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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlocking The Secrets of One of Our Greatest Authors
I heard about Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks on one of the many book podcasts that I download each week. These notebooks were a recent discovery when Christie's family allowed Greenway, Christie's holiday home, to be taken over by the National Trust. They had never been on display, they were a mix up of several plots, daily to do's, shopping lists, character ideas,...
Published on 13 Dec 2009 by Simon Savidge Reads

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but unnecessarily complicated - could have been better
For Agatha Christie fans (like me) the book is a must read. In many respects it is a fascinating dissection of her notebooks, containing jottings of her methods, characters and plots, interspersed with day to day items about shopping and friends. It does provide us with a new angle on how she developed her plots but I found it quite hard to understand clearly as the notes...
Published on 3 Sep 2010 by Nick


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 18 Feb 2014
By 
Romeu Rosa - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making (Paperback)
I bought this as a request from my Girlfriend, I haven't read it yet but she has and says it's very good. So I'll definitely pick it up as well.
So from her opinion this a very enjoyable read, and the 2 poirot stories are very good.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mystery!, 31 May 2014
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This review is from: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making (Paperback)
An insight into the thoughts of Agatha Christie. Living in Devon and surrounded by Agatha history this book was a good read and told us how she put together her many stories. A must for Agatha Christie fans
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Factory, 27 Dec 2009
By 
Kevin Killian (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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The 73 notebooks were written the scrawl of a chicken, very different from the famous autograph signature we all know from countless reproductions. There must have been many times when Curran might have felt like giving up, but after months of practice, he says he was able to decipher the writing pretty quickly. Oddly, he says, Christie's handwriting improved with age, rather than the reverse.

This is not a variorum or facsimile edition of the notebooks by any means, but rather Curran's selection, with copious comments, of Christie's musings and reworkings over the years. His transcriptions look letter-perfect (a generous sampling of the handwritten entries allows us to peruse both the way she wrote something, and the way Curran took it down). I couldn't spot a flaw.

Christie lovers will find much to marvel at here. My own hunger for more and more Christie, good or bad, started when I was a child. I had a recurring dream--one I still have, years later,--in which I'm in a bookstore, library, friend's house, looking at books, and I see an Agatha Christie novel I've never heard of before. I sit down and read through it, and even want to copy it down, but lack a pencil (ha ha, Freudian I guess), and think of filching it from the premises, but lack the balls. Sometimes I wake from the dream with a title and a few words still in my head. but always with a sense of loss and emptiness. Now Curran's edition has assuaged some of the ache. We hear of dozens of unrealized projects, and quite a few of them fully realized, but withdrawn from the marketplace for one reason or another. Two "new" stories are included here, both from the 1930s: one an adumbration of Dumb Witness, the other a bizarre alternate take to "The Capture of Cerberus," the final adventure in "The Labours of Hercules." But I want more, Mr. Curran! Please give us the goods.

With the approval of the estate, Curran shows that he is not necessarily beholden to some of the fictitious "legends" the estate has engendered. He pretty much proves, for example, that SLEEPING MURDER was written probably 10 years later than the story given out by the Christie people (and by Christie herself). Why the deception? It made for a better story, perhaps. One would like to see the original version of CURTAIN, too, which in its published state seemed oddly neutered and sort of de-WWII'ed, brought into a timeless sort of past with little or no referent to 1930s/1940s conditions (unlike the other novels she actually published at the time). In an amusing development, Christie seems to have settled on the title "Cover Her Face" for what we now know as Sleeping Murder, only to be unpleasantly surprised when, in the 1960s, PD James of all people published her first novel using Christie's title, so then it was back to the drawing board. Wonder if James ever found out.

The book is a generous gift, with something pleasing on every page. I don't think, on the other hand, that much is gained by Curran's insistence on using the original title of "And Then There Were None" at every turn, on the grounds that Christie preferred it. That's not good enough reason to throw it around as frequently as he does. Someone might have tried to talk him out of it.

Yes, he plunges us right into the thick of things, the moment when she thinks of a plot, and then changes it with a rub of the pen. Start with a setting--so many to choose from--too bad we never got the one behind the scenes at the department store with the models at the fashion store. Or the hospital setting (except insofar as it appears in the one act play "The Patient.") When she had accomplished a task, she crossed out the note for it, as one with a shopping list of grocery items might do when the item in question has been put into the cart. Curran's most counterintuitive, but ultimately reasonable editorial decision, has been to round up various Christie novels and plays, into various categories, and then discuss the notebook entries for that bunch alone. Thus there's a chapter on "The Nursery Rhyme Murders," another on "Murder Abroad" (and on "Murder Abroad"). In a way it's reminiscent of the old Dodd, Mead omnibuses like Spies Among Us. But it works, in general. It is not a method Curran sticks to with much rigor, happily: there is always room in these pages for a sidebar article about how he finds the solution of, say, Murder in Mesopotamia utterly bogus. So he brings in his own readings too, he's not just a constant apologist for Christie.

