Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets From Her Notebooks

BOOK: Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets From Her Notebooks
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Agatha Christie:
MURDER IN THE MAKING

More Stories and Secrets
from Her Notebooks

JOHN CURAN

From Notebook 4 a tantalising glimpse of a project, never realised,
from the 1960s. See
Unused Ideas Three.

Dedication

For Mathew, Lucy and Mahler, without whom . . .

Contents

 

 

 

 

Foreword

When John Curran’s book
Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks
was published in 2009, the reading public was given something very rare: perhaps the most complete document by any author of the notes and sketches of his or her work. Reading the book was like studying the preliminary sketches of any great artist, and in doing so we automatically found ourselves searching for clues. It gave us an insight into the workings of Agatha Christie’s mind—plus the gift of two new unpublished Poirot stories!

Now we have
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making
. In this truly fascinating book, John Curran not only gives us the facts of what is written in Mrs. Christie’s notebooks, he also uses conjecture firmly based upon these facts to show us how her remarkable novels came to be written. He even manages to get into her mind and into her psychology. He studies her life and her relationships (both personal and professional), and places these facts together with what is in her “secret” notebooks to inform us how she wrote and how her writings were influenced by her daily life and the current affairs of the time.

Poirot is often heard to exclaim to Hastings, “The facts, Hastings . . . the facts!” These for Poirot are the most important matters to “arrange.” And now John Curran in his
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making
becomes himself the veritable Hercule—well . . . almost!

David Suchet
September 2011

Preface
Victoria Station, March 1931

Although she is by now an experienced traveller, the sights, sounds and even smells of the great railway station never fail to excite her. This is the start of her journey and she takes a moment to savour the sense of anticipation that bustling railway stations have always engendered in her – harassed and luggage-laden passengers hurrying along platforms, imperious-looking porters issuing instructions and shouting to invisible colleagues, the great trains snorting and bellowing clouds of smoke. She walks purposefully along the continental platform and hails a porter. As soon as she is installed in her seat she has an opportunity to observe, at her leisure, her fellow passengers. She can’t help speculating about the life of these strangers with whom she is to share a few hours in close proximity. This covert observation has, by now, become almost an occupational hazard and provided she is left to her own devising it’s all potential material. Now let’s see . . .

 

The moth-eaten looking man sitting opposite . . .
studying his railway timetable and jotting down the details as he turns the pages could be . . . an office worker planning his holiday? a Civil Servant checking a business trip? a salesman plotting his sales route? His only luggage is a smallish case . . . probably for his samples . . . too small for encyclopaedias . . . brushes, perhaps, or . . . pens or . . . hosiery?

And that very handsome young man opposite . . . reading . . . what, exactly? It’s not a book . . . or a magazine . . . it seems to be typed pages, loosely bound, printed on only one side of the page and laid out very specifically. And he is studying it intensely and underlining sections of it . . . a business report? A manuscript perhaps and he’s correcting it? No . . . the corrections seem too regular. Ah, I’ve got it – it’s a script and he’s marking his lines . . . he’s an actor and that makes sense . . . matinee-idol good looks.

The older, haughty-looking woman in the far corner
. . .
seems to be waiting for someone, as evidenced both by her exasperated demeanour and by the continual checking of her wristwatch and her scanning of the platform for . . . her husband? No . . . no wedding ring . . . a friend, maybe . . . a travelling companion?

A harassed-looking older woman, struggling with a fox terrier on a lead and carrying a suitcase, a handbag, an umbrella and an assortment of magazines, hurries along the platform. In response to an imperious gesture she clambers into the carriage, managing to drop the magazines as she does so. Any lingering doubt as to her status is removed by the recriminations which follow.

Yes, definitely a companion . . . almost certainly a paid companion . . . nobody else would accept that sort of abuse.

At last, to the accompaniment of final shouts and whistles, the train glides out of the station and passengers settle down for the journey. As London begins to disappear her thoughts turn to the reunion ahead of her in a few days. Although married six months ago she has not seen her husband for almost four of those months. And despite a constant flow of letters in both directions she is anxious that, when they finally meet again, there should be no awkwardness. She knows that the best remedy for worry is work and she can easily and unobtrusively do some here where she sits.

