Monday 24 October 2016

The Lady Vanishes

Is that you, Mrs Oliver?

“Ruthless” – it’s a word Agatha Christie is fond of. In Murder in Mesopotamia, Fr Lavigny says of the fascinating Mrs Leidner: “I think she could be ruthless.” She IS ruthless – she has no conscience about teasing and bullying vulnerable members of the expedition, or betraying her husband. And it’s what Christie’s mother said about Agatha's husband, Archie, when she first met him – “I think he could be ruthless”. They married during World War One.

In April 1926, Christie's mother died. Agatha spent weeks clearing out her beloved home Ashfield, where her mother and grandmother (a hoarder) had lived. For some of the time she had her young daughter Rosalind with her, but Archie always had an excuse not to come down for the weekend. She disposed of wardrobes full of clothes, and threw away piles of rubbish. She became exhausted. In her autobiography she reveals that when she had to sign her name on some document, for a frightening moment she couldn’t remember it.

She returned home to Sunningdale, but Archie seemed different, and had not booked the trip abroad they were planning. Archie revealed he was having an affair with a younger woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. He always said he was no good when anyone was unhappy or ill: his own happiness came first. (Is it a coincidence that Agatha had become successful and famous?)

In December 1926 Christie went out late at night in her car and didn’t come back. The car was found at Newlands Corner, near a supposedly haunted lake called the Silent Pool. In it was her fur coat, attaché case and passport. A nationwide search was launched, involving aeroplanes and Conan Doyle (he held a séance). A newspaper published mockups of how she might look, her appearance changed with different hairstyles and glasses (see above).

Eleven days later she was recognised by a musician (saxophonist? banjo player?) at the Swan Hotel in Harrogate. She had checked into the hotel under the name Theresa Neele. Archie turned up to collect her and gave out that she had been suffering from amnesia.

There are various accounts – did she make Archie wait while she changed her dress? Did she come downstairs and admit who she was? Did she fail to recognise him?

In 1928 the Christies divorced, and Archie and Nancy married. Agatha met her second husband, Max Mallowan, in Mesopotamia in 1930.

In 1932 a short story, The Affair at the Bungalow, was published in the collection The Thirteen Problems (spoiler alert). A group of friends meet weekly. At each gathering one of them tells the story of an “unsolved mystery” to which she or he knows the answer and challenges the others to solve it. In the corner is a little old white-haired lady; the others hardly realised she was playing. You know the rest...

It’s the turn of actress Jane Hellier, a guest of Colonel and Dolly Bantry, to tell a story. She’s beautiful, but not known for her brains. She begins a rather rambling tale (appealing for help in naming the characters) about a "friend" of hers, also an actress, who is playing the provinces somewhere like Marlow.

Jane's "friend" is summoned to a police station to meet a young man. He turns out to be a playwright, who’s been found wandering dazedly. He says that he sent the actress a play to read, and she invited him to a riverside bungalow to discuss it. He turned up, and there she was, they had a cup of tea, and then everything went black... (At about this point Jane gives up pretending it all happened to a friend.)

Meanwhile the bungalow has been found turned upside down as if by burglars. The playwright says he’s never seen the real Miss Hellier before, and she claims she’s never met him. The bungalow was inhabited by yet another actress, the mistress of a wealthy city man, who was mysteriously summoned to London (along with her maid) to get her out of the way. But nothing has been taken.

All confess themselves baffled, and turn to Miss Marple, who says something like “All I know is that women should stick together.” The company departs, and Dolly and Jane go up to bed.

“Dolly,” asks Jane. “Do you think there are many like her?” Like Miss Marple, she explains. Because Miss Marple has guessed the answer to her mystery – it was all a put-up job by Jane herself. She got the actress playing her maid in the play "Smith" (Somerset Maugham) to impersonate her, while she took the part of the maid – because nobody looks at a servant. They drugged the young man, faked the burglary, and dragged the unconscious man outside. “But I’d be in her power, wouldn’t I?” she asked, meaning that the other woman could always blackmail her.

“But it’s too late now!” says Dolly. Jane explains that “it hasn’t happened YET, I was just ‘trying it on the dog’ so to speak”, to see if anyone could unravel her plot.

“But what's the point of it all?” asks Dolly, utterly baffled, as the reader will be by now. Jane explains. The actress who is living in the bungalow is the mistress of a rich city man, but earlier in her career she pinched Jane's husband: “She was the one who took Claude from me!”