I had never heard of John Curran before the announcement that he was editing Agatha Christie's notebooks, but now I can see how and why he got to become the leading authority on Agatha Christie. I hope he will out his authority and expertise, not to mention his closeness to the Christie Estate, to the best of use, and bring to print the unpublished Christie manuscripts he has seen and evaluated.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Agatha Christie, 5 Jun 2014
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Unfortunately despite being an avid enthusiast for all things connected with Agatha Christie was a little disappointed with this book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new., 27 May 2014
By 
A. R. Hughes - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making (Paperback)
I was disappointed in this book and have already passed it on... unusual for me, as I like to re-read all my books over and over! But this one was the same information that any real Agatha Christie fan has already garnered, so nothing new and therefore disappointing.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, 21 Sep 2009
By 
Mr. John Corney (Kent, England.) - See all my reviews
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John Curran's research into Agatha Christie's work adds a new dimension to the author's craft.
Here is a fascinating insight into the books written by one of the best loved crime writers which brings to life the stories penned for over fifty years.
For all Christie enthusiasts this is a vital addition to the bookshelf to compliment the Agatha Christie library.
I enjoyed reading this splendid book which one can dip into time and time again as one re visits the original novels.
Highly recommended.Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making - Includes Two Unpublished Poirot Stories
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Secret Notebooks, 24 Aug 2010
A great book for real Agatha Christie fans, lots of insight and background info. Beware spoilers though, if you haven't already read all the great lady's works! - Miss Eyelesbarrow.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars makes you want to read some of her books over again., 6 Jan 2010
By 
J. Storset "reformed packrat" (Scandinavia) - See all my reviews
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I feel mostly envy for the author, who was a guest of her grandson and was able to pore over her notebooks freely. Nevertheless, I feel gratitude that he has made them available to the rest of us, at the same time translating her scribbles into something readable. The two "new" stories are not really new, however, they are varations on ideas we have seen before. Still worth reading the book though.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tough going, 16 Feb 2013
By 
Mrs. Sheree Smith "Sheree L. Smith" (Nottingham. U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making (Paperback)
I thought this was a bit fragmented, quite tough to keep up the will to carry on reading. Maybe I will try again.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for aspiring writers, 28 July 2010
With over two billion copies of her books in print, writers would do well to study what made Agatha Christie one of the most successful writers in human history. Clues to her success lie in the notebooks she kept, 71 of which have survived, some dating back into the 1920s. Her family graciously gave John Curran permission to study and quote them for this book, along with two short stories that have never been published before: "The Capture of Cereberus" and "The Incident of the Dog's Ball."

In her autobiography, Christie mentioned those notebooks when she described how she used ordinary school exercise books to create and perfect her novels:

"Of course, all the practical details are still to be worked out, and the people have to creep slowly into my consciousness, but I jot down my splendid idea in an exercise book.... I usually have about half a dozen on hand, and I used to make notes in them of ideas that had struck me, or about some poison or drug, or a clever little bit of swindling that I had read about in the paper.

Here's a sampling of the ideas I picked up from the book.

FLOW: "Christie's prose, while no means distinguished, flows easily, the characters are believable and differentiated, and much of each book is told in dialogue" (36)

HARD WORK: "I hope to show, by an examination of her Notebooks, that although this gift for plotting was innate and in profusion, she worked on her ideas, distilling and sharpening and perfecting them." (37)

FAIRNESS: "Throughout her career Christie specialized in giving her readers the clues necessary to the solution of the crime." (38)

THINKING & WORRYING: "In February 1955 on the BBC radio program Close-Up, Agatha Christie admitted, when asked about her process of working, that 'the disappointing truth is that I haven't much method.... The real work is done in thinking out the development of your story and worrying about it until it comes right. That may take quite a while.' And this is where her Notebooks, which are not mentioned in the interview, came in. A glance at them shows that this is where she did her 'thinking and worrying.'" (67)

SKETCHING SCENES: "One system of creation that Christie used during her most prolific period was the listing of a series of scenes, sketching what she wanted each to include and allocating to each individual scene a number or letter." (83) Once those scenes were listed, she'd work out the proper sequence for them.

OFTEN NO BIG IDEA: "One of the most unexpected element in the Notebooks was, to me, the fact that many of Christie's best plots did not necessarily spring from a single devastating idea. She considered all possibilities when she plotted and did not confine herself to one idea, no matter how good it may have seemed. In very few cases is the identity of the murderer a given from the start of the plotting." (99)

A SOUNDING BOARD AND SKETCHPAD: "We now have a clearer idea of Christie's approach to the construction of her stories. Using the Notebooks as a combination of sounding board and literary sketchpad, she devised and developed; she selected and rejected; she sharpened and polished; she revised and recycled. And I hope to show by a more detailed analysis in the follow chapters, out of this seeming chaos she produced a unique and immortal body of work." (101)

And to read that more detailed analysis, you'll need to read this book. Don't depend on my all too brief summary.

I'll close with these words, quoted by John Curran and spoken by a Mrs. Ariadne Oliver in Chapter 17 of Christie's Dead Man's Folly:

"I mean, what you say about how you write your books? What I mean is, first you've got to think of something, and then, when you've thought of it you've got to force yourself to sit down and write it. That's all." (73)

--Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings
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