STUDY ON THE DETECTIVE STORY
"Agatha Christie is the most
published writer of any time and in any language. Only the Bible and
of Shakespeare have sold more edition than the murder mysteries".
One could ask, after reading the
quoted, a simple question: "Why?" and we believe that the answer to
this question would make an eloquent introduction to the present paper.
The XX-th century is coming to
Literature worldwide has experienced all kinds of narrative structures(
are to refer only to prose) along the time , from the total omniscience
was called "the death of the author". There are literary works which
are not accessible to every one. It is here a question of taste and
culture. But the detective fiction has gained so wide an audience to
most of all it is entertaining.
Such texts are a challenge for
who involves mentally in the solving of the mysteries.
It is therefore a chance to put
to work in a very pleasant way and it is also everybody's taste of
which finds here the atmosphere needed. Thus detective fiction becomes
in the every day's agitation and worries, a place full of danger but
safer than any other place in the real world. People have the
test their abilities of reasoning, of anticipating, inferring, and
conclusions in spite of the fact that they have at their disposal very
So, taking as key concepts some
"adventure", "challenge", "reasoning",
"meeting danger from the safe position of the reader", "being
finally morally rewarded by the punishment of the evil", we can
why the detective fiction has so much success since its first
A very important thing when
detective fiction is the fact that, in the end, the guilty person(s)
discovered and the good always wins upon the evil.
We should not forget the fact
although it first appeared in the XIX-th century, detective fiction
after the two world wars, perhaps because then people felt the need to
the numerous crimes which had been committed against humanity. The
of seeing a murderer punished - even if it was only in a book - was
soothing for so many frighten and terrified souls.
INFO DATA ON DETECTIVE FICTION
General types of detective
"Detective story is a work of fiction about
a puzzling crime, a number of clues, and a detective who eventually
mystery. In most detective stories, the crime is murder and the clues
or away from the solution "("Book of the world").
The pattern of most detective
the same, whether the tale is a novel, a
novelette or a short story. The author presents the crime, the
several clues and suspects. The climax of the story comes when the
reveals the criminal and tells how the mystery was solved.
Certain conventions have
developed from the
detective story pattern. The author is expected to "play fair" with
the reader. That is, the reader should be given exactly the same
that the detective uses to find the criminal. Readers can treat the
story as a
battle of wits between themselves and the detective .
The detective in most of these
not a professional police officer, but a private consultant. For
G.K.Chesterton's Father Brown is a priest, Rex Shout's Nero Wolfe is a
and an intellectual. Fictional professional detectives include Wilkie
Sergent Cuff, John Creasey's Inspector Maigret. Romance or financial
be a factor in a detective story, but the main theme is the mystery and
these characteristics and some others will be discussed while
Agatha Christie's The Adventure of the
Egyptian Tomb (in chapter III).
The detective story above
to the well known "Whodunnit" which is one of the 4 types of
detective fiction, together with "the hard boiled detective
narrative", "the police procedural", "the metaphysical
Whodunnit, the British detective
usually a detective puzzle that presents crime exclusively as a riddle
solved through the "Wh-" train of questions (i.e. Who, Why, How, Where,
The term Whodunnit (Who
done it ?) was coined by D.Jordan in the American
News of Books in 1930. It refers to a form of writing invented by Edgar
Poe in "The Murder of Rue Morgue" (1841).
The mystery is very important,
whereas the writer must follow a set of guidelines that require fair
the telling of the murder, presentation of the clues and the
withholding of the
identity of the murderer until the end.
The art of the "whodunnit" comes
in the pursuit of the murderer through the skillful presentation of
writer is expected to adhere to the standard of fair play. Which is,
must present to the reader all the clues
necessary to reveal the significance of the clues. The writer can
reader by emphasizing the unimportant clues.
Margery Allingham, the mystery
on to single out an smaller group of essentials for a murder mystery
to the "Whodunnit" type in the preface of "The Mysterious Mr.
Campion" (1963): a killing, "a mystery, an inquiry, and a conclusion
with an element of satisfaction".
The writing of a classic
governed by some very strict rules concerning the order of the
sequences in the
text: starting from a certain problem, it goes back in time, finds its
and deals with them; then the solution of the problem is given and the
persons are punished.
Now let's follow these stages in
Agatha Christie's stories, taking not only its title, but also its
an adventure of the mind.
