Monday, November 12, 2012

The King of Detectives Vs. The Queen of Crime?

I was recently involved in a short, but interesting conversation in which the works of both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie were brought up. Someone believed that the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were superior to Agatha Christie's mystery novels - a point which I was thought was quite interesting.

Before I go any further, I would like to make it very clear that I love the works of both authors. Obviously I love the Sherlock Holmes stories, otherwise in all likelihood I would not be writing this blog, but I find Agatha Christie's novels the best mysteries which emerged during the "Golden Age." Novels such as "Murder on the Orient Express," "Death on the Nile," "A Murder is Announced" and "Ten Little Indians" stand out as extraordinary examples of mystery literature. But are the works of Arthur Conan Doyle superior to these much loved books?

To be perfectly honest, I do not think that the two can be compared. In the book, "Sherlock Holmes on Screen," co-author Jonathon Rigby brings up an interesting point. He says that Doyle's stories are not really mysteries. His works are an examination of applying observation and deduction to criminal situations. Some of the most famous stories in the canon are not really in the same vein of mystery as Dame Agatha's. When Doyle did write mysteries they were oftentimes very good. Stories like "The Dancing Men" and "The Abbey Grange" play out more like traditional mysteries (in the case of "The Dancing Men," the story is at least in part inspired from one of the very first mystery stories, "The Gold Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe).

Arthur Conan Doyle as he might
have been as Dame Agatha Christie's
writing career skyrocketed in the early 1920's
Now then, compare these puzzles to the tightly-plotted novels of Dame Agatha. One is very likely to forget that the last Sherlock Holmes stories were being published as Agatha Christie's career began. Just as Doyle's stories drew upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe (who is credited with creating the mystery genre), Agatha Christie's earliest works are closer in spirit to the smaller-scale mysteries written by Doyle. It was only after Christie's first works did she begin to experiment with the genre (see "Murder on the Orient Express," "Cards on the Table" and "Five Little Pigs," "Cat Among the Pigeons" and "A Murder is Announced"). Stories such as "And Then there were None" (A.K.A "Ten Little Indians") is in some respects not even a mystery novel, but plays out much more like a thriller.

To sum up, the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is oftentimes a misunderstood writer. His stories are not necessarily mystery stories, but perhaps a blue-print for the police procedural. Dame Agatha Christie's stories, while being mysteries, can be categorized in an entirely different sub-genre of mystery. Her writing from the "Golden Age" of mystery fiction is some of the best to emerge in the genre. However, even in the beginning of her fantastic career, Agatha Christie fell under the shadow of Sherlock Holmes. Would her stories have been as enjoyable without a detective as brilliant as Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple? Surely, they were the next generation's very own Sherlock Holmes?

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