John Curran's "Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making (More Stories and Secrets from Her Notebooks" (HarperCollins/430 pages) is a follow up to previous work "Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks" (HarperCollins) which was published last year.
In this further examination of her notebooks, Curran sheds light on the method of crafting a mystery story by the world's most popular writer of whodunits.
As the author shows, while her works are proper mysteries and the reader should be able to detect the culprit, the great lady would bend and tweak the rules of mystery writing as she devised ever more clever ways to stump her readers.
The notebooks are often a bit cryptic and Curran's interpretations are rather involved. They disclose a writer who was often a little disorganized and whose writing seldom proceeded in a straight, logical progression.
For while she may have conceived of an interesting means of committing murder, she wasn't always settled on who would wind up the culprit as her fertile imagination could juggle a number of intriguing scenarios.
Moreover, she was fond of reworking plots as shown in a new version of a Miss Marple short story, "The Case of the Caretaker's Wife" which is a wonderful treat for the reader.
Curran proclaims the thirties as the "Golden Age of detective fiction" and during this time, Christie was at the height of her creativity.
Most of her greatest works, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," "The Murder at the Vicarage" and "Murder on the Orient Express" were published in the 1920s and 30s, though she would continue to write for nearly another four decades. He details her prodigious output in a marvelous chronology at the end of the book.
While Christie is thought of being the quintessential village mystery writer, Curran is quick to point out that less than 30 of her mystery novels are set in a village or manor home.
He discusses Christie's concept of justice, which was not merely legalistic, but grounded in a more natural sense, as demonstrated by the actions of Hercule Poirot in "Murder on the Orient Express" and most poignantly, in his last case, "Curtain."
On a mischievous note, the author includes a delicious snippet of Christie's poem "In a DIspensary" which pays tribute to her penchant for poison.
The serious Christie fan will make room in his library for John Curran's "Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making."