Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Death On The Nile

Agatha Christie

Last Thursday, the 3rd of March, was World Book Day, and the evening of last Saturday was host to the very first World Book Night massive book giveaway.

It pains me to say my sole involvement in the whole big, amazing-shaped give-party was watching all the TV shows about it. Really, I need to be better informed. Somebody, do something about that.

One of those shows followed Sue Perkins, wonderful person and former Booker Prize judge, delving deep into the land of the bestseller list... was it Henry James who pointed out that if you can't have a list of a single item, so you can't have a list of best-anythings?

The likes of John Grisham, James Patterson, Lee Child, Jackie Collins and Sophie Kinsella were talked about, some even appearing as talking heads to get very defensive (and I don't blame them).

I sell these books all day long, but I never buy them, and -- having never read them -- should probably have felt guilty about smirking along with Sue at the covers, prose and premises. But guilt didn't really happen. I'm on Sue's side.

I stoped smirking when Agatha Christie got mentioned, though; and interestingly, so did Sue (we have so much in common... it's love). Why is it okay for literary types to read formulaic, dated crime puzzles -- or, why is it not okay for literary types to ignore them -- when they have Agatha Christie written on the front?

Could we cite the lack of cheap thrill, lusty gore and gory lust? The constant cleverness of the plot? (They're formulaic, but you'll never crack the formula before Poirot does. Ever). The I-did-it-first rule? (One third of the cliches and predictabilities of crime novels were started by Christie, so maybe aren't cliches there). How about the sheer, plain, elegance of Christie's writing?

The problem with all these answers is something I've already mentioned: I've never read any of the books I'm snobbish about, so how do I know they don't have these things going on?

Can it really be that I like Poirot novels simply because they're old? Or simply because of David Suchet? Or simply because people like Sue Perkins like them too?


  1. I never read any Agatha Christie novels. Maybe I should.

  2. I love Agatha Christie as well. And sure, she's formulaic and dated now, but she was cutting edge at one time! I like the fact that there is very little gore - too many modern books are all about making the crime scene as horrific as possible - and I like the Englishness of them. They're cozies, or at least the ones with Miss Marple are. Those are probably reasons for people to sneer at them, but I think you hit the crux of it in your post: You'll never crack the formula before Poirot does.