Agatha Christie Essay - Christie, Agatha (Vol. 1)

Christie, Agatha (Vol. 1)

Christie, Agatha 1890–

A British mystery novelist, Miss Christie is the creator of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20.)

[What] makes all Agatha Christie's work commendable, on stage or between covers, is its total incapacity for offending, despite its burden of rage, hate and offensive weapons. Characters murder and are murdered, and not in jest either, but everything is cleansed and purified and raised to a level of calm speculation and cool logic. There's no gratuitous poring over horror: the camera-eye doesn't dwell on flies drinking the blood of the victim. The corpse is an item in an argument. We end up admiring the shape of this argument, not shuddering at the distortions of the criminal mind….

Agatha Christie has been entertaining us so long and so relentlessly that she has soared above the level of the entertainer. There are scholars who are prepared to take her art, the skill of devising fresh and insoluble puzzles, with the seriousness proper to a Joyce or James or Lawrence. T. S. Eliot once planned a great tome on the detective novel, with a whole swath devoted to her books.

Anthony Burgess, "Murder Most Fair by Agatha the Good," in Life, December 1, 1967, p. 8.

Nearly 50 years ago a gentleman from Belgium threw a neat, little shadow over the niche occupied by Sherlock Holmes. Nothing of course—least of all a shadow—is going to shake Holmes now. His roots in folklore and affection are far too firm. But Hercule Poirot, one of Agatha Christie's detectives, is clearly a candidate for the next niche down.

Conan Doyle was still writing unwillingly about Holmes—he had tried to kill him off some time before—when Mrs. Christie decided, in the closing years of World War I, to try her hand at mystery stories. It took her two years to find a publisher for "The Mysterious Affair at Styles." When she did, the public met the master sleuth who was Holmes's antithesis….

Unlike most of her profession who write of a menacing world, Mrs. Christie's world is a reassuring, comfortable, English one of tea time, rose gardens, and little shops…. Violence is a temporary aberration. Once the deed has been done, the culprit uncovered (to the chagrin of the astonished reader who had all the jigsaw pieces in front of him), the world returns to a happy normal. Agatha Christie does not make mistakes. Every tiny piece is always there and always fits.

Pamela Marsh, in The Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 1967.

Not until last year was a book done on the English language's second most translated writer (ranking behind only Shakespeare): G. C. Ramsey's too brief, fan-oriented "Agatha Christie: Mvstress of Mystery." The major reason behind this neglect is the neglect of the mystery novel itself. Though it comprises one of every five new fiction books published, the mystery has continued to be the poor relation of literature….

Agatha Christie specializes in making the "impossible" happen. She has written a novel, "And Then There Were None," where all the suspects die, and another, "Murder in the Calais Coach," where they are all guilty. She has written stories, the Parker Pyne tales, where not crime, but unhappiness is solved. And of course, Mrs. Christie brought about the greatest controversy in mystery history with "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," when she indeed even broke the cardinal rule of detective writing and had the disinterested narrator turn out to be the killer….

[In Endless Night, none of] the familiar Christie touches are lacking. The title comes from William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence." Use of the two-way clue is dazzling. And, more than ever, the rigorous Christie epistemology-psychology invades every page of the book; her characters are normal people whose own free will essentially decides their courses….

Of course, Mrs. Christie has tried her hand at half a dozen romance novels (under the name of Mary Westmacott). But there again, she has quantitatively and qualitatively molded them to mystery format. Their length is standard detective, their plot the solution of a problem. In "A Daughter's Daughter," the book is framed by the "analytical mind" of Laura Whitstable, who explicitly dissects the characters and their relationships for us as elaborately as Poirot ever did.

Paul G. Neimark, "Human Nature is the Culprit" (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), in New York Times Book Review. March 17, 1968, p. 49.