The opening of Murder on the Orient Express in theaters tomorrow reminded me of a time when I inhaled Agatha Christie mysteries. In high school, I read almost all of them. Over the years, when I wanted a comfort food book, I often returned to my favorite novels and short stories. As I’ve grown older, I find more flaws in the storytelling than I did as a teenager, but some of the novels still can’t be beat for plotting in a mystery.
That was Mrs. Christie’s strength, mystery plots. Her characters were often one-dimensional but characters, unless they were the detectives, were not why people made Mrs. Christie the best-selling author after Shakespeare. They loved her plot twists and the opportunity to solve a puzzle along with her detectives.
Of her two main detectives, I like Miss Marple better. I like the idea of this elderly spinster being so good at reading people from her experiences in a small English village that she could apply her knowledge to just about any person she met. Like in Pocket Full Of Rye, she becomes suspicious of woman’s husband when she realizes the woman is the nice kind who always falls for troubled men.
If you want to write cozy mysteries, you must read some of Mrs. Christie’s novels and short stories. If she didn’t invent many of the conventions for cozies, she at least made them popular, such as the nosy amateur detective and gathering all the suspects together so the detective can reveal the identity of the murderer.
Breaking with conventions. In the 1930’s, certain rules had been developed about how to write crime fiction. Mrs. Christie “murdered” those in Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and And Then There Were None.
Hercule Poirot. Two of my favorite novels with the Belgian detective, Christie’s busiest creation, are Death on the Nile, which was turned into a very good movie, and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, which is my favorite Christmas murder mystery. It has everything you expect: a large country house, a toxic family, and a clever murder with a murderer, who also breaks with conventions.
Miss Marple. Even though I like this character, I think her novels aren’t as successful as Poirot’s. But try The Body in the Library and The Moving Finger.
Short Stories. If you like short stories, like me, read Thirteen Problems with Miss Marple and The Mysterious Mr. Quinn, who certainly lives up to his adjective.
If you like cozy mysteries, what are your favorites?