For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I have been vaguely attempting to amass a complete collection of Agatha Christie’s books. My love affair with them began at university, when I went to stay with a boyfriend whose family were weird and intimidating (though not as weird and intimidating as he was), and I spent most of the weekend holed up in the spare bedroom, which contained a shelf full of battered old detective stories. I gorged my way through three books – I can’t remember which ones – and was hooked.
Back in Colchester, I was already in the habit of visiting the two secondhand bookshops on the High Street to look for cheaper copies of university text books (a hint to teenagers: art history is a very expensive subject to study, bookswise). The next time I was in town I went and had a look at the “Crime” shelf in the larger bookshop, the one inside someone’s house, and was delighted to discover dozens of aged Christies, all priced at 70p. I bought a handful, then periodically went back over the following weeks and months and acquired the lot. I discovered that I’d inadvertently struck gold the first time out and that not all the stories were as good as the early ones, but there was never one I didn’t enjoy reading.
Having gotten hold of about thirty books for pennies at a time, I was loath to start spending £6.99 a go on the remaining titles – it seemed somehow against the serendipitous spirit of the affair – and I found myself content to check every car boot sale, thrift store and charity shop I passed in the hope of picking up an unread Christie.
Last year, now the owner of two full bookshelves of battered Marples and Poirots, I arranged them in alphabetical order, found a list of her complete works and made a meticulous list of everything I didn’t yet have. Some of them, borrowed from friends or libraries or lost over the years, I had read but didn’t have a copy of, and I decided it would be lovely to have an absolutely complete set, not counting the romances which I find readable and entertaining but nothing like as exciting as the detective books and which in any case are written pseudonymously, so don’t technically count as Agatha Christies.
Using this more systematic approach I acquired a dozen or so more books, and of the remaining ones on the list some are US versions of books I already have, some are thrillers rather than mysteries (although the dividing line is not always clear, of course) and others are titles I know I have somewhere, but I can’t think where.
So what next? The answer is obvious: sign up for a book club offering brand new copies of every single Agatha Christie, sent out fortnightly at £5.99 a pop.
Yes, I know it sounds a bit mad, but in another piece of beautiful serendipity, I went into a newsagent yesterday to top up my Oyster and spotted a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, complete with accompanying magazine, for £1.99. So naturally I bought it, and discovered that Hachette are republishing every single Christie, in hardback, in a facsimile of the original binding and cover art, accompanied by a magazine with contemporary detail and modern analysis of each story. Plus, you get free gifts – a bag, some mugs, glass coasters – if you subscribe, as well as the obligatory free binder with part two.
This is exciting for me, even though I’ve read almost all of the books, so it ought to be even more exciting for someone who hasn’t read the books and would like to, which is why I think you should also subscribe. £5.99 for a book is quite cheap, especially as the first one is £1.99, the second is £3.99 and the third is free (if you subscribe by post, rather than just buying it from the newsagent), AND you get a load of free stuff, AND the bindings are gorgeous, AND, well, Agatha Christie is just really lovely to read. The stories are so cleverly plotted and have been so ripe for TV and film and radio adaptation that it’s easy to forget that they are also beautiful evocations of an England – of a world – that few of us knew but which we can all recognise. And more than that, they provide an eloquent social history of a particular class of English life of which Christie herself was a part. So if your new year’s resolution was to read more, I think you should sign up now and join me in reading a Christie a fortnight in 2012. Sorry if this reads like an ad, it wasn’t meant to. Also, if you don’t want to subscribe but do want to try one of the stories and I know you in real life, let me know and I will pick one out for you and give it to you.