Friday, July 17, 2020

Homage to the Queen of Mystery

HANK 
PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Here’s a tiny story about how I discovered one of my favorite books ever, and a  new favorite author.

I was in an airport (remember airports?) and realized, with a stomach-churning panic that only a reader knows,  that  I didn’t have a book to read for the flight.  I had read more of my book than I planned in the hotel the night before and still figured I’d be fine for the flight, but then—the plane had no power outlets. Ah.  I HAD to find a book.

I high-tailed it to the airport bookstore. I had 15 minutes.  I looked at all the books. Read it read it read it don’t care forget about it no no no. There was nothing. And then I saw A Talent For Murder by Andrew Wilson.

It had a gorgeous cover, so I picked it up, and it said something about “Where was Agatha Christie during the two weeks she was missing?”

I thought: one hundred percent yes.

And Reds and readers, I adored it.   And I ordered ever book he’s ever written, and now his books are an instant buy. He is a fabulous writer. A terrific storyteller.  If you haven’t read his books, please do . Start the way I did, with A TALENT FOR MURDER. Or his new book!

And now, hurray, here is Andrew Wilson. We have never met, but I’d adore to tell him what a complete fan I am.



When I was twelve my English teacher at my school in the north of England asked his pupils to write a ‘novel’.  He wanted each of us to see if we could write not a real novel, of course, but an extended piece of writing — and, after four weeks’ work, I handed in a 46-page story called The German Mystery, an homage to Agatha Christie. This childish effort was inspired by two of Christie’s masterpieces: Death on the Nile and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I can still remember the relish with which I devoured these two books, my pulse racing, my jaw dropping as I raced my way through to the final pages.

Perhaps more than any other book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd  was responsible for sowing the seeds of my passion for crime fiction. Christie — the ‘mistress of misdirection’ was particularly adept at narrative and literary ellipsis, cleverly leaving out vital pieces of information.  Like the narrator of this groundbreaking novel the author was the supreme master of the ‘judicious use of words’. Her style was seemingly simple, but danger, violence and subterfuge lurk behind and within the walls of her straightforward sentences. Murder is hiding in the spaces between the words. 

Agatha — like her famous detectives turned global icons, Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple — was fascinated by the complexity of human psychology. ‘It’s psychology that interests you, isn’t it?’  a character says to Poirot in the introduction to one of Christie’s masterpieces, Five Little Pigs. Christie’s 80-plus novels explore every aspect of motivation and behaviour — ‘it is the eyes of the mind with which one really sees,’ Poirot observes in the same novel. 

Christie strips away the patina of pretence to show us the murky reality of human nature. She was fond of the saying, ‘Old sins cast long shadows,’ and she explores the ways in which guilt shapes and mutates the spirit. She pushes the boundaries of the genre, and although she is often accused of being ‘cosy’ many her novels are anything but. Despite her enormous success, Christie never took herself that seriously. When the Queen of England bestowed on Christie the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956, Agatha wrote to her agent, ‘One up to the low-brows!!’

Christie saw herself first and foremost as an entertainer. And she has entertained –— and continues to entertain — millions of loyal readers around the world: she is the bestselling novelist of all time (it’s estimated she has sold more than two billion copies) and she has been translated in 103 territories.    

In 2012 when I moved to Devon, the county where Agatha herself was born, one of the first things I did was visit her holiday home, Greenway, which contains many of her possessions, including paintings, furniture and books from her parents’ house, Ashfield in Torquay. I found the experience inspiring. A couple of years later, while on a train, I asked myself whether it would be possible to cast the Queen of Crime as a fictional sleuth. And so my series of novels was born.


HANK: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd! Death on the Nile! Standing ovation. Go out, right this very second, and discover Andrew Wilson. Yes, I am gushing, but hey. That’s why we’re here.  But first let me ask: What’s your favorite Agatha Christie book? Ackroyd? Styles?  Orient Express? A Tommy and Tuppence? Marple or Poirot?  Why?



Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, is boarding a train, preoccupied with the devastating knowledge that her husband is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. So begins a terrifying sequence of events—for her rescuer is no guardian angel, rather he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind.

“You, Mrs. Christie, are going to commit a murder. But, before then, you are going to disappear.”

