Accidental mystery time

Last week’s NYRB fun was so, well, fun, that I’d decided to do my own little imprint-week this week. All Hesperus Press, all the time! That was the plan, but as you may have noticed if you follow my sidebar or list of books finished this year, I’ve fallen into a bit of an Agatha Christie hole.

I only read my first Christie a relatively short time ago. Nearly two years now, but anything I’ve read since I’ve been blogging still seems recent. But I’d been watching Poirot and Miss Marple (David Suchet and Joan Hickson versions, respectively) like a fiend for years. I can watch an episode of Poirot for the twelfth time and still not necessarily remember who did it—or, more usually, how exactly Poirot figures it all out. (I’m the same with jokes. You can tell me the same joke, at least annually, and I will laugh every time like I’ve never heard the punchline. Should I be worried?)

The point is that for ages my only Christie reading experience was of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, an anomaly in some important ways. About six weeks ago, when I picked up Poirot Investigates, a collection of extremely short stories previously beloved to me in the form of 45-minute television programs, I discovered something amazing: Hastings is the narrator.

Captain Arthur Hastings is Poirot’s detective-fiction sidekick. He’s gullible, apt to fall for beautiful women at the bat of an eyelash, so pure that he can hardly imagine anyone could be evil, and not very bright. He does see some things Poirot doesn’t, like the detective’s tendency to conceitedness. But he is a bit simple. A darling! But simple.

In the mysteries narrated by Hastings, we witness his confusion, and his charm, from the inside. We also witness the quiet dignity of his sense that Poirot is wrong to make fun of his intellect. And I feel like as I’ve made my way through from The Mysterious Affair at Styles to Lord Edgware Dies (I’m now working in order) he’s also grown a bit of a backbone and gets some good gibes in at Poirot.

Aside from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the only other non-Hastings book I’ve read thus far is The Mystery of the Blue Train and I have to say it suffered from his absence. It wasn’t just that I missed the familiar personality; the narration felt so impersonal, it gave the mystery a completely different ambiance. Another point—Roger Ackroyd isn’t Hastings, but it is first-person; Blue Train is third-person omniscient. The omniscience is just as off-putting as the missing Captain, suddenly seeing what witnesses see rather than seeing them describe it later.

The missing Captain is also a problem for another reason; these books, for me at least, rest completely on the strength of the characters, especially the recurring ones. If you don’t love the detective and his sidekick, you will not love the books. I was actually almost surprised at the extent to which this was true; I think I expected to think more of Christie’s writing? In any case, I am certainly enjoying it, and that’s what mystery holes are about.

And I promise lots of lovely Hesperus once I’ve crawled out!

9 comments to Accidental mystery time

  • I had no idea that Hastings narrated! I love the David Suchet series, can watch it obsessively, but have not read any of the stories these episodes were based on (if they were strictly based on any stories or just adapted in the same style, I don’t know). I have Poirot Investigates (I think) and will pick it up soon.

  • I love Christie and think she is much better technically than people give her credit for. She is excellent at point of view and manages to convey lots of information with such concision. We have the audio book of Poirot’s Early Cases, and they are beautifully structured nuggets of storytelling and have kept us all entertained on many a journey!

  • Eva

    I haven’t heard of Hesperus Press before, so I’m looking forward to your posts!

    Also, I agree with Litlove re: Christie. :) And I prefer Miss Marple to Poirot, so I’m a big jealous you have all of her books left to discover!

  • Well, Agatha herself grew tired with Hastings with time, so he does not appear in all Poirot books.

    In fairness, one has to point out, she considered Mystery of the Blue Train the very weakest of all her detective stories, (it was written when she was facing extremely difficult time in her life and feels sort of forced at times, I admit). Perhaps you should try other non-Hastings book. My favourite is The Hollow.

    I truly recommend Agatha’s Autobiography, one of my top comfort reads, very uplifting and fun.

    And I prefer Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. I know Hickson is exactly the way Agatha Christie pictured Miss Marple, but alas, I still prefer Geraldine.

  • It’s the perfect time of year to fall into a Christie hole, isn’t it? Blustery and cold = excellent mystery weather. I haven’t read any of her stuff for years & years (Roger Ackroyd kind of blew my young mind and I felt like it couldn’t be topped) but I still very much enjoy the video adaptations.

  • I comment in serene ignorance, having never read Christie, but I always assumed that Hastings narrated, simply because Watson narrates the Sherlock Holmes stories.

    Welcome back to the blog!

  • verbivore—I predict you will really like Poirot Investigates; you will recognize about half of the David Suchet episodes in it. (Just about all of the older, short-form ones are from that book, I think.) It’s sort of marvelous how condensed they are.

    litlove—She really is excellent at point of view, and the storytelling is just about perfect. Sometimes I want to do a little editing here and there where I feel she gets a little lazy with word choice, maybe. So I shouldn’t give the impression that I think it’s bad at all.

    Eva—I predict you would have a lot of fun with Hesperus. And there will be Russians! (Okay, probably only one Russian.)

    Hannah—I did not know she thought The Mystery of the Blue Train was weak, but it’s very interesting to hear. The Hollow is one of my favorite mysteries in its adapted form, so I’m looking forward to getting there in the books as well. And I can certainly see tiring of Hastings. It’s happened to me before!

    Emily—Exactly, exactly.

    AR—Something I didn’t even think of, as I have read precious little of the Holmes canon. And don’t welcome me back too soon…I’m afraid it might jinx things. Mystery reading is an almost sure sign that My House Is Not In Order.

  • Christie is a lovely hole to sink into, and you have me wanting to pick one up now. But also looking forward to your Hesperus choices. Funny because during NYRB week, I kept thinking that the idea would work well for HP also. Only frustrating part with Hesperus? They always seem a little behind – with their catalogs, their website and other social media.

  • Oh, man, I know…this actually came about because all of a sudden I got a few I had pre-ordered ages ago on Amazon, and they got pushed back and back, and I didn’t think they’d ever be real, but then here they were.