July's Book of the Month: A Caribbean Mystery



  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    It's my belief that P.D. James often tried to raise herself up by putting Christie down.  James often tried to position herself as a respectable, serious, award-worthy novelist who just happened to write mysteries.  I am not trying to bash James so much as provide my perspective on the way James tried to shape her critical place in the pantheon.
  • I am sure that you are right. I don't think that her work suggests that she has Christie's insight.
  • edited August 2016
    I think P.D. James surely deserves a place in the mystery genre and she's a great writer so I can't knock her down too hard. It's just her opinions of Agatha Christie that I don't fully agree on. And sometimes she could be a little critical of her. In a 1998 interview with Salon.com there was a question in which the interviewer asked:

    Q: Your books are sometimes described as “cozy,” but there’s usually a very grisly murder at the heart. Why do you think this is?

    A: I don’t think my books are cozy. I think Agatha Christie is, I think Ngaio Marsh is. But I don’t think I would describe “A Taste for Death” or “Devices and Desires” as cozy at all. But I suppose reviewers are making a rather simplistic assessment of the difference between the so-called hard-boiled American school and the British school. People do say the most astonishing things. One interviewer said to me, “You know, it was amazing that these respectable English ladies like Agatha Christie dealt with these dreadful, horrific, violent crime novels,” and I said, “Agatha Christie? Dreadful, violent, horrific crime novels?” But, you know, that’s the thing about Agatha Christie, they’re not dreadful, violent and horrific. They are cozy. People think a bit exterior at times, don’t they? I suppose where Agatha’s concerned it’s part of the attraction. You go back into that rather comfortable, conforming, peaceful world.

    I do have to say that if you read After The Funeral, one of the characters Cora Lansquenet, is struck with a hatchet -- not once but repeatedly. Getting murdered in that way is quite violent and regardless of whether the victim was drugged at first or not, the end results are quite a bloody mess. The crime is not cozy -- it's DREADFUL, VIOLENT, and HORRIFIC. But why does P.D. James say that Agatha Christie's books are the complete opposite? Was it because she didn't describe the crime scene and the body in detail? Agatha Christie didn't write a full-blown description of the scene of the crime but was one actually necessary? Many mystery writers today would write such a description but you can picture in your imagination the crime scene and what the body would look like. Crime is never cozy, it's never comfortable.

    And if you read Five Little Pigs . . . . SPOILER IS COMING....Read at your own risk . . .
    At the end when we discover that Lady Dittisham (Elsa Greer) killed Amyas Crale, we don't know if she'll be charged for the crime. In the final scene we read, 'The chauffeur held open the door of the car. Lady Dittisham got in and the chauffeur wrapped the fur rug around her knees." That's how it ends. In this instance is the world peaceful, comfortable, order restored? Well the 16 year old case is now solved and yes the order is restored in that regard but not for Lady Dittisham. Her world is not peace, restored, or comfortable. Everything is not tied up neatly in a bow. We don't know if she'll be charged or not. There's a great possibility she won't but we don't get an answer. So we're left wondering. 

    Here's a brilliant piece to read. I agree with it and it brings up a possible angle that we probably haven't given much thought to: http://at-scene-of-crime.blogspot.com/2011/11/rant-against-word-cozy.html

  • PoirotBabosaGalaxyPoirotBabosaGalaxy Fort Lauderdale
    @Griselda - the reason Simon is so obvious is because he is ruled out with his alleged injury.  The investigation does not focus on him but on the others, with the exception of Jackie, who also was in someone's presence the entire time that the first murder occurred.  She's not cleared of the following two murders, but Simon is.  At no time does anyone suggest that he could be the murderer, which is the obvious trickery.  We're meant to believe that he did not do it, no questions asked, and that is how the reader knows in Agatha Christie novels who the murderer is.  Now, picking up on that, the suspense for the reader lies in how Simon Doyle could possibly have murdered someone.

    The nail polish was stupid and unnecessary.

    @ChristieFanForLife  - the only time that Christie lets her fans down is with Murder in Mesopotamia.  We have the obvious solution of the person who is never once suspected and who also happens to be the spouse, and so the reader can easily guess the murderer.  But the suspense of how and why it was done is disappointing.  It's not believable.  In that case, some other solution would have worked better.  The book winds up as being silly.
    Yes! Red Nail Polish Red Herring. 
  • I think the "cosy" label of some mysteries stems, not from the lack of violence, but from the fact that usually the violence takes place "off-screen". The lights go out, shots are heard, and then a body is found. At most we see the murderer rising in the mirror, raising a cosh... and the next thing is the murder is being investigated. The other two elements of the "cosy" mystery are the happy ending and the human interest. In that sense I'd say Agatha christie's novels are often, but not always, cosy (Two notably "uncosy" books are The Hollow and Death on the Nile) - but what's wrong with that? Mysteries were written originally as entertainment/escape litterature - just like many of Dickens' novels - so that the solution of the mystery, as well as the characters' problems, is part of the genre. I found P.D. James' novels, while riveting, very uncomfortable reading - both because of the grisly scenes and the unhappy endings. And incidentially, in "Devices and Desires", which she claims is not cosy, a lot of the characters have happy endings, so the "cosy" label could apply to it.
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