Agatha Christie Cookbook: Interview with Karen Pierce, Author of Recipes for Murder
Drink and dine with recipes inspired by the best-selling novelist of all time in Karen Pierce’s Agatha Christie cookbook, Recipes for Murder: 66 Dishes That Celebrate the Mysteries of Agatha Christie (Countryman; Aug 22, 2023).
Podcast Transcript: A Discussion with Karen Pierce About Her Agatha Christie Cookbook
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:55
All right, Carolyn …
Carolyn Daughters 0:56
Sarah, we’re back with Karen Pierce.
Sarah Harrison 0:59
Yes. If you didn’t listen to our episode all about Karen’s new Agatha Christie cookbook, Recipes for Murder, go back and listen to that one.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07
For sure. It’s awesome.
Sarah Harrison 1:09
Karen is a lot of fun. Karen, you’re a detective fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan. You’ve attended and volunteered at Bouchercon.
Karen Pierce 1:29
I’m Canadian, so I say Bouchercon (boosher-con). Every time I go to Bouchercon, the Americans always correct me and say it’s Bowcher-con, because that’s how he pronounced it. But if you were in France, and you said Bowcher-con, people would point at you and laugh.
Carolyn Daughters 1:51
It’s a convention, so it’s Bouchercon.
Sarah Harrison 1:55
But he pronounced his name Bowcher.
Karen Pierce 1:58
Sarah Harrison 1:59
All right. Good discussion.
Karen Pierce 2:03
It’s really hard for a Canadian who’s grown up with French is our second language to say it so flatly with such an American accent. It’s weird.
Sarah Harrison 2:15
Yeah, there’s a lot of funny words like that here. Even regionally, they don’t agree. Alright, so you volunteered at several Anthony Boucher Memorial world mystery conventions and have taken pilgrimages to Torquay and Greenway House, Christie’s hometown and home. Karen Pierce lives in Toronto, Canada.
Now your Agatha Christie cookbook is awesome. I’m going to read a summary here.
Poisons, knives, and bullets riddle the stories of Agatha Christie, but so does food, which she uses to invoke settings, to develop characters, and, of course, to commit murder.
This to-die-for Agatha Christie cookbook offers recipes written by the author for one accessible, easy-to-follow dish or drink for each of Christie’s 66 mysteries. Agatha Christie recipes include Fish and Chips at the Seven Dials Club, Literary Luncheon Meringues, Oysters Rockefeller on the Orient Express, Sixpence Blackbird Pie, Orange Marmalade from Gossington Hall, and more. Along the way, you’ll learn how to make an exquisite omelet, how to roast a leg of lamb properly, and how to serve perfectly timed steak frites.
Framing these dishes are insightful essays and headnotes that detail the history of the recipes, their context in Christie’s life and times, and the roles they play in the source works. Based on extensive research and investigation, all dishes appear traditional to their respective eras, so steak fried for 1923 but marinated and grilled for 1964.
Completing the collection, thematic menus assemble recipes for a Halloween murder mystery gathering, a “Christie for Christmas,” a book club buffet, and other occasions, making it a filling tribute to the grand dame of detective fiction. Welcome, Karen. We’re so excited to have you for second episode.
Karen Pierce 4:21
Well, thank you. I’m glad to be here again. This is great fun.
Carolyn Daughters 4:24
When you were reading that, Sarah, it occurred to me that there was one — probably 100 — but one question that I didn’t ask in our last interview about the Agatha Christie cookbook. It’s really hard to make a good omelet. I’m very excited to try that particular recipe becauseI know how to put eggs in a pan. I know how to make it look sort of like an omelet but it’s not. But it’s not a beautiful thing.
Karen Pierce 4:55
Well a secret is — an ex-boyfriend taught me this, but I’m not giving you his name. He’s getting no credit. But it works every time for me. I don’t like the squishy bits. So this is one that you can literally flip.
Carolyn Daughters 5:10
Ah, good. I like it.
Karen Pierce 5:14
Give it a go. Follow it exactly. You break your egg in half and you fill it just with water. Cover it for that one. Leave it open for a minute, cover it for the two minutes. Yeah, if you do exactly the way it says, it’ll be perfect every time. You’re right. I found them tricky. He taught me the trick.
Sarah Harrison 5:37
I gotta try them.
Carolyn Daughters 5:37
I’m gonna try it tomorrow morning, I think.
Sarah Harrison 5:41
I read. Her name is out of my head. The most famous cookbook author of all time.
Carolyn Daughters 5:50
Oh, Julia Child.
Sarah Harrison 5:51
I read her memoir. And he has extensive writing about omelets as well, and French omelets.
Karen Pierce 5:59
And omelets are really, really old. I had no idea. They’re like one of the original foods. You could just take eggs and add anything, and it made a food. Legions of armies lived on eggs in different ways.
