Guest Post – A.K. Benedict: Serial Heroes
Earlier this year I was thrilled to have the chance to interview A.K. Benedict about her new novel Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence of Ghosts and also her Torchwood audio play The Victorian Age. A crime story (with ghosts) and also a play starring Captain Jack Harkness? A.K. Benedict seemed to have found my entertainment wish list and written everything I liked.
When I decided I would try to run this third series of my Serial Heroes features I thought it was a perfect opportunity to invite A.K. Benedict back to Grab This Book. If she writes stories I love then perhaps we also read the same authors too? It turns out that in this case we do…
I first found Agatha Christie while trying to murder my friends. It was a 10th birthday party and, being a macabre child, insisted on Murder in the Dark instead of the passé Pass the Parcel. Everyone took a piece of paper from a beige Tupperware bowl. Most were blank but on one was the word ‘Murderer’, on another ‘Detective’. I was the designated murderer.
Lights off, everyone scattered, stumbling about the house in the dark. I located my first victim easily using my keen olfactory sense. She was sitting on the stairs eating Opal Fruits. I whispered ‘You’re Dead’ in her ear then ruined it by saying, ‘Sorry.’ I then went upstairs, fake-slaughtering a few nine year olds along the way, and into my friend’s mum’s bedroom. I felt my way around the room and found a large bookshelf. Running my fingers across the books, I could feel many slim paperbacks with cracked spines and tears on the covers. These books had been read many times. I had to know what they were. I turned on the lights.
Wedged tight on the shelf was, it turns out, every one of Agatha Christie’s books. I pulled out The ABC Murders, sat on the bed and started to read. I was gripped immediately. I completely forgot that I was supposed to kill the rest of the party-goers and was found on the floor, reading, by several friends, furious at not being murdered.
My friend’s mum, however, knew a budding crime fan when she saw one and lent me the book. I read it overnight and took it back the next morning. She gave me another one. And another one the next day. I spent the summer holidays of 1988 reading one Christie a day, sitting under a tree and eating mint-flavoured Clubs. It was brilliant. I loved Miss Marple, Poirot and Harley Quin. I wanted to play Murder in the Dark with them at my party.
I went on to love all kinds of crime fiction but it all comes back to Christie. Every year, I read all of her books again. Each time I’m drawn in by the conversational tone that belies the darkness, the humour and the crisply written settings and characters. Christie twists me round her crooked finger: she hooks, hoodwinks and hustles better than any other writer I’ve read. I even named my dog after my favourite Marple – Dame Margaret Rutherford.
While I have favourites (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 4.50 from Paddington, And Then There Were None, The Crooked House), I am still most fond of The ABC Murders. I live near Bexhill where poor Betty Barnard is killed in the novel and always think of her as I walk on the beach. I love visiting places that resonate with Christie connections: I can’t go to Paddington without wondering if I’ll see something untoward from the train. There are two places where I feel most connected to her: Greenway, her holiday home now a National Trust property, and The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Christie was found at the hotel following her infamous disappearance. It’s a thrill to get lost, as I did this morning, in The Old Swan’s corridors and pass the bedroom marked AGATHA.
I’m now sitting on The Old Swan’s lawn at the annual Theakston’s Crime Festival, about to read a new Hercule Poirot book by Sophie Hannah. The Monogram Murders is dedicated to Agatha Christie and, even a few pages in, is a brilliant way continuation of her characters long after her death.
A.K. Benedict’s books can be ordered by clicking through this link.