Books: Spoken Word

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The Independent Culture
The Moving Finger

by Agatha Christie

HarperCollins, 5hrs 30mins, pounds 11.99

EVEN AGATHA Christie thought that Joan Hickson, who died this month aged 92, was the definitive Miss Marple. Listening to her reading , recorded in her own home in 1995, is a fine way of recalling her achievement. Hickson puts over period with a haughty tremulo of vowel sounds that snap you back to the days of frustrated vicars' daughters and mannish women in tweeds faster than you can say house-parlourmaid. This unabridged novel allows us to appreciate the Queen of crime passionelle's grasp of contemporary geist as well as her skills of plot and dialogue. By contrast June Whitfield, newest in a long line of televised Miss Marples, sounds blander and more modern in the BBC audio dramatisations, and the production I listened to (Murder at the Vicarage, BBC, 2hrs 25mins, pounds 8.99) was altogether a low-key affair.

Murder on the Orient Express

by Agatha Christie

BBC, 2hrs 20mins, pounds 11.99

David Suchet is for most people as much the definitive Poirot as Hickson is Miss Marple, and I've already mentioned his reading of Chivers's excellent unabridged Evil Under the Sun (pounds 16.95, by mail order only, freephone 0800 136919). But do try the new BBC dramatisations starring John Moffat as Poirot. He makes the man too formidable, too unridiculous, entirely to match the character as conceived by Christie, but this production is so sprightly and gripping that you could do well to invest in the BBC package of three Poirot dramas (this, Death on the Nile and Murder on the Blue Train). Incidentally, Murder on the Orient Express was written in the honeymoon years after her second marriage to archaeologist Max Malloran. And yes, the honeymoon did start on the Orient Express.