Yet more Christie at Christmas

Yes, it's that time of year again, the time of year when I grab some Dame Agatha. Yes, I read Christie throughout the year, but at Christmas she seems to have become part of my festivities. This year I re-read Poirot's early cases, a selection of short stories, that I hadn't read for some time.

The volume contains 18 stories, most were first published in The Sketch magazine in 1923, with a few coming from later in the '20s or mid-'30s. Maurice Richardson in The Observer (22 September 1974) described the depiction of Hastings in these tales as "so dumb at times he makes Watson look like Leibnitz", and concluded "Many date from an early period before she found herself as a Mystifier, but all communicate that unique Christie euphoria."

I don't altogether agree with Richardson there. I think he's quite right that Christie is still trying to find her style, but "unique Christie euphoria" - no. These, by-and-large, are awful stories, They're trite, ask the reader to suspend their disbelief like a tightrope wire over Niagara, and lack most of the charm and clever plotting of most of Christie's later work. Characterisation (never her strong point) is laughably thin here. Villains seem to be positively pleased to be arrested by Inspector Japp (if they don't say "It's a fair cop, guv" you just know they're thinking it), while Poirot is remarkably nonchalant at letting murderers get away with their crimes, perhaps it's because he knows that the hand of God is about to make an appearance.

A few of the tales, though, do give an inkling that this author is about to become someone quite remarkable. The third floor flat, Problem at sea and the rather creepy Lemesurier inheritance are all solidly written tales. Some elements of these tales would also appear in new incarnations in later novels.

This isn't good Christie, it's definitely one for aficionados. What is interesting about it though, is to look at the work of a writer at a very early stage of their career; and to admire their development from a fairly innocuous start to the world-class Queen of Mystery that they would become.

Wikipedia has a very good article on the volume, and is well worth reading for further information.


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