A campaign is under way to champion the work of British crime writer Agatha Christie. But with two billion books sold worldwide, why bother? The best-selling fiction author of all time, named as such in the Guinness Book of Records, should need no publicity push. But fans of whodunit expert Agatha Christie say she has never fully gained the respect of her native country, where the view persists in some quarters that she's not actually that good. Novelist Anthony Burgess, for example, accused her of flimsy characterisation and cliché, and the Oxford Companion to English Literature notes her "undistinguished style" and "slight characterisation".
No such criticism in other parts of the world, including France, where literary giants Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco have praised aspects of her work. In recent years, sales of Christie's books in France have outstripped those in the UK by four to one, while US schoolchildren study her work. But on the 75th anniversary of one of her most famous creations, Miss Marple, the Devon-born novelist and playwright, who died in 1976, is being relaunched in the UK by Chorion, which owns her brand and estate. A week of Agatha Christie celebrations is under way with a debate on her legacy at the British Library and a campaign to include her on the national curriculum. New television and theatre adaptations are in production. But is this inflating the importance of what some consider merely a good read? What can modern readers learn from a world where an eccentric private detective unmasks a killer, in a genteel society with a sinister underbelly?
I remember watching the BBC Miss Marple shows, no car chases, no running, just a little old lady thinking things through while tending to her garden and visiting friends. It did occur to me later that Miss Marple could be a closet serial killer because people drop like flies whenever she turns up.