My First Encounter with Agatha Christie
When I was in seventh grade in the late ’90s, my English teacher required us to do a booktalk to the class each month based on a different genre. I don’t believe any of my classmates actually ever read the books we presented on—I know I definitely didn’t—and the October booktalk was certainly no exception.
The theme for the month was mysteries, so I walked over to the school library and found an old copy of Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. She was on the list of recommended authors my teacher distributed to the class, and I thought the title seemed provocative and interesting.
When I tried to sit down and read the book, however, it felt like the most boring thing ever and I couldn’t get past the first few pages. Now, this was at a time when the Internet was mostly goofy chainmail emails and X-Files fan websites, so there wasn’t an Amazon, Goodreads, or Wikipedia available to help me cheat. I somehow managed to talk about the book for several minutes, entirely based on the back and inside copy. This is something I’m obviously still proud of, though it was probably a horrible booktalk.
My Love for Murder Mystery Parties
As I mentioned above, I’m a ’90s kid. I grew up before there was such a thing as “screen time,” so I watched a lot of television. For some reason, the entertainment industry in those days really loved the murder mystery plot, and many sitcoms at the time featured a special episode around that storyline.
In the Golden Girls episode, the girls partake in a murder mystery weekend where Blanche is accused of having committed the murder. Of course they all think this is a twist—that someone has really been murdered, and that Blanche is being framed. Dorothy, being a lover of the mystery genre, solves the crime and ultimately clears Blanche’s name. As one would expect, hilarity ensues during the course of the episode:
“Mystery Weekend” finds the Saved by the Bell gang at a secluded mansion after Lisa wins a radio contest. This now strikes me as a very odd scenario for a bunch of teenagers to find themselves in, but at the time, it made perfect sense. Fortunately, Screech knows how to pack for such an event and remembers to bring his Sherlock Holmes costume to the mansion. This is delightful to a young kid, but of course Screech isn’t the one to solve the crime—it has to be our hero, Zack Morris.
The Ultimate Gateway to Agatha Christie Novels
So now that we’ve established I loved murder mystery party TV episodes, I should explain why I love them so much. Clue. Yes—the board game, the classic 1985 movie, and the kid’s books. I was obsessed with them all.
The game Clue has always been my favorite, even as a kid when I was too stupid to actually solve the crime.
When not playing Clue at a sleepover, it was highly likely my friends and I would be watching the classic 1985 movie starring the great Tim Curry and my favorite actor of all time, Martin Mull.
Once I like something, I can’t get enough of it, so it was only natural I’d be drawn to the Clue series of children’s books as soon as I saw them in the Scholastic Book Fair catalog. I don’t remember much about the stories, but the books are available online. I might track some down and read them.
Now, to the Point of This Post – Agatha Christie
If I didn’t make it clear in my previous post, I love the show Poldark. I wanted to see Aidan Turner in something else, and the BBC miniseries version of And Then There Were None looked interesting and right up my alley. I’m not sure if it ever aired in the US, but my library had the DVD available to borrow.
The cast is fabulous and features a lot of well-known actors—Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, and Sam Neill are probably the most immediately recognizable. A lot of the series was shot on location in Cornwall, which I obviously loved!
The miniseries gets off to a slow start, and I spent some time wondering whether it was going to be any good or a total snooze fest.
I needn’t have worried because the second the first party guest is murdered, things really kick off, and the pace doesn’t slow until the final scene. I didn’t have a clue who was knocking off all the guests, and was totally surprised by the ending. Once the murderer is revealed, I felt it opened up some plot holes, but that didn’t impair my ability to enjoy the miniseries.
I had read before watching the series that it was much more violent than Christie’s original novel, and while I expected them to amp up the violence for a modern audience, it wasn’t as gruesome as I was expecting. However, this did make me curious to know how the miniseries differed from the original novel.
What was Agatha Christie’s Take?
I promptly returned to my library to pick up a copy of the book.
The book is an incredibly quick read, and I found the miniseries stays very close to the original source material. After reading the book, I didn’t think the violence was much tamer than in the series, though some murders are committed differently. It must be that witnessing a murder is just more shocking than reading about it.
I will say the miniseries shows violent scenes where there were none in the book, so in that way it is more violent. There is also drug use and sex in the miniseries, neither of which occur in the book. I think the inclusion of those scenes in the series makes sense in the context of the story, and they don’t feel out of place or like they’re added merely to titillate the audience.
One thing I think the series does better than the book is the way it portrays the character Vera. In the series, she is a very interesting and complicated character, and it seems like the series wants the viewer to consider her the main character. I would say the main character in the novel is Philip Lombard (AKA Poldark) and the Vera character is displayed much more like the stereotypical hysterical female, though we are supposed to think she is strong and clever.
Something that cannot be ignored
After watching the series and reading the book, I was curious about the poem that serves as the epigraph of the book. I vaguely recalled the book’s original title, Ten Little Indians, so decided to do some research on when it changed (it was obvious to me why it was changed).
My research led me to discover that the origins of the poem that gave the book its original titles—yes more than one—are incredibly racist. Even more so than I first thought! Just look at the cover of the first UK edition on Wikipedia—it’s disgusting. And it looks like foreign versions of the book are still super racist.
To say this is disappointing and taints one’s ability to enjoy the story would be an understatement. I guess I would still recommend reading the book or watching the series (or listening to the audio book version).
Is There More Agatha Christie In My Future?
Since the film version of Murder on the Orient Express is out this month, I suppose I might as well read the book. If the movie gets good reviews, I’ll pay the money to see it in the theater. I just hope Johnny Depp’s character doesn’t make it past the first 15 minutes.