Saturday, July 28, 2012

Secrets of the Notebooks!

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?)
And now:
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.
HANK:    If you could ask Agatha Christie a question what would it be? 
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!


  1. I read all of Christie and still love Tommy and Tuppence. I reread them every so often. Dee

  2. I didn't realize she wrote Witness for the Prosecution -- it's SO dark and twisty, though the wife impersonating the gypsy is pure Christie. Surprising that that hasn't been adapted again for film, but who could play that role better than Marlena Dietrich or Charles Laughton as the duped attorney?

  3. I know Hallie,and I was thinking about hat this morning. (We've all see in it, right? OSO it's not a spoiler?)

    If it were written today, cold the author get away with that twist? A person in disguise?

    NOw I'm off to try to remember the end of the Mousetrap. WHo remembers? If you can tell it without spoiling.

    Dee, I'm about to do that, too. I wonder where I put them..

  4. ANd after John's recommendation, I'm about to start reading Curtain.

    The beginning:

    Who is there who has not felt a sudden startled pang at reliving an old experience or feeling an old emotion?

    "I have done this before..."

    Why do those words always move one so profoundly?

  5. Wow, what a treasure. This could make for a long involved journey, reading/rereading stories with Christie's notations in mind. Wonder if my family would allow me such a lengthy escape?

  6. Sssh! Don't give away the ending to MOUSETRAP. I had never seen it until two years ago when it was playing in a community theatre in our area.

    One of the things I pondered after seeing it was why don't we have mystery plays or movies anymore? We have loads of thrillers and crime in the cinema, and we have plays about Important Things with a mystery thrown into the plot, but actual whodunnits? The last one I can think is DEATHTRAP, and that came out in 1978!

    Agatha Christie's mystery plays are still drawing why are no modern-day playwrights following in her footsteps

  7. That's a fascinating question, Julia. And I wonder what John thinks, too.

    I'm mulling it over..maybe it's about secrets? Is it harder to keep a secret when you don't have these of special effects or imagination?

    There was Sleuth, of course. And..and..someone must know. My poor brain is not cooperating.

  8. I think I may have first read Agatha Christie after seeing Witness for the Prosecution. I've seen that 100 times, of course I own it and have traded lines with pals..."I never use smelling salts because they puff up the eyes and I don't faint because I'm not sure I'll fall gracefully...I'm Christine Vole!'
    Yow..what a character.

    Wasn't Jennifer Garner supposed to play Miss Marple?

  9. OH, right, Ro, exactly. Jennifer Garner. Well, we shall see.

    ANd don't you love the name Christine Vole?

  10. I saw Mousetrap in a converted church in Toronto many years ago. It was fabulous! I'd love to see it in London. It, like the Queen, is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

    Speaking of the Queen, how awesome was that clip with James Bond last night? What a good sport!

    I can't wait to read Mr Curran's books.

  11. So that was really her with Bond last night? We loved it--and loved the helicopter sequence too.

    Actually the whole thing was fascinating!

    My favorite Christie--Murder on the Orient Express. Ten Little Indians was brilliant, but too scary...

  12. I didn't read Tommy and Tuppence until last year when I found the Christie books for Nook. I don't believe I've ever seen them at bookstores.

  13. I read this to Ben (Ph.D. in Theater & Film). "Her plays are never taught," he says. "And she was so incredibly successful." "She was a woman and not sexy young thing. Upper middle class and matronly." He shakes his head. "Maybe it's that her plays are still being performed and attended. Most of what they teach isn't." Weird conversations heard in my house on Saturday mornings.

    Hank and Nancy, I love the idea of rereading Agatha's books in conjunction with the Secret Notebooks. (Have to get the second book of those!)

    When Nancy Pickard ran Book Dissection Group for my SinC chapter, Border Crimes, one of the novels we took apart scene by scene and sometimes line-by-line was The Body in the Library. With that kind of analysis, you see what a fantastic writer she was. I think she's been dismissed by academics and pundits for years because she was so good that she made it look easy.

  14. John--I loved the Secret Notebooks and wrote about them here

    Thanks so much for writing the books and for appearing on Jungle Red.

