Agatha Christie: More Than Just a Pretty Murder

There’s a reason why Agatha Christie was the best-selling novelist of all time.

I’ve been re-reading “Taken at the Flood,” an Hercule Poirot mystery from 1948. You have to re-read Christie because, the first time you read one of her books, you get caught up in trying to solve the puzzle and you miss a lot of the nuances.

This is a spectacularly good book. Oh, the murder mystery is very nicely complicated. In fact, it’s so difficult because everything about it seems so simple. And of course there is Christie’s unsurpassed gift for creating characters and making them come to life.

But there are also all sorts of things to see in the background.

The setting is an English country town, immediately post-World War II. You’d think everyone would be overjoyed the war was over, but there’s very little joy to be seen here.

Instead, we are shown what a mess England was left in by the war. Everything has been thrown into disorder, and they’re nowhere near digging out of it. We are shown government policies, new regulations, and new taxes that burden the people (and doesn’t that sound familiar?) while also contributing to a general atmosphere of “ill feeling” that permeates the whole nation.

I’ve often wondered what has happened to the United Kingdom, spiritually. Well, here we see some indication that the nation was spiritually gutted by the two world wars.

I hope I haven’t made it sound like Christie does this easily. No: she does it masterfully. She doesn’t lecture the reader. By adroitly maneuvering her characters through all different situations, she shows you post-war England through their eyes. You experience it with them. This technique succeeds because the characters are, for all intents and purposes, real people. Trust me on this–there are an awful lot of writers who couldn’t begin to do what Christie does.

But don’t take my word for it. Treat yourself to Taken at the Flood. Enjoy a great book that doesn’t fly a Great Book flag.

2 comments on “Agatha Christie: More Than Just a Pretty Murder

  1. I guess I need to read some of her books; I’m always hearing about how awesome she is, but I’ve never read anything by her.

    1. When she’s on her game, she’s the best. Warning: Agatha Christie herself recognized that not all over her books featured her best work. She’s very candid about that in her autobiography, even to the point of warning readers which titles to stay away from.

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