Patterns in Agatha Christie's work

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Patterns in Agatha Christie's work

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Editat: oct. 3, 2007, 11:22 am

Has anyone noticed that Christie often uses recurring themes in her work?

For instance, she obviously has something against doctors - they have been the murderer in several of her novels which I've deleted so as not to spoil the mystery. Does anyone else have one?

oct. 1, 2007, 6:36 am

Yes! I have noticed some recurring themes. I must think about it though- I am blanking out right now! Sorry!

oct. 3, 2007, 6:19 am

Ok, I've got one! Murder on trains: Orient Express, 4:50 From Paddington, and numerous short stories.

oct. 3, 2007, 11:07 am

oct. 5, 2007, 3:36 pm

Triangle at Rhodes- another murder on holiday.

oct. 6, 2007, 5:11 pm

The main pattern that I have notced in Christie's works is that the killer is always given the option of suicide... and almost always takes it.

març 19, 2008, 12:02 pm

She often structured her mysteries around an organising device or principle, a sort of "murder by numbers" idea: ABC Murders and And Then There Were None and a lot of her titles also used numbers: 13 at Dinner One, Two, Buckle My Shoe Murder in Three Acts etc.

Editat: des. 21, 2009, 7:45 am

There were several of those murder-by-numbers or murder-by-rhyme ideas.

Christie wrote lots of books and like many who do that, she did reuse her old probably shouldn't read too many of her books too close together...goes for characters too, there are more than one taciturn military officers, many of who are secretly in love with young, pretty and cheerful girls...and smart, spunky and practical young women show up in several of her books too.

Some other popular themes...possibility of


if you come to recognize these signs too well:
- The butler never did it, as Christie was very class-conscious and murder is an upper-class occupation. Butler however possibly knows something, and after trying to blackmail the murderer ends up as the second or third victim.
- To continue the theme, Gladys the maid knows something important but does not realize what she knows. She is also adenoidal.
- And the third on the subject: nobody notices who the waiter is.
- Clock that is broken and stopped always shows the wrong time.
- Suspicious person with no good alibi never is the murderer. Suspicious person with extremely good alibi probably is.
- Handkerchiefs belong to Russians.
- Victim of the failed murder attempt is the murderer. Especially if another person dies in that attempt "by accident".

There are more...

des. 21, 2009, 3:26 pm

Adult, married sons choose to live at home with cantankerous father who has all the money - and is often the murder victim.

des. 21, 2009, 5:21 pm

>6 lunalovebook: would the suicide option be more in tune with the era? Especially as murder was still a capital punishment then? I notice she avoided the aftermath of murder trial and hanging where she could, more so than Marsh or Sayers.

des. 27, 2009, 7:28 am

hdcclassic - I agree with all of your observations - I did think the "failed murder attempt" motif was foolproof, but there is at least one I can think of which fooled me because the almost victim was NOT the murderer.

Editat: feb. 24, 2011, 6:05 am

Here are my observations:

The main objective in any whodunnit, in order to conceal the truth and reveal it only in the end, is the "apparent separation of means, motive and opportunity", often by having one or more characters assume a new identity.

For example, a person may have means and opportunity but lack any motive. Another person has the motive, like a distant relative who benefits from the will. Then these two persons turn out to be the same person.

Another theme in her work, related to the hidden motive, is kinship. In many stories, children out of wedlock take up new identities and often they don't know themselves. They are either will benificiaries or stand in the way of those.

Agatha Christie will often hint to such kinship by mentioning similar behaviour by apparent non-relatives who are ignorant of their kinship, or by having one treating the other as if (s)he were offspring, because the former knows (s)he is.

Then of course there is always at least one con motive. There's the mistake police and justice are about to make, there's often also the story Christie wants you to believe as a motive and then there's the real story. In my experience, the con story is often about love, passion or personal grudges, while the real story is about money. That seems to be the main theme in her work: human condition is not so much about love as it is about money.

feb. 24, 2011, 6:45 am

Another pattern is the "casual event". The more casually an event is mentioned and the less relevant it seems to the case, the more important it will be, especially if it is very specific.
- A physical damage, reportedly caused by an innocent object or event, may refer to the act of murder or its concealment.
- An object being of a peculiar size, like a hat, or someone looking smaller than usual, may refer to hidden or switched identities.
- A person being in an unusual place, may refer to an unexpected motive or an opportunity, although in my experience problematic alibis are often part of the con story.
- Irrelevant but familiar behaviour, as mentioned, may point to kinship.

