I never grow tired of reading Agatha Christie. Each time I read a Christie mystery I find something new–some hidden clue, some nuance that I missed the first time. Characters are so interesting and the plots so intricate that I can’t discover everything with the first read. There is always some piece of information about the suspect’s behavior or some slip of the tongue or some clue that I miss.
Agatha Christie was one of the authors from the Golden Age of Mysteries and generally followed the rules from this period as previously discussed in an earlier blog. She wrote more than 80 crime novels, half a dozen romance novels and several plays. How did Christie create all these plots for her books? In her autobiography she stated:
Plots come to me at such odd moments; when I am walking along a street, or examining a hat shop with particular interest suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head, and I think “Now that would be a neat way of covering up the crime so that nobody would see the point.” Of course all the practical details are still to be worked out, and the people have to creep slowly into my consciousness….
Christie’s people/characters are complex and her detectives are great observers. They are the ones that spot the minute details that lead ultimately to the solution. For example in Death in the Clouds Poirot requests to see the list of what each passenger had with them on the plane. Many of us readers are fooled by the emphasis on the blow guns and the wasp and miss the real clue of…wait…no I won’t tell you and spoil the ending. However, Poirot is not fooled and spots the meaningful items. Poirot ponders his observations and formulates his conclusions by having quiet time with his “little gray cells.”
Miss Marple on the other hand relates her observations to the people of St. Mary Mead. In Blue Geraniums she compares her local gardener killing wasps to the current crime and solves how the murder was accomplished. Miss Marple defends her comparisons to the people in St. Mary Mead when she states in the Tuesday Club Murders that “human nature is very much the same everywhere, and, of course, one has the opportunities of observing it at closer quarters in a village.”
Christie’s mysteries focus on the British middle and upper class–the class that never breaks into a sweat and is known for hiding their emotions. Therefore Christie does not sensationalized the murder by describing the blood and gore aspects of the death. She spends her time describing the scene and the people. For example in The ABC Murders the murder of Mrs. Ascher is described in three sentences but we have many pages describing the street outside, the murdered woman’s shop and a very complete description of her bedroom and the items in it.
However, while the murder may not be sensationalized make no mistake there is a passionate desire in Christie’s books to bring the murderer to justice and her detectives do not fail us. They follow the clues, they interview the suspects and they use their own brand of unique logic to uncover the culprit.
And finally, Christie deserves a second read because of her ability at deception. First, there is the usual assortment of red herrings such as in The ABC Murders where we believe stockings are an important clue and they are, but not in the way we initially think. Second, is her use of multiple suspects as in Murder on the Orient Express where anyone in the sleeping car could have committed murder. And finally, her plots are truly clever and her murders very inventive. One needs only to look at And Then There Were None as a perfect example of her cleverness as each potential suspect is gradually eliminated and the deception continues until the very end.
So these are all the elements about a Christie mystery that make it difficult to comprehend the first time. The characters, the plot, the deceptions and the clues are clearly presented to us, nothing is hidden. But because she is such superb story teller there is so much for us to grasp. Don’t you agree that Christie mysteries deserve a second read?