The Gentle Art of Murder: The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie

By Earl F. Bargainnier | Go to book overview
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Chapter V

Devices, Diversions, & Debits

"Extras" make as much difference to a mystery novel as dressing to a salad.

Sutherland Scott

Writing a detective story is a good deal like making a sauce. You know you've put in all the right ingredients but so many things can go wrong, you can't tell until it reaches the table if it will be a success or a complete disaster.

Agatha Christie

The perfect mystery cannot be written. Something must always be sacrificed.

Raymond Chandler

This chapter is an admitted miscellany. John Cawelti was quoted earlier as saying that the major artistic problem for the writer of "the longer classical detective story" is to find "additional narrative interests" to supplement the central plot of mystification and detection. Though a number of critics have stated or implied that Christie was only interested in the working out of that central plot, they exaggerate. Everything in her works is secondary to the plot structure, but her works do include additional narrative interests. Whereas later writers of detective fiction have often used descriptions of violence as a significant addition, Christie and her fellow writers of the Golden Age avoided it. As she told an interviewer, "I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest." 1 Her dislike of messy deaths, and her refusal to present the details of them, is a principal reason for her reputation for "cosiness." The elimination of overt violence and the inevitable solution of the plot complications bring Christie's works into the broad genre of comedy. If Christie is cosy, she is cosy as Jane Austen is. Therefore, her humor is one of the additions to be examined. Others are her use of literary allusions, nursery rimes, and titles and her comments, serious and otherwise, on detective fiction appearing in the works, as well as her use of point of view and her narrative style—or, to some, her lack of it. Also, some attention must be given to the debits: the coincidences, anomalies, loose ends, and other lapses that occasionally occur in Christie's fiction.


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