“But, but...?” stammers Dolly.

“You see,” says Jane, “It would be in all the papers, and everybody would see what kind of a woman she was.”

And that’s my solution to The Case of the Vanishing Writer. Christie must have walked from the car to Guildford station, got a train to London and from there to Harrogate. She could have gone to her London flat and picked up some clothes. She must also have taken cash with her. Cash, because how could she write a cheque without using her own name? The search was all over the papers every day - if she didn’t want to disappear, why didn’t she call or telegraph to her sister?

Many years later, Christie invented her comical alter ego, Mrs Ariadne Oliver, who appears in many of her books as a sidekick to Poirot. In Third Girl, which I love despite some absurdities, Mrs Oliver sets out to shadow a young man in a café. She nips into the loo and scrapes her hair back into a bun and puts on a pair of reading glasses. He is not fooled by the disguise.

Update: I learn from Agatha Christie: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction by J.C. Bernthal that Christie gave an interview in 1926, very soon after these events, in which she describes her loss of memory, and the fun she had as "Mrs Neele", reading about her own disappearance every day and concluding that the missing mystery writer must be dead. And apparently Edgar Wallace commented at the time that the disappearance looked like a stunt that was a way of getting back at somebody.

The Companion also reveals that The Affair at the Bungalow was foreshadowed by a 1923 story The Actress (also known as A Trap for the Unwary, it appears in the collection While the Light Lasts). In this story an actress who has changed her name and identity is recognised by a blackmailer who has something on her. She uses a trick later employed in the short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, and the identity swap that later appeared in The Affair at the Bungalow. It's a good story, and more coherent than "Bungalow". (Another trick that Christie used later is the "face disguised with greasepaint that's too horrible to do more than glance at".)

Christie was always fascinated by doubles, impersonations and people who weren't who they pretended to be.

More Christie here.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Andrew Marr on Detective Fiction

This is a review of Andrew Marr's programme about popular fiction on BBC4.

Marr should have learned from his subjects how to do linear narrative. You can say “I talked to living detective story writers” without giving us a clip of their interviews. The programme gets better as it goes on, and the sets and photography are good - a soulless empty office to talk about the Kingsmarkham nick, interviewing Val McDermid across a table littered with cardboard coffee cups etc.

Agatha Christie cliché bingo: “Characters who are moved around like pieces on a chessboard… that least gritty of authors… not for nothing have these books been dismissed as snobbery with violence… murder was a genteel game as servants not clever enough to be serial killers…” (Apart from one or two...)

In Christie novels there is almost no violence - a gentle tap on the back of the head…” An old woman bludgeoned to death with the knob from a brass bedstead? Another struck down with a sugar hammer? More than one character despatched with a stiletto under the base of the skull and into the medulla oblongata?

PD James: “There are no great problems of right or wrong.” (Orient Express?)

Marr lists writers’ prior jobs, without mentioning that Christie started her working life as a nurse and pharmacist. But as for structure: “She’s dancing in front of us.”

Talking to Sophie Hannah: “I don’t terribly like Christie - I find the characters too cardboard.”

SH: “The characters are presenting themselves as two-dimensional, everyone is presenting themselves as they want to be seen. They are absolutely not two-dimensional.” (It’s like watching a film - we only see them from outside and hear what they say.)

Marr: But Christie is “cosy - there’s not much blood and guts.”

SH: “There’s a powerful awareness of evil… the danger that any one of us might cross that line.”

He repeats the usual slur that all the loose ends are tied up at the end and life goes on as usual. But if there wasn’t a solution, what would be the point of writing the book? Is there a mystery without a solution? (Ngaio Marsh’s Black as He’s Painted? Go on, tell me who did the murder.)

Previews also said Marr’s acting was appalling, but it’s not so bad. He’s OK on Scottish characters, and how else would you say “Giant Rat of Sumatra”? His Poirot is no worse than many audio Poirots. But he shouldn’t have tried to do Chandler as an American - Chandler was an Irishman brought up in England, who went to Dulwich College and sounded standard English (per recordings).

We get to social history in the last few seconds. “Historians in 100 years time… will turn to McDiarmid and Rankin. To this cheap, disposable - throwaway entertainment - that will outlast us all.”

Fantasy next time, then spies. 

