Agatha Christie versus Her Imitators

Miss Marple knits, even at the beach.
One of Miss Marple's gifts is to recognize the ordinary and everyday in the supposedly bizarre and outlandish. Consequently, even when she is operating outside her usual milieu--sunning herself in the Caribbean, for example--she is able to recognize the lounging beauty as not all that different from the church choir member she knows at home.

Christie's imitators invariably reverse this, meaning they invariably mess it up.

Because they witness Christie's detectives discovering scandal in (even) small villages, they imagine that the bizarre and outlandish resides everywhere, including small villages. The end result is that many films based on Christie books reach a truly bizarre level of soap opera dysfunction. It is the furthest thing in the world from ordinary and human. 

Miss Marple would ultimately find that Brittany Spears precisely resembles the girl in the church choir. But script writers of Miss Marple always want to discover that the girl in the church choir is actually Brittany Spears. This is not Christie's modus operandi. According to Miss Marple (and her creator), rather than scandals lurking behind every door, ordinary petty silly common behavior lurks behind every door, including the doors that supposedly hide exciting scandals.

Take this exchange at a dinner party regarding a South Seas mystery:
Dr. Lloyd: They were two English ladies--the thoroughly nice travelling English that you find abroad . . .nothing exciting or remarkable would ever happen to either of them . . . I looked from them back to our sinuous Spanish woman with her half-closed smouldering eyes, and I smiled. [As my friend said] life would not pass her by. [But] as it happens, my friend and I were wrong. Nothing in the least exciting happened to the Spanish beauty. She married a clerk in a shipping office, and by the time I left the island she had had five children and was getting very fat.
Miss Marple: Just like that girl of Israel Peters. The one who went on the stage and had such good legs that they made her principal boy in the pantomime. Everyone said she'd come to no good, but she married a commercial traveller and settled down splendidly.

Dr. Lloyd: My story is about the two English ladies. 
Of course, an inordinate number of murders occur in
cozy Cabot Cove. Jessica Fletcher rises above them all.
The imitators would have the two English ladies turn out to be secret, steamy Latin dancers. Which would, of course, utterly miss the point.

Christie is often accused of producing "cozies," tidy mysteries where bad things are quickly disposed of in well-maintained manor houses. Her imitators want to point out that Christie had a dark side, which is true, by "exposing" the cozy, which is a mistake.

Rather than showing that every hamlet is threaded with evil, Christie saw every hamlet as far less DARK and DISTURBING and DRAMATIC and ANGST-FILLED than we humans often insist on--which is probably why she irritated Raymond Chandler fans. It's difficult to be a DARK and DISTURBED and DRAMATIC and ANGST-FILLED detective if Miss Marple is there to point out, "Hey, you really aren't behaving all that differently from the posturing poet back home."


FreeLiveFree said...

You know as a Raymond Chandler fan I don't quite know how to take the last paragraph.

I do think Raymond Chandler was unfair to her in The Simple Art of Murder. Donald Westlake would be unfair to Chandler in an essay. Neither are as bad as Michael Moorcock's take on Tolkien

Katherine Woodbury said...

Well, people-who-agree-with-Raymond-Chandler's-criticism-of-Christie-even-though-they've-read-neither-Chandler-nor-Christie seemed . . . a tad long-winded.

Pseudo-fans maybe . . .

FreeLiveFree said...


I do wonder where being pretentiously angsty ends and just dealing with dark and tragic themes. I generally think in someways The Great Gatsby is a fairly angsty novel than some books with darker events. I felt like rolling my eyes over the suffering rich people. Why that bothers me and not the darkness in say Blood Meridian. I'm not sure. It may have to do with how people deal with it. The characters in Blood Meridian don't moan about it even though far worst things happen in the book than some other works.