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Great Mysteries of Agatha's
Great "Other" Characters
Some of the best detective fiction of Christie's didn't feature Hercule Poirot. Or Jane Marple. Or Ariadne Oliver. Or the Beresfords. Or any of the other "recurring" characters. Many readers of Christie's know that she has created some memorable "one-time" sleuths for her books. These men or women (the women more appropriatley labelled "heroines", I think) aren't exactly "detectives" or "sleuths", just ordinary people who get thrust into a mystery. Some willing . . . others, well--not really.
A good example of a non-detective character becoming the book's detective is Dr. Arthur Calgary (in Ordeal by Innocence). Dr. Calgary, a geophysicist returned from the Antarctic, finds that he has the alibi for a wrongfully sentenced man. Determined to clear this man's name (who dies in prison after six months), Calgary unravels the mystery and identifies the real murderer of Rachel Argyle.
Christie created a great detective team other than the Beresfords. This team were not detectives, but simply amateurs. Such a team was that of Bobby Jones and Frankie Derwent, from Why Didn't They Ask Evans? These two involve themselves in murder and kindle a romance and respect between the two. These are amateurs because they fall into a few traps laid for them by their foes and they think detective work is masquerading as other people.
There have been non-detectives who act as narrators as well. Two prominent Christie stories narrated in the non-detective, first-person are Endless Night and The Pale Horse. In Endless Night, Michael Rogers is a young man who marries a wealthy young woman named Ellie. They immediately discover hostility when they move into their newly built house on "Gipsy's Acres", and soon after Ellie dies. Michael narrates his sad tale of poverty, love, and covetousness. As the narrator for The Pale Horse, Mark Easterbrook is also thrust into mysterious circumstances like Michael Rogers. Easterbrook is a writer who stumbles into the mystery of "death by remote control" by a remark casually made. In this story, he uncovers evil all the while developing relationships with two young ladies.
Another type of detective of Christie's is the young heroine. These included the previously mentioned Frankie Derwent (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?), Anne Beddingfeld (The Man in the Brown Suit), Eileen 'Bundle' Brent (The Secret of Chimneys, The Seven Dials Mystery), Victoria Jones (They Came to Baghdad), Emily Trefusis (The Sittaford Mystery), Hilary Craven (Destination Unknown), and Katherine 'Ginger' Corrigan (The Pale Horse). These women exhibit independence, guts, wit, determination, and courage. I think that Agatha Christie thoroughly enjoyed creating these "bright young things": she celebrated femininity, independence of women, and their accomplishments.
Great Suggested Reading
There are some great mystery novels that are sans Poirot and Marple. Some suggestions would be the ones that are featured on HPC under this section titled "Great Mysteries of Agatha's".You're encouraged to read the world's best-selling mystery of all time, And Then There Were None. This 1939 mystery is a classic from the Golden Age of Mystery and a favorite among critics and fans alike. The Boston Transcript said regarding this marvel: "For absolute horror and complete bafflement Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None takes all prizes." High praise also came from political magazine New Statesman and Nation: "The reader is just bamboozled in a straightforward way from first to last. If it were not for that iota of hanky-panky, [this] would be the most colossal achievement of a colossal career. As it is the book must rank with Mrs. Christie's precious best." The British magazine The Spectator calls this novel "Agatha Christie's masterpiece." Indeed it is.
Also recommended reading is Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, a 1934 novel that is as pleasurable as it is lighthearted. Said the Chicago Daily Tribune at the time: "In spite of a murder or two there is scarcely a grim moment so light hearted are all concerned." The novel centers on the adventures of two young people who are way out of their league in terms of detective work. With some luck, disguises, and ingenuity, these amateurs succeed in stopping a very charismatic villain.
For a villain who is totally mad and wicked, look to the novel Murder is Easy, also from 1939. Plot is not exactly the best, but characterization is great and the setting for the story is classic Christie: gossipy townsfolk, quiet village life, retired army general, etc. The hero of this story is not Superintendent Battle (yes, he appears--but barely --and this story still deserves mention here, too). Our hero is Luke Fitzwilliam, a retired policeman. Finally, with this character, mystery/crime solving comes naturally to him (well, he is a policeman, unlike the other non-detective heroes that populate Christie's books).
Although The Pale Horse is a Mrs. Oliver story (non-Poirot), it deserves mention here. In this book you have all the elements of a great Christie story: a narrator who stumbles upon a mystery, two mysterious deaths starting off the story, a careful detective, some supernatural elements and witchcraft, pure wickedness and pride, and even heroes who throw caution to the wind and find themselves "in too deep". The New York Times declares about The Pale Horse: "Here she deals with an eerie, supernatural theme, such as she has employed in some fine short stories but never before in a novel . . . This is the formal detective story in all its glory." Agreed!