Sunday, June 25, 2006

Reading. Christie.

My freshman year of college, I came home for the holidays to find that my parents had completely organized my room. Serious literature was neatly shelved in the bookcase, and my vast collection of mystery novels was boxed up in a large carton in my closet, with a strip of masking tape bearing the words AGATHA CHRISTIE AND OTHER NONSENSE across the lid, written by my father. I was incensed. Agatha Christie was most definitely NOT nonsense. She was the Queen of Crime, one of my favorite writers of all time, and she did not deserve to be hidden in the dark corner of my closet.

I started reading Agatha Christie when I was in middle school, and I was immediately addicted. I could not stop once I began, and on one memorable occasion during math class, the teacher caught me reading a mystery. She demanded that either I leave the class or the rest of the class would leave. Completely terrified and unable to utter a word, I could only stare at her mutely, frozen in horror, until she and the rest of the class got up and left the room. There was only about five minutes left before lunchtime, so it was more of an empty gesture, but they were the longest five minutes of my life. (It occurs to me now that if I had paid more attention to math and less to Agatha Christie, my life would have been completely different. But it is useless to look back for too long).

In the over fifteen years since I have read nearly all of the Christie mystery novels, and I own many. They live in the bookcase outside my bedroom, under the bed, on tables, in the bathroom, and I am not sure which ones I have. I spent a fruitless twenty minutes trying to find By The Pricking of My Thumbs last night, but now I cannot remember if I even own it.

It is hard to say which detective I prefer, Miss Marple, Poirot, Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, or Parker Pyne. They are all so different in their methods, although all with an unnerving eye for details and knowledge of human behavior. The themes that weave in and out of the stories remain - passion, love, hatred, jealousy, revenge, justice, greed, possession, redemption. Human nature, human emotion. They are all timeless. I have read them again and again, and once I begin I can't stop now any more than I could when I was ten years old and my math teacher caught me reading in class.

I was reading The Labors of Hercules at lunch today, and there was something dreamlike about it. Each chapter was a short story, a different mystery solved by Hercule Poirot invoking one of the labors executed by Hercules. The chapter titled The Apples of the Hesperides is the one that haunted me. Poirot has finally tracked down an antique chalice, stolen from a collector who has spent ten years trying to get it back. He finds the chalice, on the altar of a church and in lieu of a fee, suggests that this collecter send it back to the church, to be purified from the evil that has followed it through centuries of history. As an investment for his soul, Poirot suggests...

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