Sunday 16 October 2016

Cosy English Idyll? Snobbery about Writers and Artists

All laid out by Calamity Brown...

How can The Guardian write about poet John Betjeman, painter Paul Nash and children's author Beatrix Potter? They are so popular, so English (code for “bourgeois”)! Their work forms the backbone of National Trust shops and the Past Times catalogue! (Yes, if you’re looking for raging snobs, the Guardian is the place to find them.)

As with Agatha Christie, the words "cosy English idyll" are never far away.

Reviewers of Over the Hills and Far Away, a life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison, have seized on his idea that her landscapes are all unreal because she grew up in London and the only countryside she visited was a grand house with grounds laid out by Capability Brown and deliberately old-fashioned dairies, stables etc. “Potter’s deep love of the countryside began with a visit to her Potter grandparents in Hertfordshire. The place was a rich man’s indulgence, a model estate in which olde worlde quaintness was studiously cultivated. Dennison points out that 'Beatrix’s first experience of country life… contained significant elements of sham.' The idyllic illustrations to her stories hark back to a lost paradise that didn’t exist."

How journalists love this idea! To exonerate Potter, you’d need to set pictures of the “artificial” grounds and “quaint” outbuildings next to ALL her work. (Including paradisal, idyllic scenes of sinister foxes and badgers.) Potter did her research when it came to depicting fungi and rabbits - wouldn’t she do the same for the landscape of the Lake District? In The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle the heroine Lucy leaves her village and climbs the mountain behind it - a specific mountain, Cat Bells. The illustration shows snow-covered peaks and a deep glacial valley quite unlike a Capability Brown park. A quick Google reveals that Potter’s father rented properties in Hertfordshire, and that Beatrix sketched and painted the farms and country around. The Potter grandparents’ home, Carnfield Hall, was mainly built in the 16th century and added to in the 19th - old, not “olde-worlde”. (It was later bought by Barbara Cartland.)

A sub editor (if the Guardian still has any) could have raised a query, and a recent graduate interning as a researcher could have found out all this in 20 minutes. But would you trust the biographer of an artist who got it so wrong about the actual art?

Writing about the upcoming Paul Nash retrospective at Tate Britain, the same paper recalls: “Several of the newspaper reviews of the last major Nash exhibition… in 2003 were typical in suggesting that he is best seen as part of an English tradition, that his efforts at surrealism are clunky (a Betjemanesque version of Magritte), and that the cubism he practised was merely a decorative, salon variety).” (Guardian Oct 2016) However, the review goes on to say that Nash was well aware of the modern movement and had an affair with a surrealist – and that the forthcoming show refutes this particular accusation.

As for poor old Betjeman, the Guardian really had it in for him at one time.

Saturday 15 October 2016

Grammar: Mixed Metaphors and Garbled Clichés 15

Suffocated by her clock

Is there a danger of the Conservative party getting on the wrong side of history in this argument? One must handle with kid gloves the suggestion that we should go with the flow. (Times Nov 2015)

a visceral panorama (courtesy of Sam Leith)

War clouds were brewing over Europe. (Secrets of the Manor House) (War clouds were gathering, war was brewing.)

In the pressure cooker of Europe, things are on a knife edge. (Katie Hopkins Jan 2016)

London at risk from “devastating housing bubble” X is a police officer whose marriage is in uncertain waters. ( Try “on shaky ground”.)

[Religion is a] receding pocket of ignorance. (Neil de Grasse Tyson)

high-cheeked WASP beauties (Daily Beast) (It’s high cheekbones that we aspire to.)

There's no putting Pandora back in the box! (Pandora opened a tempting box she’d been told not to touch, and released all the evils onto the world. All that remained in the box was hope.)

A lot of delusions afflicting this place will have to be confronted over the next few years. Motes will fall from eyes. (Brian Baker ‏@SciFiBaker It’s scales that fall from eyes. The “mote” proverb is about a man who tries to remove a speck of dust from someone else’s eye (the mote) but fails to see the plank in his own (the beam).)

The Blairites have used our community as a political football to smear Jeremy Corbyn.

The Unions have always been the rock, the anchor that kept the Labour Party stable on stormy seas. (Speaker on Andrew Marr. You don’t want to find a rock in stormy seas, and you wouldn’t drop anchor either.)

Beatrix Potter was in no way a wilting violet! (Countryfile That’s “shrinking violet” – tiny, hard-to-see violets were supposed to be hiding shyly under their leaves.)

