April 23rd. A significant day of the year for me and thousands of others. St George's Day, Shakespeare's birth(and death)day and World Book Night. I love the idea of World Book Night, an annual event run by The Reading Agency when volunteers across the country hand out free copies of their favourite books to those who do not usually spend their time reading. I took part two years ago, when I handed out 20 copies of my favourite all-time book Pride and Prejudice and really enjoyed being able to share a classic novel, which although non-readers may have seen the film or television adaptations, they were now able to discover Jane Austen's wit first-hand and more importantly free of charge.
This year, I selected Agatha Christie's After The Funeral from the short-list of 20 books. I have only been a Christie fan for about a year, but I love her style of writing and the clever and sometimes shocking murder cases she has created and I am hoping to once again encourage those who may have watched the Marple or Poirot cases on television to read Christie's original work.
I had only watched a few of the ITV adaptations myself before I visited Agatha Christie's holiday home Greenway while on holiday in Devon last year. The beautiful house and spending time reading about Christie's life and character encouraged me to buy a couple of her most famous stories. The first one I read was And Then There Was None. It was so atmospheric to be reading the book near the island which she based the mystery on and I was immediately hooked on the story of ten strangers all invited to a mysterious island where they are soon stranded and must face their previous sins. One by one, each character is killed off and the end provides a shocking twist as well as making you realise the vital clues you picked up on but misinterpreted. I had to go straight back to the beginning to read again now that I knew the conclusion and it was still a stunning and terrifying piece of work.
I have read several Christie stories since and they always amaze me. How did a young lady from Devon think of so many twisted stories, hundreds of eccentric characters, scores of ways of murdering people and thousands of red herrings? All Christie novels begin with a cast of colourful characters being introduced one by one. I always think that I will never learn who's who, but I always do and can see each character in my head so vividly. Christie mysteries conjure up the weird mixed feelings of a cosy setting with scenic English countrysides alongside the shock and horror of murder and the dark side of human nature.
I have become fascinated with Agatha Christie's life over the past 12 months, from the child with an overactive imagination, to the woman who wrote novels like a machine in order to pay for the life that she wanted. With an obvious interest in the medicines and poisons, she even volunteered as a Pharmacy Dispenser at London's University College during the second world war. There was even her own personal mystery as her car was found abandoned and a nationwide search began. Staff at a Harrogate Hotel recognised her after she had checked in with a false name and it is claimed that Christie had been concussed and was suffering from amnesia, not even recognising her own husband. She never spoke of this time of her life with the press or her friends or family.
And so to After The Funeral, the book I am giving away 18 copies of for World Book Night. It is a fantastic story of a dysfunctional family in turmoil. The patriarch of the family has passed away and at the reading of the will, his 'silly' sister Cora is heard to say 'It's all been hushed up very nicely, hasn't it...But he was murdered wasn't he?' The next day Cora is fund dead after being savagely struck with a hatchet and Hercule Poirot is hired by the family solicitor to unravel the mystery. Full of brilliant characters, plenty of clues and a jaw-dropping revelation, After The Funeral is one of Christie's very best works.
The World Book Night edition of the book features an introduction from Sophie Hannah who has been commissioned to write a new Poirot mystery which is out later this year. There is also an excerpt from Overture To Death by Ngaio Marsh, which was a favourite book of Agatha Christie's and a poem by the winner of the Foyle Young Poet Of The Year Award.
I really hope that everyone who receives this book will take the time to read it and discover Christie's art of a good old murder mystery. And maybe it will ignite a love of reading, or the urge to read more Christie novels in one or two. Thank you to everyone involved with World Book night in giving book lovers the chance to share stories with friends, colleagues and even strangers.
AgathaChristie.com is a brilliant website all about the author and her work. There is so much to read, it really is worth a visit.
You can read more about my visit to Greenway on my blog post here
You can find out more about World Book Night, events on the day and the other 19 titles being given out here You can even apply to be a Community Giver, by passing on copies of your own books to non-readers
Follow @WorldBookNight on Twitter and keep up to date with #worldbooknight or #WBN14 on the day
I will be sharing my favourite Agatha Christie quotes on my twitter feed @HillingdonBooks throughout the day and I would love to hear from other book givers!