HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I know, it wasn’t fair. When last we left the wonderful John Curran—knower of all knowledge about Agatha Christie, the first person privy to her secret notebooks and the author of two award-winning non-fiction books about the Queen of Mystery (Secret Notebooks' now out in paperback!)-- I had just asked about his favorite Poirot and Miss Marple, and then, evil me, I said we were out of time. So, now we have more time!
And John has revealed he will come visit today to tell us some brand new Agatha info---our eyes only. Got to love it.
(And hey—let’s give away another copy of the Secret Notebooks! (Our last winner was Susan Elizabeth. And the winner of Meg Gardiner’s RANSOM RIVER is: Lexie’s Mom. And the winner of the ARC of THE OTHER WOMAN is: Margarete. Email me with your address, okay?)
HANK: Who is your favorite Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple?
JOHN: The best Miss Marple ever was, and remains, Joan Hickson, who, thankfully, filmed all of the novels for BBC television. Actresses, either before and since, never captured the essence of Miss Marple as she did. Some of them have been completely unsuitable and I completely disapprove of the latest idea of ‘inserting’ Miss Marple into books in which she never appeared.
And the best Poirot is, undoubtedly, David Suchet. Later this year he will embark on the last five titles to be filmed and then he will have completed the entire Cases of Hercule Poirot! Although some of the adaptations have not been good (Appointment with Death, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), overall the standard over the last 20 years has been remarkably high. It will be a remarkable achievement when he finishes the last film.
HANK: We’ve all seen The Mousetrap. (Again and again. And anytime anyone has tickets, invite me, okay?) But of course there were other plays.
JOHN: Agatha Christie is the only crime-writer to achieve equal success and fame as a playwright as well as a novelist and short-story writer. Although her first Poirot play, Black Coffee (1930), is not very impressive she enjoyed writing scripts and her first big success on the stage was And Then There Were None in 1943. But she wanted more control over what happened to her books (she was very unhappy with what adapters did to, for instance, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) so she adapted The Hollow, in 1951, herself. And then she wrote original plays - in the 1950s she wrote The Unexpected Guest, Spider’s Web and Verdict directly for the stage and adapted The Mousetrap and Witness for the Prosecution.
HANK: I could watch that a million times. It’s always a surprise, and always wonderful. Charles Laughton, I mean, how perfect. All this was happening at the same time?
JOHN: Yes! During this period she had three plays running simultaneously in London’s West End, a record for a female playwright that stands to this day. In 1961 three one-act plays, under the title, Rule of Three was her last success; the final play she wrote, Fiddler’s Three, was not considered good enough to reach the West End. The Mousetrap has now been running for almost 60 years and seems likely to run forever. I hope to write about her career as a playwright in my next book in two years time.
HANK: And of course you’ll be here to tell us all about it! Do you read modern crime fiction? (How do you even have time?) Who are your favorites among living writers?
JOHN: Yes, I read and enjoy a lot of modern crime fiction although my main interest is in the writers of the Golden Age – Christie and her contemporaries, Dickson Carr, Sayers, Queen, Marsh etc. I greatly admire P. D. James and Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine; the American writer Charles Todd, whose books are set in the England of Christie – just after the First World War; Robert Goddard, who creates wonderfully complicated plots; the novels of Colin Dexter, who has now, sadly, retired; the earlier titles of Val McDermid before they became too gory; and Laura Wilson who sets her books during World War II.
JOHN: My problem would be keeping it to only one! It would have to be ‘How did you do it? How did you, a woman with no formal education and no background in writing become the biggest-selling, and most translated, writer in history?’ And I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to answer me. She would probably look amused and say ‘I really don’t know!’
HANK: SO Reds, John will be here to discuss…what’s your favorite Christie play? Or movie? We still haven’t decided who should play Tommy in the Tommy & Tuppence movie—and hey, wasn’t John going to give us the scoop on that. Oh, wait, he said he couldn’t. Shall we keep trying? Meanwhile, shall we cast Tuppence? And who was the young actress who was threatening to play Miss Marple?
And John also promises some big news.
Remember, we’re giving away a copy of SECRET NOTEBOOKS!