A modern woman who is suddenly suffocated and strangled by her ticking clock (Young Vic Theatre ‏@youngvictheatre. I think they mean “biological clock” – ie the fact that a woman only has a short period of time in which she can have children.)

Another red herring to dangle over people’s heads
. (Ah Sweet Mystery blog You drag a red herring – on a string – across a path or trail to confuse the hounds. It’s the sword of Damocles that dangles over people’s heads.)

It's not going to be plain sailing. There will be some bumps in the road. (Tory Party conference)

More here, and links to the rest.

Inspirational Quotes 87

I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them. (Michelle Obama)

We begin relationships in raucous bars and clubs. (Darran Anderson)

Animals will do whatever it takes to win a mate. (David Attenborough)

It was apparent to me even as a child that the religion of Catholicism into which I was born was something between high kitsch, camp hysteria, sinister hierarchy and a vast Outsider Art project. (Darran Anderson)

Starting big school can be an intimidating experience for any child. (BBC Breakfast)

In the same way you can fashion a human-type figure out of a few old paper towel rolls and a cool scarf, sometimes you can fashion a friend out of a human who happens to sit nearby and also does the same job as you. (Jezebel)

The robust, unflappable confidence bordering on delusion that he and many privileged white men possess: the capacity to be rejected forty (40) times and not give up. (US poet Jenny Zhang on the white male poet who submitted poems under a Chinese woman’s name)

There are conventions about how we are supposed to dress and look in television. I have been aware, more or less since I joined the BBC... that even mild eccentricity is frowned upon. Early in my career, a very senior BB executive asked me to remove a green plastic watch. (Robert Peston, Times mag September 12, 2015. Just be yourself, eh.)

According to Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, it’s better to move somewhere new than it is to will yourself to be more creative. (Jeff Goins)

Remember, SEO is mostly complete toss. (Lee Jackson)

Some people decide to spend most of their 20s single, unattached to anyone. Others search for the right person to marry. ( Tell that to the 70s feminists who thought they had abolished marriage.)

Observe that it is a great error to believe that all mediums of art are not closely tied to their time. (Camille Pissarro)

Special request to all you kids returning to school... if you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because he/she doesn’t have many friends or because they are shy or not as pretty or not dressed in the most “in” clothes – PLEASE step up. Say hi or at least smile at them in the hallway... (Going the rounds Sept 2015)

Nearly half of all children are bullied every day at school, according to research... Seven out of ten secondary school pupils questioned said they considered changing the way they looked because they were teased, and one in four had felt suicidal because of bullies. Of the 578 adults polled, half were still affected by childhood bullying. Experts said that schools could do more to stop the problem.  (Times Sept 1 2015)

These hotels [where we met] were no longer perched on rocks in California — they had become large, anonymous buildings in the city I was born... There was something about the shape of the body in the chair... and the way he was sitting at the table outside, looking fixedly at the duck pond, that did not look hopeful.  (On being a mistress, Times, June 2015)

Is that what you’re starting to do with me? Just slow fade me out? Just like the others? (Girl undergoing a public break-up on a plane.)

A girl from a fairground family went to Oxford. She admits she was out of her depth, trying to pick up the rules as she went along. “You kind of have to infer it and appreciate they are different... you understand and pick up things. I just thought, ‘I’d better keep my mouth shut and absorb stuff so that I’ll be more prepared for the next time.’ And I was. But it is a learning experience.”

Casual sex is something of a misnomer, for women at least. Generally, if a woman likes a man enough to have sex with him, she hopes that it will lead to something more, and only a tiny minority enter sexual liaisons with the express intention of having a one-night stand. (Suzie Godson)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Brexit Euphemisms 3

Metropolitan bubble

"Labour has attracted voters who hold views on immigration, welfare and patriotism at odds with public opinion." Erm, don't they mean mainstream or simply conservative public opinion? (Charles Holland quoting the Guardian Nov 2015)

Let's just agree, as point of fact, that moving freely in Europe is not an "abuse" of free movement. It is free movement. (‏@IanDunt)

“I am sensitive to issues of immigration.” Tony Blair

The working classes are supposedly anti-metropolitan (read: anti-immigration) (LRB)

Man on BBC News ranting: “I’m a Cornish fisherman! A CORNISH FISHERMAN! You can take your luvvie friends and banker friends....” (I think he meant “I’m voting OUT.”)

