Novel Thoughts blog

Airplane Books

April 2, 2014 3:03 pm | 4 Comments

I spend the day in the grip of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. Isn’t that terrible? My father once gave me a lecture on wasting good working hours on reading light fiction, but I couldn’t put my tablet down. I was utterly wrapped up in the mystery–in Hastings’ impatience, Poirot’s pronouncements and the movements of the mysterious Mr. Cust.

It is the sort of book I should have saved for a trip across the Atlantic–the sort of book that makes the hours flash by without the reader noticing. I read rather quickly, so I need two airplane books to get me across the ocean. I open the first in Glasgow, and I shut the second upon our approach to Toronto. Here so soon?

Agatha Christie is not only the “Queen of Crime”, she’s the queen of airplane books. Although her vast output was slightly uneven, I never get tired of her world of bronzed colonels, stately homes, private secretaries, dashing young “modern” women, quiet secretaries of both sexes and American millionaires. Was Britain ever really like that, I wonder. The mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers seem a little more workaday: fewer millionaires, more women academics, rather more sympathy for bohemians and champagne socialists.

I first gobbled up Agatha Christie novels as a thirteen year old, but later decided they were formulaic and dull. I rebelled against the Tory politics and the limitless sympathy for the British upper classes. But I have gone back to them and rediscovered their brilliance as thrillers. I keep meaning to pull them apart to see how she does it, but I keep forgetting in the excitement of the tale.

I finished The ABC Murders today; I finished Murder in Mesopotamia on Monday evening. The former is better than the latter. I correctly guessed the murderer in Mesopotamia, something I very rarely do, and didn’t find him/her convincing. But The ABC Murders was terrific, right up there with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

These are both Hercule Poirot mysteries, and thus I feel they fit in with this blog, for Poirot is Britain’s most famous Catholic detective. Yes, I am sure you are very fond of Father Brown, but today he is a Catholic niche interest whereas Poirot is… Well, Poirot.

He is a masterful invention, beautifully drawn: brilliant but fussy, kindly but vain, sentimental but chaste, zealous for justice, and practicing Catholic, as befit a Belgian of his generation. (Can you imagine what Poirot would say about the new Belgian law permitting the killing of disabled children? “Non, non and, again, non!”) As Christie was not a Catholic herself, she could never be accused of propagandizing for Catholicism–nor does she seem to have been tempted to do so.*

I met a fan last October for coffee. She had flown over to Scotland on holiday, bringing my book with her for me to sign. I expected to see the American edition of my first book, Seraphic Singles, but to my amazement, she lay Ceremony of Innocence before me. It had just been released, so I had never seen a reader’s copy.

“I read it on the airplane,” she explained.

“Did it make a good airplane book?” I asked.

She said it had, and I was delighted. If a book can shrink the hours of an transatlantic flight, then that is a book that has truly gripped the reader.

What kind of books do you like to read on airplanes?

*An amusing liturgical side note about “The Agatha Christie Indult” here.

Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer living in Scotland. Her first novel with Ignatius Press is Ceremony of Innocence. She has been a regular contributor to The Catholic Register (Toronto). Her first book, Seraphic Singles: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Single Life, is a popular work of nonfiction.

Tags: Agatha Christie mystery reviews


  1. April 3, 2014 at 12:18 am

    I have got to read some Christie. It’s long overdue.

    On the plane? Something I’ve never read, something not too literary to eschew plot. I usually make the mistake of bringing something I’ve read a hundred times, like Austen, and discovering that the view outside or the people inside are too distracting. Newness is imperative. Christie would be ideal. Too bad I don’t have a plane trip planned immediately.

  2. April 3, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    I do, but a short three hours long only. Love Agatha & Poirot! I’ll look into Ceremny of Innocence. Thanks!

  3. John Herreid

    April 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    My favorite Agatha Christie novels are the Tommy and Tuppence ones. Those are tons of fun.

    Right now I’ve got a stack of science fiction that I’m reading through during my commute. S.M. Stirling, Michael Flynn, Ray Bradbury, and Dean Koontz. When I return to mysteries I think I might reread some of the Rabbi Small books by Harry Kemelmen.

  4. April 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you for the charming link to “The Agatha Christe Indult.” I am facing a trip from California to Ohio very soon. I will have to hunt down some Agatha Christe.

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