All I knew about the great mystery writer Agatha Christie was that she wrote many of my favorite mysteries and disappeared for a period of time when she was young. But then I read Laura Thompson’s excellent biography of her and learned these amazing facts.
1. The motive is money
Forget about love. Money is the “prime motive for crime” in 55 of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, and murder for financial gain is at the center of thirty-six,” Thompson writes, Although Agatha Christie wound up making a lot of money from her writing, both her youth and her middle age were clouded by financial worry. She wrote about what she knew.
2. Her favorite movie?
Agatha Christie was not a big fan of movie adaptations of her books. She preferred stage productions. But she loved Witness for the Prosecution (the Billy Wilder version with Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton. ) “It was the only cinematic version of her writing that Agatha ever liked,” Thompson writes.
3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
This book, published in 1926, was the book that changed her reputation. I won’t give away the twist, but it is a good one, but the idea for it was suggested to her by Lord Louis Mountbatten. She got a lot of advice from people, and rarely took it, but this time she listened.
A recurring theme in Agatha Christie’s mysteries is “the need for children to be brought up in their own surroundings, the damage done when they are given away.” Think of Ordeal by Innocence or The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. This preoccupation came out of personal experience. Agatha Christie’s own mother was given away to another family when she was a girl. (Her father had died and her mother had to pick one of her children to be raised by another family and she chose Clara.) The trauma haunted Agatha Christie.
5. Miss Marple
The character of Miss Marple was not based on Agatha Christie, which is what I always thought. Rather it was inspired by Agatha’s two elderly aunts, Victorian women who spouted such advice as, “Always think the worst about people,” or “Gentleman need attention and three proper meals a day.” Thompson writes that Miss Marple had a sort of unflinching way of looking at the world that the more dreamy Agatha Christie did not have. “Like most real writers, she was a stronger person in her books than in her life.” (Now that’s a blog post unto itself!)
Agatha Christie had no “writerly” rituals. She jotted down notes everywhere, on anything. However, she labored over her plots. “She arrived at her structure rather in the manner of a bird building a nest: taking this rejecting that, recognizing what was needed when she saw it, by some means ending up with a smooth and watertight whole.” Some books came easily, such as Evil Under the Sun. Others were terribly difficult, such as The ABC Murders.
So much more!
I could go on and on. What really happened when she disappeared? Thompson thinks she never intended for it all to get so out of control and was just trying to win back her husband. But this topic alone takes up a big chunk of the book! What did she really think of Hercule Poirot? What was her second husband like? I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to find out all that. Or perhaps you have read it? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
Good to know Agatha also labored over her plots. I like the bird building a nest analogy but to me it often seems like digging for gold. You chip away at the mountain, come up empty, then move to the next mountain and start chipping again.
Thanks for sharing this.