Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
13 January 2018updated 03 Aug 2021 2:23pm

A case of evil consonants: the World Book Club is uniting readers around the globe

It's heartening, on a dreary January day, to know that someone in Somaliland is also tuning in to the BBC World Service and turning Agatha Christie’s pages. 

By Caroline Crampton

“But how do you know that Hercule Poirot was from Brussels?” Anna, a member of the studio audience for World Book Club on BBC World Service (7 January, 2pm), was apologetic, yet insistent, with her question. Eventually, Agatha Christie’s great-grandson James Prichard admitted from the stage that in all of the Belgian sleuth’s many adventures, his creator never actually gives away his birthplace – although “he did live and work in Brussels, that is true”.

Sadly, Anna was denied a second chance with the microphone. She was owed a bit of gloating for her correct deduction, I felt.

This month, the book club – which has been running since 2002 – tackled Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, before assembling at the Bibliotheca Wittockiana in Poirot’s adopted hometown to discuss whodunnit. As well as questions from the audience in Brussels, others were sent in from listeners in places as far apart as London, Michigan and Cape Town. They were put, by presenter Harriett Gilbert, to Prichard and his fellow panellist Sophie Hannah (the latter being the author of two Poirot “continuation” novels, sanctioned by the Christie estate).

The show likes to broadcast from sites of literary significance – an episode on JD Salinger was recorded in the Algonquin Hotel in New York, where (before he retired to New Hampshire to become a recluse) the author liked to have lunch.

The Belgian episode was gloriously geeky: World Book Club listeners really like to explore the minutiae of the month’s text – so of course Tiffany from South Africa wanted to know whether Christie deliberately selected her characters’ names to reveal their moral worth. Should we assume that Samuel Ratchett is evil because of his harsh consonants? No, recommended Prichard: apparently his great-grandmother mostly picked up names for characters by eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Like much of this radio station’s output, World Book Club has a global audience, and its format actually allows you to hear from people all around the planet. It is heartening, on a dreary January day in Britain, to know that someone in Somaliland is turning the pages and tuning in, too. 

Content from our partners
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 10 Jan 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Toddler in chief