The Bookshelf: Intro to Christie

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

* The Bookshelf is PinoyJourn’s long-overdue attempt to work something out of this writer’s stunted reading habit. I’ve long been reading before I started writing, , and am ever thankful to reading for my affair with words.

When I began to work, I began to re-read the tales I enjoyed abridged as a kid and to expand that horizon of books. I’ve put it upon myself before reading more to churn out reviews shorter than my usual word length as [1] writing practice, [2] writing lessons, and [3] self-assurance that those flights into fancy still produced a sense of rumination.

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Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Crowley

David Suchet as Poirot

Detective mysteries probably embody the best elements of the story.

You follow the hero/ine’s search for answers to the baffling premise. Cliffhangers keep you around for more. And gradually, you marvel with the other characters as the clues slowly piece together.

The detective mystery accommodates romance, oddity, and action—physical and intellectual. And it works for either gender—protagonist or reader.

Having gone through the exploits of Sherlock Holmes at least twice, I decided to dip next into Agatha Christie–dubbed the Queen of Crime.

She’s only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare, so her 70-plus works must count among any reading list. I started with her first two novels, to be reviewed here.

Christie lived and based her stories on the first half of the 20th century. And so they mention cars and short skirts, as against Doyle’s 1800s horse-drawns and Victorian primness.

But Christie’s English setting, with its stone villages, telegrams, nobility, and the Underground sometimes reads like a dead-ringer for Doyle had his writings gone past 1930.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

 A provincial manor, a disjointed family, and a dead matriarch–a classic jump-off for a mystery. Here, Christie introduces Hercule Poirot, an eccentric Belgian detective who becomes her most famous sleuth akin to Holmes.

The story is told Watson-esque through Arthur Hastings, a close friend of Poirot’s who introduces him to the scene of the crime and follows his investigation.

Hints of a scandal rivet the reader’s suspicions to certain characters at the outset. But in the course of the novel, the probe leads one to doubt almost everyone in the story. Which leads to surprise when Poirot reveals the culprit.

Much like Holmes, the detective seems to dally on details that leave Hastings (and the reader) to wonder about their relevance. Other times, clues are rarely or breezily mentioned that the careful reader has to backtrack and find them.

A conscious tracking of the trail might deter enjoying the read, but it’s the conflict and intrigue that grant the human interest worth following till the end.

And much like Holmes, Hercule Poirot begins and remains detached from the tumult of characters. Hastings is left to notice the emotional nuances in the story.

Yet, Poirot’s handling of each revelation eventually hints that he’s not all as mechanical as he seems.

The Secret Adversary (1922)

The Secret Adversary cover by Agatha Christie Meet the Young Adventurers, Ltd., Christie’s dynamic duo in their debut story. Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Crowley are childhood buds who meet again after World War I and decide to form a “joint venture” bent on adventure.

Their combined ages “would certainly not have totaled forty-five.” But Christie immediately pits them–by serendipity–against the socio-political shifts of fragile post-war Britain.

They’re assigned to recover a lost treaty that could dictate a change of government, as well as a girl named Jane Finn who holds the key to where it is. They face ruffians supposedly led by the faceless “secret adversary,” Mr. Brown.

Trust issues again creep up in this tale, which is more caper than political, but the smaller circle of characters leaves few choices on who Mr. Brown is.

Maybe it’s their youth, or their spunk, but Tommy and Tuppence manage to get themselves out of situations those same qualities got them tangled in the first place. And for young amateurs, they beat the authorities to solving the case.

It’s not just their ages that let me relate with the Young Adventurers, but also their personalities and “duonamic” (credit to Elbong Torrayno).

Tuppence is the liberated, outspoken 1920s girl who runs on instinct even before she thinks about it. Tommy is laidback, silent, and cautious. But so close is their team-up that when they’re split up during cliffhangers, Tommy learns to trust his gut and Tuppence, to calculate her moves.

The setup seems to benefit the lady when the two go together. But at crucial times Tommy’s cool head gets the upper hand. And their propensity to tease and seemingly treat each other cavalierly only masks a deeper affection.

(Book cover shots from AgathaChristie.com. Also, read my first review, on “A Tale of Two Cities.”)

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8 comments on “The Bookshelf: Intro to Christie

    • Hahaha. Thanks so much KB! Sana magtuloy-tuloy ito. Well, my reading foundations, after all are almost all pre-20th century. So discounting science fiction & futuristic novels, ngayon lang ako medyo lumalapit-lapit.

    • Thanks so much, Mimi! Can’t wait to pick up on the reads. Couldn’t get enough of Holmes, so I moved on to other mystery reads.

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