At the heart of detective fiction is the puzzle. I was left in no doubt about that as I studied the theory and technique of detective stories. But my studies also indicated that no one had identified and defined the elements that make a detective story work successfully as a puzzle.
I therefore decided to undertake that task and to apply my findings to Agatha Christie’s stories, believing that this would be of real interest to her readers: although there have been various books about her, none provides a comprehensive analysis of her novels by reference to their success as puzzles.
My book is unofficial in the sense that it has not been sponsored by Christie’s estate but is the culmination of my own extensive independent critical study of her work. It provides the first comprehensive definition of the puzzle elements in her novels, proposing the idea that murder stories can be deconstructed into three puzzle elements – Solution, Plot and Clues. The book then analyses, through commentaries on individual novels, how well those puzzle elements work in the 21 novels of her principal detective, Hercule Poirot, published during what can fairly be regarded as the Golden Age of detective fiction (1918 – 1945).
Since it would not be practicable to produce commentaries on all 66 of Christie’s crime novels in one volume, I had to narrow my focus. My choice of the Poirot Golden Age novels worked well because Christie came to a natural break with Poirot in 1942 after 21 novels, publishing no more novels featuring him for four years. Limiting my focus to the Golden Age also resulted in a suitable number of commentaries for one volume while still allowing readers to assess a coherent body of work.
The book also gives readers the chance to re-live, at a readable length, the intrigue or cosiness of a favourite novel from a new perspective, reminding them how much they enjoyed, or were intrigued by, a particular solution, plot or clue and perhaps enabling them to appreciate points which they had not previously spotted.
Although the book is analytical, it is not ‘academic’ and will be of real interest to general Christie readers, who will enjoy discovering the puzzle elements on which detection is based.