Murder in the (British!) Library

The British Library

The British Library on a drizzly day

I am an Agatha Christie FANATIC. I have read all her books (even the one published twenty-two years after her death by that Australian music critic. I am THAT devoted). But, if we’re being honest, a standard response to this declaration might well be: “Yeah, you and the rest of the world!” Because who doesn’t love delving into a detective novel, especially one by the Queen of Crime? Number #1 activity for a rainy day. If your number #2 activity constitutes going to an exhibit on said Queen and her compatriots, well, you’re in luck! Presented by the Folio Society, ‘Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction’ is on now at the British Library, and it is awesome.

Murder mystery fans will be reassured right off the bat that they’re in good company, with the welcome sign stating that one in three of all novels published in English around the world is of the crime fiction variety. Can’t argue with the numbers! Or rather, in this case, the letters – the exhibit is set up according to the alphabet, with 26 fun tidbits to explore. There’s also a display of ‘The Decalogue – Ronald Knox’s ‘rules’ for detective fiction’ (hopefully meant to be taken tongue-in-cheekily and not purposely insulting to ‘Chinamen’ and Watsons everywhere..!)

Ronald Knox's 'rules' for detective fiction

Ronald Knox’s ‘rules’ for detective fiction

It’s no surprise that A is for Agatha, but Raymond Chandler, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe all make an appearance, as do many others crime writers I wasn’t familiar with but would love to check out. Wilkie Collins – whose stories I would recommend effusively – pops up towards the end. I read ‘The Moonstone’ when I was younger (and freely admit I came to it by way of a Wishbone episode…don’t laugh). I hadn’t heard of ‘The Woman in White’ until my book club stumbled upon it in a Guardian list last year, but let me tell you, it rocked our socks, 1800s-style.

There are some manuscript gems, like the below copy of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, film version. There’s a hilarious line where Hercules Poirot asks “Does he speak English?” and the reply is: “A kind of English, sir…he seems to have learnt it in a place called Chicago”.

Screenplay for Murder on the Orient Express, the movie

Screenplay for Murder on the Orient Express

Anyway, ‘Murder in the Library’ is on until May 12, so plenty of time to pop by, though you might want to strategically time your visit. There was barely anyone there when we first arrived, and by the time we had reached ‘Z’ it looked like this:

*cue 'Psycho' music*

*cue ‘Psycho’ music*

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