And then there were lockdown and murder, a crime writer’s ...

Ideas

And then there were lockdown and murder, a crime writer’s perfect combo

Agatha Christie’s biographer explains why she often placed her characters in claustrophobic settings

Laura Thompson

Looking for literary solace in these strange times, you can go one of two ways: a book about an activity — travel, a wild party — that conjures up the world as it used to be. Or, perhaps more perversely consoling, a book that reflects the present situation, in which characters are confined, alone or, possibly, both and having a worse time of it than you.

Taking the second option, I recently re-read a little-known novel published in 1944, whose theme is self-isolation. Absent in the Spring tells the story of pleasant, attractive, slightly smug Joan Scudamore, who is travelling home to England from a visit to her daughter in Baghdad. When her train fails to arrive, she is stranded in the desert. She has a place to stay, but she is the sole guest. Soon she has no ink in her pen and, worst of all, has finished the available reading matter.

With nothing to sustain her but memories, she is forced to recognise truths that she had previously failed to acknowledge — most painfully, her husband’s love for another woman — and to see herself with a piercing clarity that ordinary life occludes...

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