Re-reading Christie


For years I’ve had one of Colin Dexter’s paperbacks floating around my bookshelves: The Secret of Annexe 3. The printing date is 1998, so I’ve had it a while.  During those years, I’d often look through my bookshelves at bedtime for a book to re-read. I prefer easy books when I’m trying to go to sleep. I’d look at Annexe 3, but always skipped over it because I knew that I hadn’t ‘got’ the story the first time around. Still, the book was an Inspector Morse story, so I never got rid of it.

About a week ago I was again browsing through my bookshelves and I decided to give Annexe 3 another try.  How hard could it be?

Eighty-eight pages into the story I found out why I had no clear recollection of the story: the page after 88 was 25 — the very same page-25 I’d already read.  I flipped through the following pages to see if this second page-25 was an anomaly, but it wasn’t.  The repeat pages didn’t end until page 56, and then they skipped to page 121.

Page 88 - 25 of The Secret of Annexe 3

Page 88 – 25 of The Secret of Annexe 3

 

Pages 56 - 121 of The Secret of Annexe 3

Pages 56 – 121 of The Secret of Annexe 3

 

I’m assuming I don’t need to point out that this goof-up severely interrupted my understanding of the story line. Don’t ask me why I kept this copy. Any memory of that reason is long gone.

In recent years I’ve complained to myself about the decline in the quality of recently-published books. Most complaints have to do with typographical gremlins that crept in, or story lines that don’t track well. Given this blooper from the last century, I’ll probably have to cut newer volumes a lot more slack.

I would be interested in reading the complete book, but I just checked and the library I use doesn’t have this volume. I’m leery of buying another Annexe 3 because the book shown at Amazon has the same cover as mine. I didn’t see any complaints about an entire section having been mis-inserted into any of the books that were reviewed, but it would be just my luck to get another from the same batch.  I think my next bedtime book will be one from my collection of Agatha’s books.

Agatha Christie, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Agatha Christie, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In re-reading Agatha Christie’s novels I’m listening to them rather than re-reading them.  I do have all her books, so re-reading all of the stories wouldn’t be a chore for me (the books are the 1990s Bantam collection in blue leatherette, the collection that is so readily available on eBay, and are the books that replaced my paperbacks whose pages were falling out). Still, it’s so much easier to listen to the books while I’m doing other things — we all multi-task nowadays, don’t we.

The novel I’m listening to now is A Murder Is Announced, a story set in the town of Chipping Cleghorn in which a Rudi Scherz apparently tries to murder Letitia Blacklock during an “announced” murder at Letitia’s house, Little Paddocks. In the story, Miss Jane Marple is informally assisting Inspector Craddock in discovering why (the now-deceased) Rudi would do such a thing.

Even though Mrs. Christie is called the Queen of Crime and her books are well-appreciated by readers around the world, I do listen to books other than hers.  One big difference, though, that I’ve noticed between Mrs. Christie’s Golden Age mysteries and many modern mysteries is in reading ease.   Mrs. Christie never confuses me, other than in strewing red herrings throughout the story.  I always know where I am in the story and who is who.

I’ve read the commonplace criticisms of her work: clichés, cardboard characters, and lack of depth.  My own criticism would be the repetition in what the characters are called as she seems to be fond of certain names — Archie Easterbrook in A Murder Is Announced, Mark Easterbrook in A Pale Horse.

Despite the weak spots in the Christie books, a strength I value is Mrs. Christie’s ability to tell her stories in such a way that she doesn’t baffle the reader concerning the story’s narrative, or at least, she doesn’t baffle this reader. Even when I’m not multi-tasking, I appreciate being able to follow a story even if I usually can’t figure out whodunnit.