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Agatha Christie short stories from beyond the grave

August 20, 2009
Agatha Christie as a young woman

Agatha Christie as a young woman

The first new Agatha Christie story since 1975 will be published in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper beginning this Saturday. Even better: “The Capture of Cereberus” features beloved sleuth Hercule Poirot–and Nazis!

John Curran, a self-described “arch-fan,” discovered “The Capture of Cerberus” and an unpublished version of another story, “The Incident of the Dog’s Ball,” in a trove of 73 secret notebooks and other papers in the attic of Christie’s holiday home, Greenway, in Devon, England.

Both stories will appear in Curran’s book, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, which HarperCollins will publish on Sept. 3 in the United Kingdom. Alas, no plans to publish the book in the United States appear imminent. I could find nothing on it at HarperCollins‘ U.S. website, or on Amazon.com, BN.com, or booksandbooks.com.

At the time of Christie’s death in 1976, she was the most popular author in the world, with more than two billion copies worldwide in 100 countries, according to HarperCollins’ Canadian website. Amazingly prolific, Christie produced 66 mystery novels, 20 plays, six romance novels under a pen name and 150 short stories. It was often said during her lifetime –Christie lived to age 85 — that she had a photographic memory and worked out the details of her works in her head.

Dame Agatha

Dame Agatha

Curran’s research proves otherwise. Given access to two locked rooms after the death of Christie’s daughter, Rosalind, he found handwritten notebooks, lists, outlines and drafts. He had to teach himself to read Christie’s “abominable handwriting,” according to the Guardian, before he could piece it all together. Touted as the world’s foremost Christie expert, Curran took a four-year sabbatical from his job with the Dublin city council to work on the Christie papers.

“People always said she had a photographic memory and wrote off the cuff,” HarperFiction’s David Brown told the Guardian, “but these notebooks show that she reused a lot of ideas or went back to ideas sometimes decades later. She never wasted an idea.”

In addition to the unpublished stories, Curran found notes, drafts, alternate endings and surprising details. For example, Christie originally envisioned Death on the Nile as a vehicle not for Poirot but for Miss Marple. “The Mystery of the Dog’s Ball” eventually became the novel Dumb Witness. As Christie fans will know, “The Capture of Cerberus” is the title of a story from the Poirot collection The Labors of Hercules, but the tale cobbled together by Curran from various notes is completely different.

Christie as a child

Christie as a child

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks will contain these and other revelations, as well as pages from the notebooks and sketches of room plans and villages, including Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead.

Curran’s labors may produce a book only dedicated Christie fans could love, but given the enduring popularity of the novels and stories, that’s a lot of people. Why Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks isn’t being simultaneously published in the U.S. is –forgive me — a mystery.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    August 20, 2009 2:46 pm

    Sounds interesting.

  2. Erin Deppeler permalink
    May 15, 2010 10:50 pm

    I agree with you, but I’m sure the US will get around to publishing this fascinating stuff – US Christie fans will provide artistic appreciation, while cynical publishers will realize potential major megabucks. After all she is still the 3rd bestselling author worldwide; this year is the 120th since her mother brought her into the world; 2011 will be the 35th anniversary of her death and 30th since she got her DBE; and 2012 will see record breaking play The Mousetrap run for 60 WHOLE YEARS/SIX DECADES. Of course this will be published. Perhaps it already has been – I write 8 months afterwards. I am interested because I am working on a book about her and her stories myself – Agatha fan from way back.

    Erin from Australia

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