Sarah Harrison 6:19
I lived on eggs in grad school.
Karen Pierce 6:21
Sarah Harrison 6:26
I’ll just throw in one more historical tidbit. I’m reading this historical puddings book, and it dates back to medieval times, like pre-chicken domestication, when even eggs were rare, and people had to go out and forage eggs out of birds’ nests. I guess that makes total sense, but I never thought of it.
Carolyn Daughters 6:50
Karen, you wrote your Agatha Christie cookbook as an Agatha Christie aficionado. Tell us about when you started reading Agatha Christie and how you got hooked.
Karen Pierce 7:06
I’d read all the Bobbsey Twins and, and all the Nancy Drews and the Hardy Boys and the Trixie Beldens, and everything that was available to me in young fiction. And then we were spending March break at my grandmother’s. I have younger brothers and sisters. They were out playing in the yard, and I was lounging around as an eleven year old. And I found The Third Girl on her bedside table and I sat down and read it and was like, whew! Now many Agatha Christie aficionados say, “and you still read a second one? The Third Girl is not one of her best. Picture it. I was 11. I’m reading about swinging London and Chelsea and yeah, it was just, whoa. I was hooked. And then I went on to read them all. And then in my 20s I started collecting them all at use bookstores. They’re just comfort books. I think a lot of us see them that way. When life’s the shits, just read a Agatha Christie because there’ll be a little bit of love, everything will work out in the end. It’s comfort food. I still read them. I did a lot my 30s. I needed them less. I’ve reread them of course over the last 10 years about four times each trying to get every bit out of it. But yeah, I love these books. They’re so well written. They’re still so accessible. Their themes are almost Shakespearean in tone. I mean, there’s not that much new under the sun, and these themes are all the same. And they’re just really, really well done.
Carolyn Daughters 8:59
Mysteries have always for me been literary comfort food as well. My childhood from a reading standpoint sounds very similar to yours. When you picked up The Third Girl off your grandmother’s bedside table, you didn’t have other Agatha Christie books to compare it against, which is why you kept reading. It was phenomenal. And then you read others, and you probably discovered, Wow, she’s got some incredible books. Sixty-six novels. Have you read all the stories? Have you read all the plays?
Karen Pierce 9:36
In writing the Agatha Christie cookbook, I’ve read all 66 novels for sure. Now, apparently Agatha Christie did 30 plays I’m gonna say I’ve probably only read about five or six of those. Of the short story collections, I’m gonna say I’ve read most of them. I have not read most of the collections two or three times, so I’m not as familiar with them. I’m working my way through those collections right now. But I’m also working my way through all her by autobiographies and biographies. Really interesting. She wrote her autobiography. She wrote Come Tell Me How You Live, which is really about her life in the Middle East. She wrote about her world tour. So I’m getting through all of those. And then her sixth book she wrote as Mary Westmacott as well. People want to call them romance, but they’re more like chick novels. They’re about understanding the mysteries of relationships. This is really how Agatha Christie worked out a lot of those problems in her mind. She worked them out by writing them out. A lot of the characters in those books are self-driven. She explores different parts of her life that she really just never understood.
Sarah Harrison 11:09
That’s interesting. I didn’t know there was that much. I’m actually pretty new to mysteries. I didn’t realize. Are all her plays, are they 30 different works, or are they adaptations of her fiction?
Karen Pierce 11:23
Both? There’s both. And sometimes there’s two plays to one story.
Sarah Harrison 11:30
Karen Pierce 11:32
Well, Witness for the Prosecution is a short story. And then it was adapted onto a play. And then there are movies that have used the short story. And then there are movies that have used the play. And Then There Were None has been performed all over the place in all sorts of different ways. She did write a play for that. But I think it’s called it’s called something completely different. So yeah, both. Black Coffee isn’t is an original standalone play. I saw one when I was at the festival this year, Towards Zero, which is a book. She wrote a play for it, which had never been performed. Dr. Julius Green, who’s a theatre writer who has written a book about her theater works. He found it. At the festival this year, a group of actors did a read through of it.
Sarah Harrison 12:38
Karen Pierce 12:38
It was so wonderful. It’s slightly different from the book. So it’s totally differently written. That was so much fun to see and hear.
Sarah Harrison 12:48
As you were writing your Agatha Christie cookbook, did you keep up with all the film and TV adaptations as well?
Karen Pierce 12:54
I don’t say I keep up with them, but I’ve seen many even before I started the Agatha Christie cookbook. And I’ve certainly seen everything that Masterpiece Theater has put out for us. And I’ve seen some of the older ones, certainly, I saw the originals of those. Margaret Rutherford is not one of my faves, so I haven’t really gotten into hers. But I’ve read most of them. And I’ve been to see the latest three by Kenneth Branagh. And I have opinions on the Sarah Phelps ones. But I’ve enjoyed the Kenneth Branagh ones. I think they’ve been great. He’s made Poirot little too feisty for my taste. Poirot is not fist fighting. He just doesn’t.
