Agatha Christie is about to try to solve a new mystery - the riddle of how to teach foreigners English.

Twenty of her most famous novels are being rewritten in simplified versions so they can be used in the classroom to teach non-native English speakers how to read and speak the language. They will also be accompanied by notes aimed at helping the students gain a greater historical and cultural perspective about Britain and CDs with a reading of the story.

It will, of course, mean that for thousands of people their first taste of English life will be centred on duplicitous murder.

Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, said the idea would have pleased the famous writer. "My grandmother would have quite liked her books being used for the teaching of English she would have thought it a very good idea," he said.


The first batch of novels includes Christie's debut novel and Poirot's first case, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and Miss Marple's first mystery, The Murder at The Vicarage.

Readers will learn that even quaint and quiet early 20th-century vicarages can become the scene for murder most foul.

Collins, the publisher which retains the rights to Christie's novels, believes the new versions of the books could be used in schools and colleges to help non-native speakers master the language. They also believe they offer an attractive package to anyone overseas wanting to learn the language.

Catherine Whitaker, of Harper Collins, rejects the notion that they portray too bloodthirsty an image of life in Britain to new-found readers.

"They're quite genteel and they don't go into gory details. She has a huge international following, partly through TV adaptations."

The publishers stress that great care has been taken to retain the flair of the original texts. They were initially abridged by professionals who had worked on similar adaptations for radio. The language was brought up to date from the early 20th century - essential if they were to be used to help people learn English in a modern context.

- Independent