- Cover of Crooked House (Minotaur Mysteries)
As a child, I grew up admiring and reading such super-sleuths as Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. My tastes changed as I grew older and I found myself drawn to true crime novels where the only mystery was what made a person crack and commit such heinous acts as serial killing and cannibalism.
Somehow, and I’m not sure how, but one of the most prolific mystery writers escaped my notice. Until recently I had never picked up an Agatha Christie novel. So at the suggestion of the book club to which I belong, I went in search of a good mystery by Christie. The library shelves literarily brimmed with her books. I chose the novel Crooked House and rushed home to start enjoying a good mystery.
The truth? I hated it. I really wanted to love it because I figured that if I could find a liking for her books it would be a long while before I stood in the aisles of the library scanning titles in desperate search of a new author with whom to connect. Why didn’t I like this book? Was my love of true crime novels tainting the experience?
It dawned on me then why I didn’ t connect with the book: Too many underdeveloped characters. I understand you need an array of characters in a mystery or else you end up with something like: “Well, the butler did it because the only other character in the book is dead.” But if you include several characters who qualify as potential suspects, you darn well better develop them so that I, as the reader, can form a connection.
Crooked House takes place in an old mansion where several members of an extended family reside. When the patriarch ends up dead, everyone is a suspect, but not everyone is developed into an interesting character. Out of all the characters, and there was upwards of 14 in all, only two were developed. One was the protagonist and narrator and the other was the killer. Not much of a mystery then and I wonder if I read more of her books if I could pick out the killer simply by picking out the developed characters.
A good mystery is hard to write I am sure, and sometimes it is also hard to find. Ultimately, I think I learned that in order to compose a decent mystery you have to rely very much on the development of your characters. And next post I will discuss an author I feel does this well.
I don’t think I am ready to give up on Agatha Christie just yet. Such a legend deserves another chance I think. So if you could suggest a few of her novels to look into I would appreciate it.
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