It is a cold and stormy night; a blazing fire fills the hearth. A wingtip chair and a footstool face the warmth of the flames. Beside the chair is a silver tray with a small tea kettle, a cup and saucer, a bowl of sugar and a small pitcher of milk.
What’s missing from this picture? If it was me creating this scene, there would be a book on the table, alongside the tea service. Or, there would be someone whom Agatha Christie had murdered by virtue of a small bit of hemlock within the tea pot.
No, I am not Snoopy, typing my latest tome, I am describing an Agatha Christie setting that I envision every time I read one of her books. If I was seated there, the book would be one of hers and I often read each one, more than once, in a setting not unlike the one I described.
I’m an author who has learned more about writing from the people who write the best books. From the time I started reading Agatha Christie books at age nine, I loved each plot, setting, and every denouement.
Agatha Christie took me to the ends of the Earth or kept us cozy in a small Midlands towns in England. I must admit that I loved the ones that took place in the villages where the locals had secrets to keep and mean spirited plots to share.
When she described a library, the setting was exactly what I would have loved in my own home. There were mahogany shelves and floors, heavily carved tables and desks, two ladders that glided along the rungs of the bookshelves and leather armchairs for the readers.
In her books, a dead body might be set in the middle of a scene, and very little forensics, if at all, took up Inspector Poirot’s attention. His concentration often centered on the other characters, one of whom was always the murderer. His constant companion in crime was Captain Hastings, a wounded war veteran who served as a model of decorum who often distracted the others, while Poirot concentrated on investigation.
Poirot could be desribed as a brainy perfectionist. His love of elegance, beauty, and precision, and his garden, as well as his eccentric mannerisms were often ridiculed by the local bumbling policemen where ever he went, but it was always Poirot who had the last word.
If the main character of the novel was Jane Marple,one quickly learned that the gentle older woman was not a “people pleaser,” and never attempted to be one. She lived simply in the tiny village of St. Mary Mead where she used her powers of observance to dig out the little town’s share of wickedness. The fact that no evil doer saw Miss Marple as a threat, made her capable of rousting a killer without drawing any attention to herself.
The locales of the stories were often as different as the Caribbean was to Egypt. Throughout her life, Dame Agatha traveled extensively with her husband, Archie, an archeologist, and all she needed was her typewriter and paper to keep herself busy while he worked at exotic digs.
Although I came upon Dame Agatha in the local library while she was at the peak of her career, I read all that came before the current best seller of the time, and followed the rest of her tales, to her death.
The type of book she wrote is now referred to as a “cozy” mystery because they were rarely very bloody and oftentimes, very tame in terms of the type of fatalities that would befall her victims.
I haven’t read her in years, but when asked who I believe inspired her readers the most, it has to be Dame Agatha. She took me out of my own demographic and put me in England or anywhere else she decided to place her booklover and made us happy to go there.
In my estimation, there will never be any other mystery writer to take her place.