Adventure of the Egyption Tomb"
presentation of the plot
Short presentation of the plot
Reading a detective story
adventure in itself, adventure which people search for, when stepping
narrative structure, the plot included.
the story which we are going to discuss announces "The Adventure of the
Egyptian Tomb". The title, we must admit is quite interesting and
the reader's interest.
the story is about the investigation of three deaths which "followed
the discovery and opening of the Tomb of King Men-her-Ra. The series of
is presented by Hastings very
archaeologists: Sir John Willard and Mr. Bleibner, excavating not far
on a series of funeral chambers. Soon after, Sir John Willard died
suddenly" of heart failure. The newspaper took the opportunity of
the old superstitions connected with the ill luck of certain Egyptian
treasures. A fortnight later, Mr. Bleibner died of acute blood
poisoning and a
few days after, a nephew of his shot himself in New York.
At this stage of the story, Inspector Poirot's
help is asked by Lady Willard whose son, Guy Willard went to Egypt
continue his late father's work. He gathers all the information he can
Lady Willard, he informs himself about "the other members of the
party" (which are: Dr. Tosswill, Mr. Schneider of the Metropolitan
Mr. Harper- a young American secretary, Dr. Ames and Hassan- Sir
servant). After that he decides to go to Egypt. A
week later, Poirot and Hastings
there, just in time to learn about another death: that of Mr.
cause of his death: tetanus.
Poirot meets Sir Guy, then Dr.
Ames whom he
asks about the last death and its cause. Dr. Ames assures him that the
was due to tetanus. Poirot gives everybody the impression that he
believes in the Egyptian King's curse. Then he talks to Mr. Harper who
return to New York,
being terrified of the latest events. He speaks to Hassan also and then
A strange shadow is seen moving
tents, which makes Poirot appealing to magic: he draws in the sand all
diagrams around his tent, in order, he says to be protected. He asks
then for a
cup of tea which is brought by Hassan. After these, Hastings finds Poirot "lying back
the couch, his face horribly convulsed". He calls Dr. Ames and tells
that Poirot is dying, after having drunk the tea. But, it all proves to
hasn't drunk the tea, but he mentions
that he has put it in a safe place to give it to analyses. It is the
which Dr. Ames commits suicide by poisoning and thus the guilty man is
discovered and punished. "His hand went to his mouth, a smell of bitter
almonds filled the air, and he swayed forward and fell.
The final fragment of the story
on this case with Poirot's explanations: Dr. Ames took advantage of Sir
Willard's death and of the superstitious panic provoked and decided to
Bleibner to take his fortune. Young Bleibner who committed suicide had
note in which he said: "I am a leper" (Poirot asked for the
information from New York).
He killed himself because, as Dr. Ames had assured him, he really
had leper. Mr. Schneider's death is not very clear. Dr. Ames may have
him because he suspected something or in order to enhance the rumors
Yet, the ending says that the
hushed up and that "people still believe in the vengeance of a bygone
This is the story. What makes it
a Whodunnit ?
The present story follows the
of a classic whodunnit. The chronological order is reversed. It starts
certain problem, in this case, the three deaths that have already
the time the story begins.
The presentation of the case is
Captain Hastings, here, a first person narrator. Then, the detective is
by one character who is related to one of the dead persons: Lady
is afraid for her son's life and asks for Poirot's help. The detective
questions her and then goes to Egypt,
trying to find the roots of the problem. His inquiries go back in time
search for elucidating clues. He speaks to every person of the
"party" and he even misleads the other characters (Hastings included) and also the
because he gives the impression that he really believes in the curse.
together with the right clues, which the author gives, playing fair
reader, the latter gets some false clues (or better said s/he misreads
clues s/he gets) in order to enhance the mystery.
Hastings plays in the text the role of
reader and voices the readers' amazement:
Ames ?" I cried,
stupefied. "But I thought you believed in some occult influence?".
"You misunderstood me, Hastings.
I meant was that I believed in the terrific force of superstition. Once
firmly established that a series of deaths are supernatural and you
almost stab a man in broad daylight, and it would still be put down to
curse, so strongly is the instinct of the supernatural implanted in the
Mystery is the most important
element of a
whodunnit and it is present here, being doubled by the exotic setting
aura of superstitions.
The story becomes a battle of
the reader and the detective. In the end the reader is reassured of the validity of human logic in the face of
strange mysteries. The text is also rewarding, enhancing the reader's
the moral values. When the murderer commits suicide Poirot makes an
in this sense:
<<"Another victim", said Poirot gravely. "But the last.