Writing about murder is a far cry from committing a crime, and Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her expertise and knowledge about the act of murder to kill on his behalf.

In A Talent for Murder, Andrew Wilson ingeniously explores Agatha Christie’s odd ten-day disappearance in 1926 and weaves an utterly compelling and convincing story around this still unsolved mystery involving the world’s bestselling novelist.



I Saw Him Die: A Novel by [Andrew Wilson]


Bestselling novelist and part-time undercover sleuth Agatha Christie is looking forward to a bit of well-deserved rest and relaxation when her longtime friend John Davison pleads with her to help him protect a retired British agent turned hotelier who has been receiving threatening letters.

Together they travel to Dallach Lodge, a beautiful estate on Scotland’s picturesque Isle of Skye. There they insert themselves among the hotel’s illustrious guests, including members of the owner’s family, a leading lady of the theater, a brilliant botanist, a local doctor, and two sisters who coauthor romance novels. After a pleasant first evening, Agatha thinks it unlikely that any of them are capable of evil, much less murder. But early the next morning, the sound of a gunshot rings out and the hotel owner is found dead in the arms of his nephew. At first, it appears to be a simple hunting accident, but as Agatha digs deeper, she discovers that each and every one of the residents has a reason for wanting the late proprietor dead.



Andrew Wilson is an award-winning author and journalist. His first book 'Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith' was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography prize (2003) and won an Edgar Allan Poe award for biography in 2004 and a LAMBDA Literary Award in 2003. His journalism has appeared in a wide range of newspapers and magazines including the Sunday Times, the Observer, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, the Independent, Tatler, the Smithsonian and the Washington Post. 
Andrew is the new tutor on Faber Academy’s online crime writing course and he is also a mentor on the Gold Dust creative writing scheme.


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PS: Whoo hoo! THE MURDER LIST  is now a Macavity Nominee! I am so thrilled--and what amazing company:

Best Mystery Novel 

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha (Ecco)
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (Atria)
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (Wm. Morrow)
The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Mulholland)
The Murder List by Hank Philippi Ryan (Forge)
Sarah Jane by James Sallis (Soho Crime)

87 comments:

  1. Another Agatha book! Congratulations, Andrew . . . I’m looking forward to reading Agatha’s latest mystery.

    Favorite Agatha Christie book? I have to pick just one? I suppose it will have to be “And Then There Were None” . . . .

    Hank . . . congratulations on your Macavity nomination!

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    1. I love to look back after I finish an Agatha Christie book and unravel how she did it, don’t you?
      (And thank you! So thrilled!)

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    2. Hello Joan. Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy the new book. And yes, I love And Then There Were None -- still the bestselling mystery novel of all time!

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  2. Welcome to Jungle Reds, Andrew. I loved A Talent for Murder, but I have fallen woefully behind in this series. I’m making up for it by having just ordered I Saw Him Die, and I’ll be ordering the other two, too. I love Agatha Christie, and while I read mysteries growing up, it was reading Agatha Christie that sealed the deal for me becoming a lifelong mystery/crime reader (and reviewer). I don’t know if I can pick out a favorite Christie book, but I’ll give that some more thought.

    And, a big congratulations to you, Hank, on the Macavity nomination! As always, so well-deserved.

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    1. I’m going to go with 4:50 from Paddington and Hallowe’en as two of my favorites. The first is a Miss Marple and has trains in it, so how could it not be wonderful. The second is a Hercule Poirot and takes place during my favorite time of year, Halloween. Of course, I love pretty much all Agatha Christie, but these are two that I thought might not get named as often as favorites for people.

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    2. Oh, I am not sure I ever read Halloween! That will be a treat!

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    3. Thank you! I am still floating…

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    4. Hi Kathy,

      I am so pleased you loved A TALENT FOR MURDER. I enjoyed writing it so much! And let me know what you think of the new book.

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    5. And it's great news about Hank's nomination! And thanks for inviting me on here! Great fun!

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  3. I am definitely intrigued. I've ordered TALENT, so now I just need to wait for it to arrive.

    My favorite Christie? I'm not as well read in her books as I should be, but I have to to with AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. I've seen the play version more times than I can count. Yes, I read the book first, but I should go back and reread it.

    As to Christie writing things other than cozies, here's my take. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is actually the first slasher story.