Sarah Harrison 13:39
Have you seen the latest one? Is it scary? Is it actually scary? Because the preview looks scary,.
Karen Pierce 13:46
No. I mean, you know it’s going to work out in the end. Agatha Christie didn’t believe in ghosts. Really, there are no ghosts in her stories. I’ll just put it like that. But I think it’s quite well done, because I think he relied less on the book. He took the idea of the book, and then he wrote a good story for it. And I think that that’s how it works best.
Carolyn Daughters 14:16
I feel like that’s what Kenneth Branagh does in the movies. They do feel different to me. And he is a very different Poirot to me. He’s, of course, good in everything he does. But he’s not my favorite. Poirot. I have not seen a Haunting in Venice either, which, I think, is based on Hallowe’en Party.
Karen Pierce 14:52
He uses the characters’ names. They’re not the same characters at all. But there’s plots from other books in there that have almost more influence in The Hallowe’en Party. See it soon, though. It’s Halloween.
Sarah Harrison 15:14
I almost did, but I’m so scared of horror. They made the previews so scary.
Karen Pierce 15:20
I’ve never even seen The Exorcist. The scariest movie I’ve seen is The Birds.
Sarah Harrison 15:27
Yeah, that’s pretty scary.
Karen Pierce 15:28
I don’t want to be scared. Life is scary enough. So, no, I don’t go for horror. This is not horror. It’s a little out there for Agatha Christie. With the movies and with the series, the problem is the books. The mystery is the main character, not Poirot, not the victim, not the killer. The mystery is the main character. But when you make a movie, you need to have a character drive it. So this is why they keep putting in backstories and having them do things that they would normally tell other people to do and stuff like that. I think that’s why Kenneth Branagh focused on the mustache and on the past loves, things like that, right? Because he’s trying to create this very solid character that you can relate to in the movie.
Sarah Harrison 16:38
That makes sense.
Karen Pierce 16:40
And David Suchet did it a little bit differently by being the perfect Poirot. What the series did was focused on Miss Lemon and Hastings, who are not in the books very much at all. So they have done it the other way. Instead of developing Poirot, they developed side characters to make it more of a story.
Carolyn Daughters 17:10
More of a collection or a cast that we follow. David Suchet is my favorite Poirot. I really adore him.
Karen Pierce 17:19
He set out to do it perfectly. I mean, I think Agatha Christie would be just like gobsmacked.
Carolyn Daughters 17:28
I think she would, too.
Karen Pierce 17:30
Yeah, like, oh my god, you jumped out of my head.
Carolyn Daughters 17:33
She apparently really liked Albert Finney in the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express. And rightfully so he’s excellent. The whole that whole cast is incredible.
Karen Pierce 17:45
And you can almost see the connection between the Albert Finney Poirot and and David Suchet’s Poirot. Very similar. Whereas Peter Ustinov is more in the Kenneth Branagh style.
Carolyn Daughters 17:59
Yes. A little flashy. When Agatha Christie saw Murder on the Orient Express, the 1974 version, supposedly she said afterward that Albert Finney is as close to Poirot as she could have imagined. Except that his moustaches we’re not quite as flamboyant as she had pictured in her own mind. Which I think it’s funny.
Karen Pierce 18:26
When you see some of the early people who play Poirot in the early 30s, you’re just horrified, and rightly so. I mean, these are the same people who thought Miss Marple was Margaret Rutherford. It just doesn’t even pass the competence test. This is why Agatha Christie was also very hesitant to license her stuff, because people were not drawing or creating what was in her head.
Carolyn Daughters 19:00
Somebody could go in a direction that she might not appreciate. They could chop up the plot and the story or change the characters in ways that maybe she would not have approved of.
Karen Pierce 19:13
Yeah, there’s ways to change the characters and change the story and stuff for modern sensibilities, or just to make it a little different because you’re going to set it somewhere else. I mean, Romeo and Juliet has been done everywhere in every different type of way. So I think she’s okay with that as long as you keep the core. You can’t change the murderer, and you can’t change the murder. That is the puzzle. So if you have different people playing different pieces of the puzzle, that’s okay, in my opinion. But if you change the puzzle, then it’s really not Agatha Christie.
Carolyn Daughters 19:53
To what degree has community and a collective experience of Agatha Christie motivated your interest in Agatha Christie over the years? For example, Dr. John Curran, he wrote the foreword to your Agatha Christie cookbook. You’ve traveled to England, you’ve been to Agatha Christie’s houses. As you’ve built a community of people who love Agatha Christie or become part of these communities, has this fed your interest in Agatha Christie?
