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Saturday, February 14, 2015

On Rereading Whodunnits

Having finished my reading for the Aurealis Awards, I'm now starting to make my way through the neglected pile of TBR review books. Most of them are from Bloomsbury, some from Ford Street.

But at bedtime I need something old which doesn't require much focus, not a brand new title which will keep me awake thinking about it. So I have recently hauled off the shelves some old Ellis Peters and Agatha Christie novels.

Ellis Peters, aka Edith Pargeter, historical novelist, put together her skills as a crime writer and a historical novelist to write twenty books(21 if you count A Rare Benedictine, a collection of short stories)about about Brother Cadfael, a mediaeval monk and amateur sleuth, on the border of England and Wales, in a town called Shrewsbury, a sort of mediaeval Midsomer. ;-) The difference is, of course, that it's a real place.  I've been there and found my way quite easily from the church of St Peter and St. Paul(setting of the book) into town, because the author described it so well. I love these books. Despite the necessary murder in each book and a war raging across the country, there is something peaceful about it and quite frankly I don't care if I remember whodunnit. It's the atmosphere and the calm wisdom of Brother Cadfael I care about, and his friendship with his young "cop" buddy Hugh Beringar, who becomes Sheriff of Shropshire, a highly responsible job, but is still a cop. So these books make good bedtime rereads. To be honest, I couldn't remember whodunnit this time, but it didn't matter. They soothed anyway. And she doesn't cheat you. She gives you enough clues to work it out, and if you don't, you say, "Oh, yes, I forgot that clue!"

Agatha Christie also throws in clues(or Clues), and the murderer could be anyone, from the gruff major to the sweet young thing who called in Poirot in the first place. I love that, but I wouldn't  exactly say she never cheats you, just a little bit. It's true that she follows the main rules. The killer is a member of the cast already introduced, never an outsider, no matter his many threatening notes the victim may have received or claimed to have received. But there are often pieces of vital information you don't receive till near the end of the book when Poirot triumphantly reveals the contents of a telegram he sent a little earlier, to the gathered cast of suspects. And if there are no mysterious poisons from South America(she worked in a dispensary during the war, she refuses to do that!) there are disguised characters, women disguised as men, evil ex husbands disguised as - er, mild mannered new husbands...

Alas, I ALWAYS remember whodunnit in an Agatha Christie book. But as I said, I don't mind, really. Not at night time. I like the ambience of the eras in which they're set - 1917 onwards for the Poirot stories and in the 1940s/50s for Miss Marple.

 I like Poirot with his "little grey cells" and his observation and his refusal to consider cigar ash and footprints in the flowerbeds, even though he does notice pottery ground into the carpet and a disarranged mantelpiece. And I like how Miss Marple notices how the potential killer reminds her of someone she knows from the village, and goes from there. She plays the scatterbrained little old lady to the hilt, almost like an elderly female Columbo, but everywhere there are police inspectors who know exactly how sharp she really is(sometimes from having worked with her, other times because they're related to friends of hers). She has a terrific network of family and friends on whose special knowledge she can call whenever she needs it. Very different from Poirot, but like him, she always works it out - in the early short stories she doesn't even need to be there, she just hears the story and works it out.

So, why reread a whodunnit? Because there is so much more to them than that!

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