Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

By Jerome H. Delamater; Ruth Prigozy | Go to book overview

II
Agatha Christie and British
Detective Fiction

For the better part of the twentieth century, Agatha Christie has been perhaps the most popular, and certainly the best-selling, mystery writer in the world. Until the past ten years, little critical attention has been paid to what exactly constitutes her appeal, the nature of her art, and the relationship between the author, her readers, and her literary heirs. In the essays that follow, contemporary critics approach Christie from a variety of perspectives and shed new light on what now we may regard as a complex relationship between the author and her world. Further, this section seeks to explore the contemporary British detective fiction that shares the “classic” structure Christie (and her progenitors) developed. It considers too other modern writers who employ techniques and venues similar to Christie's but depart radically from her emphasis on puzzles and solutions in order to explore the insoluble mysteries of the human psyche mat earlier detective fiction only faintly implied.

Robert Merrill's detailed, intriguing study of Christie's “games” and “plots” seeks to answer the basic question commonly raised about Christie: whether her work does warrant serious critical attention. Robin Woods's essay examines the fate of Christie's famous detective, Hercule Poirot, in her last novel, Curtain, and indicates how the author's resolution of the plot and her detective's fate points to a new kind of crime genre of the mid 1970s—the true-crime novel, featuring motiveless murder with psychopathic villains. In a different vein, Ina Rae Hark suggests that Christie's texts are far more sophisticated man readers have generally perceived them, mat, indeed, there were always present the deeper psychological strata so pervasive in detective fiction today. For Christie, Hark indicates, no such creature as a person incapable of murder exists, a pervasive theme, as she points out, in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. In a historicalcultural approach to Christie's popularity, Mary Anne Ackershoek explores the

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