Karen Pierce 20:23
Oh, in leaps and bounds, really. Before I was just an Agatha Christie fan, and I read all her books. But I went to Bouchercon first because I’ve also read all the Peter Robinsons and Colin Dexter. I’m a big mystery fan, so I’d always wanted to go to the one in England for Christie, always. She was my first love, right? So then when I got there and found all these people, it was like, Oh, my God, you could talk to anyone. We all knew the same things. We all had the same experience of reading Christie. And that’s just the fans. And then I got to meet and get to know the people who wrote the books that they were presenting there. And Kemper Donovan, and Carla Valentine and Dr. Mark Goodridge. Oh my goodness. These are really fascinating people who spent years studying. And John Curran wrote his PhD on Agatha Christie. These people know a lot about Christie. I was so nervous that first time I went on with Kemper about my Agatha Christie cookbook because I knew he knew more than I did. But I was able to hold my own with Kemper. I thought, okay, now I know I can do this. So it was great. And John Curran interviewed me at the festival this year about Recipes for Murder, so that was great fun.
Sarah Harrison 21:52
I was gonna ask if you get to present your Agatha Christie cookbook at one of these festivals?
Karen Pierce 21:56
I did. It was the very last thing that happened. Most people had left, but I still almost filled the barn. It was great fun. John asked questions, and he tried to stump me. We did good. It was great. I really enjoyed it. He’s a very nice man. And really supportive of the whole Agatha Christie thing. He’s been going to that festival, showing up every year for 20 years. Hopefully, I’ll get to present next year as well.
Sarah Harrison 22:31
Incredible. Yeah, that would be awesome.
Karen Pierce 22:33
I’m hoping to do breakfast at Greenway.
Sarah Harrison 22:35
Yeah, someone has to serve hors d’oeuvres or make something from your Agatha Christie book and put them in the sideboard or something.
Karen Pierce 22:44
I don’t know how we’re gonna do this. I have about five ideas. I’m gonna write to the coordinator soon.
Carolyn Daughters 22:53
I think that would be amazing. So you’ve read all 66 novels multiple times, as you said. After all these rereadings, which ones rise to the surface for you, which ones resonate most with you?
Karen Pierce 23:15
Well, the one I mentioned is the Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect in the States). It’s just a wonderfully well-written story. It’s so amazing because there’s no action really at all. Poirot talks to five people and then all five people write him a letter about what happened. And then he has a meeting of them and puts it together. It’s a practically perfect mystery. I really, really enjoy that. That’s when all one of my all time faves. I love the characterizations in The Hollow. Dr. Curran does not like The Hollow. He thinks it should have been one of Mary Westmacott’s books. He says, “there’s just not much of a puzzle.”
Sarah Harrison 24:18
What do you like about it? The characterizations? Tell me more.
Karen Pierce 24:21
I love the characterizations.There’s just so many layers in on the subject of love. Whether from love of medicine and his whole love of what he does, and then there’s this artist and and there’s poor Gerda and her version of love and then there’s the love of the land and this starlet that shows up that loved John Cristo from years ago and never got over it. There’s just all these different layers being explored and how they fit into the murder. It’s just one of my personal affairs. I quite like The Blue Train, which is not one of Agatha Christie’s favorites because she wrote it right after her disappearance and was just anxious to get it done. So she didn’t love that book. I think it had too many memories for her, but I quite enjoyed it. I thought it was great fun. The castle puddings are from that book.
Sarah Harrison 25:23
I was going to say that’s the castle pudding from the Agatha Christie cookbook! Delicious, folks.
Karen Pierce 25:28
Yeah, so those are a few of my favorites. I mean, of course. I love the the big famous ones. I mean that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It’s just wonderful. And a fun one that I just adore is The Man in the Brown Suit. If you haven’t read that, just read it for fun. It’s just so fun. I want to be in Beddingfield.
Carolyn Daughters 25:58
I’ve not read that. I will do that.
Karen Pierce 26:01
Your modern-day sexist eyebrow will raise all the way to the top of your head.
Sarah Harrison 26:08
They do in a lot of these books.
Karen Pierce 26:09
Be clear about that. But put that aside, and enjoy just the raw romance and crazy.
Carolyn Daughters 26:18
That’s the case with most everything we’re reading. There are questionable sentences, paragraphs, pages, and we just plow through.
Sarah Harrison 26:30
I think you have to when you’re going in historical order. There’s a lot of things that — not just food has changed over time.
Exactly. Kemper calls it “stuck in its time.” And I think that’s a pretty good description. It’s a little bit stuck in it’s time. Nevertheless, a good romp is a good romp.
