Excerpts from the dust jacket:
Robert Barnard, himself a crime writer and professor of English literature, has brought insight and sound judgement to his study of Agatha Christie's books. He examines the qualities that made them, as every one knows, the third-best-selling books in the world after the Bible and Shakespeare. He discusses her thrillers and especially her crime novels - those "intellectual puzzles of a certain rarefied kind." There is an analysis of her masterful solutions, of her stratagems of deception, including her ability to divert the reader's attention from the matter of real importance, and of her skill in making the clues relate to the reader's own experience.And...
... he places Christie firmly in her own social class and time. There is an in-depth study of three Christie novels and of her detective characters.Recently, when I began reading Christie's novels (or, in some cases, re-reading), I decided to find a copy of that book. It took a while, but I found a nice copy. When I received it, I was disappointed because he tells me, up front, that he has included spoilers.
I found it impossible to write a book of this sort, dealing to a large extent with the kinds of deception Christie practices on her readers, without revealing solutions from time to time.I should have known better. Most of the mystery reference books I own do mention facts that I consider spoilers, even though they may not reveal the solution or the culprit. So, since I really do not want to know who is the culprit in the Agatha Christie books I read, I will have to make do with reading portions here and there until I have read all or most of her books.
Barnard tells the reader that most spoilers would be in in chapters IV -VI, so I can probably read around those chapters.
In the first chapter, he discusses criticisms of Christie's style of writing. He explains where these criticisms may be valid. In the second chapter, he talks about the books written in the 1920's. They are about evenly divided between thrillers involving espionage and conspiracy theories, and straight detective stories. He says that Christie found the detective story harder to write, and was honing her skills in that area at that time.
The third chapter is titled "The Road to Mayhem Parva" and talks mainly about her development of the type of story set in an English village. This type of English village was given the name Mayhem Parva by Colin Watson in his book, Snobbery with Violence.
And now I am at Chapter IV and will not read further. Yet. I found the first three chapters and the Preface very interesting. He notes in the Preface that this book is not written as literary criticism or an academic study, but as an appreciation. What I had not realized until I started reading the book is that it was written when Barnard had only published a few (five or six?) of the mystery novels he authored.