Agatha Christie: a woman not to be messed with

It is the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie‘s birth. I have never been a huge fan, but I must be in the minority as her books both in print and eBook format continue to be popular.

Cover of A is for ArsenicMy interest was piqued however by the publication of a new book: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. More often than not death by poison was Christie’s murder of choice. She had developed an interest and knowledge of poisons by working in pharmacies in both World Wars, and the author Kathryn Harkup, a chemist herself, was impressed with Christie’s knowledge and ability to use the chemical properties of these poisons as clues to the discovery of the murderer.

Each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison that the murderer used. Harkup examines the way the poisons interact, how they could be detected and administered, and apparently this is as relevent now as it was at the time of writing the book – which could be a little bit worrying!

Cover of The Grand TourAnother interesting gem is The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition. This is the account of a 10-month trip that Christie took with her husband around the world, visiting such exotic locations as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Hawaii and New Zealand! Christie kept up a detailed weekly correspondance to her mother of her travels, and her grandson has edited these along with her extensive photograph collection detailing her fascination with exotic plot locations that became a feature of her books.

Where do you sit on the Christie spectrum? Are you a fan or are you in the minority with me?


Fiona Farrell talks about adapting Ngaio Marsh to the stage

Inside the Ngaio Marsh houseFiona Farrell has been adapting the Ngaio Marsh novel Photo Finish into a stage play SNAP! which is coming soon to the Court Theatre. She will talk about her task at the Elmwood Bowling Clubrooms, Heaton Street, Merivale on Sunday 15 September from 5pm to 7pm.

Photo Finish was one of the four Ngaio Marsh novels set in New Zealand. ( I seem to remember another involved someone crushed in a wool press and another offed in a mud pool – both truly Enzed ends). This one was written when she was over 80 years old, was well received and sold well. It was her second to last detective novel. It follows the traditional convention of a house party trapped in a storm except the venue was not a country house but a South Island luxury lodge.

The talk is a fund raiser for the Friends of Ngaio Marsh House. To book tickets, which are $25.00,  contact Philippa Bates The price includes wine or fruit juice, nibbles and a social half hour.

Ngaio Marsh House is a great cause to support. It is currently undergoing earthquake repairs and should reopen in September. It is well worth a visit. We have some photos which will give you a taster of what to expect when you visit.

The characters made me do it

coverIt is fascinating to listen to writers talk about their craft. Setting the Scene for Murder at the Christchurch Writers Festival was the opportunity to hear two of America’s most successful crime writers, Tess Gerritsen and John Hart.

I loved how they both talked of characters they created who developed a life of their own and led the writers in directions they could not have imagined when they began their novels. Neither writer develops an outline before they begin a book,they just write and then edit. John Hart referred to it as ‘grope and hope’. I just couldn’t imagine how Tess Gerritsen could write an entire novel longhand (in doctors writing no-one else can read) then type it up and edit it through six or seven drafts. John Hart spoke of writing freely in the morning and editing what he had written in the afternoon. Either way it seemed to be a brave and consuming enterprise for both novelists. When asked about seeking feedback on their writing Tess spoke of the value of writers groups where other writers critiqued your work. John Hart was adamantly opposed to criticism by committee and trusted his wife’s opinion

Their intimate involvement with their characters was echoed by the four New Zealand crime writers who spoke before the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award.When Paddy Richardson talked about how her character developed she said the character chose the direction.

coverI think crime writers must feel like children’s writers. They are often pigeonholed and their writing dismissed as somehow a lesser kind. In fact the best of them, as we saw today, start out first and foremost to write creatively, to express themselves and for their personal satisfaction. That their characters and plots lead them to be labelled as crime writers is by the by. Tess Gerritsen has used her background as a Chinese American and her feeling of being an outsider to find expression in her characters. John Hart talked about writing to change his life and writing as catharsis. Neil Cross talked about wanting to write about transgression, sin and guilt.

It was great session. Fans of Tess Gerritsen will be pleased to know a television series based around her characters Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli should be screening here next year under the name Rizzoli and Isles.

“Dark places” leads reader to aim for the light!

I have to confess I am not really a “who dunnit” reader.  I  blame watching one to many mind numbing crime programmes on television. I now pretty much don’t care  about these imaginary victims with their corpses displayed for my viewing pleasure (they are getting more and more graphic have you noticed?)  nor can I be  bothered waiting to see who did what to whom and why (their mother was too clingy, they are greedy or just plain psychopaths ). But I do have to confess that Gillian Flynn’s “Dark Places” has managed to change that.

None of the main players in this book are likable. There is no truely innocent victim nor some hardened but likable local cop.  The main protagonists in this book is the greasy haired angry and depressed Libby Day, who lives off the proceeds of her dwindling trust fund, set up for her when as a child her mother and two sisters were slaughtered in the family’s Kansas farmhouse.  It was a seven-year-old Libby’s testimony that sent her then 15-year-old brother, Ben, to prison for life for the murders. Ben, who we also get to know well in the book as an awkward and angry manchild, yearning for a father-figure while being raised in a poverty-stricken household by a single overwhelmed mother.

We meet Libby twenty odd years latter after the murders, when desperate for cash she reluctantly agrees to meet members of the Kill Club, true crime enthusiasts who bicker over famous cases. She’s shocked to learn most of them believe Ben is innocent and the real killer is still on the loose. Though initially interested only in making a quick buck Libby  soon begins to question what exactly she saw—or didn’t see—the night of the tragedy.

The book is told in an interesting flashback format, with Libby, tough and damaged  narrating the present-day chapters in first-person, while the flashback chapters, told in third-person, describe the actions of several key characters including Ben on one winter’s day in 1985.

Trust me – you will never guess what happened in that farmhouse in 1985  and I challenge you not to have your mouth agape at the end when you find out!    

Discovering a new author

I love stumbling onto an author that I didn’t previously know about, who writes in a style I like and who tells a great story with characters and plotlines that ‘work’. It’s such a delicious feeling to ‘discover’ someone new.

I’ve been a fan of Kathy Reichs’ style of forensic crime since her first novel and while I’m on the waitlist to read her latest book, 206 Bones, I have discovered a new author to delve into, Kathryn Fox.

Kathryn Fox is an Australian author, who won the 2005 Davitt Award for her debut novel, Malicious Intent. She has worked as a medical practioner, with a special interest in forensic medicine.

She appears on, here’s her profile on her publisher’s website, and then there’s always her Fantastic Fiction profile to check out as well.

So if you are a fan of any of the following writers, Karin Slaughter, Kathy Reichs, Jeffrey Deaver, Patricia Cornwall, Mo Hayder or Harlan Coben, then I’d recommend Kathryn Fox be added to your reading list.

Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2008

AWRFAuckland is counting down the days, minutes if not seconds not only in fevered anticipation of the Writer and Readers Festival 2008 but more importantly the arrival of the Christchurch City Libraries “Cream of the South” festival review crew. No event is safe from us; we’ll be diving under the bookcovers to get to the real stories, reporting back from the sessions and interviewing a vertiable galaxy of stars!!

I’m looking forward to having a wee chat with Mo Hayder and John Burnside. Mo is often touted as being unsurpassed in her ability to find horror in everyday things, hopefully not my interview, and is promoting her latest novel Ritual.

John Burnside is one of Scotland’s finest poets, novelists and recently published his first volume of memoirs A lie about my father. We’re from the same part of the world so I’m keen to catch up with his news and views on the Scottish literary scene, plus discuss his latest novel Glister.

If you are a big Mo Hayder or John Burnside fan get in quick and post any burning questions you’d like to be asked on our handy library blog.