I will say though, in the different books we’ve read, I feel like Agatha Christie tends to hold up or be a little bit more evergreen than some of the authors where it can start to feel really dated in some of them that we’ve read. Whereas, Agatha Christie, I tend to not feel that as much or get bogged down by that. What do you think?
Karen Pierce 27:17
No, I think with Agatha Christie, there’s just a few references. And it’s more those things, the descriptions of people or that kind of stereotyping that she can do and her class did. But she’s so much more accessible, so much more concise, so much more committed to the puzzle and the themes that she doesn’t get bogged down. I have lent a few Dorothy Sayers to a couple of friends of mine, and every time that say, “well, that’s dated.”
Sarah Harrison 27:50
Even a language sounds a little too vernacular. And it didn’t travel. Whereas Agatha Christie seems less vernacular.
Carolyn Daughters 27:59
Lord Peter Wimsey … when he has dialogue, I find it very hard to follow.
Sarah Harrison 28:07
Yeah, there are a lot of references, and I’m like, I think I’m not getting it. Because I didn’t live at that time.
Carolyn Daughters 28:31
Agatha Christie also was well traveled. She very much took her life experience and channeled it into the novels, stories, and plays that she wrote. One of your favorite novels, I think, is Death on the Nile. Murder on the Orient Express is another. There are so many books that aren’t confined to England, but the characters are traveling. They’re elsewhere. There’s a really interesting global aspect to a lot of her books that I find find really fun. You talk a bit about that in the Agatha Christie cookbook as well.
Karen Pierce 29:11
Well, the one I just talked about, The Man in the Brown Suit, pretty accurately follows her first travel with Archie around the world when they did that trip for the British Empire. A lot of that follows as far as South Africa goes. I find that really fun because it’s taken just directly from her travels. Murder on the Orient Express as well. It’s basically said, I think this is how it goes, after her divorce, she bought a ticket to the Caribbean. And then she went to a dinner party where people were talking about the Middle East, and she found out her favorite train — she used to go to the station and just look at the Orient Express. She found that her favorite train actually went to the Middle East. And she went the next day and traded her ticket to the Caribbean for a trip on the Orient Express. And that was her first journey on it. And she never looked back.
Sarah Harrison 30:15
Have you been on the train?
Karen Pierce 30:17
No. Wouldn’t we all love to?
Sarah Harrison 30:21
I’m a big train lover.
Carolyn Daughters 30:22
You can make a several course meal from your Agatha Christie cookbook aboard the train!
Karen Pierce 30:27
It kind of does. They’ve been refurbishing it. David Suchet, I think, has a special on it. They’ve refurbished a line, and it goes from Paddington Station in the UK all the way to Istanbul.
Carolyn Daughters 30:44
Istanbul, right. In the first sentence of Murder on the Orient Express starts with Poirot in Syria. And so it would have moved from Syria to Istanbul.
Karen Pierce 30:58
Yeah, he took a journey to Istanbul, and that’s where he picked up the train. It does all sorts of short journeys, too. I’ve looked at it. You can go just from Paris to Venice.
Sarah Harrison 31:10
That sounds very good.
Karen Pierce 31:12
Like just just a one nighter. It’s only five grand.
Carolyn Daughters 31:17
Well, if that’s all it costs, I’m in. And that’s the second-class birth. Yeah, I mean, I would love to do it. And get off at all of these different places. The train stops, and I flee the train and come back the next day sort of thing. But we’re about to read Murder on the Orient Express. And one interesting thing we were talking about — some some of Agatha Christie’s writing is dated. But there’s an interesting aspect to Murder on the Orient Express where we have a princess, we have servants, we have a German woman, a very wealthy Hungarian couple, we have Poirot, who is Belgian, we have a Greek doctor. We have Americans, and also this American idea, or ideal, comes into play. But in some ways feels like, for me, an American novel because of all of these different classes and peoples.
Karen Pierce 32:36
And the root of it is American. That story comes from an American story. And that is, in one way, part of the solution that the whole thing looks so very American, here in the middle of the Alps. How did that happen? See, she’s very clever. And apparently, one time when she was taking the train, shee got stuck. And I think that time it was a rain storm or something. But yeah, she was stuck for two days. And that’s where this all coming from. She loved her trains.
Carolyn Daughters 33:17
And she had this meticulous attention to detail where supposedly when she was on the Calais Coach or whatever the the train was that she was on, she would look at where the door handles were, and if you’re going to press a call button. Mrs. Hubbard has a bag that is supposedly covering the lock of the door at one point so she couldn’t tell whether the door between her room and Mr. Ratchet’s room had been locked. Agatha Christie knew the layout of this train. She knew what she was talking about. Everything was honored, the detail of the train.
Karen Pierce 33:58
Except she never told us what a sponge bag is.
Carolyn Daughters 34:01
What is a sponge bag?
