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 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 two Volumes are unofficial in the sense that they have not been sponsored by Christie’s estate but are the culmination of my own extensive independent critical study of her work. They provide 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. This idea is explained in Volume I.
Volumes I and II then analyse, through commentaries on individual novels, how well those puzzle elements work in Christie’s Golden Age crime novels.
The two Volumes also give 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 two Volumes are analytical, they are not ‘academic’ and will be of real interest to general Christie readers, who will enjoy discovering the puzzle elements on which detection is based.
It would not have been practicable to produce commentaries on all 66 of Christie’s crime novels in one book. So I knew that I would have to narrow my focus. I decided to concentrate on the novels published between 1918 and 1945, which can fairly be regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction in the United Kingdom. There are 34 such novels.
Because Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published after 1918 (1920 in the US; 1921 in the UK), that novel was plainly the starting point. But I still had to decide where to finish her Golden Age. In fact, the decision was not difficult. For reasons I explain in the Preface to Volume II, her last Golden Age novel is the Superintendent Battle detective story Towards Zero (which was published in the UK in July 1944). Her next novel, Death Comes as the End (which was published in the UK in March 1945) is her first ‘Modern Age’ novel.
Even then, however, 34 commentaries would still have been too many for one book. So I would need two Volumes. But I could not find plausible thematic grounds for splitting the 34 novels equally (or fairly equally) between two Volumes. I therefore decided that Volume I should analyse the 21 novels which feature Hercule Poirot as the principal detective. This would work well because, after those 21 Poirot novels, Christie came to a natural break with him in 1942 (publishing no more Poirot novels for four years) and the Poirot theme would allow readers to assess a coherent body of work.
Reviews of Volume I
“I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who is going to read, or has read (and remembers), any of the first 21 Poirot novels. It is not for anyone just wanting to read a general book about Christie, her life or her work. But, for anyone wanting a detailed analysis and breakdown of her plotting, book by book, it is ideal”
Geoff Bradley in Crime and Detective Stories (CADS) 79, December 2018
“Goddard’s cataloguing and judging of clues is rigorous and it is rapidly evident how much time and effort he has put into re-reading the original stories to pull together all the data”
Kate Jackson’s crossexaminingcrime blog, December 2018
“This is an exceptionally well-written, detailed and thought-provoking book …. The correct use and pacing of clues, advice on subtlety, and other tips included in the book will prove invaluable for authors seeking to learn their craft or how to improve their technical skills …”
Christopher Chan in The Strand Magazine, September 2019
“Dame Agatha’s ability for invention is astonishing, and so is Goddard’s book. It’s an absolute must for the Christie scholar and the fan alike”
Scott Baker, the leading Christie memorabilia collector, on the Amazon Australia website, November 2018
“The analysis is extremely cogent … I have been dipping into the book over the past few months, perhaps the best way to tackle a densely written volume of this kind, and I’ve very much enjoyed so doing”
Martin Edwards’ Do You Write Under Your Own Name? blog, December 2018
“meticulously dissects Poirot’s novel-length investigations”
Michael Dirda THE WASHINGTON POST, April 2021
That left 13 novels to be analysed in Volume II. Those novels comprise a much less coherent mixture, including three Jane Marple novels; two Tommy and Tuppence Beresford thrillers; and four other thrillers. In order to give some coherence to those nine novels, Volume II contains, in addition to the commentaries, separate chapters about Miss Marple and the Beresfords as well as a chapter which seeks to explain the distinction between Christie’s Golden Age thrillers and her detective stories.
As for the other four novels analysed in Volume II, three are detective stories – two featuring single-appearance amateur sleuths and the third, Towards Zero, featuring Superintendent Battle, who also appears in two of the thrillers. Finally, but very importantly, Volume II analyses Christie’s most famous and popular crime novel, And Then There Were None.
“... highlights some fascinating and hitherto neglected points.”
Dr John Curran
AGATHA CHRISTIE ARCHIVIST, EXPERT AND INTERPRETER OF HER NOTEBOOKS.
“But I do think the people who make puzzles are kind of mean.
They just go out of their way to deceive you.”
MRS CARRIE GARDENER IN EVIL UNDER THE SUN (CHAPTER 10 PART 4).