Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Agatha Christie's Method for Murder
And yet, as difficult as it is to believe, 2011 marks a mere 91 years since the publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and the debut of that famously fussy Belgian detective. The success of Agatha Christie's first novel launched a career among mystery novelists that, in terms of recognition, endurance and influence, has yet to be rivaled.
Escapist? Perhaps. Characters that lack nuance? One could make a case. However, there's no denying that Dame Agatha could craft a mystery cleverly enough to keep even the sharpest of armchair sleuths second-guessing the murderer's identity.
And yet, Agatha Christie never played fast and loose with the clues. Adequate evidence is always there for the reader to solve the crime -- as long as he or she is astute enough to detect it.
In Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, John Curran points out that one possible clue to Agatha Christie's enormous success as a mystery writer is her mastery of the double-blind -- or that fine authorial touch that makes the most obvious suspect the least likely to have committed the crime. In lesser hands, mystery novels that depend on this technique tend to fall flat.
In compiling the published Secret Notebooks, Mr. Curran had the enviable task of going through more than 70 of Agatha Christie's manuscript notebooks, tracing the threads of plot outlines, character sketches and random thoughts that, strung together, provide clues to the creative ingenuity that stood behind so many of her excellent crime stories.
As a follow up to that indispensable reference source, Mr. Curran has just published Agatha Christie's Murder in the Making, in which he draws on the textual evidence he encountered in the Christie archives to come up with a theory that attempts to explain her enduring literary appeal. (He also publishes the original ending to A Mysterious Affair at Styles, rejected by her editors at The Bodley Head.)
Miss Lemon can't wait to get her hands on a copy.
As all serious admirers of Agatha Christie know, 15 September is the anniversary of her birth in 1890. This post is part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge that today celebrates her 121st birthday. Please join in the felicitations.