Agatha Christie is without parallel.
I never name Christie when I am asked to name influences, and very few authors every do; but I simply take her influence as assumed. I don't trust any crime writer who has never read Christie, and those who smugly assert that her work hasn't influenced theirs is simply unaware. She literally did almost everything, whether it was unreliable narrators, thrillers, international intrigue, country home murders, small town murders, cozies, private eyes, Gothic noir, serial killers...you name a kind of crime novel, and a Christie aficionado will instantly name a short story, a novel, or a play she wrote that fits the bill. I first discovered her on the wire paperback racks at the Zayre's in Bolingbrook; the first book of hers I read was Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories; the first novel A Murder is Announced. I tore through all of her books as quickly as I could afford to buy them or check them out of the library; she was still alive and writing when I first started reading her. She died when I was a teenager, and I was bereft, but there was a terrific backlist for me to get through still. There are any number of her books that I would list as favorites, but one particular favorite is And Then There Were None.
Paul and I recently watched the BBC version, which was incredibly well done. I loved the novel, still do; rewatching the show made me pick up my battered old copy and reread it. It's wonderful, and frankly, the BBC film version is incredibly well done, and they didn't change the ending.
I've often seen Christie detractors claim her characters were cardboard stereotypes, among other criticisms. I've never quite understood where many of those criticisms have come from; almost every Christie book is based in human psychology; why people behave the way they do. Nowhere is this more evident than in And Then There Were None, which is all about psychology. I don't know if this was the first book in which all the characters were marooned somewhere, cut-off from the rest of the world, and possibly with a murderer, but it is certainly one of the best. The title--and all the murders--come from a nursery rhyme.
The book was originally published with the title of the original poem: Ten Little N*words; which her American publisher changed to And Then There Were None. As the n*word came to be more and more offensive, both the nursery rhyme and the book were adapted to Ten Little Indians...which, of course, in recent generations has also proven offensive, so in the BBC version, it was changed to "Ten Little Soldiers."
As we watched, I couldn't help but wonder if this adaptation would be true to the ending of the book, or if, like earlier adaptations, the ending would be changed. Despite the change to Christie's ending, I've always been a fan of the 1945 version, with Barry Fitzgerald and the always terrific Judith Anderson.
There was a remake, moved from the island to a ski lodge, made in either the 1960's or 1970's, which also used the end from the 1945 version.
That version was terrible.
The problem, of course, with using the original ending of the Christie novel is most of it is internal dialogue, as the character--the last little soldier--is overwhelmed by guilt and memory. The other problem, of course, back in 1945 was making a film with a happy ending with justice done--which was part of the Production Code; the guilty must always be punished. The genius of the Christie novel was no one was innocent--she gave the reader no one to really root for, and in the 1940's, you simply couldn't make that kind of film. The result was that two of the characters were made to fall in love--there was an attraction between them in the book, but nothing further--and they conspired together to outwit and catch the killer in the end.
That isn't how the book ends, and as the show progressed, it became more and more apparent to me that the BBC adaptation was going to follow Christie. In the novel, there are several different point of view characters, but Vera, the young woman who is always at the center of the films (of course) is truly drawn beautifully by Christie in the novel; she is a woman who has done a terrible thing and feels horribly guilty about it. Everyone--all ten of the little soldiers--are murderers who have gotten away with their crimes; which is why they are invited on this trip, and why they are targeted by the murderer to finally get the justice they have evaded. SO, you see the problem the filmmakers had: if everyone is guilty and has gotten away with it, you have to make at least one of the murder charges false...and that undercuts the validity of the story.
And why, WHY was I not aware of Aidan Turner before?
The novel is absolutely brilliant in how the tension and suspense builds; when the characters slowly begin to realize there is no escaping the island and they are being targeted, one by one...it's quite chilling and diabolical.
Now I want to reread my favorite Christies: Death on the Nile, Death Comes as the End, A Murder is Announced, Endless Night, Murder at the Vicarage, The Secret of Chimneys, N or M?, The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad, Murder on the Orient Express...
Oh, for more time.
And now, back to the spice mines.