Dear Aunt Debbie,
It's so interesting to see the sort of longitudinal study of a reader's growth that you've been writing about in your last two posts (here and here). How often do you get a chance to see that kind of progression, save for in yourself and in your children? It makes me want to ask more questions of my students next year about reading habits and how they've developed. Maybe something to add to my intro letter assignment....
Looking back on my own development as a reader, I can certainly see Agatha Christie as a stepping stone. I've always been drawn to mysteries as my guilty pleasure of choice, and Christie occupied a nice long stretch between Nancy Drew (second grade; a habit I am proud to share with at least three Supreme Court Justices) and Dorothy L. Sayers.
Christie wrote 80 crime novels, and that's not counting the hundreds of short stories, plays, and pseudonymous novels as well. I adored reading her work. Her plotting is tight and effective, and while there are certainly similarities among books (in how many does the detective gather all the suspects together in a room and then get one to fess up?), there are enough differences in plot and character to keep a reader interested for years.
Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are Christie's most famous detectives. While I read and enjoyed many (many, many) books involving them, some of my favorite Christie books were less famous ones.
The Man in the Brown Suit follows accidental detective Anne Beddingfeld, a young woman drawn into intrigue and danger after she sees a man fall to his death before her eyes on the railway tracks at Hyde Park. Refreshing my memory of the plot to write this tonight, I find I don't remember much of it -- there are diamonds, and a long boat voyage, and kidnapping, and the lingering question of the identity of the title character. What I do remember is how much I liked Anne, who is spunky and smart. I took a lot of Christie out of the library, but this is one I owned.
I also loved the Tommy and Tuppence series. These (initially accidental) detectives fall in love in the first book in which they appear together, The Secret Adversary. In three later novels (N or M?, By the Pricking Of My Thumbs, and Postern of Fate, the last novel Christie wrote), they grow older together, solving mysteries at different points in their lives, and raising children along the way. This may be one of the things I liked most about them: the sense that they had an ongoing life.
Tommy and Tuppence also star in Christie's parodic short story collection, Partners in Crime. In 14 linked stories, the now-married Beresfords take over a detective agency and solve a series of cases. Each story is written in imitation of the work of another mystery writer; in one, Christie parodies herself. It's a fun read.
Right now, on the adult side of things, I'm deep into The Count of Monte Cristo, and loving it -- further evidence that my tastes haven't changed all that much?