#bookaday 10: Reminds me of someone I love

I'm cheating with this one, because I've chosen not just one book, but the work of a particular author: Agatha Christie. Apart from the smell of Rothman's Superkings, a slice of bread pudding and a Bejam's choc ice, nothing reminds me more of my nan than Agatha Christie.

My Nanny Sheppard loved a good murder. While other people's nans were teaching them how to iron a hanky or some other such nonsense, mine taught me that if you hear an unexplained bang you should always check your watch in case someone's been shot and you need to help a detective determine the exact time of death, and that if you want to poison someone with cyanide, you should conceal it in marzipan or Bakewell tart because it smells of almonds.

She wasn't really the cuddly type of nan, exactly, and she could be an incredibly difficult person to get along with at times, but she could also be great fun when the mood took her and I often miss her.

When I was about ten or so, Nan lent me several of her Agatha Christies - Aggies, as she called them. She had a whole shelf of them, all old paperbacks from the 1950s and 60s, all battered and all reeking of cigarette smoke. I was immediately hooked, not just on the murder plots - which, by the way, are brilliantly clever - but on the whole world that Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple inhabited. Trips down the Nile, jaunts on the Orient Express, tea at the vicarage, extended stays at refined London hotels. Everyone smokes, and keeps their cigarettes in a silver case. Everyone is either middle-class or terribly posh, foreigners are on no account to be trusted unless they're actually Poirot, young men are angry because they 'had a bad war' and everyone seems to live in a huge house with a number of their extended family. Nobody works for a living except for the occasional prim secretary, the local vicar and an assortment of domestic servants.

It occurs to me now that essentially, Agatha Christie is Enid Blyton for adults. Safe and formulaic, a product of another, less threatening age, and in seemingly endless supply. No wonder they appealed to a ten-year-old so much. 

I used to borrow four of five Aggies every time I visited, and then return them on the next visit, as if my grandparents were operating a library. Sometimes I'd find an old photo tucked into one, or a shopping list. Occasionally there would be scores from a card game scribbled on the inside cover.

To this day, I can't see an old copy of an Agatha Christie novel in a second-hand bookshop without thinking of Nanny Sheppard. They're so inextricably linked in my head that I can't separate them.