Happy Easter! Spring it is a-cumin, loud sing cuckoo, as we all say each day here in Blighty, before heading off on the cuckoo hunts with a lovely jacket spud in our pockets. Spring puts me in the mood for that single most English institution, the village murder. Ah, the maypole, the daffy-down-dillies, the mysterious corpse in the rockery. I refer, inescapably, to her lord highness Sir Lady Agatha Christie Esq.
I was up until three last night reading They Came to Baghdad, so I’m particularly going to focus on that one. I picked it up because, although I think I’ve read most if not all of her books, I do forget the endings, particularly of the ones that do not feature either Miss Marple or Poirot. They Came to Baghdad is an espionage thriller, still threaded around a mystery that needs solving and, of course, there is a murder, but it is set as part of the Great Game of the Cold War, shadowy figures slipping in and out of Baghdad and Basra, men speaking eight different languages, convoluted plots and passwords, and in the middle of it all is Victoria Jones, London typist and incorrigible liar.
I love the Christie’s set in the Middle East, where she spent a lot of time with her second husband, an archaeologist. They Came to Baghdad is not the only book to feature an archaeological dig, Murder in Mesopotamia for example, and Christie’s knowledge of these and of Baghdad in the 1950s is both colourful and fascinating. Death on the Nile is probably my favourite Christie, if I had to choose, for the beautiful setting as much as for the neat and ingenious murder.
She is best known, of course, for her English country house murders, however, and there is something very comforting in picking up an Agatha Christie and reading about Marple or Poirot walking past the church, going up to the manor, tracing letters at the post office, discovering that Amy Baddingham is actually none other than the lost twin sister of Cassandra Hawthorn what done in her husband ten years before or did she??? That sort of thing. A simpler time.
My personal tips for solving a Christie before you get to the end are as follows:
- Never trust actors.
- If a family member is mentioned as either estranged or dead or missing for fifteen years, they are already somewhere in the house.
- She never wastes characters. If someone doesn’t seem to have much of a role, they did it.
- She is a romantic. If someone’s other half is beginning to look suspiciously innocent, they will develop another romantic intrigue before the end. The nice young people are very rarely left single. Similarly, if there is only one option for a nice girl to end up with, he’s probably innocent.
- Never accept someone is who they say they are until it has been corroborated by at least three separate sources, and if one of those says, ‘Oh I’d recognise her anywhere, not around the face of course, when I knew her she wore a veil at all times,’ then it doesn’t count.
That’s all the help I can give you. Her romantical leanings at the ends are one of my favourite things about Agatha Christie; I like to know justice has been done, and people are all nicely matched up with their most suitable partner.
As for a drink, you need a clear head to go with a Christie, but I could still recommend perhaps a small sherry or a glass of something light and cheerful. Muscadet is an excellent choice, associated with Easter in my mind as one of the wines I have often drunk in France around this time of year.
Even if you know the endings, as practically everyone does for Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None, the books themselves are so neatly crafted, the characters so appealing and the world so charming that rereading these is a pleasure, and the perfect activity for a rather dreary Easter day. I’m going on to Five Little Pigs, now. Bedhead out.
Book: They Came to Baghdad, Agatha Christie
Pair With: Muscadet