Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime

"What are Agatha Christie's chances of survival as a writer who will be read a century from now?" asked crime-writing scholar Julian Symons in his essay "The Mistress of Complication," which appeared in 1977's Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime, edited by H.R.F. Keating. It's easy to picture Symons's brow furrowed in uncertainty as he posed this question but, of course, he needn't have worried that Christie's readership would dwindle. Nearly half a century later, and with countless Christie film treatments, television adaptations and continuation novels since Symons wrote his essay, there's a new generation of Christie fans, and they should cheer the re-release of Keating's invaluable anthology.

Each of Agatha Christie's 13 contributors--a significant number of them crime writers--stakes a claim on a fresh angle: there's one essay each on, among other topics, theatrical productions of Christie's work, film treatments of her fiction and the role of music in her stories. More than one writer touches on Christie's rumored Hercule Poirot fatigue, how her familiarity with poisons from her Great War training as a nurse informed her plots, and whether the ending of 1926's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which made her name, was a cheat. It's a good bet that even the most ardent Christie-philes will learn something from Keating's book, whether it's that the Queen of Crime liked to write her novels in cheap hotels or that--mon Dieu!--Hercule Poirot was at one point to be portrayed on film by the comic actor Zero Mostel. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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