Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The; The Moving Finger Analysis
by Agatha Christie

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Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Christie has been accused of being snobbish in her concerns. Indeed her works are without exception set among the British upper classes; she herself commented once that she was surprised at the number of servants in her early books. Another term often applied to her is "cozy," because her books are so often set in closed surroundings. Both The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Moving Finger take place in small English villages, with the action of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd centering in the household of a wealthy businessman, complete with icily correct butler and nervous parlor maid. The Moving Finger concerns murder and poison pen letters unleashed on the genteel inhabitants of a quiet country village. However, both snobbery and coziness acted as liberating rather than limiting influences on Christie's fiction. During the period in which she produced her best work, murder was a rare occurrence in the British upper classes; this allowed her the dramatic possibilities inherent in the shock of the unexpected and of the subsequent investigation. The closed surroundings emphasized the disruption of order that a murder entails, and consequently clarified the harmony resulting from the reestablishment of that order. In Christie's detective fiction, perhaps more than any other, one can see the essentially comic nature of the genre, as Northrop Frye defined it: The established order, tacitly regarded as good and desirable for all participants, is upset and then restored.

Christie's own response to accusations of snobbery was simply that she did not know what miners talked about in pubs so she could not write about them. She had to write what she knew, as does any author. The books in which she attempts to deal with international conspiracies are among her weakest and are proof that her so-called snobbery and coziness were finally her strengths. Her essentially conservative morality offered comfort to her millions of readers, who knew that in Christie's books murder was always a crime that would be legally avenged; the very smallness of the crime made it imaginable.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The chief literary precedent for detective and crime fiction is Edgar Allan Foe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), and his other "tales of ratiocination," with their emphasis on logical deduction in solving a crime. Closer to Christie is Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes tales. Conan Doyle introduced the eccentric amateur detective, his less sharp-witted chronicler (Poirot's Watson is Captain Hastings), the atmosphere of the English countryside and of London, the importance of careful observation, and the detective story as intellectual exercise. Indeed, since Conan Doyle, the detective story has been the favorite popular genre of intellectuals. During the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction — the 1920s and 1930s — when Christie came to popularity, other writers of the genre used the similar "classic" form, in particular Dorothy Sayers, and the tradition continues to the present in the books of Ruth Rendell.

Adaptations

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Christie's work has been adapted for the stage and screen many times; she herself adapted seven of her tales for the stage, including The Mousetrap which has broken all records for a consecutive run, and Witness for the Prosecution which received an award in New York for the best foreign play of the 1954-1955 season. At least twenty films have been made of her work, including the famous Margaret Rutherford series of Miss Marple films and the more recent and expensively produced Murder on the Orient Express (1974) directed by Sidney Lumet. Television adaptations have included both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories, the most recent being the PBS Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson in the lead role (1986-1987). A musical spoof of And Then There Were None titled Something's Afoot appeared on Broadway in 1976; the climactic number, sung by the entire cast, was "I Owe It All to Agatha Christie."