I love Agatha Christie. There is nothing I love more than a good murder mystery and Christie writes with a great economy of words - only two or three sentences per description but in such a way that it is easy to picture just what she means.
She also has a way of putting in deep little bits of writing that are very revealing of human nature when the story outwardly seems quite frivolous.
I was recently re-reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and thought I would share this passage where the characters are playing Mahjong. It tickled me with its very English descriptions of an Oriental past-time.
We sat round the table. For some five minutes, there was complete silence, owing to the fact that there is a tremendous secret competition amongst us as to who can build their wall the quickest.
"Go on James," said Caroline at last. "You're East Wind."
I discarded a tile. A round or two proceeded, broken by monotonous remarks of "three bamboos", "two circles", "Pung" and frequently from Ms Gannett, "Unpung", owing to that lady's habit of hastily claiming tiles to which she had no right.
"I saw Flora Ackroyd this morning," said Miss Gannett. "Pung - no - Unpung. I made a mistake."
"Four circles," said Caroline. "Where did you see her?"
"She didn't see me," said Miss Gannett with that tremendous significance only to be met with in small villages.
"Ah," said Caroline interestedly. "Chow."
"I believe," said Miss Gannett temporarily diverted, "that it's the right thing nowadays to say "Chee", not "Chow."
"Nonsense," said Caroline, "I have always said Chow."
"In the Shanghai Club," said Colonel Carter, "they say Chow."
Miss Gannett retired, crushed.
And later on in the same chapter...
East Wind passed and we set to once more. Annie brought in the tea things. Caroline and Miss Gannett were both slightly ruffled as is often the case during one of these festive evenings.
"If only you would play a leetle quicker, dear," said Caroline, as Miss Gannett hesitated over a discard. "The Chinese put down tiles so quickly it sounds like little birds pattering."
For some minutes we played like the Chinese.
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
If you're considering reading any Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a good one to start on. (I strongly recommend that you don't read any synopses as the ending is somewhat startling and the synopsis writers often feel the need to give it away within the first few lines.)
It's easily, humorously, beautifully written and now that I'm reading it the second time, I'm amazed at the amount of clues Christie put in to hint at identity of the criminal. I wish I could have read it blind to see if I could guess the murderer but unfortunately I fell victim to one of those stupid synopses.
And of course, once you get to the end, there is an underlying menace and creepiness and the twist that always makes my heart pound.
PS I'm slowly collecting the whole series of new reprints like the one above, the covers are understated and really look pretty sitting next to each other on the shelves, her signature trickling down their spines.