Goodness, but I’m a reading disaster when it comes to Christie books. At one point in After the Funeral, I felt I knew who the murderer was, and when I flipped to check if I was right (oh, the horror!)–yes, I did that—I was. But I got no pleasure out of my powers of deduction, as I’m almost positive I’ve read this at least once before. Possibly twice. So that’s a sad statement of my mental affairs that I’m almost pleased by solving the murderer of a book I’ve read twice before. Sigh–if it doesn’t pertain to biology, it likely doesn’t stick in my brain. So I find I’m unable to advise if it was a ‘fair’ or ‘solvable’ mystery, for those who look for that sort of thing. I rather think it wasn’t. But at any rate, murderer identified, I was able to settle down and concentrate on Christie’s fine storytelling. That Dame sure can tell a tale, because it remained no less suspenseful.
I’m working on a theory that Christie was a master mystery writer. Oh, I know; the British Empire already figured that out in 1971. But really, the woman could write. I am so amazed, sometimes, how she created so much character in a handful of words. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s something that bears examining. Why is it that Rothfuss and Sanderson get heaps of accolades when they describe every single jewel someone is wearing, taking 700 pages to tell their story about a journey of a thousand steps? I think–and now that I spell this out, I think there’s something really quite valid to my instinct here–that I prefer the character of a story, the sense of it. I don’t need the high-def, cinematic version–I want the emotion of it, the presence of it. Max Gladstone recently wrote a fascinating post about action scenes (“Fighting Words,”), and at the very bottom, in the comments section, Kameron Hurley comments: “Yup, this is how I think about it: it’s not my job to give the literal then this, then that, then this, but to infer enough of the scene through the emotion I convey for the reader to *fill in the gaps.* ”
If I may move from the discussion of writing action to the concept of writing, period, Christie doesn’t (exhaustively) describe how each person walks, the sound of their voice, their dress, their mannerisms; she picks out the part that identifies them most, includes that description in an action, and lets the reader draw the conclusion. For me, to mix my metaphors again, it’s the difference between 17th century Dutch paintings and cubism, particularly Braque, one of my favorite painters (although not this one):
I think that’s why Christie works for me. There’s a combination of specificity and ambiguity that gives an impression, with out the need to delineate every shadow. She allows my own interpretation, and yet every single time, I end up exactly where she wants me. More or less.
In After the Funeral, everyone gathers at the estate for the funeral of Richard Abernethie, and imagine the surprise among the clan when dotty, arty Aunt Cora says, “But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Elderly solicitor Entwistle remains bothered, her remark nagging at him, and imagine his surprise when he receives a phone call the next day from the police. I won’t spoil any more, but Christie does trot in her favorites: the ancient family butler, the motherly wife, the gambler, the hypochondriac, the actress, the scatty matron, the stockbroker of questionable values. And, of course, the Monsieur himself:
“‘Hercule Poirot–at your service.’
There were no gasps of astonishment or of apprehension.”
And such a snicker we all had at Poirot’s expense, did we not? And with virtually no set-up, we laughed. Now try this brief character appearance on for size:
” Mr. Entwistle passed a very restless night. He felt so tired and so unwell in the morning that he did not get up.
His sister who kept house for him brought up his breakfast on a tray and explained to him severely how wrong he had been to go gadding off to the North of England at his age and in his frail state of health.
Mr. Entwistle contented himself with saying that Richard Abernethie had been a very old friend.
‘Funerals!’ said his sister with deep disapproval. ‘Funerals are absolutely fatal for a man your age!”
In four very brief paragraphs, we have the entire sense of Mr. Entwistle’s sister, do we not? And their decades of interaction? And had another little snicker at his sister’s comment? Even more surprising: there were three more paragraphs to follow, all on a chapter heading page. Eat your heart out, Way of Kings!
This book? I recommend it, for fans of both Christie and Poirot. It feels a little routine for her at this point, but it is a well-polished routine, with a nice twist. Even more, I recommend Dame Christie. Period.