People magazine called it, “Indispensable!”
An entertaining and informative guide, The Agatha Christie Companion: the Complete Guide to Agatha Christie’s Life and Work is indeed indispensable. Originally published in 1984, a revised, paperback edition was released by Berkley Books in November of 1989. It is this paperback edition that is perhaps the rattiest book I own; I’ve read it, referred to it, and been inspired by it that much.
Written by Dennis Sanders & Len Lovallo, The Agatha Christie Companion imparts such nuggets of information as “her first book, published in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles sold a meager 2,000 copies its first time around.” Three Act Tragedy (also known as Murder in Three Acts) was “Christie’s first book to achieve sales of 10,000 copies in its first year of publication.” These quotes appear in the entry about Three Act Tragedy, considered Christie’s 23rd mystery.
Another interesting tidbit…the guide answers the question: “What was the only time Christie was talked into changing the ending of a book?” Considering the nature of Christie’s works—intricately plotted puzzle mysteries—this is a most intriguing question, especially since Christie regretted the decision. “In this case, against my better judgment, I did give in…I still think now, when I reread the book, that I would like to rewrite the end of it—which shows that you should stick to your guns in the first place.” said Christie herself. So which book is she referring to? Let’s just say, you should read the entry about Death Comes As The End.
Ever wondered how Christie came to create the indomitable Hercule Poirot? How about the events that inspired one of Christie’s most famous books, Murder on the Orient Express? Which characters were based on real acquaintances of Christie? Which one was based on Christie herself? Confused by different titles for the same book? All of these answers can be found within the pages of this guide.
The guide is presented in two parts. The first catalogues each book and short story collection, presented as a mini-chapter, with accounts of what was happening in Christie’s life related to that book, reviews from the period, a plot synopsis, a list of characters, and adaptations if there were any. The second, and shorter part, focuses on stage, television, and film. Play adaptations of Christie’s works (many by Chrisite herself) are catalogued with reviews and original cast lists. Movies, from the silent era (yes, indeed!) through to the 1988 film adaptation of Appointment with Death, have brief descriptions and cast lists, and the television section very briefly notes productions from a 1956 NBC production of A Murder Is Announced to the early entries in the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, starring David Suchet.
Considering continued adaptations of Christie’s works since 1989, the section on “Stage, Film and Television” isn’t as relevant as it once was. As a whole, this section was always rather cursory, lacking the depth of the earlier entries about each book.
While it’s true that there are other guides out there (some with beautiful, full-color illustrations), none quite seem to match this guide’s tidbits of information about each book. Any student of Christie should have a copy of this guide to read alongside her mysteries. The entries could be read before or after reading Christie’s works. No spoilers are given. However, a careful reading of the entry about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd might suggest the solution of that novel to a savvy mystery reader.
There’s so much more I could say about this handy little guide. Suffice it to say, it is worth reading…if you can get a hold of a copy. The book isn’t currently in print. Isn’t it well past time for a new, revised edition? In the meantime, check your local library or search used bookstores (or Amazon.com) for copies.
UPDATE (as of 12/31/12): Read an interview with the co-author of The Agatha Christie Companion, beginning here.