I suspect that a book like Murder in the Making will be almost impossible to write in the future. In an era of email & computer crashes, there will be few caches of manuscripts & notebooks to be pored over by an eager researcher. In 2005 John Curran was lucky enough to be given access to Agatha Christie’s notebooks. The 73 notebooks, stored in a cupboard at Greenway House in Devon, were of varying sizes & colours, sometimes just a few pages had been used, sometimes the book was nearly full of notes. Christie seems to have just grabbed the nearest notebook when she had a thought or wanted to plan a story. She also didn’t bother about dating the entries. Often there was just a name or a title, sometimes in almost illegible scribble. Curran has spent the last few years painstakingly deciphering & transcribing the notebooks. It’s been a labour of love &, I suspect, it became an obsession. The results are fascinating for anyone who loves Christie’s work or just wants some insight into the working methods of the most successful detective novelist of the 20th century.
Murder in the Making & the earlier book, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, are aimed at Christie aficionados The plots are discussed in detail & the endings are often revealed. These are books to read after you’ve read the novels. Picking up the first book, I remember thinking that I would just dip in & read a few bits here & there. I didn’t think I would be able to read a whole book full of cryptic jottings. I was wrong. I found the first book riveting & Murder in the Making is no different. Curran’s encyclopedic knowledge of the books is invaluable as he can spot an allusion to a published book or short story at a hundred paces. Even when the names have all been changed & the plot twist has been substantially altered, Curran is able to point out the ways the notes were used in a finished story. This is part of the notes for Lord Edgware Dies,
At theatre – CA’s performance – H’s reflections – Is JW really such a good actress? Looks round – JW – her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. Supper at Savoy – Jane at next table – CA there also (with Ronnie Marsh) – rapprochement – JW and Poirot – her sitting room – her troubles. I’ll have to kill him (just as waiter is going out) Enter Bryan (and CA). JW has gone into bedroom. B asks what did she say – means it – amoral – would kill anyone quite simply
The linking passages are excellent in setting the scene for the various stages of Christie’s career. There were periods when she was publishing two books a year, including a Christie for Christmas as her publishers liked to call it, working on short stories & a stage play or two as well as accompanying her second husband, Max Mallowan, to an archaeological dig in the Middle East.
The book also includes a new version of the Miss Marple story, The Case of the Caretaker’s Wife, an article Christie wrote about her invention of Poirot & a letter she wrote to the Times supporting A L Rowse’s theory about Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. There are also lists of unused ideas from the notebooks. Even at the end of her life, Christie was still jotting down ideas for future books. Unfortunately her ability to extend these ideas into novels had gone.
Murder in the Making is a fascinating insight into the creative processes of an incredibly successful novelist. I found it interesting to see how often she used the same idea – least likely suspect, intentionally misleading the reader in the first chapter – but every time she made the plot twist fresh. Even a reader who had read every Christie would have trouble spotting the trick & that was the secret of her great success.