The intolerable arrogance of the EU elites. (Michael Gove)

Stewart Jackson MP calls Sarah Wollaston “flaky” – she left the Leave campaign and changed sides because of their persistent lies over figures.

[Boomers] are angry about Brussels bureaucrats, national identity and democracy, even though it’s quite difficult to get specific (and true) examples of what they mean. They are angry about immigration, even though a lot of them don’t live in high immigration areas. (

That woman who said despite his French roots Farage is an English gentleman and it's all about culture which is being diluted... (Question Time)

We haven’t got the facts and figures. They haven’t given us the information. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

This is why they’re trying to depose Jeremy Corbyn – he refused to be racist enough. The real nature of the complaint is of course buried in metaphor; the preferred euphemism is electability. (

There are many millions of people in the UK who do not enthuse about diversity and do not embrace metropolitan values yet do not consider themselves lesser human beings for all that. Until their values and opinions are acknowledged and respected, rather than ignored and despised, our present discord will persist. (BBC internal memo)

Progress. Apparently when it comes to "very real concerns" and "respecting the result", liberal thinktanks have a limit and it's deportation. (Dan Davies ‏@dsquareddigest)

Brexit bingo (from Very Brexit Problems)Immigrants!!!
£350 million
Our destiny
World war 3
Project Fear
Sour grapes
Muslamic ray guns
Get over it
Faceless bureaucrats
Get our country back
Blue passport
Defend our borders
I’m not a racist but...
Take back control
Normal, decent people
Free trade
They don’t speak English
Straight bananas
Didn’t think my vote would count
Make Britain great

I love how everything that isn't troglodytic dog whistle bigotry is automatically "rabidly left wing". (@AlexPaknadel)

The mainstream media is the part of the media that expresses opinions different to yours. (Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks)

"The people" n. 1. The people who agree with me. (@BDSixsmith)

Few things sum up the post-factual political climate better than all the racists arguing that racism isn't really on the rise. (James O'Brien ‏@mrjamesob)

Racists racistly explaining that it isn't racist to be racist, etc. (@hugorifkind)

And making hilarious memes showing that calling a racist a racist is proof that they're not actually racist. (@mrjamesob)

What have non-white sub-groups contributed to civilization, asks Republican Steve King.

"This Tweet is unavailable" = "I've inadvertently said something racist". (Or “I thought I could get away with being racist”) (Sathnam Sanghera ‏@Sathnam)

Britain more worried abt immigration than any major country (Ben Page, Ipsos MORI @benatipsosmori)

Think you mean 'Britain more racist'. (@How_Upsetting)

Today's headlines make a lot more sense if you read 'patriotic' as 'racist'. (Dean Burnett ‏@garwboy Oct 12 2016)

Is "liberal elite" the new code word for "not a complete bellend" ? If so, I'm in. (@mrdavidwhitley)

I don't find patriotism or anti-immigrant arguments "distasteful" or "parochial". I find them racist and wrong. (Charlotte L. Riley ‏@lottelydia)

Increasingly fear "we need to accept result and make Brexit work" = "we need to sit back and accept bigotry, hatred, division, intolerance". (@Sathnam)

Last week of Sept 2016, Rachel Reeves MP says that attacks on Poles mean that Poles should go home (paraphrase). She tweets: “Immigration has brought UK many benefits. But we need to recognise people’s concerns & have honest debate re migration/freedom of movement.”

David Whitley replies: We’ve had this “honest debate” for a decade. The answer is that said concerns are complete bollocks, but you’re not honest enough to say it. There’s a wealth of evidence. It just contradicts what people want to believe. That’s the problem. Not all “concerns” are valid ones. It’s a euphemism for “ungrounded prejudice” here.

Simple-minded ideologue who thinks in absolutes:
historian saying the British Empire was a bad thing. (@fordebirds on historian @lottelydia Charlotte L. Riley)

[The right] said we should "take back control" but what they wanted was more control for certain groups! (RABaker ‏@LaughingDevil)

Saying "dog whistle" and "divisive" rather than "racist", "white supremacist" or "fascist" is part of the problem. (David Whitley ‏@mrdavidwhitley)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Brexit Euphemisms 2

Metropolitan bubble

community cohesion
concerns about immigration

hate crimes
honest debate about immigration

I just want everything to go back to how it was before.

