I am not an Agatha Christie fan. That was my aunt, in our family – she had been through the whole Christie canon, and could quote you chapter and verse of every story and novel, forward and backward.
I read about a dozen novels, but I was more of a Dorothy Sayers kind of guy. Oh, I saw the movies and liked ’em, even if I still find Miss Marple insufferable, and I am looking forward to the forthcoming The Pale Horse, mostly because it seems to have a folk-horror angle and features a few actors I like a lot.
But I recently received as a gift a digital copy of possibly the only Agatha Christie I was really interested in reading – The Hound of Death and other stories, a collection of twelve short stories, published as a volume in the UK in 1933.
A collection of more-or-less supernatural stories.
The contents table is as follows
- The Hound of Death
- The Red Signal
- The Fourth Man
- The Gypsy
- The Lamp
- The Witness for the Prosecution
- The Mystery of the Blue Jar
- The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael
- The Call of Wings
- The Last Seance
The reason for my interest is, of course, the supernatural element, but also the fact that these are non-series stories written by an ace writer (while not my favorite) at the top of her game. There is a lot to learn here.
And indeed, the stories I have read so far (I read one every night, to take my thoughts off my current writing), are fine examples of narrative economy. And if, as Raymond Chandler said (or was it Julian Simmons?) her American characters speak a form of English unknown to the general public, it is true her dialogues are neatly crafted.
One of the stories, Witness for the Prosecution, was later turned by Christie in a play, and made in a movie, directed by Billy Wilder and featuring Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone
Powell Power (Powell? what got into my mind?), Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. Considering I know the movie, it will be interesting to go back to the original source material.
So yes, I am reading this as a diversion, but also to try and steal a few tricks from a master.
And then, “Christie goes spooky” is exactly what I am needing right now.