    Hallie and Hank--I think the wife impersonating a gypsy is one of those instances where Christie is relying on the casual racism and classism of her mid-century readers to pull off the trick--I mean one just wouldn't do it.

  15. Linda--

    When my friend Julie Hennrikus wrote her masters thesis on Christie at Harvard, she wondered if she should include an introduction justifying her choice of subject. Her advisor said, “No one who is read more than forty years after their death has to be justified.”

    So true. I mean how many people really are still read that long after they die?

  16. I burst out laughing at the Queen! (when was they last time you typed something like that?) (Did you see someone tweeted that her dour expression meant "Look at all those countries that used to be mine."

    But I must say--digression-- I was happily baffled with the whole extravaganza. It looked like Abe Lincoln or Captan Ahab or Charles Dickens, all fine, but now I know who Kenneth Branagh was. I just keep wondering what would have happened if in Salt LAke, they did a musical number about Medicare.

  17. I've always been fascinated by Agatha Christie...I went straight from Nancy Drew mysteries to Christie at the age of 13. (Says a lot about me, I guess!). I remember reading her first in the Poirot series (at least I think it was), THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, and being hooked while at the same understanding almost nothing (English class system stuff most of all). By the end of junior high my bookshelves were lined with Christie's paperbacks!

    To me, she was a genius. I remember being amazed by the endings to AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, and CURTAIN.

    (And I remember my mom gifting me with a book of HUMOROUS--humorous, huh?--short stories. I think she was worried about me. :-))

  18. Julia: About the only mystery play I can think of after “Sleuth” and “Deathtrap” is an audience-participation play that, I believe, is still playing at the Charles Playhouse in Boston: “Shear Madness.” Billed as a comedy, the show is set in a hair salon where the customers attempt to unravel the murder of the landlady, which has happened upstairs. The audience questions the actors and attempts to solve the crime. The dialogue is largely improvised by the cast; the audience members hear the clues, question the characters, and vote on who they believe to be guilty of the crime and so the culprit can change with every performance. Quite a bit afield of more traditionally-staged shows, but . . . .

    Rosemary: The film, working title “Miss Marple,” is supposed to be done by Disney with Jennifer Garner as Miss Jane Marple and scripted by Mark [“Twin Peaks”; fhe “Fantastic Four” films] Frost. They say that Benedict Comberbatch did okay playing the middle-aged Sherlock Holmes, so they see no issue with making Miss Marple younger. Despite Miss Garners’ redoubtable talents, she’s simply not Joan Hickson, so . . . I suppose time will tell. However, it seems that the company that owns the rights to “Miss Marple” has not yet reached a firm deal with the Disney folks, so it may be a moot point, after all.

  19. If I could ask Agatha Christie a question, it would be John's question, too - "HOW did she do it all?" (And I'm glad she did!)

    I still cannot pick a favorite Christie. I always felt like I wanted to meet Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. They were SO real!

    John, I have the first Secret Notebooks and would LOVE to own the second one! (Hint!) As I believe I predicted in my response the other day, I did end up getting to bed WAY too late because I kept telling myself "just two more pages", until an hour or so had passed!

    Still working on who should play Tommy and Tuppence. At this point, nobody has come to mind that I think would be suitable. There MUST be a couple of young actors out there who could do it...

  20. I'll admit I can envision a young MIss Marple, and I even shhhh) think it's a good idea. I wish I could do it, in fact... (Write her, not be her!)

    Lisa, CURTAIN is my treat after I finish writing today! I've never read it..

  21. The clan is gathering at the old homestead next weekend, and I am determined to return with ALL the Agatha Christies and start the re-reading. If I can wrest them from a certain brother who somehow exerted control over them -- even though I bought most of them. (I may have to trade him back the Beatles albums -- but that's ok, we have them on CD, too.)

  22. Hank--hehe! A most excellent treat!

  23. I know I'm part of the vast minority, but I just can't into Christie's books and I can't figure out why. I love Ellery Queen and Dorothy L. Sayers so maybe I'm biased towards their writing style? I do admire Christie's persistence; she was amazingly productive writer.

    On the other hand, I love Miss Marple on TV -- any version.

    Poirot is too fussy for me but I must say David Suchet is the best Poirot ever!

