Distinguished authoress Mrs Ariadne Oliver first makes her appearance in ‘Parker Pyne Investigates’ where she is employed by the said Mr Parker Pyne, (of whom I shall write more elsewhere on this site.)
We don’t learn a great deal about Ariadne Oliver in this book, but we do find out that she’s very fond of apples.
Her first adventure with Hercule Poirot is in Cards on the Table and here we get a fairly good idea of her personality and physical appearance:
She was an earnest believer in womens’ intuition. For the rest, she was an agreeable woman of middle-age, handsome in rather an untidy fashion with fine eyes, substantial shoulders and a large quantity of rebellious grey hair with which she was continually experimenting.
Mrs Oliver is always convinced right from the start that she knows who the murderer is. And she is not one to let a little matter of a complete lack of motive or evidence to persuade her otherwise! But then something will occur that will make her switch her suspicions onto another possible killer. And then another. And when the real murderer is unmasked, she will declare, ‘I always said he/she did it!’
One can’t help liking Ariadne Oliver – she’s a bit scatty and disorganised, but very kindly and she actually is quite intuitive. For example, in ‘Dead Man’s Folly’ when she has been asked to arrange a ‘Murder Hunt’ at a Garden Fete in the grounds of a large country house, she becomes very uneasy without knowing why.
So strong are these feelings, that she calls in Poirot and expresses her fears to him. And in the event, her ‘intuition’ proves to have been well founded, as a real murder takes place shortly after.
It is interesting to speculate how much of Agatha Christie is in Ariadne Oliver, specifically Agatha Christie the authoress that is – their personal lives have little in common. But when, in ‘Mrs McGinty’s Dead’ Ariadne says, ‘Authors are shy, unsociable people, atoning for their lack of social aptitude by inventing their own companions and conversations,’ she is also speaking for Agatha.
Because in her autobiography, Agatha Christie admits, ‘I am not and never shall be a good conversationalist…I can’t say what I mean easily – I can write it better.’ And elsewhere in the same book, Mrs Oliver complains bitterly,’…you’ve no idea of the agony of having your characters taken and made to say things that they never would have said, and do things that they never would have done. And if you protest, all they say is that it’s ‘good theatre’.’ That is surely a cry from Agatha’s heart as well (and is echoed by her legions of fans to this very day!)
On one occasion, Ariadne Oliver tells how someone wrote to tell her that a blowpipe is actually six feet long, not one foot long, as she had made it in one of her stories. And of course, in ‘Death in the Clouds,’ Agatha Christie features a one-foot long blowpipe.
Both Agatha and Ariadne have a non-British detective with very distinct idiosyncrasies (Sven Hjerson, Mrs Oliver’s Finnish detective, breaks the ice on his bath each morning!).
Ariadne frequently bemoans the fact that she has given her hero quite so many foibles because she is stuck with them. As she says, ‘The people who read my books know what he (Sven) is like.’ Doubtless, there would be times when Agatha felt just the same.
I do feel that there is quite a lot of Agatha Christie in Ariadne and I feel that if I had ever met either of them, I would have liked them very much.