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25 of 26 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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but unnecessarily complicated - could have been better, 3 Sep 2010
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 are jumbled and not easy to follow. In places I got completely confused and had to re-read pages again to pick up the thread (a bit like her books I suppose!). The notes don't make a lot of sense without the author's commentary and I think, at times, he was sidetracked by his own enthusiasm into making the text more difficult to understand than it needed to have been. I did enjoy reading it and found it absorbing, but it isn't as straightforward a read as you might expect and is therefore a bit disappointing.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlocking The Secrets of One of Our Greatest Authors, 13 Dec 2009
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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, lists of books (made me love Agatha even more) she wanted and other thoughts with no chronological order. That is where John Curran, an Agatha expert and friend of Christie's grandson, came in and this book is the results of four years work trying to decipher some of Christie's handwriting "often like short hand" and working out what notes related to what books and when.

The discoveries are really very interesting. It seems that Curran's (and probably most readers of her work) image of Agatha sat endlessly typing murder after murder, book after book with the killer planned at the start isn't quite so. In fact as you get to read her notes, which John has painstakingly transcribed, you find she would often chop and change the killer as she went. The idea for a book might ruminate for years and start from a simple observation as `a stamp' the notes then look at how such an everyday item could cause someone to commit murder. Who knew that a certain famous Poirot scene was originally meant for Miss Marple? Which books didn't have the endings you and I might have read? Which short stories then with new characters and a subtle plot twist or motive change became a play or a novel? You can find all these things out and much, much more. I loved this book and found it very, very difficult to put down.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly too much geekery for my liking, 16 Aug 2011
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I think the author betrays his complete Christie geekery with this book. While the premise of exploring Christie's notebooks is an extremely interesting one (avid fans will gain a lot of insight into her working methods and how many of her plots developed and changed during the writing process), the book does tip over into "trainspotter" mode quite a lot, becoming unnecessarily detailed and complex. By about half way through, I was beginning to tire and found myself skimming the text quite a lot. There is far too much detail for anyone but the complete Christie anorak here and it all gets very tiresome towards the end.

Curran doesnt feel it necessary to do any pruning for the general reader, assuming everyone will need or want to know Absolutely Everything, which is not the case. The level of detail really does border on the obsessional. And the ending is very odd - no summary, no closing thoughts by the author, no "rounding up" - you come to the end very suddenly - in fact, at the end of a fairly straightforward paragraph, you turn the page to find...... nothing. Thats the end.

The claim of 2 "unpublished" Poirot stories is a bit spurious, to say the least - both were actually published but in slightly altered form to how they appear in this book.

There are no illustrations to leaven what is a very heavy mix. Certainly one for the devoted Christie scholar, but there is far too much information to process and the intrusion into the text of "text boxes" dealing with tangentially related topics to those already in the process of discussion is tiresome.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disapointing, 27 Jan 2012
By 
Jason Buck (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making - Includes Two Unpublished Poirot Stories (Kindle Edition)
As an avid Christie fan, I was extremely excited about this book.However, what became apparant was that this book doesn't really contain anything new.The notebooks weren't "secret",just no one had properly gone through them before.What did become very clear was the authors gratitude that he was allowed the opportunity to look through these excercise books and other documents.Unfortunately I found his style of writing rather dull and felt as if I had wasted my money.Other people seemed to like it though so don't let me put you off.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Addictive analysis, 2 Sep 2009
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Provides fascinating insights into Christie's mind -- unputdownable! Mr Curran has done a superb job -- he clearly knows Christie's oeuvre inside out. Highly recommended to all Christie aficionados. A must for detective story writers, established as well as aspiring.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed insight., 4 Dec 2009
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Agatha Christie is herself a mystery. Her legend has grown since her death in 1976. But she was in life, a very private person.
These notebooks therefore are a real find and make fascinating reading for those of us who have wondered about the background influences to her novels.
It appears that Christie was a disorganised and chaotic person in private and left ideas here,there and everywhere. This book helps us to understand her structure and her plotting. She certainly did not 'story board' her books and often left it to late in her draft before she herself chose the killer.
Her output over 55 years was amazing and she never seemed short of ideas.
This very interesting book by John Curran has helped me to appreciate her work more and to understand the techniques that she used that has often kept me guessing to the end.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional piece of literary criticism., 26 Sep 2009
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks is a work of supreme interest to Christie fans everywhere containing a unique insight into the creative process of one of the world's favourite storytellers.

