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Susan Isaacs

The Dame, Herself: Agatha Christie

The Dame, Herself: Agatha Christie

Monday, Feb 25, 2013

March is Women’s Mystery Month. To celebrate, I wrote this piece for Open Road Media:

God knows my admiration for Agatha Christie is not based on her character development.  Her recurring protagonists, Jane Marple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Hercule Poirot, et al, are only slightly less thin than the paper they’re written on.

And I despise her bias.  Frankly, I’d like to punch her in the snoot for the offhand anti-Semitism and racism she displayed, especially in her earlier books.  (And Then There Were None’s original title was Ten Little Niggers.)

But while I wouldn’t take tea with her, were she still around, I must acknowledge her virtuosity in plotting.  Murder on the Orient Express has been read, filmed, and imitated so many times it now seems old hat.  Yet she not only provided that gratifying narrative rush, but a shocking ending.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd broke one of the cardinal rules of the genre–a major no-no for any pedestrian writer.  But Christie, with genius and hard work, pulled off that cheat with a casual audacity that was brilliant.

Her play The Mousetrap, also twisted the standard rules of the whodunit forms: gasps, applause, stellar reviews.  It’s been running steadily on the London stage since 1952.  Her astonishing plot machinations made Witness for the Prosecution a winner as a short story, play, film (should be #1 on your must-see list), and TV play.

So boo-hiss for Christie’s prejudice and many of her protagonists’ utter lack of depth.  But yay for her skill in making a story not only hurtle along, but end with the Big Bang.