    Cathy AJ

  24. Delighted to see that Christie's plays are sill so popular. And although The Mousetrap is the one that has been running for ever I think most people would agree that Witness is her best.

    Hallie was surprised that it hadn't been filmed more than once. But it has - there is also a very good version with Diana Rigg and Ralph Richardson and Jeff Bridges. Unlike a lot of re-makes it sticks very closely to the original but it shows up very seldom on TV.

  25. I did promise some snippets about The Mousetrap as we are gearing up for a very special birthday...

    To celebrate, permission has been granted for 60 professional productions around the world. And for 60 weeks a touring version will visit cities throughout the UK (and, I am hoping, Ireland!) beginning in September. The West End play will still continue but this will be the first time that professional will be allowed to stage the play.

  26. But better than all of this is the news that a specially commissioned memorial is to be unveiled in November close to the theatre. It will celebrate all of Dame Agatha's achievements in books, in the theatre and on the screen. It will be in the shape of a big book with the spines of her titles running round the base and images connected with her - a magnifying glass, a country house, an old-fashioned police car as well as two famous characters - on one side. So now the woman whose name has been a permanent part of London's West End fro 60 years will be commemorated forever...

  27. Oh, that's SO interesting Amazing! And I am trying to envision it.

    You'll be at the--ribbon-cutting, I bet. Wouldn't it be fun if we could all be there?

    Tell us more about the productions--is the play to allowed to be performed?

  28. Agatha Christie got me hooked on murder mysteries at a very early age. And I still read them! I think it makes my husband a little nervous, and I must admit I know five untraceable ways to kill someone! She is wonderful, but one Deborah Crombie brings us into the present in some very blood-chilling ways.

  29. Yes, I hope to at the ribbon-cutting...

    The play is allowed on condition that no changes are made to it. So no updating, no 'new' murderers, no modern psychological 'significance', no 'modern' language. In other words all the additions that make many of the new TV production unpalatable to Christie fans.

  30. Has anyone tried to change it?

    I can't wait to see the new "Witness of the..."--or can I? Was that updated? We'd been taking about how the twist might be poetically incorrect now...

  31. No, the second version of Witness takes no liberties. But, of course, Christie herself added the extra twists that come in the last minutes of the play/film. The original short story had only the first twist (anyone who has seen it will know what I mean). She added them even though the producers thought they were twists too far but Christie's instinct was right - again.

  32. I'm blushing furiously but I have confess, in all my time in London, I have NEVER seen The Mousetrap. There. It's out.

    But next trip, I'm determined, and I can't wait to see the memorial. I now have John's first book, and am looking forward to re-reading the original Christie's along with John's books.

    Jennifer Garner, though? She's lovely, but--she's AMERICAN. I could even possibly go along with a young (or at least younger) Miss Marple, but she has to be English!!!

    John, still dying of curiosity over the casting of T&T:-)

  33. Thank you, John, for sharing all of your work on Agatha Christie. We had just moved to a small Wisconsin city about the same time their community theater was rehearsing Mousetrap. The director fell ill and someone knew I had directed community theater in Iowa and South Dakota, so they came knocking at our door. (That door was directly across the alley from the theater.} So how could I say no. It was terrific fun and a quick way to make friends in a new place!

  34. I'm always happy to talk about Agatha Christie!

    Sorry, Deb, but the T and T casting has to remain a secret. And, of course, it may never some to pass. But I agree about an American Miss Marple. Unthinkable!

  35. AnnOxford, what FUN! Are there photos?

    And Debs, we've got to be able to figure out a way to get him to tell. But it doesn't appear that we'll be successful...

    John, is it a British or an American production?

    Keira Knightly and ..oh, Hugh Jackman? Are they too pretty?

  36. Nice try, Hank, but I haven't been reading Agatha Christie all my life without picking up a few hints about keeping a secret!

    Ann, when you directed Mousetrap did you discover a mistake? Many years ago one of the actors approached the producer claiming to have spotted a mistake. The produce in turn approached AC who said airily 'Oh, yes, I've know about that for years but who else has noticed it?'

    As certain Belgian might say...'It gives one furiously to think does it not?'

