The mystery of mass appeal : critical clues to the success of Agatha Christie.

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Pardue, Mary
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Middle Tennessee State University
In order to define the appeal of Agatha Christie, one must explore the mystery as escapist/entertainment literature and discuss the mystery as formula fiction. Christie is validated as a pop/mystery writer by her autobiography and comments from critics. Then a selection of her novels shows how structure, setting and time, characters and relationships, and theme fit the models for formula fiction and how they function in Christie's overall appeal. Twelve novels are chosen as representative of the Christie collection. They are The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Murder at the Vicarage, Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, Cards on the Table, Death on the Nile, The Body in the Library, A Caribbean Mystery, Hallowe'en Party, Sleeping Murder, and Curtain.
As the detective story developed, a number of conventions evolved forming the basic structure of the mystery and establishing bonds between the writer and the audience. Christie developed a formula consistent with the structure and fundamentals of the genre, thus establishing herself as a writer of escapist/entertainment fiction. Her novels follow a specific pattern that offers the reader danger and excitement in a controlled and limited way. She follows a definite set of rules, but the pattern is always the same. And it is her attempts at varying situations and conflicts that are at the core of her appeal.
Christie places a great deal of importance on setting, taking pains to create exotic locales or placing her story in a quiet little hamlet in the English countryside. Characterization was important to Christie, and she spent considerable time developing characters to fit her formula but also stretching them to their limits and vitalizing them as stereotypes. The predominant theme in Christie is the triumph of good over evil, but she also explores the themes of ratiocination as the way to truth, appearance versus reality, and order versus chaos.