The British Amateur Sleuth

The Secret Adversary by Agatha ChristieThe BBC recently started a new 6-part series Partners in Crime. It stars David Walliams and Jessica Raine as Thomas (Tommy) and Prudence (Tuppence) Beresford, an unsuccessful businessman and his wife who get drawn into a world of espionage and crime-solving during the Cold War days of the early 1950s.

The series has been adapted from two of Agatha Christie’s books – The Secret Adversary and N or M?  Agatha Christie wrote a number of books featuring these amateur sleuths interspersed between her other books. N or M? by Agatha ChristieThese books were actually first published in 1922 and 1941 respectively, and the last novel she wrote – Postern of Fate (1973) also featured the duo, having aged in keeping with the novel’s setting.

Christie’s best-known amateur sleuth is of course Miss Marple, who has been played by various actresses on film and TV, notably Margaret Rutherford and  Angela Lansbury on film, and Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan on TV.

Other contemporary authors from the ‘Golden Age’ of crime writing also featured amateur sleuths. They usually came from an upper-class background, for only they would have the time or the money to get involved. Margery Allingham had the aristocratic Albert Campion as her protagonist. Dorothy L. Sayers had Lord Peter Wimsey. But this was not always the case – for instance G.K. Chesterton created the priest-cum-detective Father Brown.

Books by Margery Allingham   Books by Dorothy L Sayers   Books by GK Chesterton

The concept of the British amateur sleuth is far from dead. There are a number of current authors who have created characters and written books in the style of the ‘Golden Age’ originals. One such is the US author Carola Dunn with her British 1920s heroine Daisy Dalrymple.  Simon Brett revives the aristocratic sleuth with his Blotto and Twinks series set around the post-First World War period. He has also created another character Mrs Pargeter, a widow who solves crimes with the help of her dead husband’s friends.

Books by Carola Dunn   Books by Simon Brett   Books by MC Beaton

Amateur sleuth stories do not have to be set in the inter-war period! A present-day setting is the format for M.C. Beaton’s popular Agatha Raisin series featuring a former public relations executive who retires to the Cotswolds and soon finds herself involved in crime-solving. The first book in the series was Agatha Raisin and the quiche of death (2002).  On TV, the most popular amateur sleuth series is probably Rosemary & Thyme – the gardening duo who are always coming across dead bodies.

This year – 15 September, to be exact – would have been Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday. Reading – or re-reading – her novels or watching the BBC’s new series are just two ways to mark the occasion – visit www.agathachristie.com/125th-anniversary/ for more.

[Malcolm]

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One response to “The British Amateur Sleuth

  1. Pingback: Reading Agatha Christie on her 125th birthday | Books & the City

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