Perhaps it is the best way. He has three deaths on his head.">>
So having all these elements
this story, we can certainly say that it is a whodunnit.
technique of the story built in the general atmosphere of a whodunnit
enlightens some very interesting aspects
of the detective fiction.
at the text, this time from a narrative perspective, the title is the
which draws our attention.
titles of Agatha Christie's stories begin with "the adventure" or
"the mystery" which reinforces the idea that in a whodunnit the
mystery is one (perhaps the most important one of the Key elements. We
some examples : "The Adventure of the Cheap Flat", "The Mystery
of the Blue Jar", "The Mystery of the Blue Train", "The
Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb".
is the first step the reader makes in the mystery of the story.
phrase, a threshold phrase is also very important. It creates
attention, a horizon
of expectation making the readers curious, inviting them to take part
always considered that one the most thrilling and dramatic of the many
adventures I have shared with Poirot was that of the investigation into
strange series of deaths […]".
a whodunnit, the plot is the linear one, there is only one narrative
plan, although the setting of the story
moves from London to the pyramids of Egypt.
setting, it plays a very important function in the narrative structure
exotic place, Egypt
not only does enhance the mystery, but its aura of superstitions is
misdirect the readers.
setting (moving from England
is also very important because it brings a different perspective on the
detective. But, we'll come back to this idea when speaking of
Agatha Christie story, time is very precisely noted, minute by minute
it is often used an alibi. In this story, the author places doubt on
of murder itself. The narrative doesn't present crimes, but "a series
deaths" and nobody needs any alibi. Therefore, time is noted only to
the reader understand the order of the events : "soon ", "a
fortnight later" and "a few days afterwards", "it was a
week later". So, the notation of time (or the lack of precise
also emphasizes the mystery, misleading the reader used to find in time
time doesn't have the role of a clue which makes the riddle more
Poirot seems to cope very well with this situation and the reader
examples. Usually, the detective in a mystery story is ranking
below the author, after him coming the other characters and the reader,
concerns the authority in solving the case. As the author is hidden in
(and we'll come back to this), the detective becomes both a rival and a
for the reader.
it is also the case here, the story presents flat characters, lacking
Nothing seems to affect the
can see more than others can, arousing thus readers' admiration and
But, as a person, he is not at all untouchable. In her Autobiography,
Agatha Christie said that "it is very important
that a detective should be an ordinary man. He should prove that
only the exceptional ones) can solve a mystery". Poirot, a retired
police officer, having a high opinion of himself, doesn't feel at ease
travelling by ship: <<Then he groaned. "But, oh" he lamented,
"The sea! The hateful sea!">>. Other structures in the text,
such as: "Poirot, the picture of misery, wilted by my side", prove
that the famous detective is after all just human. And this makes us,
readers, feel good, doesn't it? This is, we believe, what the author
Concerning the language, it
privilege of having Poirot, a retired Belgian officer who, very often
French or just the syntax of French. This makes reading pleasant and it
contributes to the humor of the text , entertaining the readers. The
lamentations of Poirot is hilarious: <<"And my boots", he
wailed: "Regard them Hastings.
My boots, of the neat patent leather, usually so smart and shining.
See, the sand
is inside them, which is painful and outside them, which outrages the
And also the heat, it causes my mustaches to become limp - but
In this story the relation
between text, author and narrator is very interesting.
Although assuming the function
omniscient writer, the author doesn't appear in the text. The author is
completely hidden. We have yet a first narrator. The text features a
the person of Hastings.
But the narrator knows very
little. He is
just a shadow following the detective. Just as we, readers, try to
the latter's moves.
Hastings plays in the text the role of
who doesn't understand at thing (if there is someone like that).
In the end, when the case is
solved, it is
not the author who explains to the reader the use of the clues, but
talking to a wondering Hastings.
That's why we could say that detective fiction really cares for the
feelings, trying not to make them fell insignificant.
Agatha Christie proves in her Autobiography that she doesn't consider
the detective fiction as belonging to low literature. The most
valuable thing is, she says, the capacity of reasoning and solving
putting clues together in a logical manner. She considers that the
of the detective story doesn't stand in the fact the guilty person is
but in the way in which the writer arranges the events and builds the
Readers tend to agree with these
expect more and more riddles to solve in a detective story. They read,
the adventure and then come back in the real life, somewhat different