 

And goodness knows, there is no shortage of potential material; just look around this carriage . . . and I want to get down that idea about Ruth Draper . . . very clever performance . . . complete transformation in a few seconds . . . must take lots of practice and endless rehearsals . . . which also reminds me . . .

Reaching into her bag, she produces a small, black-covered notebook. She opens it, idly noting that Rosalind has already tried to appropriate it by the simple expedient of writing her name and address on the inside cover – ‘Rosalind Christie, Ashfield, Torquay, Devon’. A further search produces a fountain pen. Unscrewing the top of the pen, she opens the notebook, flattens the pages and begins to read what she has already written.

 

Ideas 1931

Book

Poirot and a crime

a closed circle – one of them did it – he knows which – but now . . .

Could Why Didn’t they ask Evans fit in?

Hmm . . . can’t really remember much about this ‘closed circle’ . . . and ‘Poirot and a crime’ is not much help . . . probably full of ideas at the beginning of the year. Evans, Evans . . . that rings a bell although I don’t think I settled on any particular idea . . . although haven’t I got an Evans in Sittaford? . . . Let’s see . . .

She turns the page and continues reading, noting the underlined qualification at the beginning.

 

Tentative

Old lady (or man) sends for P – in a state of coma when he arrives

Last words – Poirot is left to find out

Evans (maid)

Also Evans (gardener)

and Evans – a baker or butcher or tradesman . . .

Oh, yes, of course . . . the last words of someone who is dying and they make no sense . . . not even to me at the moment, I must admit . . . but distinct possibilities here . . . infinite ones, in fact. I could have a lot of fun with this. Should it be another case for Miss M? . . . it sounds village-y, and Miss M would know about maids and gardeners and tradesmen. Although I haven’t given Poirot an airing since . . . let’s see . . . Blue Train, I think . . . and that was at least three years ago. Yes, that was his last case . . . of course End House will remedy that next . . . what did Edmund tell me . . . next February I think . . . Anyway, didn’t I have a blood-covered butcher in one of those Big Four episodes . . . and a baker seems an unlikely possibility . . . a gardener, perhaps. But would it carry a book or should I use it as just an element of a plot . . . or a short story maybe . . . although it would look great as a title: ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’

She leaves ‘Evans’ for a moment, looks up and stares absent-mindedly at the passing countryside. Outside snow is still lying on many of the fields, a fleeting reminder of the snowbound setting
of yet-to-be-published
The Sittaford Mystery
. She returns to her notebook and turns the page.

 

Yes, here we are . . . I knew I jotted down a note somewhere . . . this one I
do
remember . . .

 

Idea for book

Murder utterly motiveless

Because dead man and murderer

Unacquainted –

Reason – a rehearsal

I’m sure this is really original but it needs careful treatment. Let’s leave that for the moment . . . not sure where to go from there . . . tricky set-up but I think the idea is promising . . . worth thinking about it carefully . . .

She looks speculatively again at the final word of the note and then glances across at the good-looking man opposite, still ostensibly studying his script.

 

My good-looking friend is examining his reflection in the window . . . he knows the young girl opposite is watching him . . . seems to enjoy it . . . used to people watching him . . . matinee-idol good looks . . . matinee . . . actor . . . rehearsal. How about an actor for the murder-as-rehearsal idea? Seems to make sense . . . but victim or murderer? Mmm . . . possibilities here although I’m not sure of carrying off a theatre milieu. Maybe just an actor and his social circle . . .

She turns another page and looks reminiscently at what she has previously written.

 

Man stabbed in room – everyone there – behind screen – gagged first.

Man induced to hide in other man’s rooms (his wife coming there) has tea first (drugged)

Hmmm, yes, that one we all wrote . . . was it last year? . . . the body found behind the screen when the blood flowed out from beneath it . . . lots of people in the room. Blood on the Screen or Under the Screen or something . . . Trouble with those combined efforts . . . you have to remember that someone else is going to take over after you so you can’t do everything, or even anything, you want . . . Dorothy always wants it all very structured and organised . . . I can’t really work under those circumstances and I think I can do something else with that same basic idea . . .

 

Man hides in chest – (but bores hole to see through) has previously had a dinner with friend . . .

Must finish this off . . . Edmund is sure
The Strand
will take it . . . which would be nice . . . and I have most of it sketched here . . . just a matter of writing it up. But I want to get Ruth Draper down on paper.

