Help from Agatha Christie

imagesYou know Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the Queen of Mystery, who wrote 66 mysteries that have sold 4 billion–yes, billion–copies? Sure, you do. I’ve always enjoyed her books, but now I have a new reason to read them. Her first novels were published in the 1920s, which makes them good sources for information about that decade. How did people traveling by steamship occupy themselves during the voyage? What did clothing looked like? What did a police station look like? And so forth. I often read fiction published in the Twenties to help me with language–expressions, phrases, vocabulary that was common. To be sure, I can’t rely heavily on Christie’s books because they are written by an Englishwoman and set, for the most part, in England, not America. But there are some things that are still helpful. And it’s a great excuse to read Christie and get in the Twenties mindset! If you’re interested, her books published in the Twenties include:

First edition cover

First edition cover

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (her first), Murder on the Links, Mystery of the Blue Train, Secret Adversary, and Man in the Brown Suit. If I were asked to recommend one Agatha Christie book to someone who had not read any, I would say, The Man in the Brown Suit.

The Man in the Brown Suit does not feature Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. There is a sprightly young woman name Anne, recently orphaned and looking for something to do with her life–preferably something adventurous–who happens to witness the accidental death of a man in a tube station. But Anne doesn’t think it was quite the accident the police do, for she noticed the man’s frightened expression when he saw a man in a brown suit approach, and he stumbled onto the rails and was electrocuted. The man in the brown suit claimed to be a doctor, examined the body, removed some bit of paper, pronounced him dead, and disappeared. Anne follows and is off on her adventure to South Africa. Anne reminded me a bit of the main character in Jane Austen’s satire Northanger Abbey.

First edition cover

First edition cover

Murder on the Links deals with the discovery of a body on a golf course and the detective is the Belgian Hercule Poirot and his sidekick Hastings. Interestingly, this Hastings is a very young man, not like the Hastings in the movies and TV versions where Hastings and Poirot are about the same age. Here, Poirot behaves very fatherly toward impetuous Hastings who’s got his eye out for a pretty girl–and finds one in the end.

So what did I learn? Mostly generalities and mood. What people did for entertainment when a group was together a room before there were distractions like radios, televisions, computers, and cell phones. How people communicated over long distances and how long that took. How women were treated. How offices were run. That sort of thing. And I had a very entertaining time doing so!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i love p.g. wodehouse. he is famous for his jeeves and wooster books. he wrote others, but those are my favorite of his that i have read so far. they made the bbc shows of jeeves and wooster. p.g. wodehouse came from england and lived in the u.s.a. so he has both sides of the story from both countries.
    i wish you could meet my mother in law. she was born in 1913. she will be 100 this year. she remembers riding in the buggy with her mom to go to the next town to purchase hats. she is quite knowing about a lot of things. she told me about the literary societies they would get up at the school for entertainment.

    • Golly, I wish I could meet her too! I rely on memories of my grandmother, born in 1900, and the stories she told us about her childhood and her days as a young mother in the 1920s. I am sure you are asking your mother-in-law lots of questions about the olden days, so you’ll have many memories to treasure. I envy you.


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