When the pointe is close to being revealed, Poirot will often consult a specialist in a certain expertise. An attorney will point to a will as a motive. A doctor or chemist will point to poison as a means.

As I became aware of these patterns, it became increasingly dull to read her novels, unfortunately. I tended to skim through them, looking for the pattern and almost always be correct half way. The meta-cons then provide value, like when the narrator turned out to be the murderer. She definitely tried to break through her own patterns.

feb. 24, 2011, 7:29 am


#8 You just listed the rules by which I've been guessing the murderer for years (in all but one or two) but you left out the obvious one that the murderer is always the one with the most unshakeable alibi - that combined with the failed attempt pretty much nails it. But, once I got over the first few disappointments I took it all on board as one of the pleasures of the books and one of the reasons why they feel like such 'safe' comfort reading. Let's face it, no-one ever read Christie for the quality of the writing or the liberality of her views. They remind me a bit of Sudoku puzzles - the answer will always be the same numbers but in a slightly different order - the pleasure is just is watching it all fit into place. And. like Sudoku, you can do them with pretty much half your brain switched off so, although you wouldn't want to do either every day, both can be the perfect way to wait for a plane or a doctor's appointment.

juny 13, 2011, 4:17 pm

Another pattern: fashion, sewing, flowers, hairdressing...typically 'female' domains in so many people's minds. (In fact I think some even use the 'g' word to dismiss these things.) I think this is remarkable in all the stories...Poirot is a misunderstood bourgeois dandy, a very strange being indeed! And Miss Marple is constantly solving mysteries by her knowledge of obscure cooking and sewing lore. I find it especially noticeable in the short a kid I was mesmerized by the one that hinged on knowing what "hundreds and thousands" were. Of course Marple was also always dipping into medical texts, and was able to solve one mystery by following the sounds of an apparently nonsensical combination of words to get "pilocarpine." Was that one something to do with the thumb of St. Peter, or am I wrong? Anyway, when reading Christie I never neglect the importance of specialized knowledge from often belittled fields.

juny 21, 2011, 5:16 pm

Simply because of these "comfort" reads of Agatha Christie, at the end of every college semester, when all my finals were done, I would go on a Christie binge of reading. Such a relaxing thing after all that studying.

juny 25, 2011, 6:23 pm

Interesting. I think some of these themes are more a product of the time and lifestyle that Christie had. She was of the definitely country house, wealthy set. It was definitely not unheard of to take a 'season' in Europe, or other 'holiday' places, and doctors were constantly recommending seaside air at the time to cure what ails you. The primary mode of transportation during her time was by train, one of the pieces of history that revolutionize this era of British history. It was a wonder in its day and opened up the world to so many; a defining point of the time she was trying to capture. She worked in a chemist capacity during the war and hence also wrote about poison often (medical people being the most likely to get their hands on it). Finally, being upper class those were the people she dealt with day in and day out. Much harder to write a mystery about the staff when she probably really didn't know much about their world.

I think a lot of this is a case of write what you know, then farther down the line became write what your public expects.

juny 30, 2011, 12:13 pm

"I think a lot of this is a case of write what you know, then farther down the line became write what your public expects."

I agree, but I think Christie beat the onset of staleness by maintaining a sense of humor. After all, who is Ariadne Oliver but a very thinly disguised proxy for the author? She speaks freely about everything that likely bothered Christie about fame, and Christie's self awareness is obvious when Poirot and Oliver will discuss her books' similarity to one another.

set. 4, 2013, 10:01 am

Both a pattern and a characteristic of Christie's upper-class viewpoint is her repeated use of people in uniform as being invisible to those around them. No one at a table notices the waiter. I've tested her theory on a few occasions, and it tends to work, especially if you allow a little time between the exposure to the individual and your request for a description of him or her.

nov. 21, 2013, 6:52 am

Also, what I have noticed is the deliberate pacing of the story, sometimes it is too slow-all the time building towards a nerve wracking climax.. or too fast where the mind of the reader just whirls!! Christie is a master of plotting and psychology..too many times the reader has been fooled by what he reads and what is the fact!!all in all...i have enjoyed most of her works during college times..and re-read most of them even now to enjoy them again...