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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mystery novels

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At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable. — Raymond Chandler

And that precisely tells you why I am in love with Agatha Christie’s work but find Arthur Conan Doyle’s placid at best. I’ve had this discussion/debate with many over the years who recommend me later when discovering my fascination with former. I have almost always tried to convey the above and almost always failed.

Having read about one and an half dozen of Christie’s work, what I am always awed by is that all the facts, thoughts, meanings, gestures, relationships and clues are staring at reader’s face from the beginning — except that one doesn’t realize so then. When Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple reveal a solution, reader is overwhelmed by incredulity for not noting something so obvious, embarrassment for being so fool and amazement for the genius of Christie. Always, it will be one simple dialogue or action which will be crux of solution, and always, it will be burried somewhere inconspicuously in whole novel. Her best novel, regarded so by me and most other fans, even has murderer telling the story in his own words.

On the contrary, master of deductive logic Sherlock Holmes, unravels facts one by one himself when dishing out answer to the mystery. If one is free to introduce new information, hidden from readers so far, then reading the novels feels mere meek witnessing of drama rather than a actual participation (however pathetic) in mystery hunt. If I can tell you at last minute that butler was long lost nephew of rich aristocrat whose mother was wronged by him, then it brings out new meaning to ‘butler did it’ out of the blue. It also provides author the leeway to be incomplete in the screenplay since all information pertinent to solution can be made to appear out of nowhere at the end, and mere meek connection is required to prove why detective choose to pursue that line of investigation leading to new information. It is problem reverse with leaving threads hanging at the end: new threads appear in the end. In contrast, Christie is required to apply much rigid standards in her writing where she has to provide all information beforehand without actually making it easy for reader to put together the pieces of puzzle. This is not to say that Doyle’s novels are not interesting in their own right, but they can’t really be called mystery novels and rank far below Christie’s work.

What’s your take if you have read both Doyle and Christie, or on mystery novels in general?
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