Maybe her copy of The Body in the Library might have belonged to her older sister or to her mother: I’m not sure where her copy came from, but I was sure that nobody in my family read Agatha Christie novels and certainly not with impressively tasseled bookmarks.
[Sidenote: I used to love those spinning racks of bookmarks, their clever bookish quips, or else their cheerful, optimistic messages with cats (Hang in there, with a tiny striped kitten suspended disastrously from a tree branch), or else their outrageously branded instructions (Garfield saying “Shhhhh, I’m reading”). Do you know the ones? Do they still make those, I wonder?]
When Sheila pulled out her book for Silent Reading, its cartoonishly bright cover looked endlessly appealing. But my fascination was limited to the Idea of Reading Agatha Christie. I don’t know why I never borrowed that book. Perhaps it was near the end of the year and that was my last year in that small town; I moved away to go to high school in the city. But that doesn’t explain why I wouldn’t have borrowed them from the library.
The appeal was strongest when the book was in Sheila’s hands, I guess. So even when other friends mentioned reading them years later, even when her name appeared on countless lists I read of Influential Mystery writers, even though I grew up in a household where Miss Marple and Poirot were events worth watching (even worth renting when my grandmother got her first VCR), I somehow made it to the end of my thirties before I got serious about actually reading Christie.
And then, in typically obsessive-reader-style, I started my internet research, polled my Christie-reading friends (because of course it’s not enough to just read a Christie novel: she wrote multiple series and everybody who’s read them has opinions as to which is the best), and put together a spreadsheet. That’s how I ended up with a copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). It was my first Christie, her first published novel, and the first in the Poirot series (he would feature in 33 of her novels and 54 stories, although by the later 1930s she would consider him “insufferable”). It was a start.
I imagined future years of reading Christie.
I imagined ticking the boxes on my spreadsheet as I read.
I imagined combing the shelves of second-hand bookstores, delighting in unexpected finds, perhaps even locating a copy of that edition my friend was reading the year that I was twelve.
I imagined gobbling this first Poirot mystery in an afternoon.
But that’s not what’s happened. It took at least four reading sessions with The Mysterious Affair of Styles for me to read this novel.
And that’s after I re-read the first chapter a couple of times because I’d put it down after that twice and not properly caught hold of the characters introduced therein. (I excused this readily: it was over the holidays, with the related excesses of food, drink, and chatter.)
And even when I was three chapters from the end, Poirot’s brilliance on the cusp of revelation, I debated whether or not I would finish it.
It’s not that I disliked it. It’s that I didn’t especially like it. I could imagine reading a stack of these if I was recovering from surgery or stuck in an airport or even away on holiday at a cottage (somewhere flies don’t bite and where motorboats are outlawed). But I don’t imagine myself doing any of those things for long enough for me to absorb even a portion of Christie’s output.
It was a fine story, with a decent resolution, and I can appreciate that Christie was a pioneer in the genre, but I’d rather read a Dorothy Sayers, a Ngaio Marsh, a P.D. James, a Peter Lovesey.
Still, I feel a bit guilty. I really thought I would be freshly hooked on Christie for 2010, inspired to dig out my vintage tasselled bookmarks and settle into a series of cozies.