Yesterday, I watched the recent (2009) TV adaptation ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’ whilst rewriting my query. I deserved a break from work.
I think we always imagine that Agatha Christie’s novels are all about mystery; indeed, the best ‘cosy’ detective mysteries are those ‘locked room’, minimal suspects mysteries. The need no other substance than to bemuse and befuddle the reader/watcher for a successful piece of entertainment drama.
And, yet, people forget that there’s another side to Christie’s works. Sure, her mysteries are both tight and profound, but they are not cold. Some thrillers can be unromantic – or at least they force lust in the wrong corners; the romance, or the love side, is not full of that homely warmth.
In a way, one could argue that it is out of character for a murder book to hold simmering romance in its pages. But it does.
At least twice, I’ve come across love triangles*. Yes, in Agatha Christie! And they work. They don’t feel so run down as the modern love triangle.
The detective – or ‘snooping companion’, if you would, alongside Miss Marple in ‘Evans’ is Frankie Derwent, who sets out with her childhood friend, Robert ‘Bobby’ Jones, to understand and solve the mystery of the body Robert found on the cliff. As there always is with Christie’s omniscient third, we have a lot of head-hopping, of course on-screen, but it gets the point. Frankie is the type of girl who needs no encouragement to sleuth, but will glare at the next person who tells her to stop. Rather like my Agnetha…but in a nice, delightfully 1950s way. The sexual tension sparks up in arguments. Frankie could just as equally end up with Robert as she could solve the mystery…
Or she could end up with this chap. The pianist/tutor, Roger Bassington. (They both play the piano and have brown hair? Frankie evidently has similar tastes in men as I do!)
But we all know she’s going to end up with Robert because Roger is no good. It’s so cliché that I’m used to spotting these little quirks of character fifteen minutes in. Christie’s handiwork is there even when people won’t expect it. And yet, I was rooting for Roger and Frankie. They had more chemistry (though, of course, that may have been between the actors). Christie plays her game well in luring us to the other side of the romance – the same way she slips red herrings the expanse of her pages. She was sneaky throughout her style.
Beyond that, too, there were the miniature mixtures of romantic goings-on, as there are with the archetypal cosies. You’ve got to have a bit of that sort of drama to increase the motives in one house. “They can’t all have wanted him dead?” Oh, yes, they did.
“He doesn’t notice me.”
“You’re the most noticeable person I’ve met.”
These little tricks have certainly engaged me. Once again…
That’s the pleasure of stories, though. We all get something different out of them, and we all discover different things, just like when writing. And I think it’s better, these little additions.
Not just because I’m a romance fan, and I’d add them myself if I didn’t fall into the cold sweep, but because I think a story should have more elements to it than its main plot-line(s). Like a character, a story should be multi-faceted.
*Agatha liked to write a female ‘snooping companion’ MC and have her notice and/or catch the eye of at least two men who may or may not be the killers eg. Death in the Clouds, Taken at the Flood are the two obvious ones from the top of my head (and this proves that it’s not simply in the TV adaptations, as I’ve only read Death in the Clouds). The next time I watch a Poirot or Marple, however, I’ll take down if there is some sort of love-polyhedron between the main characters as well as the suspects.
For more of a review of the TV adaptation than a simple use of observation to make my point that I’ve done so here, read the Agatha Christie reader’s review, with which I wholeheartedly agree (they do a whole Marple series in one post, so you have to keep scrolling until you get to ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’).