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Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks:…

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the… (original 2009; edition 2009)

by John Curran

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Title:Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making - Includes Two Unpublished Poirot Stories
Authors:John Curran
Info:HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2009), Edition: 1St Edition, Hardcover, 480 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:non-fiction, biography, detective

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Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran (2009)



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Author John Curran was given unprecedented access to Agatha Christie's notebooks. Labeling them “secret” seems to stretch the point. “Private” would be more accurate. As Curran describes them, they sound like memorandum books. The notes and the notebooks themselves are mostly undated. Notes for any one novel may be scattered among several notebooks. Christie apparently used whichever notebook was closest to hand when she wanted to jot down an idea. It's unlikely that Christie expected anyone else to read these notebooks. Her handwriting is difficult to read, and apparently Christie sometimes had trouble reading her own handwriting.

The book is more descriptive than analytical. Curran sifted through the contents of the notebooks and organized Christie's notes around themes such as nursery rhyme murders, games, transportation, and travel. Through his study of the notebooks, Curran is able to identify the inspiration for many of Christie's novels and the linkages between them. If some of her novels give you the impression that you've read them before, it's probably because Christie often reworked her short stories into full length novels (usually with a change in the murderer or even the victim).

Curran necessarily includes spoilers for the novels and short stories mentioned in the books. It's a book for long-time Christie readers, not for those new to Christie's work. ( )
  cbl_tn | May 23, 2017 |
I stopped reading this book after about a hundred pages - not because it wasn't good, it was, but because I haven't read all of Christie's canon yet, and this books is 100% geared towards those that have (or have at least read a majority of it). The author states from the beginning that there are massive plot spoilers throughout every chapter; he even goes so far as to list the books a particular chapter is going to spoil.

I didn't care about the plot spoilers; when it comes time for me to catch up on Christie's canon, I will have long since forgotten who did what to whom (I've read some of her books twice - The Body in the Library for one - and I still can't remember who the murderer was). The fact of the matter, and why I DNF'd the rest of the book, was that Christie's notebooks and the author's commentary on them are largely meaningless to anyone who isn't familiar with the particular work in question.

I did read the two short Poirot stories at the end, (I'll review them under separate posts) and what I did read at the beginning was interesting and well written. If you're a huge Christie fan and know her work well, I'd recommend this book as a way of delving deeper into how this master of mystery's mind worked. Otherwise, most of the book reads a bit like someone's coded grocery list. ( )
  murderbydeath | Nov 27, 2016 |
When I first got this book, for some reason the title led me to believe that it was simply a reproduction of Agatha's notebooks, with endnotes and footnotes galore explaining the various references, and the occasional "illegible" in square brackets for the parts that couldn't be deciphered. After all, I'd read collections of letters that worked in much the same way. However, Agatha's notebooks are not as straightforward as a collection of letters would be. Although they have been numbered, they are not chronological -- Agatha would pick up a notebook at random and scribble her ideas on the first blank page she came across. John Curran, the Christie estate's literary advisor, decided instead to synthesize the information in the notebooks, sorting her jottings by theme, with the occasional image of an actual page so you can see her handwriting. (Personally, I would have called this Secrets from Agatha Christie's Notebooks, to emphasize that the book is more of an analysis/discussion than a simple reproduction.)

Once I got used to it, I came to appreciate this approach. The idea of sorting by theme means you can really dip into and out of this one -- no need to read cover to cover. There are chapters on murder abroad, murder on transportation, the choice of titles, true crime stories and their influence on her writing, and much more. Curran transcribes interesting notes, decodes their abbreviations and provides context for notes about current events. He also very thoughtfully provides a list at the beginning of each chapter indicating which books will be discussed, so that if you haven't read a particular book, you can skip over that part of the chapter. (I had to skip a fair bit of the sections about Peril at End House, which I haven't read yet.)

It was really interesting to see how Agatha plotted. She changed character names a lot, apparently choosing "placeholder" names until she'd firmed up the outline of the story, which was the more important part. She would talk to herself on the paper, reminding herself of research to follow up on and reproving herself for continually bringing up ideas that she liked but consistently found unworkable. The notes themselves were also very informative---especially the ones about Sleeping Murder.

The book also includes a few sample pages from the Notebooks. It's thrilling to see Agatha's actual handwriting, but at the same time somewhat sobering when you compare her writing from the beginning and end of her career---the deterioration is noticeable. Another treat is two previously unpublished stories: "The Capture of Cerberus" (an alternative version of the short story from The Labours of Hercules) and "The Incident of the Dog's Ball", which was subsequently expanded into the novel Dumb Witness.

This book is heartily recommended for Christie fans. It will give you new insights into the Queen of Crime and will likely prompt a (re)reading spree as well. Enjoy! ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Mar 19, 2014 |
Curran rambles and assumes savant-like knowledge of Christie's oeuvre, but what's here is fascinating, if not that well-organized. I was expecting more of a biography, I think; Curran is more interested in a critical approach, which is fine, but perhaps not as satisfying from a curiosity standpoint. Well worth reading, still. ( )
  upstairsgirl | Jan 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Curran knows his subject backwards, but he's too much of a fan to be an objective critic.
For all its thoroughness, this book only skims the surface of her mysterious mind; which is no bad thing, perhaps
Evidence of the breadth of Christie's imagination can also be found in the tantalizing trails she left that never went anywhere. Curran tracks motifs and ideas that crop up again and again over many years but that were never realized in her published books.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Curran, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Christie, Agathamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Prichard, MathewForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Raitio, RistoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061988367, Hardcover)

A fascinating exploration of the contents of Agatha Christie's seventy-three private notebooks, including illustrations and two unpublished Poirot stories

When Agatha Christie died in 1976, at age eighty-five, she had become the world's most popular author. With sales of more than two billion copies worldwide, in more than one hundred countries, she had achieved the impossible—more than one book every year since the 1920s, every one a bestseller.

So prolific was Agatha Christie's output—sixty-six crime novels, twenty plays, six romance novels under a pseudonym and more than one hundred and fifty short stories—it was often claimed that she had a photographic memory. Was this true? Or did she resort over those fifty-five years to more mundane methods of working out her ingenious crimes?

Following the death of Agatha's daughter, Rosalind, at the end of 2004, a remarkable legacy was revealed. Unearthed among her affairs at the family home of Greenway were Agatha Christie's private notebooks, seventy-three handwritten volumes of notes, lists and drafts outlining all her plans for her many books, plays and stories. Buried in this treasure trove, all in her unmistakable handwriting, are revelations about her famous books that will fascinate anyone who has ever read or watched an Agatha Christie story.

How did the infamous twist in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd really come about? Which very famous Poirot novel started life as an adventure for Miss Marple? Which books were designed to have completely differ-ent endings, and what were they? What were the plot ideas that she considered but rejected?

Full of details she was too modest to reveal in her own autobiography, this remarkable new book includes a wealth of excerpts and pages reproduced directly from the notebooks and her letters, plus, for the first time, two newly discovered complete Hercule Poirot short stories never before published.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:15 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This is a fascinating exploration of the contents of Agatha Christie's 73 recently discovered notebooks, including illustrations, deleted extracts, and two unpublished Poirot stories.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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