I’m only saying what everybody’s thinking.
I’m not “racist”, I’m “anti-immigration”.

indigenous British people

influx of migrants

legitimate concerns

liberal elite
mass immigration
mixed area
Multiculturalism has failed.

ordinary decent people
political correctness

real world outside the liberal metropolitan multicultural bubble

respect our values
take back control
The English lack a national identity.

the hardworking men and women who built this country

We aren't being listened to.
We must value our own culture.

We need a strong sense of national identity.
Why can’t we discuss immigration?

Words are just a collection of letters. People choose to be offended. What matters is the intention of the speaker: I am going to go on being racist and abusive.

This has always been a Christian country: This has always been a white country. (Some Africans and people from the Middle East have been here since the Romans, say archaeologists. The Anglo-Saxons used to worship Odin. And Christianity started off in Palestine.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 3 October 2016

Clichés about Agatha Christie

The Times today (3 Oct 2016). I am going to type it out because it makes me SO ANGRY.... (Look out for caps.)

Agatha Christie's phenomenally popular novels ARE BEST APPRECIATED ON THE SCREEN
In the pantheon of bestselling novelists, none stands taller than Agatha Christie. As the author of 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections and six pseudonymous romance novels, she has sold about 1 billion copies in English and another billion in 44 other languages.

Christie is now to be adapted FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. At least four feature films and a new BBC adaptation are planned. That is just as well for aficionados of Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple and the rest: A STYLISH VISUAL ADAPTATION IS THE BEST THING THAT CAN BE DONE WITH THIS OEUVRE given that the NOVELS THEMSELVES ARE, IN THE MAIN, PRETTY DREARY.

In an elegant monograph a few years ago on the art of detective fiction, the late PD James observed, WITH GENEROUS UNDERSTATEMENT that Christie's "greatest strength WAS THAT SHE NEVER OVERSTEPPED THE LIMITS OF HER TALENT". That talent, in Baroness James's judgement, was to create an ingenious puzzle. IT DID NOT LIE IN CHARACTERISATION OR AN INSIGHT INTO THE HUMAN CONDITION. When the identity of a murderer is revealed, THE VILLAGE OR COMMUNITY WHERE THE OUTRAGE IS PERPETRATED GOES RIGHT BACK TO WHAT IT WAS. IT IS A COSY ENGLISH IDYLL.

Christie's reputation for ingenuity in truth rests on not very much: primarily the plots of
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (where [spoiler deleted]) and Murder on the Orient Express (where [spoiler deleted]). In other novels, THE PLOT DEVICES CREAK. The murderer in Death on the Nile relies on precise timing and [spoiler deleted].

THE BEST OF CHRISTIE IS IN THE INCIDENTAL PERIOD DETAILS OF RICH SCREEN ADAPTATION... A new generation will be able to appreciate the sleuths' latest big-budget incarnations, THEREBY DIVERTING THEM FROM THE PAUCITY OF THE PLOTS.

Let's answer those points one by one.

1. As with Jane Austen, much of the pleasure of reading Christie is provided by the witty, ironic narrative voice.

2. Why is everyone adapting these "dreary" novels?

3. Generous understatement? Or damning with faint praise?

4. Perhaps you don't like being told that "Human nature is much the same everywhere" and "Everyone is very like each other, but perhaps fortunately, they don't know it".

5. Village life is unchanged by murder - this one goes back to the mid-last century. And if I read the words "cosy idyll" once more in this context I shall go berserk.

6. Christie's novels are also rich in social observation and history – it's there in the books and does not need to be added as "period detail" by patronising young set dressers.

7. This writer does not even know what "paucity" means. (Scarcity, not poverty.)

8. Me lud, the prosecution rests.

I think the article translates as "We've got to say something about all these new Christie adaptations. She was very popular and sold a lot of copies so she can't be any good. I really must read one of her books some time. Plus we've got to big up the new thing and sell lots of tickets."

And giving away the solutions to her two most famous puzzles – good grief!

Update: I'm looking forward to Andrew Marr's programme on pulp fiction (including covers). Here's what the Times TV preview has to say:

"The less good news is that the series kicks off with the crime novel - a less satisfying programme than the later one about espionage... Agatha Christie's reassuring intellectual puzzles filled with cardboard characters moved around like chess pieces just don't have the same fascination."

More Christie misconceptions here, and links to the rest.