Sarah Harrison 34:02
I’m gonna look that up. Like get me to Google. What is a sponge bag? I’m often Googling and circling things to go back and Google as I read these books.
Carolyn Daughters 34:21
Maybe it has something to do with bathing. We will find out. I marked it in my book and said, what in the world? Agatha Christie’s father was American. What do you know about her sense of being British, her sense of being half-American, her sense of being European, her sense of the world?
Karen Pierce 34:50
I feel she saw herself as a British woman. I think pretty much clearly. A couple of times she did go to America. She did find her family’s graveyard. But the way she treats Americans in her books is if they’re something completely other. They’re just hilariously something other.
Sarah Harrison 35:18
Like Mrs. Hubbard.
Karen Pierce 35:22
They’re titans of industry or they’re over the top.
Carolyn Daughters 35:27
Karen Pierce 35:32
I’m not entirely sure she saw herself as European either. She wasn’t formally educated, although she did do a finishing school in France and maybe I’m thinking Switzerland. But I think she hated it so much she ended up in France. But she doesn’t really seem to be a part of that culture. I know she had to be convinced by her husband Max to vote for going into the European Union when Britain went into the European Union in the 70s. She did think of herself as, well, as a housewife. It’s how she primarily saw herself. But I think she saw herself more as an adventurer in some ways. She really did that. I mean, we’re talking about a woman in her 50s and 60s sleeping in these dirt caravans out in the dig with her husband. It’s really quite challenging stuff. I’m reading about it thinking, Oh, I wouldn’t do that. Like, was there no, glamping?
Carolyn Daughters 36:56
She did see herself as a housewife.
Karen Pierce 36:59
She signed every one of her passports as “housewife.” That was her occupation. She’s the bestselling author of her time.
Sarah Harrison 37:07
Karen Pierce 37:08
And she writes “housewife.”
Carolyn Daughters 37:11
After the Bible and Shakespeare, it’s Agatha Christie. Housewife. It’s so interesting.
Karen Pierce 37:18
I know, isn’t it though? She believed as a young woman that she lost her husband because she didn’t pay enough attention to him.
Sarah Harrison 37:29
Her first husband?
Carolyn Daughters 37:31
He had a mistress and wanted to leave her.
Sarah Harrison 37:34
And she disappeared for what, 10 days, is that the story? Nobody knows where she went.
Karen Pierce 37:40
She went to Harrogate Spa, for the most part. She had an amnesia or within a fugue state of some sort. I mean, she just had a breakdown. Her mother died. And then her husband announces that he’s leaving her for a younger woman.
Sarah Harrison 37:58
She blamed herself?
Karen Pierce 38:01
Yeah, she blamed herself. I mean, she was only like 32 or 33 at the time. She was not that old. She had just published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, one of the best things she ever wrote. But she didn’t even really see that because this all happened too much. And this young woman had been a friend of theirs. And she was the golfer, and she turned Archie onto golfing, and then she didn’t want to go that often. Well, turns out he was golfing with her all the time.
But she felt that this was her fault. So she really did focus on her second husband a lot. And he was quite an intellectual, and she felt more of a lowbrow. She called him high brow. She was low brow. Because she wrote for the masses, and he wrote obviously for the intellectual scholars of the time. She loved what he did though. I think she came by that quite naturally. She really liked it. She would go out, and she learned using cold cream how to clean things that were dug up. But she was in no part leading that. That was them. So she looked after the house in the home, and she wrote a book on the side. That’s how she saw herself. Oh, I just took an hour out to do a little writing. Oh, you’ve come for coffee. No matter. I’ll put that away.
Sarah Harrison 39:47
Karen Pierce 39:48
It was always have a secondary thing in spite of the fact. I think maybe as she got into her 60s and 70s she started to realize that she’d done something pretty amazing. She was always more about it with the plays. She loved the play. She loved the whole theater thing. That was something she was really taken with. She was much more serious. She went to all of the openings and knew all of the directors producers and was much more into that than either the books or the TV or anything like that.
Carolyn Daughters 40:31
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a deservedly famous book, extremely clever and well done. It’s a controversial book. You are part of this larger Agatha Christie community, and you were recently at Bouchercon to promote the Agatha Christie cookbook. What is the response? What is your response to the controversy around the book? I’m not sure how far I should go into that in case somebody has not read it yet. We have read it this year, and we have a couple podcast episodes on it. But what’s your thought about the controversy or what you’ve heard even in your years of study?
Karen Pierce 41:12
I actually don’t think it’s a controversy. I think she did it and she did it very well. She first tried it in The Man in the Brown Suit. She’s tried it and one or two others, the same sort of trick, and the clues are all there. That’s all I can say. The second and third time you read it, the clues are all there. She is not playing unfair. I think The Mysterious Affair at Styles is less fair than The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. All of those things are there for Roger Ackroyd, you just have to get them. Whereas in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, you pretty much have to be a chemist to figure out how that work
Sarah Harrison 42:09
The same with Murder on the Orient Express. There’s no way that you could possibly figure out.
