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Intrigue about things that are strange and unknown is a common trait within human nature. This vice compels individuals toward the mysteries of life, whether real or imaginary. When these qualities are combined within fiction, pleasure and entertainment is yielded through thrilling and suspenseful writings: “Readers of mysteries look for an absorbing puzzle, a well-paced plot, and a brilliant ending.” This is one reason why writer Agatha Christie has earned the title “Queen of Crime.” Millions of people have read her detective stories for decades. Her first success came in 1926 with her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. By 1980, Christie’s books had sold more than four hundred million copies in 102 countries and 103 languages.
Some critics feel Christie develops a range of characters who don’t follow the statistical norm. One critic stated: “In a Christie novel, young men are often frivolous sex objects, while young women are the solid breadwinners,” and continues to note that Christie’s heroines and murderesses are hard-headed and ambitious, while her 60-and-over characters are all fascinating with very active social lives. Other critics feel Christie’s characters are your everyday, run of the mill, even boring types of people such as lawyers, doctors, secretaries, accountants, and housewives. The majority of Christie’s mystery novels have basically five main series, each containing specific character or characters. These are the ever-so-famous detectives. In detective fiction, the detective must discover who committed the crime, and explain the puzzle or riddle the murderer managed to generate. The detective starts off with a blank slate, and then receives a series of clues, each of which needs to be carefully deciphered and analyzed until a pattern can be formed.
Agatha Christie s novel And Then There Were None, published by Washington Square Press, is regarded by most critics to be her masterpiece. After publishing almost eighty books, this was the one she was truly proud of. She was proud mainly because critics have quoted it to have sold more copies than the Bible and Shakespeare. However, Christie has so much more to be proud of in this novel. With an outstanding mystery/murder plot, combined with a dark, cryptic setting involving many deranged guests, one can see she has accomplished a lot in this novel.
This novel uses both mysterious events and an ingenious plot. The two work hand in hand to bring about a natural thriller to attract the reader to read more. The plot starts off with ten strangers, apparently with little in common, that are lured to an island mansion off the coast of Devon, by the mysterious U.N.Owen.
Over dinner, a record begins to play, and the voice of the unseen host accuses each person of hiding a guilty secret. The secret was that they were all murderers, at least in the opinion of the person behind the voice. Mr. Justice Wargrave had executed an innocent man. Vera Claythorne had neglected to aid someone when they were drowning. Philip Lombard left 21 men of an East African tribe to die when there village was attacked by mercenaries. A woman committed suicide because of Miss Emily Brent. General MacArthur had a man killed for sleeping with his wife. Dr. Armstrong killed a woman by operating on her while drunk. Tony Marston killed two people when he recklessly drove over them. Some of the murderers were not murderers at all, but apparently someone thought the contrary and felt that they should all be justly punished.
That evening, former reckless driver Tony Marston is found murdered by a deadly dose of cyanide. The tension escalates as the survivors realize the killer is not only among them but is preparing to strike again and again. Each survivor has read a poem that describes how ten little Indians shortly decrease to none. The reader is only later to realize that the deaths are occurring exactly as the poem states. After one of them is killed, according to the first verse of the poem, they figure out that the murderer is one of them. As more people are killed off, one by one, the group narrows the suspect list down, until only one is left alive. The woman that was left alive figured that she would never get off the island anyway, and she hung herself from the ceiling by putting a noose around her neck and kicking the chair away on which she was standing, but she was not the killer.
One of the mysteries to this book was, of course, who killed all of the innocent
people. Another mystery was that every time another person was killed a little Indian
figure would disappear from the edges of a serving plate. One more mystery was that
every murder followed, in order, the famous poem “Ten Little Indians”, which reads:
Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his self and then there were nine.
Nine Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself then there were eight.
Eight Indian boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there then there were seven.
Seven Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves then there were six.
Six Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumble-bee stung one then there were five.
Five Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery then there were four.
Four Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one then there were three.
Three Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one then there were two.
Two Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got all frizzled up then there was one.
One Indian boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.
