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M. Robert Grunwald

Award-winning playwright and author

The Case of the 66 Novels

One summer in college, I read Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians, aka (I found out years later) Ten Little N*****s (!) Like countless readers worldwide, I fell in love with her style and storycraft. I fully intended to read more of her books, but never got around to it.

Fast forward 32 years. I finally added The Body in the Library, another of her Miss Marple mysteries, to my Kindle. None of Christie's books are very long, so I finished it in a few hours. That evening, I borrowed the audiobook of Appointment with Death to my Overdrive account (more on this later), and this is where I was finally hooked. Hugh Fraser, who played genius detective Hercule Poirot's trusted friend Captain Hastings on the long-running Poirot TV series, was a perfect narrator (he no doubt picked up a great voice for Poirot working alongside David Suchet for all those years). I went through another three Christie/Fraser/Poirot audiobooks in the week that followed.

This was last September, when the "new project" phase of the COVID lockdown had come and gone and I was restless for something to do. Wikipedia informed me that Agatha Christie wrote 66 mystery novels in her long and prolific career, so I set upon a goal to read all of them by the same time this year, finishing it up with a reread of And Then There Were None. In addition to the audiobooks, I borrowed a bunch of Kindle editions through Overdrive, reading several aloud to my wife (I do a passable Miss Marple, but my Hercule Poirot is dreadful). I recently put to bed The Secret of Chimneys, number 46 on my list. It's been a great way to keep from going crazy, and it'll be one more "fun fact" about me if and when the good people at "Jeopardy" call me to L.A. (see my earlier post).

I'm not a mystery buff on the whole. While I enjoy them to an extent, I find that mystery readers tend to devour the genre, and I've never felt that compulsion. Maybe Dame Agatha just plucks the right chord with my whole Anglophile thing, maybe it's because of the fun she so obviously has with her material. I didn't know until I got deep into her stuff, for example, that she's incredibly meta in her writing. An alter-ego mystery author named Ariadne Oliver appears from time to time in her books, dissing the state of the genre and issuing mea culpas that she has made in her own works, all of which were mistakes Christie legitimately made in her own books. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot both lament the way in which mystery writers make their cases too pat or obvious. And she routinely draws attention to the fact that none of her recurring characters seem to age whether they appear in a 1925 novel or one from 1970. All of this tells me that it's the writer, not the genre, that's really got me hooked here.

Before I go, I want to draw attention one last time to Overdrive. If you don't have this wonderful app on your phone or tablet, get it. Sign up for your local library (it doesn't matter if you already have a library card or not; the app will help set you up with one), browse, and start reading on your Kindle or listening through Audible, all totally free. Nearly all their materials can be checked out for up to three weeks, and you can place holds, renew books, and make acquisition requests to your local library. It's a fantastic way to catch up on a lot of reading without spending a dime. I can't recommend it enough.

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