Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Agatha Christie: Mama of Mystery

Let's start October off right with a mystery!

Agatha Christie is the mama of mystery. She created the “closed door” mystery and wrote memorable characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Her mysteries are complex, but “cozy” in the sense that the audience does not read about the death as it is happening, and most of her mysteries take place with middle class society in quaint locations. Christie is also known for stories that are solvable by the reader prior to getting to the end. On top of all this, she is the most translated author, outside of religious texts. 

Although I know about her celebrated novels and my parents quite enjoy watching Poirot mysteries on Masterpiece Theatre, I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel. Feeling it my duty to read the classics and expand my knowledge, I picked up perhaps her most famous work, And Then There Were None (or Ten Little Indians if you’re not worried about being politically correct). 

Christie sets up her story with ten characters all traveling to an island off of England. None of them know one another, but all are connected in what will become a deathly visit. All of the men and women on the island are accused of a crime and from here, they begin to die off. With each death, a little soldier figurine goes missing and the guests get more and more frantic. Is there some lunatic on the island exacting revenge, or is it one of their own?

Christie’s characters all have a backstory. Some of them are somewhat one dimensional, but then again, they don’t last long enough to become fully formed. The characters that last until the near-end have stories and personalities that leave you wondering…could he/she be a criminal and killer? The setting was perfect: a mansion on a lonely rock in the middle of nothing. While reading, I could see the ocean and smell the salt air. I felt the anxiety the characters felt and mentally told them not to go off alone. Although, as in most mysteries, I just wanted to know who the damn killer was along with the why and how, I found myself eagerly anticipating the next action and trying to deduce who it might be. I thought I knew, then it couldn’t be that character, and I would reformulate. That is half the fun with Christie’s novel. On top of that the explanation at the end was complex and rewarding.

I don’t always read mysteries, because instead of concentrating on the journey, I find myself concentrating on the ending. Miss Christie was a truly enjoyable author to read, however. Although she wrote her books in the 1920s and ‘30s, they still remain fun reads today. If you haven’t tried her works yet, give them a shot! They’re not terribly long and they are diverting. In my opinion, this is a classic worth reading. 

Since she has been around for a while, a lot of people have imitated her style. Here are some authors who write stories like Agatha Christie.

M.C. Beaton. Much like Christie, Beaton has created memorable characters in the form of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth. These are also puzzle mysteries, so the reader can try to solve it before the detectives.
Louise Penny. This Canadian mystery writer focuses on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who has high morals and a big appetite. These are more leisurely paced mysteries and feature quirky secondary characters on top of intriguing crimes.

~Kristin M.

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