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    1. Absolutely! And it is intriguing every time…

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    2. HI Mark,

      Thanks so much for ordering A TALENT FOR MURDER. Hope you enjoy it. I love AND THEN THERE WERE NONE -- one of my favourites! And yes, I'm sure it's inspired lots of the slasher/last girl books and films!

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  4. I have somehow missed your books, Andrew. I love the premise, and look forward to getting caught up on them. (Hank's recommendations carry a lot of weight!) I grew up reading Agatha Christie, and I write her kind of books, but I truly need to do some re-reading. Can't offer a favorite just now.

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    1. Yes, what a serendipitous discovery! And congratulations on your nomination, Edith

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    2. Hello Edith,

      Hope you like the books when you read them. And it's wonderful to be recommended by Hank. It means a lot!

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  5. Congratulations, Andrew on your books and thanks Hank for introducing us to his homages to Agatha Christie.

    I was also 12 when I read the Agatha Christie books. My first one was also The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and I went back to start reading Poirot's The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

    HANK AND EDITH: Congratulations on your Macavity Award nominations! I am a subscriber to MRJ and am looking forward to reading the rest of the nominees and voting.

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    1. Thank you so much, Grace! It's an enormous thrill.

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    2. Absolute classics! And oh, thank you! It is so fantastic… I yelped when I saw the names!

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    3. Yes -- congratulations to both Edith and Hank! And such a brilliant list this year. Grace - hope you enjoy the novels. They were a lot of fun to write.

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  6. Your books sound wonderful, Andrew! I'll put them on my list. But, golly, I haven't read Agatha Christie since I tore through nearly all of them back when I was in junior high and high school. I'm probably long overdue for a re-read.

    The ones that have stuck with me are The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Death Comes as the End--the one set in ancient Egypt. With Ackroyd, I remember reading that one, simple sentence early on in the book and thinking, "That's an odd thing to say." of course, in the end, that one simple sentence said everything.

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    1. I reread Roger Ackroyd when I was writing one of my books :-) and it is absolutely diabolical. And yes, I agree, but you don’t know until later…

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  7. Congrats, Andrew, on your new book, and to Hank (wahoo!) and Edith too! Andrew, I've missed/forgotten this series (it takes me five trips into another room now just to remember what I want to do there), but love the premise. I don't recall just when I started reading Agatha Christie; Nemesis is high on my list of favorites (Miss Marple), but this blog has reminded me how much I enjoyed Tommy and Tuppence. I'll definitely be searching out your books!

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    1. (Thank you— I was having an unsettling writing day, and that made all the difference! )! Oh right, nemesis! Now this is making me want to read them all again!

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    2. Hello Flora,

      Thanks so much. Hope you enjoy the novels -- and so pleased you like the premise!

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  8. Ooo, I'm intrigued! You know, I read Agatha's autobiography and she completely skipped that 10-day disappearance. Hmm.

    Favorite book? It's a toss up between AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. The plotting of both was so masterful. I always was more of a Poirot fan (he's more incisive maybe?), but I grow fonder of Miss Marple as I've aged.

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    1. No, that is interesting! At first I like the Poirot better, but now I am not so sure… it’s really the stories that are so phenomenal, and her Mystery architecture.

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    2. HI Liz,

      Agatha's autobiography is one of the very best of her works. I love it. Such humour and warmth and insight. But yes, no mention of the disappearance -- a real mystery!

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  9. Congratulations on your new release! I can't wait to read it.

    At Bertram's Hotel, a Jane Marple mystery set in London with past secrets and present day drama.

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    1. One of my favorites, too, Margaret. I think Bertram's was based on Brown's Hotel, where I have had tea:-)

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    2. Thank you Margaret. Yes good choice! I think Deborah is right - it is based on Brown's Hotel in London. Lovely place for tea!

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  10. Congratulations, Andrew! Your books sound exactly like what I like to read. I think my first Agatha was the 4:50 from Paddington so that has always been special to me and I've reread it several times, as well as most of the others. I remember wanting to send her a letter and then I saw somewhere, probably in a magazine, that she got too many letters and really didn't have time for more. I was crushed. And then when she died I read that she had loved getting letters from her readers! There's a lesson in there somewhere for readers everywhere!

