Saturday, July 28, 2012

Five best classic whodunits

John Lanchester's novels include the widely translated The Debt to Pleasure and the newly released Capital. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award. He lives in London.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of mystery stories that don't get old. One title on the list:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
by Agatha Christie (1926)

Her prose is flat and formulaic, her plots are lavishly riddled with holes, her most famous character, a vain, moustache-twirling Belgian, is arguably the least likely fictional detective of all—and yet Agatha Christie's work continues to grip. That's partly because she was so deliberately unwriterly in her prose. Her more ambitious contemporaries from the golden age of detective fiction wrote more colorfully, and for exactly that reason they have dated much more badly. Christie's work is sometimes seen as cozy, which in one sense is correct, since there is after all something profoundly comforting about the classic thriller. (As Oscar Wilde's Miss Prism says in "The Importance of Being Earnest," "the good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.") At the same time, though, her work chronicles much social change—the 20th century is her principal character, and most of her mysteries are based on a very modern anxiety about people being other than who they seem. She also fascinates me as a kind of modernist, someone who was always setting strategic challenges for herself. She wrote novels where a pattern drives the story ("The ABC Murders"), or where the title kicks off the action ("Why Didn't They Ask Evans?"), or where all the characters are killed ("And Then There Were None"). "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," concerning the death of a widower after he reveals the story of another murder, finds Christie taking on a cracker of a formal challenge. This novel, with an audacious twist, is justifiably her most famous.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is on John Curran's top ten list of Agatha Christie mysteries and Lisa Scottoline's top ten list of books about justice.

--Marshal Zeringue