Agatha Christie and me

mystery2Following up on yesterday’s post, I’m going to prove that I do know how to have fun by talking about my favorite reading material, the mystery novel.  So this is for all of you “whodunit” fans.

I first discovered Agatha Christie hiding out in a no longer used cold frame in the woods behind my grandfather’s house.  I loved that secret place.  A cold frame, for those who don’t know, is a miniature greenhouse, a place for protecting plants in the cold seasons.  It was wooden on all four sides but had a hinged glass top that would allow the sunlight to come in.  You could lift the top to move plants in and out.  Over the years it had become more of a storage area, holding old tools and whatnot.  Inside where some of the old tools my grandfather has used to build his house, a log cabin in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania.

Dear old Agatha.  She was, and still is, the reigning queen of mystery writing.  I found a yellowed paperback there in my secret place.  I forget now which one of her mystery stories it was, having read all of them many times over by this point in my life.  The book had my mother’s maiden name written inside.  This was astounding to me for two reasons.  I had never seen my mother read a book.  Ever.  In my childhood home we had a set of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia that had been published after the first World War (slightly out of date as I was born after the second of those epic wars) and a set of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.  For those not native to the US, Reader’s Digest was a popular magazine which also published a series of “condensed books”, each volume containing several current best-selling novels in abridged form.  Reader’s Digest had just started the series and they were all the rage.  When I was growing up, every household had Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and the National Geographic magazine.  For all of that, I had never known my mother to do anything with those books other than to dust them.  They resided in the living room as part of the decor.

The other reason that little mystery novel astounded me was that I had never imagined my mother as anything other than the vicious woman she had become as an adult.  She had a sharp tongue and an even sharper slap of her hand to my head.  I once asked my siblings if they could think of anything nice our mother had ever done for them.  My brother said he’d have to think about it and would get back to me.  It’s been five years and I’m still waiting.  My sister said that mother had once made her Tang when she was sick.  So it came as a shock to me to imagine my mother as a teenager who read a book.

Seeking to unlock the mystery of my mother, I jumped into the book.  Agatha Christie was a great story teller and innovator as a novelist.  Her characters came alive, and I could escape into her English countryside.  For as much as I enjoy Hercule Poirot, my favorite was always Miss Jane Marple.  I loved the idea of a female protagonist catching the bad guys.

From there I found other favorites.  Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe series taught me to love orchids.  I wanted to possess Archie Goodwin’s ability to remember every conversation word for word and I taught myself to do the same thing.  Ngaio Marsh became a favorite, too.  I explored different types of crime novels, and worked my way through “The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time“.  Yes, there is such a list.  Actually, there are two, one British and one American.

Why do I enjoy mysteries so much?  I don’t know.  Maybe because character portrayal, good dialogue and come-to-life story details are the essence of a mystery novel.  A good writer has to be able to put you smack dab into the story, but as an observer.  You can stay detached and observe, a favorite activity of introverts.  Maybe it’s because a good solver of mysteries needs imagination, intelligence, and an interest in the human condition, qualities I value in people.  Maybe it’s because I like order in my world and someone to set things right.

So there you have it.  See, I can be fun!  Now I’m off to cook something new for our cooking blog.  Have a wonderful day.

Please share your introverted idea of having fun.  Extroverts are welcome to reply, too.

Chris also contributes to the new food blog Three’s Cooking, learning to cook from the heart, for the soul.

41 thoughts on “Agatha Christie and me

  1. Hi Chris – what a poignant story. My mum read like there was a competition for best reader, I guess for her it was an escape – and my dad was always willing to help out with the practical things of life – maybe your mum had no time or room in her life to escape. But I’m glad you like murder mysteries and hope one day you’ll find the time to give my first one a go and let me know what you think – you’ve kindly ‘liked’ my blog posts so there’s a slim chance you might like it! I too have enjoyed Ngaio Marsh and devoured Miss Christie’s works – my archaeologist husband ( spot the similarity – and last year I met someone who had been taught at uni by Max Mallowan) has been buying me new old copies for years. He also introduced me to Nero Wolfe, too, though I have only read one so far I loved the concept and enjoyed the book. Note to self, read more Nero Wolfe… Still don’t like orhcids though. Thanks for reminding me.

