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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Tribute to the Queen of Crime

If Daphne du Maurier had written only Rebecca, she would still be one of the great shapers of popular culture and the modern imagination. Few writers have created more magical and mysterious places than Jamaica Inn and Manderley, buildings invested with a rich character that gives them a memorable life of their own.

In many ways the life of Daphne du Maurier resembles that of a fairy tale. Born into a family with a rich artistic and historical background, the daughter of a famous actor-manager, she was indulged as a child and grew up enjoying enormous freedom from financial and parental restraint. She spent her youth sailing boats, travelling on the Continent with friends, and writing stories. A prestigious publishing house accepted her firs
...moreHow do you write a blog about a woman who influenced your life—without slighting another woman with equal influence?  And if you don’t write a blog about relatives/family members/friends, how do you honor a single female when there are so many greats who have paved the way for everything from women’s suffrage to females on the space shuttle?

Easy, you write about writing—and get very specific.  Thus, (coward that I am) I pay homage to the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (née Miller). After all, we writers (and readers) of who-dunnits cannot even imagine a world with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.
Even if you’re not a mystery-enthusiast, you have to admire a female born in 1890 who became the best-selling novelist of all times (Source: Guinness Book of World Records). Agatha wrote 66 detective novels and has sold four billion (Yes, BILLION) copies of her books.  Her play, The Mousetrap, also holds the record for the longest initial run. It opened in 1952 and as of 2012, is still running.

Of course no woman is worthy of recognition just for selling books, but Aggie was also a humanitarian.  During the First World War, she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and clocked 3,400 unpaid hours attending wounded soldiers at the hospital in Torquay.

Young Aggie
Like a lot of modern woman, Agatha endured heartache before finding true love. She divorced first hubby Archie (maybe because the cad admitted to being in love with Nancy Neele). But we have our HEA—in 1930 (at the age of 40) she married an archaeologist after joining him on a dig—isn’t that romantic?
But perhaps the thing I like most about Agatha, is her restraint in killing off her popular hero, Poirot. According to Aggie’s diary, our grand dame found Poirot “insufferable.” Although she considered him an ego-centric creep, the author didn’t whack the detective during the height of his popularity.  Aggie felt her job was to give the readers what they wanted (eh, can we learn something here). That said, Poirot is the only fictional character with an obituary in The New York Times.

Despite her greatness, critics have commented that Aggies’s plotting ability  exceeded her literary skill. I say, “Duh—four BILLION books.”
What about you? What authors do you love that critics have panned?

Robin Weaver
Author of Blue Ridge Fear
Now available at and


Judith Ashley said...

Hi Robin, Agatha Christie is a favorite of mine - although I've not read her books, I've seen the movies and t.v. shows based on her books especially on PBS. Thanks for sharing more about her personal life!

Right now I can't think of a favorite author whose books were panned by critics and that may be because I don't read reviews! Since what we read and watch is so personal (there are dozens of popular televisions shows I've never watched: Friends, Seinfield, Survivor, etc.) I'm sure there are books I love that would be turn offs to others.

Paty Jager said...

HI Robin, i'm a huge Agatha Christie fan. Her mysteries kept me enthralled and up late many nights early in my marriage when my husband was a truck driver and I was left at home for days at a time with small children. I loved her plotting prowess and the first book I wrote was a mystery.

I'm slowly getting back to my first love this next year by starting a mystery series.

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Robin, thank you for spotlighting such a wonderful author. I read Agatha Christy mysteries throughout college and was impressed with her plotting. The puzzles were fun to try to work out ahead of the tell-all at the end of each book.

In terms of other authors and their reviews, I often find I don't enjoy many books that become NYT bestsellers. (I do download those in my genre to try to figure out why they made the list) Other books which get many 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5, stars end up becoming my favorites. Reading, plots, characters, issues are so much a part of personal taste that I don't really trust reviews. Thank goodness the digital age is here. It allows a market for those of us who love cross-genre books that might not be picked up by traditional publishers.

Robin Weaver said...

Maggie, I'm in full agreement about NYT bestsellers. May of my favs onl
y get 3 stars too.

Ashantay said...

Agatha rocks! Critics don't!

Christy Carlyle said...

Agatha Christie is one of my favorite writers. I do love the TV adaptations of her work, but I also thoroughly enjoy reading her stories. I actually have several hardback copies and they occupy a special space on my bookshelf. Thanks for highlighting her and some of aspects of her life and writing that made her great.

Another of my favorite writers is Stephen King. Is it weird for a romance writer to adore a horror writer? I don't think it's such a stretch, but I sometimes hear him criticized as not being quite "literary" enough. He is superb at characterization, plotting, dialogue, setting—every aspect of craft that we all strive to master. So, in my book, he's a great writer.

Thanks again for this post, Robin.