A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

There are very few perfect beginnings to a story. Beginnings which move through images at the same rate as they move through text, rolling into a plot detectibly, sensibly, unhurriedly. A boy, for example, making the rounds on his bicycle, delivering the daily papers:

…At Colonel and Mrs Easterbrook’s, he delivered The Times and the Daily Graphic. At Mrs Sweatenham’s he left The Times and The Daily Worker. At Miss Hingecliff’s and Miss Murgatroyd’s he left The Daily Telegraph and The News Chronicle. At Miss Blacklocke’s, he left The Telegraph, The Times and The Daily Mail. At all these houses, and indeed in practically every house in Chipping Cleghorn, he delivered every Friday, a copy of the North Benom News and The Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, known simply as The Gazette. Thus on Friday mornings, after a hurried glance at the headlines in the daily paper…. most of the inhabitants of Chipping Cleghorn eagerly opened the Gazette and plunged into the local news. After a cursory glance at correspondence, in which the passionate hates and feuds of rural life found full play, most of the subscribers then turned to the local column.

We can easily sketch in our mind a series of houses, in front of which stand assorted sizes of mailbox, and in which kitchens sit the inhabitants of this happy English village, eating their singular English breakfasts, reading the headlines, the correspondence, the local news, and then, more likely than not, the Classifieds, in which are published up to the minute or almost up to the minute ads, as relevant and localizable as Tweets. Agatha Christie's A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED

Whisper to the Blood by Dana Stabenow read by Marguerite Gavin

A town is the scene of what people do, become and have.

Stabenow describes happy slow small towns with unusual people who are ever so slightly insane. Who might shoot people over candy bars, or murder them in quaint hotel rooms or share fried bread with a wolf.

There are towns with female elders called “Aunties” who have outlived five or six husbands each, speak English as their third or fourth language, and who have enthusiastically and indiscriminately adopted every stray idiot that crossed their path. They have walnut brown cheeks, wear gold rickrack and are poised between misdemeanors.

Some of these towns are north and some are norther. It is cold:

He wore a balaclava and a knit cap, inside hood Gortex pro shell, ski pants, Patagonia capilene, beneath down parka guaranteed to 20 degrees (below), surround caribous guaranteed to 20 below…

Some are situated where there would be gold if it could be mined. And here there are problems.

Agatha Christie The Hollow read by Hugh Fraser

Have a bit of Christie as social chronicler, as drawing room critic of a leisure class which presents itself as a platform of unemployment. It is 1946 and the Angkatells are gathered togethered, after the murder. Lucy, the mistress of cognitive deviations, Henrietta, clever, independent and detached, Midge, dark, square shaped, and poor, David, a spoiled, sour intellectual, and Edward, the reluctant, bony, undeserving heir.

It is quite obvious that the notion of work is odd, uncertain, and turning: the way milk turns. “Is the woman sympathetic and pleasant to work for?,” Edward asks Midge. “If you must have a job you must take one where the surroundings are harmonious and where you like the people you are working with.”

But how does one explain the notion of work to an heir?

How to explain to a person like Edward… What did Edward know of the labour market, of jobs, They were all divided from her by an impassible gulf: the gulf that separates the leisured from the working. They had no conception of the difficulties of getting a job. And once you had got it, of keeping it… She had found a job for herself at 4 pounds a week… Midge had no particular illusions about working. She disliked the shop. She disliked Madame Alfredge. She disliked the eternal subservience to ill tempered and impolite customers. She doubted very much whether she could obtain any other job….

A 17 year old shop girl, circa 1946 or 2010?

Discontent does not stop at the door of the dress shop. Oxford is overgrown with it; circulates it, exports it.

“I must have a talk with you David and learn all about the new ideas. As far as I can see one must hate everybody but at the same time give free medical attention and a lot of extra education… Poor things all those helpless little children herded into schoolhouses everyday….

Agatha Christie, differently

A wagonful of new Agatha Christie audiobooks (“lesser” works?) shows us an Agatha knee-deep in Freud, perhaps, indeed, an “English Freud”. Here she experiments with the entire merde ridden hagiography of psychoanalytic terms: pathologies, neuroses, perversions, deviances, persecutions. Sarah has just finished her M.B. and is interested in psychology. She looks on as an old obese mother, an ugly wheelchaired figure wields a regime of psychological oppression over her “nervy” “nervous” unnerved family. The ugly Mrs. Boynton continues to perform her chores as the warden of a women’s prison, although she no longer performs them inside a prison. Instead she institutes prohibitions against the emotions, liberties, impulses, movements, of her step sons and daughters.

Sarah complains of the rudeness of Raymond Boynton, who ignores her in the presence of his mother, despite their earlier conversation. The tradition of English manners comes to Jerusalem not in opposition to rudeness but rather as a prophylactic to madness; madness is the excess of civilization, the bad habit of civilization. As the narrator in An Appointment With Death tells us about the horrific Mrs. Boynton: “In a savage tribe they would have boiled and eaten her up her years ago”.

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement, performed by Julia Gibson

Another silly and lovable murder mystery written by an out of work real estate agent? Well, let’s see: Dixie Hemingway is a 32 year old ex-deputy living Sarasota, Florida, with her brother, the fireman, and his lover, Pablo, an undercover cop. She is a certified and insured and licensed Cat sitter. She is paid $20 to feed a cat and change the litter once a day; $60 for an over night visit. She also walks dogs and hugs them goodbye. She takes pets seriously and avoids humans. She is, like most Floridians, recovering from humans. Like fat, mad mothers of suicidal children, or overpampered party girls who have aged into overpampered divorcees. Dixie is different. More cat than human; both more curious and curiouser.

A Certain Justice by P.D. James read by Simon Prebble

It is rare to hear the barely conscious memories of a powerful woman reconnoitring the dimensions of a frustrated girlhood. The wooden, joyless father, the servile, fearful, nervous mother, the rules, the order, the manners, the placements, the positions, the positionings of the dinner table, extended to the smallest sensations of everyday life. The monstrous, unending oppression.

Is it an English oppression? Perhaps. There is the painful, unhappy education of a displaced intelligence, a displaced sex, a displaced class; the oblivion of a female among the ritual insensibilities of English law, the infinite isolation of a woman, divorced, middle-aged, groomed.

And there are the small contradictions of a rational woman, uncertain in the face of her irrationality, her daughter.