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

By Earl F. Bargainnier | Go to book overview

Chapter VI

Theme

In a perfect world there will be no need for detective stories, but then there will be nothing to detect.

Erik Routley

In your books you condemn all that is foul and mean
Many's the party, but always kept clean.

Yours is the role of Morality Play
Wherein all the wicked find crime doesn't pay.
Blackmailer, killer, scoundrel and crook
Sooner or later are brought to book.

Max Mallowan

Always underneath the smooth surface there was some black mud. There wasn't clear water down to the pebbles, down to the shells, lying on the bottom of the sea. There was something mouing, something sluggish somewhere, something that had to be found, suppressed.

Tommy Beresford.

Those who see classic detective fiction as mere puzzle would argue, as Edmund Wilson did, that it is not literature, and, therefore, the question of theme is irrelevant. To others, the concept of theme in the genre is hardly worth consideration because of its obviousness. The attitude is that, of course, the theme is good versus evil, innocence versus guilt, and nothing more need be said except that in the conflict good always prevails. Such a view places detective fiction within the larger genre of melodrama, with its eternal theme of virtue triumphant. Persons holding this view would probably add that if any other themes are present, they are the results of substructure, second text, deep text, the author's unconscious, or some other theory supplied by the critic who wishes to find them. The problem with this type of easy dismissal is that nearly all of the world's literature is based in some way on the conflict of good and evil. The two valid points implicit in this "of course, the theme is obvious" concept are that detective fiction is moral and that its ultimate outcome—however confusing the way to it—is predictable. Perhaps these are the reasons for Erik Routley's description of detective fiction as "entertainment for puritans," as surely they are the basis of Christie's statement that her belief when she began to write was that detective fiction was "very much a story with a

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

Table of contents

  • The Gentle Art of Murder - The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie *
  • Contents *
  • Preface 1
  • Chapter I - Golden Age Detective Fiction: an Introduction to Christie's Genre 4
  • Chapter II - Setting 21
  • Chapter III - Characters 38
  • Chapter IV - Plot 144
  • Chapter V - Devices, Diversions, & Debits 167
  • Chapter VI - Theme 190
  • Chapter VII - The Achievement of Agatha Christie 199
  • Notes 205
  • Bibliography 210
  • Index of Characters 223
  • Index of Novel and Short Story Titles 227
  • Key to Documentation 230
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