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Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making

by John Curran

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran
© Harper
Harper, February 2011

First published in Great Britain in 2009, this interesting, incisive, and entertaining journey through Agatha Christie's creative process is now available in a trade paperback edition.

Author John Curran is the long-time advisor to the Agatha Christie literary estate and consulted on the restoration of her home in Devon, Greenway House. It was on a visit there that he gained access to the notebooks courtesy of her grandson, Matthew Prichard. This was a magical moment for Curran, best reflected in the "Preface." Here he imagines Christie sitting outside watching the river and her grandson. Her mind wanders and she creates a scenario for a possible story. She imagines how the buildings and grounds of Greenway will fit into the story, a scene she recreates many times over in the course of her career. Her reverie is interrupted by the appearance of her grandson and she turns quickly from working writer to doting grandmother.

Christie's short stories, novels, and plays (The list of her published stories encompasses 6 pages from 1920's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" to her last (?) short stories in 2009.) typically proceed in a linear fashion, from A to B to conclusion. Not so with her thought process. An idea springs forth here or there, prompted by a word or person. It germinates for a few days, months, or even years until it bears fruit in one genre or another. Ideas are interspersed with lists of potential Christmas presents, notes from a telephone call, plans for a holiday, or a shopping list.
There are 73 notebooks. While they are numbered sequentially, they are not numbered in chronological order. In fact, only 3 specific days (day, month, year) are included. Sometimes there is only a month, sometimes a month and year. Different non-related dates often appear in a single notebook. Dates that seem to correspond may appear in several.

Notes about a particular piece may comprise a few words or 100 pages. Those pages may be separated by other thoughts and even in separate notebooks. Some notebooks are nearly empty; some have notes carried over from another. Drawing on these scattered, often cryptic notes, Agatha Christie created an astounding volume and quality of work.

The capstone of this work is the inclusion of two new Hercule Poirot stories, "The Capture of Cerberus" and "The Incident of the Dog's Ball." As with many of Christie's stories, there is much in the stories, especially the former, which is autobiographical in nature. Curran adroitly points out many of these moments as he traces her thought and writing process. Christie uses her home as setting and the names of her friends as characters.
The Secret Notebooks is perfect for the serious student of Agatha Christie who wants to study her in-depth as a literary master. It is equally valuable to the legions of us who simply enjoy her stories, those of us who read and re-read, who watch a production again and again. Can you go to London and fail to see "The Mousetrap," which has been running continuously since its opening on November 25, 1952?
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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