I spend the day in the grip of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. Isn’t that terrible? My father once gave me a lecture on wasting good working hours on reading light fiction, but I couldn’t put my tablet down. I was utterly wrapped up in the mystery–in Hastings’ impatience, Poirot’s pronouncements and the movements of the mysterious Mr. Cust.
It is the sort of book I should have saved for a trip across the Atlantic–the sort of book that makes the hours flash by without the reader noticing. I read rather quickly, so I need two airplane books to get me across the ocean. I open the first in Glasgow, and I shut the second upon our approach to Toronto. Here so soon?
Agatha Christie is not only the “Queen of Crime”, she’s the queen of airplane books. Although her vast output was slightly uneven, I never get tired of her world of bronzed colonels, stately homes, private secretaries, dashing young “modern” women, quiet secretaries of both sexes and American millionaires. Was Britain ever really like that, I wonder. The mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers seem a little more workaday: fewer millionaires, more women academics, rather more sympathy for bohemians and champagne socialists.
I first gobbled up Agatha Christie novels as a thirteen year old, but later decided they were formulaic and dull. I rebelled against the Tory politics and the limitless sympathy for the British upper classes. But I have gone back to them and rediscovered their brilliance as thrillers. I keep meaning to pull them apart to see how she does it, but I keep forgetting in the excitement of the tale.
I finished The ABC Murders today; I finished Murder in Mesopotamia on Monday evening. The former is better than the latter. I correctly guessed the murderer in Mesopotamia, something I very rarely do, and didn’t find him/her convincing. But The ABC Murders was terrific, right up there with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
These are both Hercule Poirot mysteries, and thus I feel they fit in with this blog, for Poirot is Britain’s most famous Catholic detective. Yes, I am sure you are very fond of Father Brown, but today he is a Catholic niche interest whereas Poirot is… Well, Poirot.
He is a masterful invention, beautifully drawn: brilliant but fussy, kindly but vain, sentimental but chaste, zealous for justice, and practicing Catholic, as befit a Belgian of his generation. (Can you imagine what Poirot would say about the new Belgian law permitting the killing of disabled children? “Non, non and, again, non!”) As Christie was not a Catholic herself, she could never be accused of propagandizing for Catholicism–nor does she seem to have been tempted to do so.*
I met a fan last October for coffee. She had flown over to Scotland on holiday, bringing my book with her for me to sign. I expected to see the American edition of my first book, Seraphic Singles, but to my amazement, she lay Ceremony of Innocence before me. It had just been released, so I had never seen a reader’s copy.
“I read it on the airplane,” she explained.
“Did it make a good airplane book?” I asked.
She said it had, and I was delighted. If a book can shrink the hours of an transatlantic flight, then that is a book that has truly gripped the reader.
What kind of books do you like to read on airplanes?
*An amusing liturgical side note about “The Agatha Christie Indult” here.