    • I just bopped out on your page in Amazon and found your book and bio. I had forgotten about GK Chesterton’s Father Brown. Oh my goodness, that does take me back a bit.
      Of course I’ll give your book a read. When is the next one coming out?

      • Eventually! Two thirds of follow up written and two thirds of one featuring completely new protagonist Father Gerry Carroll. Now I’ve moved house and am stopping publishing other people’s stuff… discipline, that’s what I need!

  2. Agatha Christie books are certainly entertaining, but I still think she drew her murderers out of a hat and then made them fit.
    I liked the Ellery Queen mysteries where all the clues were given to the reader, with a challenge to work them out for oneself.

    • Ah, yes, Ellery Queen. The golden age of mystery novels. The example of “fair play” whodunits, where they give you all the clues and let you attempt to solve it. Creator of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The historian of the genre. I enjoyed Ellery Queen’s books, too, even if it did take two people to write them. LOL
      Ellery Queen was definitely great. I should have included links to the top crime novels lists, so I’ll add them in now.. It’s fun going over them to remember all the writers I’ve read. Too bad they don’t update the lists (done in 1990 and 1995).

  3. Captivating read analogous to your mystery books likes.I enjoyed the intriguing way you narrated how you discovered Agatha’s books in the cold frame in the woods.It had lots of suspence…
    BTW, I discovered your Three’s cooking blog from Cee’s posts,I visited it and decided that it is totally interesting.Excellent layout and presentation of the recipes ! Wish you,Sobha and Cee all the best !
    Happy cooking …
    Doda

  4. Oh my goodness, for a moment there, I thought you must be a long lost sibling since you were writing about “OUR” mother!! Thanks for the laugh! 😀

    • I always thought I was an orphan stuck with a wicked stepmother. I will gladly be your sister if you’ll share that adorable granddaughter of yours with me. I am so totally of the grandmother age.

  5. I started out with Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys! I read every book i could get my hands on. It was my way of escaping the abuse of my home life where children were to be “seen & not heard.”

  6. Thank you for following my blog! I came on here to check out yours, and what’s the first thing that I saw? A post about Agatha Christie. I love Agatha Christie! I was introduced to her books by my mother. I was the child that would always be reading. I must have been about 11 years old when I had nothing to read one day, and my mother recommended Agatha Christie. From that point on I was hooked. I would read about 3 of her books a week, until I had read them all. Looking back, I do laugh at the fact that my mother allowed me to read stories about murder and arsenic and revolvers at that age, but didn’t allow me to read Cosmopolitan..:-)

    • I was always reading, too. My mother would stand in the kitchen and scream, “Put the book down and come here”, instead of looking for me. I could have been in any of dozens of nooks and crannies, curled up with a book.

  7. I love Agatha Christies novels too. Think I’ve read them all. Seen movies, TV-series… name it…
    The Reader Digest’s magazines AND book were sold here in Sweden as well. Long rows in the bookcases in almost everyones livingroom.
    Dull books, I thought. Maybe I was too little then. But I still think they are dull. I rather read the real thing…

  8. I just discovered the joy of Agatha Christie within the past couple of years. Mystery/suspense is one of my favorite genres too–but I don’t like things to get too gory or violent. Her books are so good! I am a Hercule Poirot fan but that may be because I haven’t read a Marple yet. Great post!

  9. I’m a little ashamed to admit I’ve never read her books but I’m about to perform for the third time in one of her plays (Spider’s Web; previous two were The Hollow and The Unexpected Guest). They’re a little corny, more than a little dated in attitudes but enormous fun to perform in.
    Oh, I really am an introvert. This is part of my pretending to be an extrovert that had me freaking out yesterday and prompted my last post that you so kindly liked. Thank you. 🙂

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