics were modified to explain exactly who he is (as I told one Brit, it would be like making an East Enders joke in the American theater — we wouldn’t quite get the references).

There was a bit of an awkward moment, too, immediately after the opening number when a woman walked out on stage with a headset and stood just off to one side.  As the applause faded, she announced that there were technical difficulties, and they would be stopping the show until they were resolved.  There was some nervous laughter from the audience, as some  folks (including me) were uncertain whether this was a joke or not.  It wasn’t.  The curtain came down, the lights came up, and we sat quietly, like dutiful schoolchildren, until the curtain went back up.  The show went the rest of the way without a hitch.  We never did know exactly what the technical problem was, though it did seem there had been some fiddling with a mics during the opening number.

Anyway.

We spent Saturday and Sunday mostly at the British Museum, which was just around the corner from our hotel, and wandering randomly through the National Gallery. Our impulse buy for Saturday was a performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at the St. Martin’s Theatre, where we saw performance number 24,010 of the world’s longest-running show.  It was a fun evening, with a neat moment at the curtain call when one of the actors stepped forward and, with a wink, informed the audience that we were now all co-conspirators and thus asked not to disclose whodunnit. So I won’t.

We’re finishing out our week abroad here in Hadley Wood, where Barb is attending morning meetings at Potter’s Bar and I’m bringing this to you from a Very Proper Sitting Room, where I keep hoping to catch a sign of the ghost that allegedly haunts the place.  I’ve had no luck so far.

We’ll be back stateside this evening — and then I’m off to New York for a few days on some Project Blue Harvest business. More information shortly.  I know I keep saying that, but it really is true.

First Books: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

I discovered Agatha Christie relatively late in my game: my sophomore year in high school. By that time, my science fiction and fantasy phase was sputtering out — Stephen R. Donaldson’s too-long Chronicles of Thomas Covenant was pretty much the last straw for me — and I turned almost on a whim to mysteries.

I started with a few Sherlock Homes novels, but while I respected Doyle as the innovator, Holmes himself quickly annoyed me. He always seemed to have these conveniently wacky expertises, most of which we as readers never knew about until they were suddenly needed to solve the case, at which point we learned Holmes had written the definitive treatise on earlobe shapes or candle wax or mustaches or whatever. Watson may have been left by Jove!-ing about what a genius Holmes was, but it never seemed fair to me.

Agatha Christie was different. While she generally used the same Holmes-Watson dynamic to tell her Hercule Poirot stories, Poirot’s sidekick, Captain Hastings, always had the same information that Poirot, and readers, needed to solve the mystery. Hastings, of course, never did, and with one exception (The Patriotic Murders), neither did I.

Which brings me to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It wasn’t the first Agatha Christie book I ever read (that would be The ABC Murders), but it was the First Book That Ever Left Me With My Mouth Hanging Open in Amazement — and started my love affair with Agatha Christie novels.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) brings Hercule Poirot to a small English village following not just one death, but two: the first is the wealthy widow Ferrars, who is rumored to have killed her first husband, is likely being blackmailed, and is thought to be a suicide victim . . . until Ferrar’s secret lover, the equally wealthy widower Roger Ackroyd, is also found dead. Nearly everyone stands to gain from the deaths, and Poirot — this time sidekicked by Dr. Sheppard — unravels an unexpected motive with an equally surprising killer.

This is the book — only her seventh — that made Agatha Christie famous, and which very nearly got her kicked out of the British mystery writers’ Detection Club on charges that she had violated the rules of fair play. Only the dissenting vote of Dorothy L. Sayers (who allegedly said “Fair! And fooled you!”) kept Christie in the organization.

Remarkably, for a book that’s now more than eighty years old, mystery readers have done their part to keep the ending a surprise (consider it The Sixth Sense of mystery novels), but not everyone has been so accommodating. Years ago, TIME magazine casually gave away the ending, and Christie fans never let them hear the end of it.

If you’ve never read it, go find it, read it, and marvel at the expertise of a master storyteller at her craft. But if you tell me you figured out who the killer was, I won’t believe you. And if you continue to insist that you did, I’ll punch you on the arm. Hard. Because you didn’t.