If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I have a fancy-schmancy spreadsheet listing Agatha Christie novels with only a single tick-mark in it.
After years of thinking about it, I finally read my first Agatha Christie mystery earlier this year, but my expectations of The Mysterious Affair at Styles fell short, so short that I wasn’t planning to read another.
However, and this may well have happened to you, a library browse introduced me to a new paperback edition of Murder on the Links and its shiny spine enticed me to give Poirot another try. Because I was still feeling guilty at not having warmed to the series and, in that state, all that is required is a new book, one that seems to be waving to you from the shelf, even begging, in its silent bookish way, to be taken home.
Which is exactly what I did — even though you’d have thought the golf course scene on the cover (and the reference in the title) enough to put me off completely — and then I started reading, because nothing feels more summery than a pocketbook mystery that barely weighs a smidge. Even a possibly-golf-soaked mystery is still summery, right?
Anyhow, the golf course was, literally, a backdrop, as I had hoped. It was there, but hardly overwhelming: as was my interest, hardly overwhelming.
But why? Is it Poirot? I’ve heard that Christie readers typically favour one of her series in particular, so maybe I’m just not in the Poirot camp? But I don’t mind Poirot. Really, I don’t.
Sure, he can come off a bit self-righteous and arrogant.
“I? Not the least in the world. It demolishes my theory — it ruins everything — it — Ah, no!” He stopped dead, thumping himself on the chest. “It is impossible. I cannot be wrong! The facts, taken methodically, and in their proper order, admit of only one explanation. I must be right! I am right!”
It’s not a personality-type that I warm to, but just because he’s not someone I’d hang out with on a weekend getaway doesn’t mean he’s not fun between the pages of a book.
I mean, I can get behind his motivation, especially as he doesn’t mind sharing his methods (at least not to Hastings, the Watson to Christie’s Holmes).
“My theory is the truth,” said Poirot quietly. “And the truth is necessarily correct. In your theory you made a fundamental error. You permitted your imagination to lead you astray with midnight assignations and passionate love scenes. But in investigating crime we must take our stand upon the commonplace. Shall I demonstrate my methods to you?”
And, anyway, it’s not like Poirot truly considers himself infallible *all* the time. He’s willing to admit when he gets it wrong.
“I am an imbecile, my friend! if ever there was love and grief in a woman’s voice, I heard it then. My little idea was all wrong. Eh bien! I must start again.”
In the films, I always enjoyed the level of irritation that Poirot’s character provoked at times; it added to his character and made the story’s progress that much more entertaining. And I never felt “Ooo, one of her Marples” as opposed to a Poirot episode. I don’t think my reservations lie in the admirable detective, but I can’t pin down what I am missing either.
Admittedly, I did enjoy this volume more than the first. And of course, thanks to P.D. James’ Time To Be in Earnest (her autobiography, which I found fascinating), I recognize the importance of Agatha Christie’s work in detective fiction, so I can appreciate these books on that level. But I’m still not sure if I’ll be reading another Agatha Christie, no matter how new and shiny the paperback. I’m afraid there will only be two tickmarks on that fancy-schmancy spreadsheet.
It’s not that I dislike these mysteries, I just don’t seem to like them either. I would prefer to pick up with my Dorothy Sayers’ reading (my spreadsheet shows that I’m up to Strong Poison, with the introduction of Harriet Vane to look forward to), or Ngaio Marsh (I’m at Enter a Murderer, only the second in her series), or P.D. James (I’m at Original Sin, the ninth, but I started to re-read with Cover Her Face).
But I still feel guilty. Have you ever felt badly about not enjoying a particular author’s works more than you do?
If you’ve read a lot of Christie mysteries, do you think I should read a little further, or that I need to alter my expectations?