When I was in the fifth grade, I tried out for the middle school play, Little Miss Christie and landed a spot in the chorus. I remember very little about the play, other than:
- It was a mystery story starring a girl, Christie, who was a huge fan of Agatha Christie. The only line I recall was something to the effect of that Christie’s parents were fans, but “Christie – she’s a fanatic.”
- There was a song called “And Then There Were None.” I don’t remember the song, other than that the chorus was just a repetition of the song’s title, sung in very chipper voices.
It was probably that school musical, and the song “And Then There Were None,” that put into my head that And Then There Were None would be a good place to begin with Agatha Christie. (And Then There Were None is the third published title of the book; the first two titles were very dated and offensive and I can’t bring myself to type them out.) In any event, at some point in middle school or high school – can you tell these memories are very hazy? – I sought out And Then There Were None at the library.
At the time, the local library occupied two rooms in the town hall. (It has since been expanded into its own large and beautiful building.) Because space was so limited, the selection wasn’t great at the time. (Again, vast improvements have since been made.) But there were a few authors that were well-stocked, and the Queen of Crime was one of them. The library owned what seemed to me to be a complete set of her works – it may not have been, since she was so prolific, but there were a lot of books on the Ch. shelf, and certainly all of her major novel were there. They were lined up on the shelf in puffy black leather covers with gold lettering.
It took me a few years to read through that shelf. I remember bringing one of those black leather volumes on vacation with me one year in high school; it fell off the balcony of our rented beach house and landed in the sand. I rushed down to retrieve it and furtively, guiltily, brushed the sand off the cover; the President of the Library Board, my dad’s closest friend, was on vacation with us and I knew I’d get static if he knew I had dropped the book on the ground. And for years, I added an Agatha Christie to my Christmas list – sometimes one of my favorites from the library, like Murder on the Orient Express, so I’d have my own copy, and sometimes one I hadn’t read yet, like Cat Among the Pigeons. One year, I received Sleeping Murder, starring Miss Marple, and that was the first mystery novel for which I figured out the “whodunit” before the denouement.
I’ve been reading mystery novels consistently since those first Agatha Christies. I’m partial to golden age crime – Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and especially Agatha Christie – and I’m enjoying discovering new names, like Carol Carnac/E.C.R. Lorac, and Anthony Berkeley, through the British Library Crime Classics series. I’ll pick up a mystery from a modern author, too, although I prefer historical settings (and a minimum of gore) – Jacqueline Winspear, Alan Bradley, Alexander McCall Smith, Elizabeth Peters and Rhys Bowen, among others, all have their places on my reading list. It all flows from the Queen of Crime, though, and from that first time I cracked the cover of And Then There Were None.
Are you a golden age mystery fan?