Friday, September 19, 2014

In the mood to: read British murder mysteries!

Back when I was in high school, my mom and I got into the habit of reading British murder mysteries during the summer.  There's something about a Tampa summer, on a rainy, dark day, that's oddly reminiscent of England (er, so long as you're in the air conditioning).  A rainy day, a pot of tea, and a murder mystery - could you have a better time?  Doubtful.

I started reading Agatha Christie a few years ago, and I just love her novels.  I think I was suffering under the misapprehension that she was a fussy old broad, like Angela Lansbury in "Murder She Wrote."  I don't know how I conflated the two (are they meant to be alike?  Did I imagine that?).  But I was wrong!  AC's novels are well-written, they provide a delightful slice of life from the early 20th century, and I can pretty much never guess the murderer.  Also, I love Poirot.  I didn't use to like Miss Marple, but I'm getting to like her more.   Right now I'm reading "The Hollow," which is a Poirot novel. He's never wrong.

Found: here.

I find the earlier novels to be most entertaining, partly because I love reading about the 1920s and 1930s, and partly because I've noticed that after the 1950s, AC seems to lose touch with pop culture or society or whatever.  She writes about the youth movement (men with long hair who wear wild fashions) in these awkward terms that seem only to betray a real fear of change.  And while that's understandable, since I was born 20 years after the 1960s and therefore find the '60s both revolutionary and quaint, I find AC's fear of these rebellious youths to be borderline absurd.  Long hair!  On a man!  Fringe!  On a vest!  Quelle horreur!

ANYWAY.  Let's look at book jackets!  Although nearly all of the AC novels I've read have been on le iPad, the book jackets are, in general, totes adorbs.

Look at that flapper!  And all of those clock mask/hats!  I wonder what happened!

Look at that coat!  And that hat!  And those valises!  Sigh.  Air travel used to be glam.  

See, the picture makes me want to drink that coupe of champagne, but the words make me fear it.  #PSYCHOLOGY.  

And the rest.  I think "Towards Zero" is my fave cover in this little collection.  I love judging books by their covers.

I first started reading AC after listening to a Teaching Company Lecture on Mystery Literature.  The lecturer pointed out some patterns in the novels.  The detectives are usually underestimated (Poirot for being foreign, Miss Marple for being old and fussy), there are pretty much always two murders per novel, (and the detective usually prevents the third, JUST IN TIME), and the people murdered are never really likable. I've also noticed that AC loves to poke fun of then-"modern" psychology.  There's always someone in the story who proclaims that the murderer MUST be a lunatic, a psychotic!  It' must have been a "brainstorm"!  They've read about such things in the paper, it apparently makes people quite mad.  At that point, the level-headed detective quietly replies, "Oh no, this was no lunatic.  This is a cold, calculated mind at work." 

But getting back to the victims - they're never good people, they aren't likable.  This impacts the story in several interesting ways.  For one, because they're so unlikable, there are always several people who might want them dead.  That means you have plenty of suspects, and plenty of red herrings.  I personally think it helps to have an unlikable victim, because then you don't really waste your sympathy on them.  If you're all torn up over the death of the victim, you aren't really enjoying the fun of the mystery.  It's fiction, after all.  In real life, murder is horrible and sad and tragic.  But in fiction, you might as well have fun trying to solve it.  The wonderful part about AC's novels is that, as unlikable as the murder victim(s) are, the killer is always even worse!  And it's fun to be shocked over all of their plots and plans.  Of course, that being said, you do have to have sympathy for someone in the novel.  That usually goes to the young lovers, or the main character.  But sometimes not!  Sometimes ol' AC tricks ya!  Sometimes it's even a child murderer.  TRUST NO ONE.

I said before that I've never correctly guessed the murderer, but that's not true!  I did once, just recently. If it helps, I've noticed that it's always the person who I didn't even think was one of the suspects.  That's another clue for you.  Who are the suspects?  Who have you already decided definitely isn't a suspect?  Who's left?  Who's the person who you wouldn't even think of as being part of the plot?  Because that's who it is.  Every time.

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