Saturday, March 18, 2017

Dame Agatha Triumphs Again!

I have loved reading mysteries since I was very little. Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown were the mysteries that kept me going for a long time, along with Cherry Ames (Nancy Drew was always there, of course, but I pretty much considered those a last choice if I'd run out of other books).

Around the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I discovered Agatha Christie on the shelves of our little local West End library, whose grown-up shelves I'd begun to explore. The sheer number of Christie mysteries excited me, and once I started reading them, I couldn't stop. I ran through everything the library had, then started picking up other writers. Ngaio Marsh was an author I read a good bit of when I was a young adult.

Then over the years I started finding other mystery writers I enjoyed: Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Simpson, P.D. James, Ellis Peters, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny, Henning Mankell, Susan Wittig Albert and sometimes other contemporary cozy writers, such as early Joanne Fluke, and most recently, Edith Maxwell. I sometimes go backward and discover writers that were post-golden era but not yet writing books in the modern cozy way: Patricia Wentworth and Catherine Aird come to mind here. Mystery stories, some of them literary and incredibly well-written, others more formulaic but still fun, became my go-to relaxing reading.

The sweet girl has never loved mysteries with the same fervor I did as a kid. She enjoyed the first six Trixie Beldens with me, but quickly lost interest in the series once Julie Campbell stepped out and left it to formula writers. She's enjoyed a few standalone mysteries, including an occasional foray into Sherlock Holmes short stories, and she doesn't mind books of other genres that tie in mystery elements (for instance, she liked the mystery elements in Harry Potter) but never really found them her thing, which is fine. Not everyone is a mystery reader.

But when I was planning her literature reading for this term, I decided to include a classic mystery. For one thing, we're exploring different writing genres this year (from a literary analysis and creative writing perspective) and for another, we're sticking mostly with 20th century literature to connect with her history studies. She's done a fair amount of semi-heavy-lifting in her lit work, and I thought a mystery might give her a light break in the middle of a busy spring. I also knew she would probably enjoy exploring an author who tried a really creative narrative strategy. So I put Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None on the syllabus, wondering how it would go.

And Then There Were None was originally published in 1939, and it's still (I think?) the best-selling mystery novel of all time. For good's a fascinating story with a really tricky plot, involving ten people on an island who begin to die off one by one, in accordance with a nursery rhyme left in their rooms and because each one of them has been accused (by the unknown party who invited them to the island) of being responsible for someone else's death.

I knew that the sweet girl would find Christie's movement in and out of different characters' minds rather fascinating, but I wasn't prepared (silly me) for how riveting she would find the book. "Do you mind if I stick with literature this afternoon?" she asked me one day last week. "Because I only have a few chapters left and I can't put it down."

Thank you, Dame Agatha! It was so much fun to talk about the book with her when she was done, and I loved it when she asked, "Are there other Agatha Christie books you think I might like?" Why, yes, dear girl! I think so! And I am compiling a list, including The Murder of Roget Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Partners in Crime, and a Miss Marple (I haven't decided which one yet).

Good writing wins the day once again. It always does! 

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