Two of crime fiction’s most famous storytellers, Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie, also knew how to get a laugh.
Chandler, beyond the terse and cynical narratives of such Philip Marlowe novels as “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye,” was able to poke fun at his own life. His rarely seen “Advice to an Employer” is a list of suggestions for how you can ruin the day for those stuck on your payroll, including “If you cannot find anything, just roar,” and “Always tell your secretary you have nothing to dictate until it is time for dinner. Then rattle off a lot of letters you have left since domesday.”
Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot enjoys an amusing holiday in the 1923 story “Christmas Adventure,” only now being released in the U.S. It’s an easygoing tale of a Christmas gathering and a foiled attempt to fool the wily sleuth. When a guest calls out to him, “Come down at once, please. Someone’s been killed,” Poirot calmly replies, “Aha, this is serious.”
Both pieces appear in the new issue of Strand Magazine, a quarterly which has published obscure work by John Steinbeck, Mark Twain and William Faulkner among others. The magazine’s focus is on crime and mystery, but managing editor Andrew Gulli said he wanted to offer some relief during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
“We decided early on that we needed to publish an issue that will provide something light-hearted for our readers,” Gulli said.
Christie’s piece, the basis for the longer “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding,” was originally part of a series called “The Little Grey Cells of Hercule Poirot.” According to Tony Medawar, producer of the International Agatha Christie Festival (in Devon, England), Christie likely drew upon her own childhood in setting a playful atmosphere, with the kids showing proper irreverence for the supposedly world famous detective.
“Christmas Adventure” also is appearing in the upcoming Christie collection “Midwinter Murder,” which comes out Oct. 20.
“‘Christmas Adventure’ is a particularly light-hearted story,” Medawar says. “Agatha Christie is known for the rigour and ingenuity with which she constructed a mystery and laid clues for the attentive reader to detect, and it is often forgotten how much humour there is in her stories, even in her darkest tales of murder and mayhem.”
Chandler’s employer guide, according to Chandler scholar Dr. Sarah Trott, was likely written in the early 1950s, when Chandler hired a private secretary, Juanita Messick. Chandler long suffered from depression, but seemed at ease with Messick. Addressing her as “Nita,” Chandler would send her humorous notes, such as one around Easter weekend of 1951: “Office will be closed Thursday and Friday. On Friday you should go to church for three hours. On Thursday you will have to be guided by your conscience, if any.”
“The two remained good friends even after she ceased working for him and continued to provide a shoulder of support for the ailing writer, helping to arrange his wife Cissy’s funeral in January 1955 and supporting him through alcoholism, hospitalization, and various suicide attempts until his death in March 1959,” Trott writes in an afterword that appears in Strand Magazine.
“‘Advice to an Employer’ shows us two significant facets of Chandler’s personality that enhance our understanding of the author,” Trott writes. “While it illustrates his renowned humor and wit, it also shows a far more personal, human side. This light-hearted and teasing tone is infrequently seen in Chandler’s personal correspondence. Chandler’s guard has dropped completely, allowing us a glimpse behind the curtain.”
— HILLEL ITALIE, Associated Press