More than forty years I've been reading, yet I'd never read an Agatha Christie mystery until just this month. "They're too innocent," I thought to myself (when I bothered to think about it at all). Too naive, I naively believed. What could a traditional mystery give to me that I couldn't get--and with more gristle, gore, sex, and rough language--from a thousand more contemporary sources?
Originality of thought, for one thing. Purity of execution and elegance of style. Crystalline characters written with swift, spare strokes of the pen and plot devices that, although they have long since become hoary and cliched, because of Christie's mastery read as fresh as the day she invented them.
Last year when I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I was blown away by what I perceived to be a modern twist on the traditional locked room mystery. It was set on an island, and during the commission of the crime there was no way on or off the island. Not only that, but none of the characters was particularly sympathetic and pretty much any of them could have done it. How embarrassed was I to discover that Agatha Christie did it in 1939 in And Then There Were None? And better.
Sure, Raymond Chandler, offended to have been compared to her on at least one occasion decried her work as contrived, overly mannered, unrealistic. So? It's fun. It's well-written. It's clever. And, when you get right down to it, the dirty little truths of human nature as revealed by Dame Agatha are just as hard-hitting and incisive as those revealed by Chandler...and might even be a bit more shocking, when hidden deep within the psyche of a spinster school teacher, a judge, a doctor...
IF THIS INTERESTS YOU...
Try Stieg Larsson's modern take on the locked room mystery, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage). Whodunit and howdunit on an inaccessible Swedish island. If you're interested in the Golden Age of British detective fiction, try some of Christie's contemporaries. The novels of Josephine Tey, while not as widely read as Dame Agatha's, are brilliant, more finely honed and beautifully written. To Love and Be Wise is a good place to start. And the very prolific Georgette Heyer, well-known for her elegant Regency romances, also wrote wonderful mysteries. Why Shoot a Butler? is a sly, extremely class-conscious, eminently readable mystery.
1 month ago