“[E]ven her most devoted admirer would be hard-pressed to make a case for Christie as a literary stylist. Her use of language is rudimentary and her characterisations thin. By her own admission, she spent more time working on her plots than anything else, after which, she said, the actual writing of the books was something of a chore. For these reasons and more, she had become terminally unfashionable by the 1970s, despite the fact that her books continued to sell in their millions.
“But very few British crime writers would write her off unequivocally. Many sheepishly admit to being devoted admirers who reread the books with pleasure at frequent intervals. They know the limitations, but disregard them. There is something of an Abba syndrome when it comes to Agatha Christie. It is now OK to mutter: yes, we know this isn't great art, but it's shamelessly enjoyable popular entertainment, isn't it? Crime readers are more than happy to descend from the slopes of Mount Parnassus and bask in the simple comfort-food pleasures that Christie affords.”
-- “The curious case of the author who would not die,” in The Independent
I grew up reading Agatha Christie. From an earlier post:
The first “grown-up” book I read was Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express--grown-up only in the sense that it was the first book my mother allowed me to read from her restricted bookshelf, which had Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Anya Seton, Victoria Holt, Jeffrey Archer, all the potboilers. I was 10 or 11 years old, and by then I had gone through every single Hardy Boys title, and had waded through my Lolo's Readers' Digest collection that went as far back as 1947. Murder on the Orient Express had a sprawling cast of characters and a convoluted storyline. Mother said if I could tell her who the murderer was at the end of the story, I was free to browse through her books. I got it right; every major character in that story plunged the knife into the poor victim. Outlandish plot, but it had me feeling very clever for days.
The movie adaptations were even more enjoyable, especially Death On the Nile, with Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and a gaggle of other idiosyncratic actors in period costume--Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury... It's been years since my last Agatha Christie novel--The Moving Finger, if I remember correctly. For a time I lighted up on Chandler and Hammett and James Ellroy, the latter's whiz-bang prose always a welcome jolt on a listless evening. Joseph Wambaugh, too, for haunting true-crime reportage like The Onion Field, a worthy successor to Capote's In Cold Blood. Ranged against these tough, streetwise evocations of gritty lives and bloody deaths, Agatha Christie's neat poison-and-dagger tales often set in manor houses do seem a throwback to a tweedy, faded world--in Barry Forshaw's words, an “idyllic Albion.” But I'm nothing if not loyal. Plain prose and all, I'd take the lady anytime over, say, John Grisham or Dan Brown.