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    1. Yes, one hundred per cent--there can NEVER be too many fan letters!xoxo

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    2. Yes - I agree with Hank here. Authors LOVE fan letters - the more the merrier! And I think Agatha did reply to lots of them. Who knows what she would have written back to you?

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  11. Congratulations, Hank, on your Macavity nomination, and thank you for introducing us to Andrew Wilson's books.

    I have to admit that the only Agatha Christie book that I have read is Murder on the Orient Express, but I do have The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on my Kindle patiently waiting on me and now will have to add A Talent for Murder. I remember a movie about Agatha Christie's disappearance, with Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman called Agatha.

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    1. Yes--I can't remember if I saw that....but I remember it looking gorgeous.

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    2. Thanks Celia. Hope you enjoy A TALENT FOR MURDER. That film is fascinating -- and the Agatha Christie estate tried their very best to stop it. They launched a legal case in the US which they lost.

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  12. Congratulations Andrew... such a brilliant premise. Do you still have that story you wrote as a school assignment? Bet your teacher was gobsmacked.

    I read all of Agatha Christie’s books... and short stories too. My favorites are the miss marbles starting with the short story she appeared in first.

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    1. Yes, wouldn't that be fun to see?

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    2. Thanks Hallie. Yes, I do have the story - written in ink and lots of Tipex - remember that? I love the Miss Marple stories and novels too.

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    3. OH! We want to read it. If you'd ever like to present it here...you know we'd adore it.

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  13. Ha ha ... losing my ‘Marples’

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  14. Congratulations, Hank! Such good news.

    Always looking for new series to read, and having Dame Agatha herself as the sleuth makes your series appealing, Andrew.

    Murder on the Orient Express is unbearably glamorous, and deliciously twisty. I read dozens of Christies yeara ago, but remember very little of them. Like Edith I realize I need to reread them so I can discuss them more intelligently.

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    1. They are very different to read now..seeing them through out writer eyes. Still fabulous! But different.

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    2. Hello Karen -- thanks so much! Hope you enjoy the series -- they were such fun to write!

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  15. Congratulations, Hank on receiving the nomination!

    Which airport bookstore had the books by Andrew Wilson? Since I have seen very few mystery novels at airport bookstores.

    It looks like the books are from the NYT bestseller lists?

    Diana

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    1. , Usually that is exactly the case! Which might have been another reason this book stood out…

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  16. Me again. I forgot to answer your question.

    My favorite is Murder on the Orient Express because the villain gets their comeuppance! And the method of death was perfect!

    I love the idea of Agatha Christie as a sleuth. I was reminded of Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote because she is a mystery novelist and the police asks her for her help in solving a murder.

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    1. , It is so marvelous how Poirot chooses personal moral justice over law-enforcement justice!

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    2. Yes - Agatha is often accused of being too cosy, but there are certain novels like Orient Express and Five Little Pigs were the moral/legal repercussions are much more ambiguous. To be discussed!

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    3. Hank and Andrew, thanks! I struggled the first time I read Agatha Christie because it had no pictures in the books. Now it is easy to read her books. I definitely will get a copy of your book to read!

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  17. I remember when A TALENT FOR MURDER came out, because I thought, "Agatha Christie as a sleuth? That's brilliant!" Also bold - you really have to know your stuff to get past the Christiephiles. I suspect now would be a great time to dive into the series, because who doesn't want to enjoy a fiendishly clever puzzle in Scotland in 1930?

    No one's mentioned the film versions of Christie's books, so I'll start by highly recommending the BBC AND THEN THERE WERE NONE from a few years back (with my Irish boyfriend Aiden Turner as Phillip Lombard.) We also recently watched the 1974 MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS with Albert Finney as Poirot and an amazing cast that includes a laundry list of the best actors on that era. Excellent, and true to the book (and to Poirot's character.) Avoid the Kenneth Branaugh version at all costs.

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    1. Just from looking at a 30 second trailer, you can tell that is going to be cringe worthy!

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    2. Excuse me, Julia, but I believe Aiden Turner is MY boyfriend!

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    3. I loved And Then There Were None with Aiden Turner. I do think that we might have to discuss sharing Aiden as a boyfriend. I enjoyed The ABC Murders with John Makliovich (sure I spelled that wrong), too.

