The Actress by Agatha Christie – Selection 1 of #DealMeIn2020

The Card: ♠Five♠ of Spades (image found on Pinterest) 

The Suit: For Deal Me In 2020, ♠♠♠Spades♠♠♠ is my Suit for “darker” stories.  Loosely defined this year as Science Fiction, Mysteries, and those from an Alfred Hitchcock anthology.

The Author: Agatha Christie (you may have heard of her 🙂). I actually haven’t read THAT much by her. One of my book clubs read her classic mystery “And Then There Were None” (a.k.a. Ten Little Indians, which was how a paperback version I read when I was a school kid was titled), and I also blogged about a good short story of hers titled “The Red Signal.” I also remember once Christie was an answer to a “trivia night” question at a local pub I frequent. Something about ‘the English language author who has sold the most books of all time” (I didn’t fact check afterward, but I guess that wouldn’t surprise me.) Photo of a young Agatha found at Wikipedia)

The Story: “The Actress” from her short story collection “The Harlequin Tea Set and other Stories” which I own a kindle version of.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list I’ll be reading in 2020.

The Actress

“Her faint, derisive smile was answer enough. Beneath her self-control, though he did not guess it, was the impatience of the keen brain watching a slower brain laboriously cover the ground it had already traversed in a flash.”

I am not necessarily a believer in “luck” or coincidences, but I freely admit to being an entertained observer of their seeming manifestations. Part of the appeal to me of the Deal Me In challenge is the luck of the draw – i.e., why did I draw this particular card for this particular week? (I know the true answer is random chance, but I like to speculate otherwise). Though I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s story, it’s certainly not as deep or thought-provoking as many on my 2020 roster will hopefully be. Yet, I thought it was a perfect story to get me “warmed up” for a new year of Deal Me In. It has the qualities which I’ve admired in other Agatha Christie stories – a tidy, compact rendering with nothing superfluous and everything in its place. I suppose an acclaimed writer of mysteries would find such a style helpful.

This story was first published under a different title – “A Trap for the Unwary” in The Novel Magazine in 1923. I’m not sure when or why its name was changed – perhaps before its inclusion in other collections. Whatever the reason, though, I applaud the change, as the protagonist gets the main billing, which she richly deserves…

Olga Stormer is a stage actress in the process of making a name for herself. We join her in this story as she is “adding yet another triumph to her list of successes as “Cora,” in The Avenging Angel.” Not much of a story yet, though, right? What if I told you Olga Stormer is not her real name (that name would be the plain-sounding “Nancy Taylor”), but that’s still not quite a story, right? I mean many performers take stage names, and one must admit that “Olga Stormer” fires the imagination a little more than “Nancy Taylor.” BUT this character didn’t change her name for her career, she changed it when she went on the run after an incident in her past. A pretty serious incident, actually. When she was a “half-starved little gutter waif,” she says, she “shot a man, a beast of a man who deserved to be shot. The circumstances under which I killed him were such that no jury on earth would have convicted me.” When it happened though, she was “only a frightened kid” and thus ran and has been fleeing her past ever since.

We join the story as a man from her past intrudes upon her present, threatening to reveal her sordid history to her “public” thus ruining her if he is not paid. She discusses how to deal with the threat with her manager (the quotation above is from her interaction with him) and the solution that she comes up with is worth an Academy Award. In which category I’m not sure as it seems she’d be eligible for several. Olga’s execution of her “defense strategy” was clean and seamless and, thus, also entertaining.

What about YOU? Are you an Agatha Christie fan? Are there other short stories of hers that you would recommend? What about mysteries in general? What is your favorite short story mystery?

Next week on #DealMeIn2020: Alice Munro’s “Too Much Happiness”