I've been asked in multiple interviews what my relationship to Agatha Christie was before writing the adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express," and I've evaded the question or outright lied every time. The reason is: Because I hated her.
Not her books, but her.
The family lore goes like this:
When I was five, my father brought home a brand new VCR. The first VHS tape he rented, to our giddy admiration, was the 1978 adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic "Death on the Nile." Friends and family came over for popcorn and crowded onto the couch. It was a top-loading VCR, size of a suitcase, price of a suitcase filled with cocaine.
The machine worked, the film played and everyone loved it. Everyone laughed and jumped at the right moments and cooed at the gorgeous stars and wardrobe -- everyone except me, who did not love it, or laugh, but rather cried, utterly terrified.
That night, I demanded to sleep in my parents' bed, where, beset by clockwork nightmares, I continued to sleep for two years. I obstructed their sleep and sex life so thoroughly that my eventual younger sister was born seven years after me, in 1980, instead of five. (When my dad tells the story it was three years and he had to sleep on the floor.)
I didn't blame the director, John Guillermin, or Peter Ustinov, who played the great detective Hercule Poirot, nor even Mia Farrow, whose lethal jealousy especially affected me.
I blamed Christie, and I hated her for decades. I called her names I didn't entirely understand. I used the words I had learned listening to the older kids.
"Why would anyone write a story so terrible?" "Why would anyone like her stupid books?" "What the 1/8obscenity3/8 is wrong with her brain?"
On that fateful popcorn night, my parents had thought nothing of letting me watch the relatively tame "Death on the Nile." I'd seen "Dawn of the Dead," after all, and they couldn't understand why a movie with so little blood -- and it wasn't even blood, but nail polish -- hit me so hard. Although I couldn't explain my reaction then, I can now.