The characters in And Then There Were None are the ones who make the book come to life. Because this novel follows the Who Done It theme, there are the few obvious characters. There s the inspector, always trying to get an accusation across as to who the murderer is, and is of course never correct. The doctor, Devon Island s answer to the questions nobody ever asked. The old married couple, always passionate to others, until a guest discovers an eerie secret. The murderer, finally the one guest that is portrait as the most obvious, until he dies, and then comes back to life. This person always remains discrete until the last moment where he reveals that he is a rampaging, psychopathic, cold-blooded killer. Then there is the innocent victims, of course completing the Who Done It theme with the sad tales of innocent lives being slaughtered.
The novel N or M?, (written in 1941), which takes place during the second World War, is about a couple named Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who are called by the British Secret Service to capture one of Hitler’s most dangerous agents, either called N or M. The action takes place in a boarding house at a seaside resort in South England. Mr. and Mrs. Beresford, under the alter-egos Mr. Tommy Meadows and Mrs. Tuppence Blenkensop, and pretending not to know each other, they try to find out, by the help of long conversations with the other guests and by many rumors which are spread around. The majority of the guests suspect a German refugee and the proprietress of the house Mrs. Perenna to be spies, however those prejudices change when a “strange woman” appears. The strange woman kidnaps a baby and then, after a chase, gets shot by the baby’s mother, Mrs. Sprot. This all seems quite strange to Tuppence, so her attention turns to Mrs. Sprot. By accident Tommy finds out that a house owner named Haydock, who lives nearby, is a spy. Haydock lets Tommy capture him and gets locked up in the cellar. Later, to leave no tracks behind, the thieves want to throw Tom over board from a ship on high sea. Now Tuppence is alone with her job to do. An old friend of the couple, Albert, comes to help them. Albert discovers Tommy in the cellar, but because of tactical reasons (to catch the spies red-handed), leaves him there and observes the place. Tuppence, too, runs into a trap set by Haydock, because he expects that Tuppence knows too much about his “work”. Haydock threatens Tuppence with a weapon to tell him the truth and dares to shoot her, but a friend who followed her, shoots Haydock first. By a stroke of genius Tuppence clears up one mystery after another and the spies, N and M” are locked up.
The first part of the elderly husband-and-wife team is Thomas or Tommy Beresford. He often talks about the good old times, when he was younger and had a job. It is hard to realize for him that he is getting middle-aged, but when he is offered this new job, his self-confidence gets strengthened. Tommy is an amateur in this field, but
this is really needed.
Like Tommy, Tuppence wants to do something else other than knitting in her free time. She is clever by having three pseudonym sons, because she thinks: “And I rather fancy the sons may come in useful.” (p.22). Another smart quality of hers is to observe people’s faces when talking about spies or Fifth Columnists. She also keeps a cool head when the baby is kidnapped, “We must put ourselves in their places” realizing that they need to think like them in order to catch them. She does the major work in this novel. The proprietress of the boarding house Sans Souci is Mrs. Perenna. For Tom she is “..,quite a handsome woman in her way.” To prevent herself from attracting attention, she changed her name to Perenna to start a new life, because her husband was shot as a traitor. Owning a boarding house is a good camouflage for her. Mrs. Perenna is wanted by the government for getting mixed up in some IRA activities.
Commander Haydock Bletchley is “a painfully prosaic chap – typical
Army. Bit set in his ideas …, an Army life…” He would die for his country and wants to intern all refugees who come to his country”. After telling a joke Tom finds
out, that a sense of humor is not Bletchley’s strong suit. He speaks out boldly what he thinks.
Deinim is a young man, very stiff, fair-haired and has blue eyes. He works in a chemical research laboratory and, because he is a refugee from Germany, he arouses attention in this time of war at Sans. Souci. Bletchley thinks that he is a Nazi because he is not a Jew and came to England just a month before the War broke out. Mr. Grant (friend of the former Chief of the Intelligence) is also interested in him, but finds out, that Deinim is exactly what he says he is. At the end of the novel Deinim clears up that he is not Carl Von Deinim.
The Mrs. Perennas daughter “…’s an attractive girl…”, but sometimes a little bit queer, because she hardly speaks to anyone. Also Tom discovers her attraction and vitality. “She was the kind of gin, that a man might easily lose his head over.”
