Friday, 29 July 2011

Agatha Christie's True Crime Inspirations


I'm interested in the ways in which crime novelists are influenced in their work by real-life cases. Examples of those influences go back to the days of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins, and a number of writers of the modern generation draw on actual crimes, as did a host of detective novelists in the Golden Age.

Agatha Christie, however, is generally not thought of as a novelist who was greatly influenced by true crime. However, a book published last year by the History Press, and written by Mike Holgate, seeks to prove otherwise. Agatha Christie's True Crime Inspirations is relatively short but lively book which ranges widely, sometimes more widely than the title would suggest.

The classic example of a novel where Christie did draw on a real-life crime is Murder on the Orient Express, which was plainly inspired by the kidnapping of the baby of the American aviator Charles Lindbergh – although, of course, Christie used a great deal of imagination to embellish the basic material and produce one of the most famous whodunnits of all time.

Christie was certainly interested in true crime, making references to the Dr Crippen and Constance Kent cases, amongst others, in her novels. But there are not many books which draw heavily upon her interpretation of real-life cases – for instance, I think it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that exploits of Jack the Ripper was an inspiration for The ABC Murders. So Mike Holgate compensates by including various accounts of crimes, scandals and tragedies which affected the lives of some of the famous personalities involved in Christie's long career. As a result, the book is not quite what I expected – but I found it an entertaining read.

9 comments:

Richmonde said...

Lord Peter Wimsey refers to several true crime cases in his elegant way.

Kerrie said...

Hello Martin

I am adding this post to next month's Agatha Christie Blog Carnival. Hope that is ok with you.

BTW I wondered if you'd like to do a special post on September 15 for AC's birthday anniversary. See here for details

Holly Vance said...

I love Agatha Christie. I can usually figure out the twist or who did it when it comes to crime, but she always stumps me.

I must check out that book.

djskrimiblog said...

It´s interesting that such a truly terrifying story (Lindberg´s baby) led Christie to write The Orient Express. She was a great writer, but in my opinion that one was one of her sillier plots.

Dorte H.

Martin Edwards said...

Richmonde, I'm due to give a lecture on that very topic next March!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Kerrie, many thanks. Yes, I would!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Holly, good to hear from you.

Martin Edwards said...

Dorte, as you may know, Chandler said of the plot, 'Only a halfwit could guess it'!

Nan said...

Such an interesting topic for a book. I will look into it. I haven't read Orient Express yet. I've tried to avert my eyes when I read about it so I still don't know whodunnit. :<)