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My lifetime love affair with Agatha Cristie

I used to have a personal relationship with the famous British mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

I used to have a personal relationship with the famous British mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

Of course, all her fans felt the same way, once they got hooked on her wonderfully ingenious stories and her delightful characters. I considered her a nice friend who gave me those brain-twisting plots every night — bedtime stories to smooth out the roughest of days, other worlds to enter to forget my own for a while, to relax and enjoy and transition from stress to slumber.

It was one of those times when seemingly unconnected circumstances collide with just the right timing in a serendipitous gift from the universe. I had just moved into a little house, the first time living entirely by myself, and enrolled in college.

At exactly the same time my girlfriend (later to become my Better Half) who was at ballet school in Edmonton, mentioned that her grandma had several boxes of books she wanted to give away. Her grandma, Hildred Parker, a popular school teacher here for many years, was a prolific reader and an avid Agatha Christie fan, and so it came to pass that she generously loaded me up with a couple of heavy boxes of paperbacks — all of them Agatha Christie mystery novels.

Just in case I didn’t have enough reading to do in college.

She was smart enough to know that it was exactly what I needed.

Somehow before then I had never read a single Agatha Christie book, but as soon as I dug into the first cardboard box of old paperbacks and randomly pulled out The Murder of Roger Akroyd, that changed in a big way. I was so taken by the clever and daring twist at the heart of the novel, one that broke all the rules and yet worked so well you find yourself smacking yourself in the forehead with the palm of your hand at the final “reveal,” I couldn’t wait to crack open the next dusty book in the box.

It soon became a certified ritual in that little white house in Fairview. I’d slave away all day at college attending classes, drinking coffee and snoozing at my favourite study carol in the library, attend more classes or work on projects in the evening, hang around with friends and classmates doing what college students do late into the evening, and rattle my ole ’67 Mercedes back to the house every night in time to pile into bed with Agatha Christie.

So to speak.

I soon met Hercule Poirot, Agatha’s odd little Belgium detective who could give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. This clever idiosyncratic crime genius with the perfectly waxed moustaches, walking stick and bowler hat debuted in The Mysterious Affair at Styles — and this was published way back in 1920.

It was then that Agatha introduced the “whodunit” trademark of the detective calling all the characters, suspects and unsuspected alike, into a “drawing room” (whatever that is) to cleverly expose the murderer — who, of course nobody (especially the reader) even remotely suspected.

I blame Agatha Christie for making me miss a number of early morning classes due to forcing me to stay up into the wee hours glued to the pages of one of her books.

After the third or fourth Hercule Poirot novel, I even copied the cover design consisting of a simple silhouette of a bowler hat and curled moustache, framed it, and put it on the wall in my little house.

There were no worries about running out of books. The boxes were packed full. After all, Agatha Christie wrote 66 detective novels and dozens of short stories, plays and romantic novels under a pseudonym.

So whenever I got a little bleary-eyed from Hercule Poirot’s adventures I could always switch to her other famous protagonist, Miss Jane Marple — an elderly spinster with an uncanny knack of solving complicated crimes, much to the embarrassed amazement of the police inspectors.

Eventually the book boxes emptied and the paperbacks were given or traded away and I moved on to other adventures, literary and otherwise.

But just this year my BH discovered something that led to a rediscovery. I had seen various random TV movies of Agatha Christie’s most popular books, but I had no idea that there were entire box sets of beautifully produced DVDs featuring my old friends Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. There are dozens of installments, in fact.

So it’s been a different kind of a bleary-eyed binge lately, as we work our way through everything from Murder on the Orient Express (which might definitely be my favourite) to And Then There Were None (which, I’m sure is my favourite).

And this is one example of it being an advantage to having a failing memory. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot: I can experience them all again for the first time.

It’s nice to have Dame Agatha Christie back in my life again. Since those book box days she has been dubbed “The Queen of Crime,” and is noted as the-best selling novelist of all time. Over four billion copies of her novels have been sold. That billion with a B!

The story is that she thought up her intricate middle and upper class British whodunits while eating apples in the bathtub. (Presumably there was water in the tub at the time.) I’ve tried that. And I can’t even come up with even one plot for detective story. And now I don’t like apples much anymore and I take showers instead. That doesn’t work either.

All I can say is thank goodness for Agatha Christie, there never will be anyone quite like her again.

I remember clearly picking up a newspaper all those years ago in the little white house with my boxes of books. It was in 1976 and there on the front page was a quaint black and white headshot and a glowing obituary. The Queen of Crime had died at the age of 86.

I cut out the picture, framed it and hung it on the wall beside the Hercule Poirot drawing. And then I dug out another book out of the box.

Appropriately enough, it was Curtains. Hercule Poirot’s last case.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.