Monday, April 21, 2008

Agatha Christie is not just a gateway drug: an introductory post

When Corina mentioned that she was starting a mystery readers' blog, I knew I had to join up. Granted, I haven't taken 16 months off, reading myteries most of the time, like my dear friend, but I do know my whodunits.

And whodunit is really the important word in the sentence above. I don't like spy/espionage novels or procedurals. I like a good mystery where the writer provides you clues and you have the opportunity to guess the murderer. In other words, I love Agatha Christie.

Sure, Christie can be somewhat formulaic. After years (decades!) of reading her books, I can often guess who did it because the pattern reminds me of that in another one of her novels. But I still love them. My biggest gripe is that, about twenty years after I picked up my first Christie mystery, I have trouble remembering which I have read and which I haven't. Reading the synopsis rarely helps, as it typically consists of a family with British last names, all of whom live in the home (or often visit said home) of some sort of matriarch or patriarch. Sometimes it will involve a vicar or perhaps a trip abroad (often to the Middle East), but that doesn't help much to narrow it down. I'm considering starting from the beginning and reading all of her books in chronological order so I can be sure I haven't missed any. I'm not sure if I'll go through with that, but I did just recently finish re-reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot novel.

Agatha Christie is really my old stand-by for mysteries. I don't have any other mystery novelist that I read as regularly. I like Dorothy Sayers, but sometimes her preachiness on what makes a good relationship (as shared through the thoughts of Harriet Vane) annoys me. Unlike Corina, I really dislike Ngaio Marsh. Corina also recommended Gladys Mitchell to me, so I read St. Peter's Finger, but I pretty much hated it. I thought the writing was tedious and the mystery was absolutely unsolvable. There were no clues, and sure you could say you had a hunch it was a certain person, but it would be just that--a hunch, not based on any logic or reason.

Corina also recently suggested I read Patricia Wentworth, going so far as to send me two of her books. I read the first, and while Wentworth's style was easy to read, it was also completely unsolvable. In fact, the entire solution to the mystery hinged on the fact that the murderer's hands shook when someone was discussing the murder (the reader was not informed of the hand-shaking until Miss Silver, the "detective" of sorts, was explaining how she had determined who was guilty) and because Miss Silver had certain handprints taken, which matched those of the murderer. So really, there was absolutely no way the reader could solve the crime. Corina assures me this must be an anomoly because Wentworth always "plays fair," and gives the reader ample clues to solve her mysteries, so I am giving her one more try. But it's her last chance with me. I'll report back when I'm done.

So the take-away messages from this post: I like whodunits. I don't like Corina's taste in mystery novelists.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Zach and I were IMing this morning and the subject, as usual, turned to mysteries. He asked if I remembered "Vintage Murder" by Ngaio Marsh and, also as usual, I didn't. I know I've read it, but I've read so many classic mysteries at this point that they tend to blend together in one gigantic country house disaster with hundreds of young lovers in danger, unbreakable alibis, untraceable poisons, exotic daggers, country rustics and handsome detectives. This blog is our answer to that. A place where we can keep track of our readings, our "new" finds, and our current obsessions.