She flicks through a few pages until she finds a blank one, unscrews the top of her pen, writes and firmly underlines:

 

Book

Man Killed – says Jane Wilkinson (actress) beautiful amoral – ‘Only way is for me to kill him’

Carlotta Adams – her imitations – (including Jane) ‘Would do anything for money’

Crime discovered – either victim says it was Jane – or man servant saw her – or girl secretary saw her

However, Jane has alibi – quite unbreakable – dinner

Carlotta Adams also dies – before Poirot can see her – a simple poison

Right, that’s my basic situation
.
Now I wonder if I could work in the ‘Evans’ dying words
idea, if the victim says Jane’s name . . . and I could call one of the servants Evans . . . must be careful about Poirot not getting to see Carlotta before she dies . . . now, some more detail . . .

 

An actress Jane W comes to see Poirot – engaged to Duke of Merton

Martin Squire – pleasant hearty young fellow – an admirer of Miss Wilkinson’s – he is seen next evening having supper with Carlotta

Lord Mountcarlin

Other man (Duke? Millionaire?)

Bryan Martin actor in films with her

Lord Mountcarlin’s nephew Ronnie West (debonair Peter Wimseyish)

Miss Carroll Margaret Carroll middle-aged woman

A Miss Clifford

Not convinced about some of those names but I can remedy that later . . . ‘Evans’ is still a possibility but I’m not sure in which capacity . . . and I need some more suspects . . . what about the old reliable, the butler? or maybe a maid of Carlotta’s? And I think I’d better have Japp, especially if I set it in London . . . which is the most likely possibility if I have theatres and actors and actresses and rehearsals . . . he could be the official investigator. Rehearsals . . . now, I wonder . . . should I combine Ruth Draper and the rehearsal idea . . . or are they each good enough to carry a book on their own? I think they are . . .

 

Japp comes to see Poirot – threats – P says quietly ‘Who heard them?’ – J hedges? But perfect alibi – party Amersham

She pauses briefly and considers what she has written, reflecting on possible opening scenes. Turning the page she continues covering the smaller-than-usual pages in flowing, black handwriting.

Now, the actual events from the beginning . . .

 

Sequence

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 . . .

Enter Bryan (and CA) JW has gone into bedroom . . .

Next JW herself – her account – the telephone call . . .

With Jenny Driver – called for her – 8.30 – and took her out for evening . . .

Immersed mentally in the West End of night clubs and theatres and hat shops and dinner parties, she fails to notice the train slowing down until it jerks to a stop and her pen stabs the page. Glancing up briefly, she notes the approach of the ticket collector and reaches into her handbag to retrieve her ticket. Anxious to return to Jane and Carlotta and Miss Carroll, she begins a new page.

 

She is relieved? or disappointed. P asks if he can see Miss Carroll . . .

Her pen falters and she shakes it impatiently; a large splash of black ink obliterates most of the page.

Oh, what a mess . . . how can I mop it up? . . . no, I’ll just tear it out completely and start again . . . luckily, it’s a new page and I won’t lose the back . . .

‘Tickets, please.’

Distracted, she tears the page from the notebook and produces her ticket, noting idly that the official has a button missing from his uniform.

‘Thank you, Ma’am.’

 

Now, where was I? . . . Poirot was about to question Jenny . . . no, Miss Carroll . . . and he was talking to . . . let me check . . .

She unfurls the discarded, blotted page and studies it.

 

he is relieved

. . . who is? . . . was he not talking to . . . Oh, I see what’s happened . . . I didn’t remove it completely . . . there’s still some of the first word left in the notebook . . . makes quite a difference . . . now, I wonder . . .

She stares out the carriage window but instead of snow-covered countryside she sees Poirot, clutching a letter with a torn edge, gesticulating and explaining excitedly to Hastings, who merely looks bewildered, completely missing the vital point. She picks up her pen once more and while the idea is fresh in her mind dashes down her inspiration – an inspiration that will hang the murderer of Lord Edgware.

 

P looking at letter –

He
had
to tear it – you see?

I see nothing . . .

Letter . . . suggesting the letter was
She
. . .

BOOK: Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets From Her Notebooks
12.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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