Sunday, November 20, 2011

Myst-ress Christie

I haven’t written much about the mystery genre yet, and it’s due to the fact that I don’t read mysteries, except those written by the master (or myst-ress) Agatha Christie. Christie’s books are so satisfying that reading another mystery writer seems like a waste of time. I think I’m pretty open-minded about books and genres in general, but on this topic my opinion is firm: it’s Christie or nothing. (Though, as always, you are welcome to try to change my mind.)

There are three groups of Agatha Christie lovers:

1. Hercule Poirot fans (fans of mysteries solved by the Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head and greased mustache, and his “little gray cells”)
2. Miss Marple fans (fans of mysteries solved by the layperson, a grandmotherly lady who understands much of the world through her observations of "village life")
3. No preference for either; includes books that are solved by less-featured detectives, or not solved by any particular detective, but are left up to the reader to solve, such as And Then There Were None. 
I am firmly in the camp of 1. and the end of 3. I adore Hercule Poirot: his fastidiousness, his immense ego, the kindness with which he treats his suspects, and the way he explains his mysteries to all, revealing the unsuspecting criminal in a grand finale. I also love it when the reader is granted the privilege of learning the solution to a mystery that the characters themselves never discover, as in And Then There Were None. Miss Marple irritates me. I’ve attempted many times to read the books in which she stars, and they just don’t grab me. So I guess my hierarchy for mysteries is:

1. Hercule Poirot mysteries
2. Other Agatha Christie mysteries that aren’t solved by Miss Marple
3. Every other mystery book in existence
.... I wrote the beginning of this post a few days ago, before I got sick and ended up on the couch for the entire weekend, watching romantic comedies and reading In Style. Now it's Sunday night and I'm coming back. I had planned to continue this post with a defense of Agatha Christie over all other mystery authors, but now I have to laugh at myself- how exactly did I think I was going to accomplish that if I never read any other mysteries?

I guess what I need to explain here is why I'm a hundred percent faithful; why my relationship with Christie is so fulfilling that I have no desire for dalliances. In keeping with the above, I'm going to continue in list form, which is fitting, because Christie loves numbers: numbers as clues, Poirot's bullet points, and the countdown to death that is the plot of her most beloved tale (need I say it again?).

Why I love Agatha Christie:

1. She's British. Let's get that out of the way. I love Brits, British novels, and the landscape of England (much used in Christie's work). 
2. She's well-traveled, particularly for a woman of her time, and writes about interesting locales. I cite Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Death in the Clouds. 
3. She lays out dozens, sometimes hundreds of tiny detailed clues. Some are red herrings; some are related to side plots; many are weaved into the tapestry of the mystery, with varying degrees of importance. Christie's genius is that the reader never knows which is which until the solution is finally given in the final chapters. 
4. When that final solution is given, she explains everything. Every clue, every red herring, every character's behavior and disposition. And it all makes complete sense at the end, even if the answer is completely insane, like the person behind the murders being one of the dead, or twelve different people stabbing one man within one hour. 
5. Even the most astute readers, the ones who've read Christie over and over again, can't crack her formulas. As I said, I've read every book she ever wrote, including all of the short stories, and only once or twice have I figured out either who the murderer was, or how it was done. But never both. 

I think the biggest reason for my Christie-passion is that I admire her ability so much. Mystery writing is one genre I'll never attempt. I have a pretty good imagination, but I know I could never come up with the kind of twists and turns, lies and red herrings, clues and details that map out a good mystery. I suppose that's because I'm a character-driven writer, not a plot-driven writer. But regardless, it's a gift I admire very much. 

So what do you think? Have I convinced you that Christie is the Queen Myst-ress? Or should I do more research before handing over the crown? 

1 comment:

  1. Something went wrong with the font on this page and it's driving me crazy! I think Hercule Poirot would dislike the space variances, and I apologize to those of you who are equally fastidious.