Imagine you are ten years old. Tired of rereading Enid Blyton mystery books for the umpteenth time, you pick up one of the books by Agatha Christie you see your mother read… and just like that, you are enthralled.
My mother Kathleen was a voracious reader and picked up many of these Christies in secondhand bookshops, charity shops and sales of work.
Writing during what is known as the Golden Age of Crime, Christie’s prose is crisp, characters sharply defined and the atmosphere of England between the wars and after is vividly evoked. For me there’s also a melancholy charm of the end of an era; the men and women refer to a time when they could afford servants and the upkeep of a big house and grounds, but those days are gone.
In the mystery At Bertram’s Hotel, Miss Marple is treated to a stay in a luxurious London hotel by her nephew; it has been restored to its former Edwardian glory and it is just as she remembers as a little girl. But the longer she stays, the greater her sense of unease grows; she keeps feeling things are too good to be true, and of course, she’s right. You cannot return to the past, and the atmosphere of the hotel is deceptive and contrived.
Christie is also wonderful in creating a sense of unease and depicting how toxic families can be. In Appointment with Death, Poirot is in Jerusalem when he overhears Raymond Boynton say to his sister “You do see, don’t you, that’s she’s got to be killed?”. The subject of their conversation is their tyrannical stepmother who delights in controlling her stepchildren. When she is murdered in Petra, there are many suspects – but only Poirot can discover the true culprit.
My mother Kathleen was a voracious reader and picked up many of these Christies in secondhand bookshops, charity shops and sales of work. I love the old Pan and Fontana editions, the artwork on the covers, the smell of the paper. I also love them as a link to my mother and the great pleasure we shared in Christie’s writing; as she died a year ago the books also feel like her legacy to me.
Reading Agatha Christie lead me on to the other Queens of Crime – Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers and Patricia Wentworth. I took great joy in introducing these authors to my mother, it felt like payback in the nicest way possible.
Though these editions are from decades ago, many titles are either still available or newly back in print…and you can be sure any bookshop I’ve ever worked in has a good selection of these and other Vintage Crime books!