Agatha Christie: Murder at the Manor

I’ve been reading Agatha Christie novels that Rowling has said she has read, that we see on her bookshelf, or which have an obvious connection to her work. I’ve reviewed, consequently, Christie’s The Moving Finger, Appointment with Death, Murder at the Vicarage, and The Pale Horse with an eye on names, plot points, and literariness, the formalist’s literaturnost.  If you’ve been reading these posts, I think you’ve been struck as I have at the number and quality of the connections that can be called ‘influence,’ ‘hat-tips,’ or ‘allusion.’ Rowling is much more vocal about her admiration for Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, even P. D. James, frankly, than she has been in her comments about the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, whose sixty-six novels have outsold any author other than perhaps Enid Blyton. Christie, though, seems to be her mentor much more than these others.

As an experiment, then, to gauge the breadth and depth of this influence, I pulled down a Christie anthology from my bookshelf, Murder at the Manor. It has three relatively obscure novels by the Master, hence the subtitle, ‘A Lost Classics Omnibus.’ The Mystery Guild edition on my shelf includes The Seven Dials Mystery (1929), Crooked House (1949), and Ordeal by Innocence (1958). The books written across three decades are gathered together because (a) none of them include Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple so they do not sell as well from the publisher’s backlist as the famous detectives novels do and (b) they all feature a mystery set in an oversized house or country estate in which the manor is as important as most of the characters. My thought in reading these back shelf titles, besides filling time before the Christie novels visible on Rowling’s 2000 bookshelf I have ordered arrive, was to see if Rowling had read all the books by Christie, each and every one, even these ‘Lost Classics,’ and taken notes for names, plot points, and embedded literary notes.

My tentative findings are posted after the jump!

Names: Next to nothing here, folks! There is an Oswald Coote who features in The Seven Dials Mystery and a Ritchie Coote, Oswald Beamish, and Cornlius Oswald Fudge in the Hogwarts Saga but this nothing like meeting Ginny/Ginevra or a Mrs Lestrange in a Christie mystery. If Rowling read these books and had her names notebook open, she must have misplaced her pen 

Crooked House dates Gaffe: Rowling has Sophia’s grandmother’s death in 1905, the story is set in 1945, and Sophia was twenty-two in 1943. Sophia comments that “I only just remember her.” Shades of Cormoran’s birth date and Rokeby’s marriages?

Crooked House and Cuckoo’s CallingThere is a bat-shit insane child-of-rich-parents murderer, a child murdered  by being thrown over a quarry’s edge, and the bizarre attempt by the murderer to write a murder mystery story to deceive the investigators, a story which if left unwritten would mean the killer-author’s never being suspected.

Ordeal by Innocence and Cuckoo’s Calling: The setting backdrop is a woman who desperately wants to be a mother but cannot have children. Her husband obliges her by adopting children using the family’s phenomenal wealth. The mother, of course, is disappointed that the children are not as grateful and loving as she imagined they would be. The picture of a gazillionaire woman committed to the causes of children in orphanages that Christie paints would almost certainly be taken as a cameo slam on Rowling if written today.

Ordeal by Innocence and Lethal White: The backdrop of Ordeal are other murder cases, the Lizzie Borden murders and the Charles Bravo case, that are subtly mentioned throughout the book. Think of Rattenbury in Lethal White. More important or just more likely as a link between these two books is the sexual relationship between a young psychopathic seducer and a woman old enough to be his mother by which tryst, kept from the reader to book’s finish, the murderer plans to become rich or commit murder or both.

No Imagination, No Remorse: Christie has her Scotland Yard chief remark in Crooked House that “I don’t think in my experience that any murderer has really felt remorse.” The crippled former pilot hero in Ordeal by Innocence is constantly noting the lack of imagination, the ability to think of what others think and feel, in his wife and the other adopted children and murder suspects. The links with Harry and the Dark lord, i.e., Harry’s call to Voldemort to feel some remorse and Dumbledore’s indictment of Riddle as a man unable to grasp the power of children’s stories or to love, are point to point.

Conclusions? Pretty doggone thin compared to the other Christie titles I’ve read and reviewed in this space! What do you think? Let me know in the comment boxes below!

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