Is A Good Mystery Hard To Find?

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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About M. Jaynes

A female educator with anger-management issues, M. Jaynes is causing change in the world by inspiring (some may say forcing) young minds to think for themselves and question everything.

Comments

  1. I actually LOVE Agatha Christie and have read most of her novels. My nana had an entire shelf almost exclusively dedicated to Christie so I just read through them one by one. My suggestion would be to stick to the Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple stories if you’re looking for character development. Though, as a disclaimer, I really don’t think this category is where you’re going to find that kind of real deep character development. These stories are definitely more plot driven, but I didn’t find them to be less enjoyable for that. As far as a second try my favorite is actually one of her most famous – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. After you read it let me know what you think!

  2. M. Jaynes says:

    Thank you for your comment and for the book recommendation. You make an excellent point about mysteries being more plot-driven. I hadn’t really considered that, but it does make a lot of sense. I will give The Murder of Roger Ackroyd a try.