Carolyn Daughters 42:15
I disagree entirely, having reread it. I don’t know how anyone could not understand what’s happening.
Sarah Harrison 42:22
Well, but you have to know about this whole … Poirot starts with this. They have a little letter, and he knows what it connects to in the news.
Carolyn Daughters 42:32
Well, without that we would have been lost. But he does share that.
Karen Pierce 42:41
There’s also the different depths and ferocity of the knife attack.
Sarah Harrison 42:48
Right. I mean, there are clues.
Karen Pierce 42:51
That’s the biggest clue of all.
Sarah Harrison 42:54
I wanted to ask about the rereading. Because the first time I read Roger Ackroyd, I was blown away. And the second time, like you said, I was like, Oh, my goodness, it’s so clear. It’s screaming out what the ending should be. When you’re rereading everything, do you often have that experience? Do you forget some of the endings, and then you’re surprised again?
Karen Pierce 43:23
Sure. Well, maybe not completely the ending, but I’m surprised by the clues being laid out and it’s so obvious. I think in the second time, I always laugh more because I catch her jokes. I think you appreciate the bits and pieces. Way more on the second time, because then the first time you’re not sure what’s going on.
Carolyn Daughters 43:49
I want to talk to some people who are going to be reading Murder on the Orient Express for the first time to see what they get and when they get it. Are they taken by surprise?
Karen Pierce 44:03
That might be hard because it’s such a famous movie.
Carolyn Daughters 44:07
Especially with Kenneth Branagh having redone it. And the 1974 version is phenomenal.
Karen Pierce 44:14
And it’s still out there.
Carolyn Daughters 44:16
The 1974 version starts with the Daisy Armstrong newspaper pictures. Whereas it’s integrated into the novel pretty quickly. Poirot was able to figure out that this is related to this kidnapping of this three year old child. In the 1974 version, we see the newspaper clippings, that’s how the movie launches. So we have the shared understanding, which is critical to understanding what’s going to happen in the story. In rereading of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I felt the same way as Sarah. It was obvious to me as I was reading what the narrator was withholding, what the narrator was sharing. It was so interesting.
Karen Pierce 45:07
I was as the last festival to promote the Agatha Christie cookbook. We did have a talk at the last festival about this. Some of them, the tricks are so big that after you’ve reread it once, maybe twice, t doesn’t stand up well, long after that, because it was a one trick pony. Whereas some of the other ones I’m talking about, like The Five Little Pigs, you would read that again and again. Oh, I still enjoy that description. You know what I mean? Because it was more about the puzzle. Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd really fit. They’re great the first time through, they’re amazing. The second time through, it becomes like, oh. And the third time through, you’ve read it.
Carolyn Daughters 46:01
That makes sense. We are studying the history of mystery in this podcast, we’re reading these books, starting with Edgar Allan Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and then moving forward in time. A lot of the murders in these earlier stories, and maybe also The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie first book, many of these murders, the reader could not have figured it out. Because there are things happening behind the scenes. Dupin Poe or Sherlock Holmes, they’re figuring stuff out that is not on the page. And so we can’t be involved in that process. Did you see an evolution of Agatha Christie style from The Mysterious Affair at Styles?
Karen Pierce 46:52
That was her first one. She didn’t mean it to be anything but it what it was. But she did use some knowledge she had from her years at the dispensary that the rest of us did not have. So I don’t know that she did that again. Murder on the Links, for instance. Now again, she’s using a old story, but it’s worked right in so you can’t really say it’s not being revealed to you. It is. So yeah, she worked really hard on that after that, which is why there was the big fuss about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because people weren’t expecting that.
Carolyn Daughters 47:45
And it has influenced so many authors since.
Karen Pierce 47:48
Absolutely. The unreliable narrator.
Carolyn Daughters 47:53
For sure that the first Elizabeth George, I read, you know, I won’t spoil anything in that. But you see that theme appearing over and over. I know you are a lover of mysteries, but do you find just tons of mysteries written today or even in recent decades, just they could not have happened without Agatha Christie.
Karen Pierce 48:18
And the authors will tell you that. Before I wrote the Agatha Christie cookbook, I did have a bit of a time where I started asking authors all the time, “So how to Agatha Christie influence your work?” Every time I went to a book festival and stuff. What was interesting, I thought, is the women were far more verbose about it. And actually, I didn’t even have to ask; it was part of their talks. And I’m thinking Louise Penny, Val McDermid, they just came right out and said, yeah. The men you had to ask. And they all absolutely admitted that they had read Christie. For sure, I mean, like I said, her plots are like Shakespeare, they’re just being used over and over and over again, because they’re classic.
