Agatha Christie - Welcome to Fall

I picked up two Agatha Christie books at the Strand in an all-around rage: I was 60 pages into Larry McMurtry's Books and it was so incredibly bad that I needed something else to read just to get me through the subway ride from Union Square to Queens. (Yes, it was that bad) Luckily for Christie, she was everything that McMurtry was not: clear, fluid, well-written, entertaining, engaging, and, on top of all that, became the perfect read for the just-starting-to-cool-down weather of October.

A Pocket Full of Rye bases its actions, quite sneakily, on the age-old children's rhyme: Four-and-twenty blackbirds / baked in a pie... I will confess that I did not see the way that the murders fit into the rhyme until Miss Marple herself pointed it out to the detective. A Murder is Announced works backwards, declaring the upcoming murder in a local newspaper and leaving the survivors to work out what happened versus what they think happened.

Both mysteries Miss Marple mysteries, starring the classy - and classic - Miss Jane Marple, subtle old-lady detective. Both require a bit of suspension of disbelief, or perhaps a new-found belief in coincidence, but I do not consider this a flaw. No, the genius of Christie's work lies right in these coincidences, cleverly tying together a number of seemingly un-related strings to solve an as-yet seemingly impossible puzzle.

It is tempting to declare Christie's work trite, or cliche, or overdone, but this is like calling Jane Austen too typically romantic: to do so is to forget that these were pioneers of their fields. Agatha Christie, author of over 70 books in her lifetime, was the first serial murder mystery writer to create a truly successful "brand" around both herself and her characters (namely, Miss Marple and Poirot, of later A&E fame).

Bottom line: If you are looking for a solid mystery read, but aren't willing to stoop to the level of Patterson and his kind, I would unhesitatingly recommend going back a few decades to discover, or perhaps re-discover, Agatha Christie's work. Plus, in addition to a page-turner mystery, she serves up a healthy portion of British heritage and quirky culture from the post-war years, something the Osprey/Shire nerd in me thoroughly enjoyed.

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