Robin Stevens on Agatha Christie
When author Robin Stevens was only twelve years old, her father handed her a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. She’s been a huge fan of murder mysteries ever since. Now the author of some brilliant detective novels herself – including the Murder Most Unladylike series – we asked Robin to tell us how her own work has been influenced by the Queen of Crime.
“There’s a reason why Agatha Christie is, quite simply, the bestselling novelist of all time: she writes really, really good books. She’s dealing directly with the most interesting and disturbing problem we have as humans – death – and she does it with plots so exciting and characters so vividly drawn that her books are almost unputdownable. There are a lot of crime writers out there, and many of them are very, very good, but I think it’s pretty undeniable that Christie is simply the best. Christie’s books transcend gender, culture, socio-economic background and age, and her books have had a huge influence on me, both as a person and as an author.
For many people, including me, Christies were the first real leap into ‘adult’ fiction (or rather, books written with adults primarily in mind). For some reason this causes some people to slightly dismiss her. To me, this is a huge reason to celebrate her ability as an author. Christie is a storyteller in the rawest and most exciting sense – she’s a writer who makes people readers, and who makes readers writers. I knew I wanted to be an author long before I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but her novels made me see very clearly the sort of books I wanted to write.
Discovering her, aged 12, showed me that books for grown ups could be just as exciting, and weird, and elegant, as anything for children. Her books taught me how to plot, misdirect and draw memorable characters quickly and well. I fell in love with an entire time period because of her – the inter-war years have since become an obsession for me, and through her I’ve discovered so many of my favourite writers: Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Nancy Mitford, Christopher Isherwood and so many more.
It’s easy to think of Christie as a writer who’s just focussed on small English towns, and small English people, but she’s really incredibly wide-ranging. Her books span the globe (I fell in love with Egypt and the Middle East well before I visited because of Death on the Nile and Murder in Mesopotamia) and she captures the dazzle and excitement of travel brilliantly. My favourite Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (I love it so much that I based my third book, First Class Murder, on it), brilliantly brings together different countries and classes – it’s hugely cosmopolitan and gorgeously opulent, with a twist that’s bold but completely believable.
Even if Christie had kept to St Mary Mead, though, her books would have felt just as universal. She’s interested in people and what makes them tick, and she’s ferociously good at capturing personalities on the page. Her characters are unforgettable, so boldly drawn that they can seem like caricatures. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that Christie is just immensely smart at recognising types. Miss Marple’s trick of connecting the different people she meets with her own village regulars (a suspect might be like the baker’s son, who stole two shillings because he was in love with Mrs Thompson, the parson’s wife) is really what Christie does with the whole of humanity, and does it embarrassingly well. We’re not as unique as we think we are, and the way we behave isn’t as unusual as we think it is – and Christie knew that.
I’ve loved Christie’s books for more than two thirds of my life. I’m fascinated and bothered by them, enough so to try to respond to them in my own books. Quite simply, there wouldn’t be Daisy and Hazel without Poirot and Miss Marple. I’m forever in her debt, and can’t speak highly enough of her. Christie really is the queen of crime because she’s an author who absolutely understands people and stories. As long as there are books, I think she’ll keep finding readers.”
Find out more about Robin and the fantastic Murder Most Unladylike series here.