Humanity She Wrote

Shobana Vetrivel   |   August 6, 2018 

Sleeping Murder was the first Agatha Christie book I read. I can still vividly recall every detail of that reading experience. I was about 10 or 11 years old, my sister had borrowed the book from the school library. I got my hands on it as soon as she finished reading it. The music playing in the background was a cassette tape featuring hits by Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 and even today when I hear those songs, especially “Rock With You” all I think about is the plot of the book, which had in equal measure both scared and gripped me.

Sleeping Murder is a story about a newlywed young woman moving into a house and realising through events that unfold that she had lived there as a child and witnessed a murder. I read it straight through in one sitting, starting in the evening and reading till the wee hours of the morning, with the lights on in the room because I was too scared to turn them off. What made the experience even more memorable was that I had guessed who the murderer was; it was a thrill to know that my powers of deduction were on point!

Maybe I was a bit too young when I read that first book, but it was the start of a love affair with Agatha Christie books and introduced me to the world of detective fiction of which she is the Queen. Through my school and college years, I slowly began building my collection and finished reading all her murder mysteries. Then it was on to other books written by her under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, six books exploring love, family, human psychology and finally her autobiography.

Over the years I’ve read all her books multiple times over. Even now, on my days off I find myself picking up her books -- or to be more accurate, selecting them on my Kindle. In some cases, it almost feels like I’m reading it for the first time because I’ve forgotten the plot.

So when the theme on books came around on IndiAanya I couldn’t help but reflect on why I continue to be drawn to Agatha Christie’s books. While one reason is definitely that it is easy reading, which doesn’t necessarily require undivided attention and isn’t packed with deep thoughts on every page, there are few other reasons why I keep coming back for more . . .

The character development is slow and stretched out, till you become familiar with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the main characters and their method of detecting. For a long time I couldn’t see TV or movie adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel because I felt they didn’t do justice to her character development. I feel like I know how Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple (her most famous detectives) would respond to any situation put before them and, more importantly, how they wouldn’t respond.

Yet the plot is never slow and develops at a pace that keeps the reader engaged. There are hints and clues weaved into the story that you could miss if you don’t pay close attention. She manages to resolve all of these ingeniously at the end where there is a great ‘reveal’ - with all the characters together in a room and the detective slowly unveiling the murderer after dismissing the usual suspects. This is the moment where I either go, “Aha! I knew it!” or “I would have never guessed that!” and both responses are equally satisfying.

The plots revolve mostly around family, relationships and money in the ordinary setting of small communities in villages, towns and cities in England in the period during and after the World Wars. A few of her books are set in the Middle East, where she had travelled extensively with her husband who was an archaeologist and one even set in Ancient Egypt.

Whatever the location or period, her stories are timeless because what she skilfully brings out in her novels is human nature, which according to Miss Marple “is very much the same everywhere.” As she says in The Tuesday Club Murders,

“Everybody is very much alike, really. But fortunately, perhaps, they don’t realise it.”

How human beings behave and their inherent tendency towards selfishness and self-interest is carefully portrayed. This is true not just of the murderer but each character’s flaws and motivations, as well as strengths and passions, are exposed as they encounter the crisis of the story. Ultimately, they are stories that dig deeper into human nature and lay bare the theological truth of total depravity, that we are all sinful by nature and act in ways that reveal our brokenness. The heart is indeed desperately wicked.

“Everyone is a potential murderer - in everyone there arises from time to time the wish to kill - though not the will to kill.” (Poirot, Curtain)

Reading an Agatha Christie novel is a journey into exploring the brokenness of humanity and the great need we have in us for the restoration of order, for someone to see things as they truly are, for things to be put right, for justice to be meted out and for situations to resolve, as they do inevitably in the stories.

I continue to be gripped by her books in pretty much the same way as I was when I read the first book at 11, and I am envious of people who haven’t read her books because I wish I could start over afresh and read them for the first time. Here are five of my favourites for anyone wanting to include Agatha Christie on their reading list:

4:50 From Paddington
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Endless Night
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

and of course, Sleeping Murder

"To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure.” (Dedication from The Secret Adversary)


Photo Credit: Tony & Wayne via Flickr cc

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Shobana Vetrivel

Shobana Vetrivel enjoys the hustle and bustle of city life and the adventure of living in New Delhi. She has an educational background in social development and theology and has worked in both development and ministry settings. She currently works with Delhi School of Theology and is pursuing a PhD in Practical Theology. Books, travelling, theology, coffee and deep conversations are a few of her favourite things.  

4 comments on “Humanity She Wrote”

  1. Loved this post Shobana...Christie's books will always hold a special place in my heart as well...I always get excited when I meet someone else who enjoys reading the same books and appreciates them 🙂

    1. Thanks Ruth 🙂 I am realising now that so many people I know share a love for Agatha Christie books!

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