The Gentle Art of Murder The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie
"The queen of crime," "the mistress of fair deceit," "the first lady of crime," "the mistress of misdirection," "the detective story writer's detective story writer," and even "the Hymns Ancient and Modern of detection"-these are just a few of the epithets which have been used to indicate Agatha Christie's position as writer of detective fiction. In her sixty-seven novels and one hundred and seventeen short stories of detection and mystery, Christie created a body of work which made her the most popular writer of the twentieth century. The very fact of that popularity, as well as critical disdain for the genre in which she wrote, has prevented her work from receiving much serious attention. Supposedly T.S. Eliot once planned a study of the detective novel, with a long section on Christie, but it was never written. Most of the few works on her and her writing have been anecdotal and poorly documented, more peripheral chat than study of the fiction itself. Christie did not care; she was not concerned with criticism of her work, refusing most requests for interviews and repeating the same statements over and over in those few she did grant. Even her autobiography gives more space to other matters than to her fiction. Perhaps as a result of her influence, her husband, Sir Max Mallowan, has issued in his memoirs a stern warning to anyone presuming to be a critic of detective fiction, saying that such a critic is "under an obligation not to reveal the resolution of the story," so that he does not "ruin a book for the reader," adding, "I have the feeling, unfair perhaps, that the analytical critic of detective fiction is either a knave or a fool."
In spite of the risk of being called "a knave or a fool," my intent is a literary analysis of the detective fiction of "the queen of crime." I hope that I will not ruin any of her works for readers, but rather enable them to understand better the general skill of their construction as works of a particular genre of fiction. With Mallowan's warning in mind, I originally intended to reveal no resolutions, but I have found that to fulfill that intention would be both awkward and artificial. The murderers in thirteen novels and