  37. I'd like to weigh in on the Tommy and Tuppence casting. I would suggest Tom Hardy (recently seen in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) for Tommy, and Keira Knightley for Tuppence. They both could look the part and might be very marketable at the theater. Hardy can be a little gruff, but I think he could pull it off.

    Bob D.

  38. Ann, how lucky were they to have an experienced director WHO HAD JUST MOVED TO TOWN to fill in for the show. That's the kind of wonderful coincidence we'd have trouble getting away with!

    John, it's been such a pleasure having you here--

    Debs, I definitely want to go with you to see Mousetrap in London. I'm way behind on all this...

  39. Oh, John! That memorial sounds fabulous. Just think: a very public, very noticeable statue celebrating not just books, but mysteries, and not just a writer but our beloved Agatha! Yay!!!

  40. Hello again Leslie.

    Yes,hopefully the memorial will become a place of pilgrimage for Christie fans visiting London.

  41. I am laughing..never thought about it that way, John.

    A mistake? Oh, do you know what it is?

    And Roberta, we can all go...I haven't see it for years...

    Leslie! Won't that be a great place to have a photo?

  42. No, I don't know the mistake. I am as mystified as anyone.

  43. The thing about Tommy and Tuppence is that they are very young in the first book, although, unlike Miss M. and Poirot, they age in subsequent books. So I think you'd have to make a decision to cast them as they are in the beginning, and rather than using the big names we can think of, if it were me I'd use young actors who aren't very well known.

    But then, no producer has asked ME...

  44. Favorite movie has to be Murder on the Orient Express. Wow!

  45. John, I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on Charles Osborne's novels based on Agatha Christie's plays? I believe there are three: "Black Coffee," "Spider's Web," and "The Unexpected Guest."

  46. John, where are you? Trying to figure out your time zone..

  47. I took a break - to watch the last half A Pocket Full of Rye being shown in opposition the Olympics!

    I think the Osborne novelisations are disappointing. There was a possibility to fill in background material - and we know from his book about Christie that Osborne was a knowledgeable fan - but un essence the books were the stage instructions and the dialogue presented in continuous prose.

  48. I love Poirot and agree that Suchet is the perfect personification. I admire Miss Marple and hope to emulate her. So far, I've only mastered the knitting. I chuckled a bit at Poirot disapproving of women knitting "so unattractive" -- can't remember which story, but it was set in a night club . . . smuggling was involved, and . . . I just realized I almost said too much . . .

  49. Wonderful discussion Hank and John… wish I could have been here earlier.

    Like Julia I was wondering why we don't have more mystery plays and films anymore. I love a good well-done thriller, but I miss the mysteries.

    I remember watching the film of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE when I was a little girl. I sat on the floor of my great-grandmother's camp, wrapped up in a blanket, completely pulled into the story. That it is so vivid to me now – not just the memory of the film but the details of the setting I was in – tells me how exciting it was. Watching that film on a little black-and-white TV set with a tiny screen... and still it was absorbing to my little girl self.

    Creating a mystery requires a ferocious commitment by the writer to go through all that it takes to construct a good mystery. Without that, the reader can't be committed to it. To create a good mystery film, from a good mystery book, it takes that same level of ferocity by everyone involved in the adaptation.

  50. I am going to say Goodbye, for now anyway. It is 'tomorrow'in Ireland.

    I had a great time chatting with everyone and hope to be asked back soon!

  51. John, you are a treasure! And a Hon. Red for life!

    Thank you!

  52. Smiling..I was roped into watching volleyball..would much rather have been with John watching the movie!


  53. As usual, I'm late to the party.

    On our one trip to London, I dragged my husband to see "The Mousetrap". I remember hearing about the mistake, but I can't remember what it was! Happens a lot these days...At least when I get senile, I'll start remembering this stuff...

    I loved the Queen parachuting into the stadium. :)

  54. Jennifer Garner is too young and too American Girl Next Door to be Miss M!!! YIKES!
    I think part of the whole point of Miss Marple is that she spent her whole life in an English village and uses the small seemingly insignificant things she observed there to help her solve the mysteries. A young woman wouldn't have enough background. And an American wouldn't have the RIGHT background. :)
    I have really enjoyed these discussions!!
    pmettert @ yahoo

  55. And the winner is-- Pen! Pmettert at aol, email me and send me your address!