Vanda, otherwise known as the strange woman is a penniless, poorly dressed Polish refugee, who entered the country soon after the outbreak of the war. She is between 40 and 50 years old and the real mother of Mrs. Sprot’s baby Betty. Entering the country she agrees to let Mrs. Sprot adopt Betty, but after a while she wants her back. She kidnaps her and gets shot by Mrs. Sprot.
The novel “N or M?” is a typical mystery book by Agatha Christie. She rises the tension within the book very strongly and after a climax, when Commander Haydock gets killed, lets the agents Tuppence and her partner Tommy clear up the case. Christie s use of Deinim in the novel was interesting. He played no significant role in the novel, yet he was a regular character. His character could have been used as a diversion from what was actually happening in the novel. He was also used as a suspect, because he was a German living in England at the time of the second world war. Sheila Perenna was the only one, who believed in the innocence of Mr. Deinim.
In one of her most critically acclaimed mystery novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Christie decided to on a retired, and very thorough and brainy Belgian police officer as her main character. He was short with an egg-shaped head, and had a long waxy mustache. Thus Hercule Poirot was born into Christie’s novels. His fame rests on his “little gray cells,” his egotism which thrives from his confidence and sense of male superiority. Poirot’s unique style and method of paying the most strict attention to such insignificant clues as a fragment of torn fabric, a splash of candle wax, a stain on the floor, and as in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a chair pulled slightly out, make his methods so intriguing. Critic Mary Wagoner states that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd uses “witty dialogue, and characters with convincing, if larger than life personalities”. Poirot is the main character in the novel, while eleven other characters make up the list of suspects for the murder of Mr. Ackroyd. Each suspect has his or her appearance carefully timed, all getting equal time and all having done something to be guilty about.
The setting of the novel is in an English Village called King’s Abbot. The opening of the story tells of an attractive widow who died due to an overdose of vernal. Not even 24 hours later, Roger Ackroyd, the man the widow was going to marry, was found murdered in his own study. The other characters are a butler; a housekeeper; a parlor maid; a kitchen maid; a cook; a secretary; an English lass and her mother; a major; a doctor and his sister, and a stranger. We are told the story through the narrative voice of Dr. James Sheppard, ” a discreet country doctor with the reticence of a father confessor”. Dr. Sheppard allies with Hercule Poirot throughout the entire investigation to find Ackroyd’s murderer, while writing a manuscript of his own opinions and conclusions to the mystery. Not until the last five pages does the reader become shocked, amazed, and delighted to find out that it was indeed the good doctor, the non-committal narrator, who turned out to be the killer. As of her critics noted, “Christie brought about the greatest controversy in mystery history with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd when she broke the cardinal rule of detective writing and had the disinterested narrator turn out to be the killer”.
In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the reader follows Poirot through his journey of clues. Trying to pick out who the correct murderer may not be easy. Mary Wagoner states that readers have difficulty selecting the true criminal in part “because the prevailing comic flavor of the narrative voice of Dr. Sheppard contributes to this flavor”. An example of Sheppard’s humorous character is when “He allows his sister Caroline to prescribe liver pills for him as though he had no medical training at all”. He also describes his sister Caroline as, “Somebody like her must have invented the questions on passports,” or, as he judges his new neighbor Poirot, says “there’s no doubt at all about what the man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that mustache of his”. Sheppard’s narrative voice plays up the comic qualities of the novel, which makes pinpointing him as the murderer difficult.
“Poirot is merely one factor in a tale so ingeniously constructed, so dexterously plotted as to warrant our complete admiration”. Poirot’s methods capture the readers’ interest. They are imaginative, and he continually relies upon his “little gray cells” to help him focus on the weakness that will lead a person to murder. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot pays the strictest attention to such petty objects as a misplaced chair, an open display table, a scrap of starched cambric, a quill, and a gold band in a fish pond, all for calculated misdirection. Poirot speaks some phrases in French, which adds spice and variety to the reading. An example is when Poirot is calculating the misdirection of the chair that Roger Ackroyd was in when he was murdered: “voila’ ce qui est curiex,” murmured Poirot, “no one would want to sit in a chair in such a position, I fancy”. Poirot uses style and method, inflated confidence, along with the use of his “little gray cells.” He has a special ability to focus on every little clue, and has a heavy reliance on intuition. As Poirot becomes closer to the truth of who the true murderer is, his personality changes. His ability to solve the case is clear as he speaks to the suspects at a reunion; “He leaned forward, and suddenly his voice and his whole personality changed. He suddenly became dangerous. `I who speak to you, I know the murderer of Mr. Ackroyd is in this room now. It is the murderer I speak. Tomorrow the truth goes to Inspector Raglan. You understand?’”.