Carolyn Daughters 49:03
They are. Incredible.
Karen Pierce 49:06
It’s mostly money. And after that, it’s love and hiding, hiding in love. But mostly money. Always look for the money.
Sarah Harrison 49:23
I wanted to ask you, too, far and in our book club, we’ve just been introduced to Hercule Poirot. But in reading your Agatha Christie cookbook, you bring up a lot of other of her sort of thematic detective sets. Could you tell us about the different detectives in her books? And maybe if you have any favorites?
Karen Pierce 49:42
Well, there’s obviously Hercule Poirot and then Miss Marple. And I do love Miss Marple. I tried to decide is it Marple or is it Poirot. I think when I was younger, it was Poirot. As I get older, maybe it’s Marple.
Sarah Harrison 49:59
Karen Pierce 50:01
I love Tommy and Tuppence. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford start off in The Secret Adversary as two young people just fresh out of World War One. They’ve met up again and they ended up getting married and they are the only two that naturally age, they get married, they have children, their children grow up, they go into World War Two, they become old people. They’re the only two that do that. So that’s interesting. Now a few of her other detectives don’t really appear too much in the novels. They’re more short stories. And I’m thinking of Parker Pine, um, and Harley Quin.
Carolyn Daughters 50:55
Karen Pierce 51:00
Man, that’s a name. She shows up periodically through quite a few. She doesn’t have any standalones, but she’s been in quite a few of the Poirot ones. So she’s a lot of fun. She is apparently the you know, the personification of Agatha Christie herself.
Carolyn Daughters 51:19
The alter ego. She’s a mystery novelist.
Karen Pierce 51:22
Yeah, she’s the mystery novelist, and she hates the public. A lot of Christie’s opinions get shoved out of out of her mouth. So that’s always a lot of fun. Who else? Well, there are a lot of standalone books. They’re like one shot. Like Anne Beddingfield in The Man in the Brown Suit. Or there’s a lovely young woman in the Sittaford Mystery, Superintendent Battle. You have the sort of Tommy and Tuppence, the Bobby and Lady Frances (Frankie).
Carolyn Daughters 52:23
Your Agatha Christie cookbook has 66 recipes for 66 novels.
Karen Pierce 52:30
I know. They didn’t buy recipes.
Carolyn Daughters 52:35
Yeah, I’ve been referring actually to your book for the list of the novels Agatha Christie has written. I’m like, Well, the easiest way I could get that is from Recipes for Murder.
Karen Pierce 52:47
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans. There’s Bobby and Lady Frankie. They’re sort of a different version of the Tommy and Tuppence, which I think was she based on herself and Archie in the early days. There’s lots of those young couples and then you get more into the superintendents. And in Murder Is Easy, it’s a police officer from South Africa who olves that mystery. A little bit of difference all over the place. Poirot dominates, because that’s what her public wanted. But there is a fair smattering of other ones. Another one I would highly recommend as you get older is Endless Night.
Carolyn Daughters 53:47
Karen Pierce 53:50
So she is 76 years old at that time. And the person who speaks through that is a 20-something young man from the wrong side of the tracks. And she has his voice perfectly.
Carolyn Daughters 54:07
Karen Pierce 54:09
Think about it. She’s like your grandmother, and she’s writing like your kid brother. And gets it right.
Carolyn Daughters 54:19
Obviously, a seriously, talented, mystery genius. Who I will say I adore.
Sarah Harrison 54:28
Karen Pierce 54:30
Her characterizations and her puzzles are just magnificent. And nobody has done it as well. Or certainly as often.
Carolyn Daughters 54:41
Sarah Harrison 54:43
Well, Karen, this has been a delightful conversation. I’m sure we could go on at length with all of these novels in your Agatha Christie cookbook, Recipes for Murder. Where can folks get that? And where can they find you on social media?
Karen Pierce 54:59
I have an Instagram site called Recipes for Murder. But for the most part, you can get the book online anywhere. But always my suggestion is to go to your local bookstore. Let’s support our local vendors. And if you go in there and ask them to order it, chances are they’ll order a couple more and your neighbors will get to see it too.
Carolyn Daughters 55:51
I love that idea. The mystery lovers in your life will love this Agatha Christie cookbook. You can also learn more about the mysteries and thrillers we’re reading at teatonicandtoxin.com. Share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook and Instagram @TeaTonicandToxin. And be sure to subscribe to our podcast so you never miss an episode.
Sarah Harrison 55:42
Thank you, Karen. Thanks for being with us.
Karen Pierce 55:54
Thank you. It’s been great fun and good luck with your with your book club. It sounds intriguing. I’ll have to join your podcast.
Sarah Harrison 56:04
Please do. And until then, stay mysterious.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →