In praise of Agatha

There is something so wonderfully comforting about nostalgia. Obviously, I’m referring to the good parts. The terrible, terrible things of the past can f*ck right off.

By good parts, I mean re-watching X-Men cartoons from the nineties and remembering the times my friend Cara-Lee and I would run around outside pretending we were Rogue and Storm. Other days we’d play the Tiny Toons game on her no-name console. Or Super Mario.

Sometimes when the world gets a bit too much I like to take a little dip in happy memories. YouTube is great for finding old cartoons like Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake. Going back even further, I must have watched Garfield in Paradise about a hundred times. Re-watching old cartoons is fine… for a Saturday or Sunday morning. But, ahem, I am thirty-five. For the times I want to put a little more than my big toe in the cool waters of days gone by, I turn to books.

Specifically, Agatha Christie.

There’s an amazing store behind the Old Biscuit Mill in Salt River called Deerhunter that specialises in old-timey memorabilia. In among the Star Wars figurines and big-eyed doe ceramics, I found a small shelf of paperbacks.

Little known fact, I collect Agatha Christie paperbacks, especially the ones with the gorgeous painted pulp covers. Most of them were ahem, “borrowed” from my mother, others I found in markets and fêtes. Deerhunter was the holy grail basically. An expensive grail, but a grail nonetheless.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about Agatha Christie that appeals to me so much. Growing up, my mother used to love the Peter Ustinov films, like Death on the Nile and Evil under the Sun. Later, we’d watch the Poirot series together on SABC 3. We didn’t have much, so watching other people go on luxurious Nile cruises (and die horribly while doing so) were a favourite pastime. We read a lot and spent a great deal of time in the local library. I read most of Christie’s novels as a teenager (to be fair, I read anything), so by the time I reached adulthood I had already forgotten the identities of the murderers. For the most part anyway.

Poirot’s return under the expert penmanship of crime writer Sophie Hannah reignited my passion for the series. What I love most about her interpretation is that they read exactly the same as the originals. Nothing has changed. Adding a modern twist can ruin a series (i.e., Riverdale), while a total Hollywood reboot can obliterate it completely (insert the name of any reboot here.)

So far, every new take on Christie’s work has stayed true to the originals, including the BBC’s wonderful adaptions of And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution, and most recently Kenneth Branagh’s excellent Murder on the Orient Express for the big screen. I went to see it with two girlfriends who had no idea who the murderer was, which just added to the fun.

If you think about it, Christie invented the classic theatrical premise. A cast of players are introduced. A murder occurs. The clever detective is called in to navigate the twists, turns and red herrings to ultimately discover the truth. Add a beautiful setting, like a steamer gliding through the Nile, an archaeological expedition in Jordan, a luxurious train rolling through dramatic landscapes, or a remote island off Cornwall, isolated by a storm.

I would go as far as to compare my love of Christie’s work to other people’s devotion to shows like Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones or even Vikings. It could be the historical sets, the costumes or even the intriguing, diverse cast brimming with secrets. Just with added mystery. And poison.

Every time I pick up one of my tattered paperbacks, I’m transported to the scene and like the fictional detective, am presented with the murder and cast of potential suspects. It becomes a game of wits, a puzzle, with only one right answer. A play for one.

I don’t think there is a single crime writer alive today who doesn’t owe something to Dame Christie. I’ve been working on a crime novel for a while now and I find her expertise invaluable. But that aside, I get so much enjoyment out of her work because she’s just so good at it.  It’s a reliable thrill. And there is so much comfort in knowing you’re about to read something completely satisfying.

So around this time of year, when the headlines are scary, the malls are full and the tourists have taken over, give me a glass of wine, some snacks and allow me to zone out with an old favourite.

If you need me, I’ll be on the couch.

Or here.

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3 thoughts on “In praise of Agatha

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