Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook: An icon’s secrets revealed

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making is a wonderful gift for any lover of Christie’s work. John Curran, who has splendidly edited Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook, is serving as literary advisor to Agatha Christie’s estate.

Curran has the monumental task of scouring and editing a total of 73 of Christie’s notebooks. Once Curran selected the material to include within this collection, he successfully transformed what could have been shattered notes into a readable assemblage of little known facts behind some of the greatest novels.

Compiling Christie’s notes by story, proves no easy task as Curran informs the reader that Christie often never finished a notebook and often had several notebooks started at the same time. This means Christie can begin an idea for a plot and character in a specific notebook and not fully develop the idea until three or four years later in a completely different set of notebooks.

In order to create a readable text, without shattered notes, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook often employs the format of using Christie’s actual notebook with Curran translating her hard to read handwriting. Curran then explains her thought process or cultural, personal and historical elements that have influenced her work. This is where the text shines as a reader can view Christie’s notes as she maps out character traits and seating plans for some her greatest capers.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook lacks any red herrings (for which her novels are famous for) but instead detangles the thought process of one the greatest literary minds. The reader is treated to several facts of Christie’s life as they learn how she crafted each of her mysteries. Personally, I enjoyed the detailed description of how Christie influenced what would later be called “The Golden Age of Detective Fiction” which covers the years 1920-1945. Christie’s influence was felt as she wrote the first serial killer murders in her ABC Murder collection.

Christie’s influence on The Golden Age expanded as she often used real-life, pulled from the headlines plot points. As an author during The Golden Age, Christie employed death by poison more than any other author. Christie having knowledge of poisons and medication from her early work as a pharmacy technician, she used her experience to mix poisons and vary their ways of administration, thus never reusing or recreating a plot.

In addition to background on Christie’s historical contribution to literature, Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook also boasts two unpublished Hercule Poirot stories: “The Capture of Cerberus” (which was banned due to its illusions and mockery of Hitler) and “The Incident of the Dog’s Ball.” As Christie death in 1976 at the age of 85 marked the end of her publishing career, there is no better gift to readers than the never before seen works from a legend.

I stumbled upon John Curran’s text while buying another Agatha Christie mystery. Although I have made my way through a great deal of Christie’s work, there are some of her mysteries which I have not yet read. I recommend that before reading Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook, a reader should at least be familiar with her most popular texts.

This book is not for the causal lover of Christie’s mysteries or the mystery genre as a whole since knowledge of particular Christie plots and characters are a must when viewing Christie’s notes and Curran’s commentary. Without direct knowledge of at least some of Christie’s works, a reader maybe blindsided to the inner workings of the specifically highlighted text.

If I had to pick a downfall of this text it would be the omission of notes on major Christie works such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express. This is not Curran’s fault as Christie often misplaced or discarded notebooks. Although not a deal breaker when buying this text, if these classics where included, the status of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebook would be elevated.

The lack of these texts is a small price to pay. A reader is granted unprecedented access to the notes of a literary legend. As a writer, much can be learned by studying the writing progress of fellow authors. John Curran grants writers and fans the gift to learn and to grow as an author from studying the mind of a woman who defined a genre. 

This unmatched access is what creates a memorable experience for a reader as they view Christie’s creative process from the story’s conception to the text’s publishing.