Friday, July 28, 2006

Learning to Love Agatha

Many, many, many years ago I read a few mysteries by Agatha Christie because my mother thought she was a great mystery writer. I came to the conclusion that I liked her character Hercule Poirot, but only when he was assisted in his detecting by the pseudo-Watson, Captain Hastings. I was a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories and, having exhausted the available stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was happy to find a substitute detective. I soon ran out of the Poirot/Hastings stories and tried a Miss Marple. I found her little lady detective boring and I did not care for the solo Poirot stories. So I dismissed Agatha Christie from my reading list, convinced that at best she had briefly provided a poor substitute detective for Sherlock Holmes and then screwed that up by phasing Captain Hastings out of the picture.

Over the years I watched my mother grab up the new books by Dame Agatha and wondered why on earth she kept reading the things. Mother admitted that she did not care that much for Poirot and not at all for the characters Tommy and Tuppence. But she loved Miss Marple. I tried her again and found her boring. So I gave it up and decided that Agatha Christie just was not my cup of tea.

I would from time to time watch a movie or episode of "Mystery" featuring Miss Marple and actually enjoy the story, but I guess I thought that the screen writers had embellished the story. Because, after all, Miss Marple was boring.

The funny thing is, I devoured a whole series of mystery stories by Patricia Wentworth, whose detective was an elderly little lady named Miss Silver, who knitted and quietly pieced together clues to identify murderers and who was highly respected by the local constabulary. I didn't find her boring at all. Not like Miss Marple, a elderly little silver-haired lady, who knitted and quietly pieced together clues to identify murderers and who was highly respected by the local constabulary. I just thought Patricia Wentworth was a more interesting writer.

Well, now I'm eating my words. It started when I picked up a couple of Hercule Poirot audio books. I found myself enjoying the stories, but again I discovered that I didn't really like Poirot without Hastings. Then one day I found a good buy on a Miss Marple audiobook. I was hungry for a mystery and the price was right, so even with my long-standing prejudice against the character I decided I would give it another try.

To my great surprise, I discovered that while I might not enjoy reading Miss Marple mysteries, I really enjoy listening to them. And I'm learning to enjoy the finely crafted stories that came out of the mind of Agatha Christie. The lady could weave a story full of false leads down various primrose paths and then miraculously knit them all into a solid conclusion that you don't see coming. It's real entertainment and that hour-long trip between Austin and Bastrop flies by as you listen.

So, I freely admit I was wrong all those years. Yes, the stories are a bit dated, but they are solid writing and the story lines are enthralling. Agatha Christie was a master of the art of the mystery. Now when I get hungry for a mystery, I know where to go for a good meal.

And Miss Marple is far from boring.


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