This coming Sunday, September 15th, is the birthday of two women who influenced me profoundly. The first of the two is my late mother, Ruth. The second is the late, great Dame Agatha Christie, one of the world's bestselling mystery writers.
My mother overcame much in her early life, and I'd like to think that she passed along some of her tenacity to me. She was the most stubborn person I've ever known, and I can be pretty hard-headed myself. Otherwise I would have given up writing a long time ago.
Dame Agatha Christie became a phenomenon, a publishing juggernaut. Her books have been translated into over a hundred languages and are read and appreciated around the world by people of diverse cultures. She is often dismissed -- unfairly, I think -- as a writer who was all plot and not much else. While it's true that she did not spend a lot of words developing her characters, she nevertheless had the knack of creating characters easily recognizable across cultural divides. There is a universality about her people; we all know them for they are so like people in our own lives. She also had a sly sense of humor, often poking fun at the pretentious, the prejudiced, and the pompous.
My favorite of her detectives is Miss Jane Marple. I love Miss Marple because nothing in human nature really surprises her. She has seen pretty much everything in her life, much of it in her village of St. Mary Mead. She solves crimes by her understanding of what drives people to murder and the quirks in their behavior that give them away. This is why, to me, the Marple novels are psychological mysteries.
I don't claim to have the skill at plotting that Agatha Christie had -- few writers do. But I learned a lot from her and from Miss Marple, and all of my amateur detectives, Charlie Harris included, have been deeply influenced by that formidable spinster and her methods of crime detection. Charlie is not a professional lawman. He's a librarian with a head for detail, and after a long career in public libraries, he has seen a lot of human nature. Those two things make him an effective amateur, I think.
This Sunday I'll be thinking a lot about my mother and Dame Agatha -- as I do every September 15th -- and send up fervent thanks for all they have done for me.