Insomnia: The Search for Tonight’s Agatha Christie

Dear CF,

It is 1:30 in the a.m. and I am wandering my hallway/library searching for an Agatha Christie to usher me into sleep and the bunker-like summer camps I’ve been dreaming about for months. (In last night’s installment I spent a good chunk of time searching the beach for Mr. Millicent’s laptop, which he’d trustingly left there and which seemed to have been either buried in sand or stolen.) The dreams are boring but the reading isn’t, although I’ve read every Christie in my possession at least fifteen times. On nights like this, when I can’t sleep, nothing soothes like a good Jeeves or Christie story.

Tonight, after realizing that I want to read Mrs. McGinty’s Dead but have literally just finished it, so it’s too soon to enjoy the rereading, I took to the interwebs and found this great little story on Slate about Agatha Christie’s “Secret” Notebooks which seem to have been so thoroughly unsecret that both her husband and daughter Rosalind used them, the former for calculations, the latter for penmanship drills.

Poetic, isn’t it, that the genre that organizes the mess of the world into an explicable order would come from a totally haphazard process?

But now I have read that, and am still not asleep. What should I read? For the record, I reread part of George Saunders’ Pastoralia in an effort to break my habit, but I find it overstimulating. Under its influence, my bunkers will not come.

I basically know my Jeeves Omnibus by heart.

Agatha Christie it is, then. But which?

Evil Under the Sun: not quite right. Arlena Stuart’s big white hat does decent camouflage work and the comparison of women’s bodies to slabs of meat is clearly one Christie loves, but the drug-running subplot isn’t the right flavor and self-tanner seems beside the point this evening. Ten Little Indians? Too dire. Murder at Hazelmoor is interestingly pathological but Nick feels unfinished and the painting that falls on the bed has made it impossible for me to ever hang anything over mine. Easy to Kill develops the obsessions with house and heritage (and class and mobility and taste). Mr. Ellsworthy is a strange and sinister concoction and the cat is a character all its own, but Luke Fitzwilliam is—let’s face it—a one-shot wonder. That said, there was a time when I ached to be seen exactly the way Christie sees Rose Humbleby but I wanted to be described the way she described Bridget, who seemed like she wore pants.

Death on the Nile is racist beyond belief, although Tim Allerton’s relationship with his mother is one of the only times sons escape the fact of filiation without major psychological damage. Also, Linnet is twenty (!!!) years old, which makes her famous princessy self-possession and poise much harder to understand.

Funerals are Fatal posits that all middle-aged women look roughly alike, even to family but smashes the illusion that feminine psychology is equally interchangeable: [spoiler alert!] the lady who might put wedding cake under her pillow might also hack someone to bits to make her tea shop a reality. Bonus: a scary nun motif! A Murder is Announced would be perfect, but I can’t seem to find it. One word: goiters!

What then? I feel like I’ve given Miss Marple short shrift.  A Pocketful of Rye doesn’t appeal right now—too much yew and Tennyson, although I don’t think Christie ever had more fun naming than she did in that novel: Rex Fortescue. Percival. Lancelot. Adele. Marina Gregg bores me, so no Mirror Crack’d. (Too much of a coincidence that Heather’ husband was Marina Gregg’s ex, I think. My favorite part of that one is Miss Marple’s acid relationship with her nurse.)  

I can never think of Paris Hilton without thinking of a tangential character in A Murder at the Vicarage. This ruins part of the novel for me, but at least we get Miss Marple’s gossip gang and the inimitable Griselda, who admits to unresolved sexual tension with the artist to her husband.   

The Body in the Library: no. The deaths in Thirteen at Dinner are uncharacteristically distressing—I’m truly saddened by the deaths of Donald Ross and (especially) Carlotta Adams. The ABC Murders: Not particularly pleasurable if you remember the ending. Plus, it starts with Mrs. McGinty redux, which I resent on her behalf. Cards on the Table? I’ve always thought this one inspired the movie Clue. Such a nice little brain-teaser and the weapon used to kill Shaitana, a stiletto, has gone in “like butter,” which is an appealingly incoherent description that is making me very hungry. So that’s no good. Murder on the Orient Express is much too memorable. Murder on the Links is really Christie’s homage to/revenge on Sherlock Holmes, nice as it is to see poor Hastings find his Cinderella. The Mysterious Affair at Styles sensationalizes the effects of strychnine but doesn’t do all that much else.

It’s a shame Ariadne Oliver and Miss Marple never met. I wonder what they’d make of each other.

Perhaps one of the short story collection. I just read Double Sin, so The Twelve Labors of Hercules, I think.  

Goodnight and happy sleuthing, dear friend. Or in Bertie’s words, which lull me not tonight: Pip pip, what?

Millicent

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