Apr 092012

How in the world did she do it?

How did Agatha Christie manage to turn out mystery after mystery, more than 80 books over the span of more than half a century, of such ingenuity and wit that they continue to be popular today, nearly a century after the appearance of her first mystery, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”?

Where did she get her ideas? How did she develop her plots? How did she choose her victims, her killers?

Thanks to author John Curran – and the Christie family – we now know some of the answers to these questions. Much of Christie’s writing technique, her plots, puzzles and notes all live on in a series of notebooks which she kept over the years. Curran, an acknowledged expert on Christie, has now produced two volumes based on those notebooks. The first one, “Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks,” originally published in 2009, is interesting – but, to my mind, a bit confusing to the casual reader. But the second volume, “Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets from Her Notebooks,” published last fall, provides a much more orderly insight into the mind of an incredibly popular and talented author. “Murder in the Making” is the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.

There is so much first-rate material in “Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making” that I am not sure where to start. Readers will discover some fascinating possibilities: a new version of a Miss Marple story that is much superior to the version that was finally published; a completely different, courtroom-drama ending to “The Mysterious Affair at Styles;” extensive notes about a never-written crime novel in which a murder is committed simply for the experience of killing someone; lists of characters for books and stories, detailed plans and revised plans for “Curtain,” the last Hercule Poirot novel  – it is a treasure for the Christie fan.

And that’s an important point: if you are new (or relatively so) to Christie, by all means, do NOT read this book until you read at least some of Christie’s books. As you might expect from a book like this, there are myriad spoilers; plots, victims and killers are revealed. While Curran warns readers at the top of each chapter about the spoilers to be encountered in that chapter, you may find it takes the fun and excitement out of Christie’s books if you read her notes before you read the books.

That said, however, Christie fans will find much to fascinate them here, and John Curran guides the reader through the material with a sure hand. “Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making” belongs on the bookshelf of every Christie devotee.

I also reviewed this book for the “I Love a Mystery Newsletter,” where you can find more detail and commentary.