Agatha Christie’s name is synonymous with the mystery novel, and her books have been translated into more than one hundred languages. Almost all of her novels remain in print. Although some critics consider her work to be no more than popular fiction, the mystery novel has become an increasingly respectable literary genre. Critical studies have been devoted to many aspects of the field, in particular to Christie, one of the finest writers of the classic detective tale.
The traditional mystery story has a particular set of rules, in which the writer sets a puzzle, provides clues for the reader to follow, and then delivers a solution to the puzzle that is both a surprise to the reader and consistent with the accumulated evidence of the story. The Mousetrap provides a perfect illustration of how Christie did precisely that and at the same time found new ways to combine those elements.
The Mousetrap, originally the short story “Three Blind Mice,” which was adapted first into a radio drama and then into a full-length play, contains many Christie trademarks. One of these is the setting, which, as in most of her works, is the English countryside. Yet this frequently serves as little more than a backdrop. Christie likes to cut the setting—and thus the characters—off from the rest of the world so as to create a closed circle of suspects. In Ten Little Indians (1943), the characters are stranded on an island; in Murder on the Orient Express (1934), they are traveling on a train; and in many of the stories, including Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles: A Detective Story (1920), they are gathered together in a country house. The Mousetrap re-creates this setting with the Great Hall at Monkswell Manor. Christie assembles her characters and then isolates them with a snowstorm; from that point on, the outside world no longer intrudes. There is no mention of politics or names and events in the news. Political realities do not exist, except in the most general of terms; Mrs. Boyle accuses Miss Casewell of being a Socialist, and she laments the lack of responsibility of the lower classes. The play’s reality,...
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