Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Reader's Guide to Ground Hog's Day

Gabriella Herkert, Catnapped and Doggone

Which crime novel would I read again? And again and again and again? I’ll admit, I’m a prolific re-reader even though I have recently discovered that I have only managed to work my way through 31 of the hundred “best” books as determined by the BBC. I’m even more of a dilettante if you check Radcliffe College’s list of the best novels of the twentieth century. No matter. I can’t help but seek the truly exceptional, amazing Christie.

I know. Except for maybe Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, most mystery readers started with Dame Agatha. She was our entrĂ©e into the world of murder, safely ensconced in a billiard room or cozy seaside inn. There was death but little blood, lust while fully clothed and dark secrets that never included a dinner menu of fava beans and a nice chianti. By modern standards, Agatha’s locked door mysteries (now cozies) and purely intellectual sleuthing seem a little quaint. Yet for all the evil put in the world by some amazingly gifted writers, I count Murder on the Orient Express as my turning point – the place where I finally understood that no amount of logic or science could match the ability to make no assumptions and rethink the world. Sir Arthur Canon Doyle tried to describe it when he said when you’ve eliminated the likely, the unlikely and the highly improbable, what you’re left with – the impossible – must be the truth. Sherlock Holmes couldn’t have solved the Murder on the Orient Express. He’s brilliant. A clear match for his nemesis Moriarty. But in the end, once his suspicions have been allayed, he moves on. He’s logical and linear. While Agatha, in the guise of Hercule Poirot, was neither.

It’s literati Clue. List your suspects. Determine their location. Match a weapon. Determine a motive. And check them off your list in indelible ink. Narrow down to a single conclusion. Except Agatha doesn’t. She puts up every character, investigates and concludes only to reach an impasse of plausible deniability and viable alternative suspects. Then, she does the impossible. She makes it work. If it’s not someone, it could be, may be, is, everyone. Even more astonishing, she does what goes against the grain of every justice seeking self-righteous mystery buff everywhere. She takes the answer, by now obvious, and accepts that there will be no real world application. They won’t go to jail. They won’t go on to a sequel where they kill again and give Hercule another shot at the win. They will go on with their lives. Free of their tormentor, maybe even free of their torment. Amazing. Bold. Both unforgettable and fresh upon a new viewing. So, I can’t ride trains with relatives without keeping an eye open while I sleep. It’s a small price to pay.

Gabi








9 comments:

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

The first book I ever threw against a wall was "The Murder of Roger Akroyd." Not because she'd cheated, but because she hadn't :)

I think I'll pick up a Christie again soon...thanks for the reminder!

Shane Gericke said...

I've never read Agatha Christie, as my reading passion is thrills rather than whodunits. That said, I think I might dip my toes into the Dame's water sometime. There's something to be said for crime-solving through sheer brainpower and deducement, rather than guns, bombs and mayhem. Thanks for your fine essay about her.

Shane Gericke said...

Let me refine that a bit--I probably read one or two of hers, but it was as a child, and I don't remember enough about them to say I read them.

♥Jen♥ said...

I have to admit (believe it or not) that I have not read Agatha Christie - yet. I fully intend to, but I just haven't made it there to date. However, when I was teaching my 11th grade English classes, I had a project that required students to do a library scavenger hunt. At the end of the scavenger hunt, they had to get a book recommendation from the librarian. They could say they wanted a certain genre, but beyond that they couldn't say a specific author or title. Agatha Christie was regularly recommended to the students and inevitably they enjoyed whatever they read by her. I'm all for anyone that inspires my non-readers to pick up and FINISH their books!

Anonymous said...

Gabi, your post reminded me that I've seen the 1974 movie of Murder on the Orient Express about ten times. It's a tour de force of acting by Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Wendy Hiller, Lauren Bacall, Albert Finney, and Ingrid Bergman, who won an Academy Award for her performance. Also, if you don't know Jean-Pierre Cassel, watch him in every scene, and you'll be amazed at what a magnificently subtle actor he was. The acting is even more enjoyable when you know the ending. And the beautiful train scenes in the snow! I think I'm talking myself into watching it again...

The Murder of Roger Akroyd is now going onto the TBR pile. After Mysti's post, I HAVE to read it. :)

Tana.

Gabi said...

I'd forgotten that part about Roger. I'll have to go back and be shocked all over again. For me, book throwing came when Pip and Emma are revealed in A Murder is Announced. My head practically spun around.

Gabi said...

Shane,

Agatha's definitely worth another look. Nothing blows up but the uncertainty of knowing everyone in your fa(with whom you live even into adulthood) has secrets and reasons for killing you -- let's just say your next family reunion's going to get your adrenaline going in a way quite similar to a good Harlan Coben.

Gabi said...

Jen,

Like you, anything that gets a non-reader interested is good. And who hasn't thought their creepy cousin was up to no good. It's universally appealing.

Gabi said...

Anon,

I haven't seen the movie in a long time. I'm ordering it right now...

G