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Agatha Christie – A Reader’s Companion
by Vanessa Wagstaff and Stephen Poole

Publisher: Aurum Press ISBN: 1845130154

Reviewed by Paul Kane, New Mystery Reader

Agatha Christie was the first, and for many of her readers the only, “Queen of Crime” and her literary output was phenomenal.  It spanned over half a century, beginning with her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which came out in 1920, and ending with Miss Marple’s Final Cases, a book that appeared in 1979, three years after her death.  Moreover, all of Agatha Christie’s major novels have remained in print, which is the one sure indication of a writer’s continuing appeal.

She was the mistress of the classic whodunit, where murder occurs in a constrictive environment (e.g., in a train or on a deserted island) and where there are a limited number of suspects, all with a motive to murder.  Her mysteries were games in which the reader was invited to participate in solving the crime, unmasking the killer.  Not that the lady always played fair; her novels were strewn with red herrings.  One novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1927), went so far as to introduce the device of the unreliable narrator to crime fiction; the same device was used to great effect, some 68 years later(!), in the 1995 movie, The Usual Suspects.  Clearly, her influence is longstanding.

Agatha Christie – A Reader’s Companion, an art book of some 224 pages, is a joy send for the committed Christie fan.  It contains a survey of all of the great lady’s novels, outlining the plot of every story and looking at its biographical background.  We are told how each book was received by the critics and are given details of any of its spin-offs, such as films or TV dramas.  The writing here is efficient and workmanlike, but carries no new or striking insights.  What makes the book exceptional is the plentitude and production of the accompanying artwork.

Included are photographs of the dustjackets of the American and British first editions of all of Agatha Christie’s well-known novels.  Many of these photos are large enough (spread over two pages) to show the actual size of the dustjacket; or as near as damn it.  They allow us to trace the changes in graphic design from the Art Deco dustjackets of the 1920s, which used typefaces such as Broadway and Basuto, through to Robin Mccartney’s dustjacket illustrations of the 1930s, and beyond.  Robin Mccartney is one of the few artists that we know by name; most (such as the illustrator of the stunning Seven Dials Murder dustjacket of the British first edition) are unknown.  The captions to the photos are written by Vanessa Wagstaff, and are erudite and informative.

In addition, there are photos of various sorts of period ephemera and memorabilia, such as vintage cars, poison bottles (and yes, it’s true: poison does come in small bottles), ladies’ fashions of the 1930s, travel brochures to Egypt (courtesy of Imperial Airways), the interior of railway stations in English villages, and so on.  These are all images that allow you to immerse yourself in Christie’s world.

This Reader’s Companion is a superbly produced and sumptuously illustrated guide to Agatha Christie’s world, and it cannot fail to enhance your appreciation and enjoyment of her work.



The Famous Flower of Serving Men by  Deborah Grabien

Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books ISBN:  0-312-33387-0

The Famous Flower of Serving Men by Deborah Grabien: Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Do you love ghost stories and mystery blended?  If so, this is the perfect read for you, a delightful combination of spooky chills and mystery involving an old ghost an a theater.

Penelope Wintercraft-Hawkes inherits a theater and learns it is haunted on her first visit. The experience is not her first, but this ghost is doing more than haunting. It is dangerous. How can she and her theater group possibly work here?

Because he loves her and is excited about bringing the theater back to life, Ringan Laine becomes involved. He too has previous exposure to ghosts, but is unprepared for the power this one seems to possess.

The talented author of this tale has done a terrific job of reconstructing the period when this ghost was a person. You'll shiver with delicious chills when the ghost appears and will enjoy traveling with Penny as she and a new friend backtrack the ghost's life.

A must read for any mystery or ghost lover. Highly recommended as enjoyable and loads of fun.