One little-discussed provision of the pandemic relief bill is that all ad copy and commentary must begin with the words “during these uncertain times.”
So. During these uncertain times, I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie. I got the idea after my favorite podcast host, Phoebe Judge, decided to read a chapter a day of Christie’s first book, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles.”
I’d read most of Christie’s work in my teens and 20s, but I hadn’t read this one. And I’ve been a fan of Phoebe Judge’s “Criminal” podcast for the last few years. Something about an old-fashioned drawing-room mystery delivered in Phoebe’s lovely, measured tones: It’s a comfort. You know, during these uncertain times.
Agatha Christie was at the height of her powers between the end of the Great War and the start of the Cold one. Then her distinctive style — the intricate plots, the clever dialog, the overabundance of red herrings — gave way to a wave of gritty noir populated mainly by mobsters, psychopaths and sex killers. Reading her now is a bit like watching “Gosford Park” after repeated viewings of “Pulp Fiction.” Which is to say, refreshing.
As far as audio books go, I’ve never cared much for them. But if they were all read by Phoebe Judge, I might convert my whole library. Since the start of “Criminal” six years ago, her voice has acquired a pitch and patina that is both soothing and a little seductive. Like Agatha Christie in the 1930s, I think she is at the height of her powers.
If you were to be interviewed by that velvet voice, you’d answer as quickly and intelligently as you could. You wouldn’t want to elicit even a hint of reproach. If Phoebe Judge had been the voice of HAL saying: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Dave might have said, “OK, sure, no problem,” and drifted happily off into the void.
Right now, I’m listening to her read Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Again, a chapter at a time, and again, just charming. Also, it’s free. I never tire of Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Marple. If you find yourself with time on your hands — and who doesn’t these days? — Dave Bob says check it out.