Agatha Christie herself feels The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of her most successful works. Lord Louis Mountbatton suggested she write a story narrated in first person point of view by someone who at the end, turned out to be the murderer (Christie, Autobiography, p. 349). Christie thought this idea through and decided to go ahead with it, thus creating the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie has been described by some as the “mistress of plot.” In classic detective fiction, a murder is committed, many are suspected, and in the end all but one of the suspects are eliminated. The murderer is either caught and arrested, or he dies. Christie’s fame can be attributed to her use of imaginative plot puzzles using the “least likely person” device. Critic Howard Haycraft states that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the most impressive works of Christie. Christie develops her least likely person device quite effectively in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.. The readers exclude a character from their suspicions because they see the action through their eyes. This novel uses not a pattern of narrator as murderer, but one of assumed victim as murderer, or pursuer as murderer. The reader gets to know the narrator immediately from the beginning of the story, and, as he buddies up with Poirot through the entire investigation, he is naturally exempt him from suspicion. Christie makes the narrator/murderer’s identity all the more baffling through her technical cleverness in selecting the part he is to play in the story. The experienced reader will probably spot him, but, it is safe to say that he will often have his doubts as the story unfolds itself. Critic Mary Wagoner states that when examining the plot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Christie offers a “better puzzle than she had invented before . Most whodunits follow a similar pattern. The reader starts off like a detective, with minimal information about the characters and events. The reader then receives a set of clues, which need to be carefully deciphered, and slowly the reader comes up with a solution as to who the murder is. Christie structures her plots around the block element. She does this by fooling the reader into overlooking the most obvious suspects, rather than by selecting clues and ignoring others in choosing an arbitrary murder. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, many strong clues point to four and five different suspects throughout the entire story. Christie purposely drops misdirected clues about all the other suspects, while minimizing Dr. Sheppard’s involvement. Christie has had remarkable success with her plot development style and one critic states that “with a Christie whodunit, a reader confidently anticipates an ending that will satisfy expectations, but he can count on being surprised by the manipulation of details that lead to that ending.”
Crime stories have always been greatly undervalued by the literary establishment, and those who write them seldom run off with the Pulitzer Prize. And yet most of the fine works of fiction from the “Orestia” to “Hamlet” have been concerned with murder. Poet and critic W.H. Auden confessed: “For me, as for many others, the reading of a detective story is an addiction like tobacco or alcohol”. Agatha Christie has been entertaining the mystery lover with her detective novels, stories, and thrillers for many years. Through my research, I came across only one critic who stated clearly that he disliked Christie’s novels. In a famous essay, Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, Edmund Wilson argued that “her writing is of a mawkishness and banality which seem to me literally impossible to read”. However, Wilson admitted he had only sampled one of Christie’s novels, which most critics agreed was a real “loser.” In response to Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? are most everyone who has read Christie’s books, as it truly does matter who-done-it: it matters enough for unnerved readers to lose sleep, to reread in disbelief; to come back for more. It is no wonder that Agatha Christie is celebrated as the “Queen of Crime.” After all, crime was her business, murder her game, and intriguing, bloodcurdling detective stories her life.
Christie, Agatha. N or M?. William Collins Sons and Company Ltd. London. 1941.
Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. William Collins Sons and Company Ltd. London. 1926.
Christie, Agatha. Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. William Collins Sons and Company Ltd. London. 1977.
Wagoner, Mary S. Agatha Christie. MacMillan Library Resource. London. 1986.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 1. 1973.
Gill, Gillian. Agatha Christie: The Woman and her Mysteries. Robson Books. 1991
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