I’ve mentioned how much I enjoyed P.D. James’ new book, Talking About Detective Fiction. That does not mean, of course, that I agree with every view expressed in it. For example, I felt she was rather hard on Agatha Christie, even though she does express admiration for Christie’s mastery of her craft.
‘The last thing we get from a Christie novel is the disturbing presence of evil,’ James argues. I just don’t think that’s right, just as I’m rather surprised that James does not pay much attention to the fact that Christie’s settings were very varied indeed – she was far from being someone who specialised in village-based whodunits, even though many people associate her more or less exclusively with the Mayhem Parva type of mystery.
There has been an interesting discussion on the Golden Age Detection discussion forum about Christie and evil, and I’m with those who believe that Christie had a strong sense of evil, and let it show clearly in quite a number of her books. The closing paragraphs of Five Little Pigs and 4.50 from Paddington illustrate the point, and there are plenty of other examples.
I was also startled that James said of Christie: ‘She wasn’t an innovative writer and had no interest in exploring the possibilities of the genre.’ Blimey. What about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The ABC Murders, Death Comes as the End, Murder on the Orient Express, Endless Night, and Curtain? I’m not sure how many detective story writers have been more innovative than Christie.
But there you go. Only a dull study of detective fiction would fail to spark debate, and this is a book without a dull paragraph. No doubt there are many people who agree with P.D. James on the subject of Christie. just as I agree with her when she concludes this fascinating book by predicting that: ‘in the twenty-first century, as in the past, many of us will continue to turn for relief, entertainment and mild intellectual challenge to these unpretentious celebrations of reason and order in our increasingly complex and disorderly world.’