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    4. No, I've had dibs on Aidan Turner since he was in the British series Being Human, where he played the most delectable vampire ever. But I haven't seen And Then There Were None so will certainly watch it!

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    5. Thanks so much Julia -- and hope you like the new novel. I loved doing the research on the Isle of Skye - so romantic and atmospheric. And the film and TV versions are very hit and miss. But I thought AND THEN THERE WERE NONE was fabulous!

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  18. True confession time - I don't remember ever picking up an Agatha Christie book. Okay, okay - stop gasping and cringing out there. I saw Murder in the Orient Express as a movie but don't remember reading any of her books. Please don't kick me out of the JRW club. I'll be good and get to catch up, I promise.

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    1. Why we are here! To point you in the right direction— fOr Agatha Christie at least :-)

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    2. I saw the 1974 version of Murder that Julia mentions above. Great movie. That was the high school date that had Earthquake playing in the next theater. :-)

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  19. I have all of Andrew Wilson's previous books. Love them! My favorite Agatha Christie books are Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.

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    1. Oh,Kathy, you were way ahead of me! And yes, perfect choices!

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    2. Thanks so wonderful - thanks Kathy! Hope you like the new one!

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  20. I haven't managed to stumble across your books before, Andrew! But now I have direction. . . I'm like Gigi. I haven't read any Christie books in many, many years. I don't have a favorite as a result. How about Death on the Nile for all the local color?

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  21. How have I missed these books? Thank you. So intriguing and now on my list for next round of ordering.Further, I'm inspired to re-read some Christie. Not admitting to how many decades it's been...but I was in my early teens. :-( I need to see how they look now.I've seen and enjoyed some of the movie versions - the old Murder on the Orient Express is A+. (we watched nostalgically recently) I also have a soft place for the Dustin Hoffman/ Vanessa Redgrave movie about her famous disappearance. No idea if it's even close to plausible but so fun to see those acting pros at work. Recommend!

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    1. I hope you like them Triss. And the films from the 70s are amazing - my favourite is DEATH ON THE NILE - Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow - the list goes on!

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    2. Oh, we will watch that again tonight! In your honor. xoo

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  22. Andrew, I don't know how I have missed your books! I'm going to remedy that immediately! As tempted as I am by Skye, I think I want to start with A Talent for Murder because the premise is just too delicious. I'm curious, though. How difficult was it to get permission from the Christie estate to use Dame Agatha as a character?

    Favorite Christies? So many of the above, but I also loved the Tommy and Tuppence books and reread them many times. And perhaps my most favorite is an odd one, a little novel called They Came From Bagdad. Non-series, but such an engaging character in Victoria Jones, and the Middle East setting is so wonderfully drawn.

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    1. Do,Debs. SO much fun. And it uses real-life events intertwined with the fiction!

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    2. Thanks so much Deborah -- I hope you like them. I didn't have to get permission from the estate because Agatha as character is not copyrighted. Obviously, if I was writing a Marple or Poirot this would be a different matter !

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  23. Oh, and congrats to Hank and Edith!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  24. Just ordered A Talent for Murder, thanks for the introduction. I need to reread Christie too. In the meantime Joan Hickson's perfect portrayals of Miss Marple, available on Britbox, are getting me through the pandemic

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    1. Thanks so much for ordering. I love Joan Hickson -- so comforting to watch!

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  25. Just ordered A Talent for Murder, thanks for the introduction. I need to reread Christie too. In the meantime Joan Hickson's perfect portrayals of Miss Marple, available on Britbox, are getting me through the pandemic

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    1. Thanks Charlotte. Hope you enjoy it. It was such fun to write - as have all the Agatha books. Four of them now!

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  26. The Mirror Crack'd was a great Miss Marple story. It has a message for today in it. Most all of her stories were fantastic. Agatha Christie would have made a great real detective since she knew so much about poisons. Stay safe and well.

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    1. Oh, yes yes! What is it..the curse has come upon me, cried the Lady of Shalott!

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    2. Thanks Sally - and yes, in A TALENT FOR MURDER Agatha carries around a little box of poisons. Just in case!

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  27. Ooooh, fantastic! I'm absolutely picking up A Talent for Murder. How did I miss this one? Thank you, Hank, and congrats, Andrew!

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    1. Thanks so much Jenn. Hope you enjoy it! And yes - congratulations Hank. Great news!

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