My holiday: a tale of the pain of plot spoilers and arsey detectives

So I’ve been back in the UK about a week now. I’m still struggling to remember to put a coat on when I go outside, as London currently has nothing like the balmy Jordanian weather that I’m used to, and I’m still waking up ever so slightly too early after being on Israeli time. But, amidst all my end of holiday blues I am rejoicing in the amount of reading I have crammed in over the last few weeks.

While I was on the plane I started reading Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, curated by John Curran, while I was attempting to forget I was in a metal tube being hurled unnaturally through the skies. Curran had the chance most Christie-philes would kill for, to look through all of her unedited notebooks containing the ideas and planning for some of her most well-known murder mystery stories. Alongside some somewhat sycophantic commentary of Christie’s works Curran reveals the content of her 73 almost illegible notebooks, including one line ideas that turned into full-blown stories, first drafts of character lists and time-lines of plots, all of which made you feel like Dame Aggie had sat down and explained her process in great detail to you personally. I love getting these ‘behind the scenes’ looks at authors I respect (such as Syliva Plath’s Letters Home) and this book was a huge treat for a super-fan such as myself.

The only downside was that you do rather have to be a super-fan to keep up with Curran’s analysis. He makes many subtle references to her huge repertoire of stories so that a) you find yourself struggling to remember the plot of a story you may have read once a good few years ago (I particularly had trouble remembering all the Labours of Hercules stories) and b) even worse you have stories you haven’t read spoiled for you. Curran did his best to warn when spoilers were coming (you obviously can’t discuss Christie’s plots without talking about the many twists and turns each one takes) but I found myself utterly thrown when he casually mentioned during one chapter introduction ‘and who would have thought the killer in Crooked House would be…’. The biggest murderer reveal since ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ spoilt for anyone who hasn’t read Crooked House - yours truly included!

So I recommend you read the notebooks only once you have read and memorised all 66 Christie novels, 14 short story collections and 22 plays, and with Wikipedia open for plot summaries just in case. If anything, it’ll remind you of all the wonderful stories Christie has written and give you motivation to re-read a few. I myself re-read my favourite story of hers that doesn’t feature Poirot or Marple, Sparkling Cyanide, and downloaded the callously spoiled Crooked House, just so it stung a little less. Both are fabulous examples of Christie’s works (assuming you haven’t had them spoiled beforehand - I promise I’ll get over it one day, but today isn’t that day) and I recommend them if you are interested in getting in to the Queen of Crime ‘ works.

At this point I was over a week in to my time away and feeling a bit Christied-out. But not wanting to stray too far from the genre I start to read The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, shamefully for the very first time. Conan Doyle’s most famous creation is currently going through a bit of a revival thanks to the handsome Mr Cumberbatch, but I always think nothing can beat the original so made it my mission to read the books before getting swept away in the adaptation.

Holmes is certainly an interesting character, and I can see the reason that the stories are still so popular. However I can’t help comparing him to my favourite fictional detective, Hercules Poirot, and unfortunately he comes up a bit short. Both are geniuses, both are rather conceited and enjoy impressing their slightly dim sidekicks, but while Hercules can mock himself and provides a bit of his own comic relief Holmes presents as far darker, far less amicable and just plain rude. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good antagonist, but Holmes just seems caustic for the sake of it; it’s not a plot device, it’s not explained by a back-story. He’s just an ass for ass’ sake.

Anyway, on that inflammatory remark, I will leave it there. I have noticed that the Agatha Christie society has asked people to vote for their favourite Christie novel. While this is definitely something I want to weigh in on, picking my favourite Agatha Christie novel is like picking a favourite child so I will leave that topic for next week.

Glad to be back!

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