Regarding the review by R. Mitra. Has R. Mitra read the same book as I have?

The first point (s)he makes - that Mrs Christie considered Miss Marple for Dead Man's Folly - proves that (s)he completely misses the point. A more careful re-reading of this passage will show that this is a piece of evocative creative writing and an attempt (obviously very successful) on the part of John Curran to imagine Agatha Christie at work on one of her Notebooks.

Mitra complains about a lack of `additional facts'. This book is crammed with hitherto unknown and fascinating facts about most Christie titles. For instance, Miss Marple was the first choice to solve `Death on the Nile'? Or the alternative solutions for `Death Comes as the End'? And the genesis of `Five Little Pigs'? And the changes to `Endless Night'? or the revelations about `Sleeping Murder'. Could any of these facts be gleaned from a reading of the novels themselves, however careful? No, they could not and I could give many more examples....

And again, the point about the short story that inspired Dumb Witness is missed. The solutions to both novel and ss are different, a point that John Curran is at pains to point out. This is what makes the short story interesting to Christie fans (dyed-in-the-wool or not).

John Curran, or Agatha Christie can hardly be held responsible if Mitra assumes that `unpublished' means `new' - how could they be new when Christie is dead for over 30 years. Not sure where lawyers and 'fat fees' come in?

No pictures or photos? (`nice photos' in a book of literary criticism?)- the final proof that R. Mitra did not actually read this book. There are at least 20 full-page illustrations most of them never seen before. And the crossing out is clearly explained - for someone taking the trouble to read the book.

It is a great piece of literary criticism and adds to the fact that Christie was indeed genius.
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6 of 7 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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I found it enthralling, 28 July 2010
If you are fascinated by Agatha Christie, or simply intrigued by the craft of constructing a whodunit, this is the book for you. John Curran, a long-time fan of the Queen of Crime, has been granted access by her family to an extraordinary collection of her private notebooks, 73 in all. He deciphered her handwriting, and set about piecing the information together, to produce a textbook example of literary sleuthing. One of the complications was that Christie scattered information about her works-in-progress across various different notebooks - jotting down ideas in whatever was to hand, it seems. Curran speculates on occasion, but such is his knowledge of the canon, and his empathy with Christie's writing, that his comments invariably seem logical and soundly reasoned. It is fascinating to see how ideas evolved in her mind - sometimes over a period of years - before a particular book finally achieved publication. For instance, she originally thought of including Miss Marple, rather than Poirot, in Death on the Nile. There are countless other titbits that Christie fans will find intriguing, and as a fellow writer of whodunits, I was quite mesmerised by some of the insight into this remarkable novelist's thinking. Two hitherto unpublished Poirot stories are included in the volume, and for many they will be reason enough to buy the book, although it has to be said there is usually a good reason why certain stories remain unpublished. But for me, the appeal of this book is Curran's labour of love in making sense of the notebooks. I found it enthralling - the most enjoyable non-fiction book about the crime genre that I have read in a long time.

TW Reviewer - Martin Edwards - author of the highly acclaimed Harry Devlin Mysteries
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique contribution to our knowledge of Agatha Christie's writing, 16 Oct 2009
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Mr Curran has written a wonderful book to add a unique contribution to the vast collection of books about Agatha Christie.

He has been given access to a collection of notebooks which Agatha Christie used to record her thoughts about her writing in progress. He has written in so much detail about these notebooks that the resulting text will give all Christie fans so much more insight into her thinking and planning for so many of her books. Details include much about her characters, name changes and plot changes during her writing and even facsimiles of diagrams she drew to note settings for individual stories (e.g. Death in the Clouds, Evil Under the Sun, Towards Zero) make for fascinating reading. Two 'new' undiscovered short stories are included in the book. There is so much more and I'm sure every Christie fan will find something new of interest.

Sadly, there were no available notebooks covering 'Murder of Roger Ackroyd', 'Murder on the Orient Express' and a few others but this unavailability is, of course, not down to the author.

An absolute must for all Christie fans to buy and a bargain at the reduced Amazon price.
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