A TALENT TO DECEIVE: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie by Robert Barnard
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A TALENT TO DECEIVE: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie

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Barnard is himself a spirited practitioner of the old-fashoned British mystery (Death of a Mystery Writer, 1979), and this short, lighthearted, but genuinely perceptive analysis of Christie's craft--plus a definitive Christie bibliography--is obviously a labor of love. Christie's critics have been offbase when attacking her clich6 characters, bland prose, and such, says Barnard: her books continue to have remarkably universal appeal, in fact, because Christie's English village is an ""unrealistic, stylized world. . . an eternal no-man's land"" that anyone can relate to, where anything can happen. Furthermore, that genteel milieu is a conscious facade that will be broken through: ""the coziness and stability are only skin deep. . . ."" Good points--and even better is Barnard's general insistence on working within a critical framework quite apart from that of ""serious"" fiction (mysteries relate back to the tale, not the novel); he deplores the recent trend to lumber detective stories--like Ross Macdonald's--with the wrong sort of praise (which is sure to turn sour). Barnard's specific enthusiasms are perhaps a bit less persuasive: besides marveling at the inevitable Roger Ackroyd, he zeroes in on three slightly idiosyncratic other favorites--Murder for Christmas, A Murder is Announced, and Murder in Retrospect (""the best Christie of all""). And if there's a major fault here it's Barnard's overemphasis on Christie's fairness and trickiness, his neglect of that other source of Christie's appeal: the emotiorhal resonance of who the murderer turns out to be. (He hints at this only in his closing sentence: Christie saw evil ""in our wives, our friends. . ."") But this limitation (and some insular British references) should not take away from Barnard's achievement here: at long last, the first more-than-skin-deep critique of this century's most consistently popular writer.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
Publisher: Dodd, Mead