Monday, February 26, 2024

Breaking the rules

This is about three of Agatha Christie's best, in each of which she broke the rules. There are spoilers.
The most famous mystery novel of all time, Murder on the Orient Express, was published on New Year’s Day, 1934. In America, it was published as Murder on the Calais Coach, to avoid confusion with Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train, which had been published in the U.S. as Orient Express. ....

Christie had already upended the mystery genre eight years earlier with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which the killer is revealed to be the one character who is typically not allowed to be the murderer. Now she was doing it again. The typical mystery is focused on one singular question: Which of these suspects is the murderer? Christie’s innovation in Orient Express was to contrive a solution — major spoiler alert! — in which everyone is the murderer.

To revolutionize a genre once is astonishing, but to do it twice? Now you’re just showing off. And Christie wasn’t done. In her best novel, 1939’s And Then There Were None, she came tantalizingly close to devising a mystery in which no one is the murderer. (I’m one of those cantankerous fans who pretend this book’s explanatory epilogue simply doesn’t exist.) ....

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