Tag Archives: agatha christie

Still Working!

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The sun has come out, unexpectedly, so I have to seize the moment and get out there with my legal pad, to continue my work on Bell Mountain No. 12, His Mercy Endureth Forever. Unlike Agatha Christie, pictured above, I can’t write fiction indoors. As I write, I have to try to inhabit a world that doesn’t, in fact, exist; and I can’t do that if I keep getting robo-calls from “Your Debt Partner” and various resorts that try to convince me that I’ve been there before and really liked it.

We have a black walnut tree in the yard which day and night bombards us with nuts the size of baseballs. Thanks to the incessant rain, the nuts have begun to rot while still on the tree. A lot of them go “splat!” instead of “pow!” when they hit the ground: icky black goo all over the place. But even that is less distracting than the robo-calls.

I still don’t have the climax to this story, still waiting for the Lord to show it to me. I feel like I’m chipping away at a great block of marble to get at the shape that waits inside, with no idea of what that shape will be. Your guess is as good as mine. Suffice it to say that currently hellzapoppin in Obann.

Well, back to work! I hope the nuts keep missing me: a few of them this morning were… adjacent.


Here’s That ‘Curtain’ Article

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Hooray! The Chalcedon website (www.chalcedon.edu/) has a brand-new front page to display new articles and video. From now on, that’s where all the new stuff will be; and that’ll make it easy to find.

And published there today is my article on Agatha Christie’s Curtain, written months ago and now available here.

https://chalcedon.edu/resources/articles/can-a-mystery-novel-tell-us-whats-gone-wrong-with-british-christianity

Can a mystery novel tell us what’s gone wrong with British Christianity–and probably our own, too?

Read it and see!


A Cracked Criticism

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Isn’t it just awful, when you try to say something smart and it comes out stupid?

Here’s a comment by novelist and literary critic A.N. Wilson, found on the back cover of an Agatha Christie book. Pay very close attention to it.

“Time and again Agatha Christie pulled off what many obviously greater writers labored for in vain, a work of art which is both perfectly crafted and morally satisfying.”

Uh… “obviously greater writers,” you say? Who “labored in vain” to do things that Christie could do? I don’t get how not being able to match her makes them greater. It certainly wouldn’t be obvious to me. It sounds like talking about “obviously greater jumpers” who can’t jump as high as the person they’re supposed to be greater jumpers than. Which is not the most elegant sentence I ever wrote, but never mind.

Ah, well. Mustn’t be too hard on Mr. Wilson. His books have come in for a healthy share of shredding.

Literary criticism has its uses. You can line your bird cage with it, or fold it into a paper hat.


‘My Favorite Authors’ (2011)

Anytime you make a list, you always discover later that you should’ve added this or that, etc.

I try to learn more about the art of storytelling from every author that I read. My list really should have included Walter R. Brooks, Ross MacDonald, Ring Lardner, Sir Thomas Malory–and there I go again. Maybe I should just leave lists alone.

(Mark Twain, H.R.F. Keating, Eiji Yoshikawa [not showing off: I really do like him], Dorothy L. Sayres—now cut that out!)

https://leeduigon.com/2011/07/05/my-favorite-authors/


Who’s in Charge of This?

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Professor James Moriarty

For Agatha Christie, it was the Big Four; for Sax Roehmer, Dr. Fu Manchu; and for Arthur Conan Doyle, Professor James Moriarty, dubbed by Sherlock Holmes “the Napoleon of Crime.” These authors, and others, could not help wondering whether the evil events of their age were being orchestrated by a single conductor.

I think most of you in this audience know who that conductor is.

Where they went wrong, I think, was in attributing all the effects of evil to a single mortal cause–one man, or one organization. But what if it was many individuals, and many organizations large and small, not necessarily working consciously together, but performing similar actions motivated by similar objectives and compatible ideologies?

For instance: can anyone doubt that there are tens of millions of dollars flowing into Australia from all over the world, to support the campaign for a “Yes” vote on same-sex pseudomarriage? It doesn’t all have to come from the same source. Organized Sodomy has movers and donors all over Europe and America. Of course they’re going to want to branch out to Australia.

I am coming to believe that, by the inspiration of Satan, there is a conscious, purposeful, directed campaign for evil in this world today, whose goal is to erase Christianity and to destroy the family, leaving no effective barrier between the individual and the all-devouring state. I believe that all this stuff that we’re seeing in this century–the transgender movement, Antifa, Occupy, the universities’ expressed hatred of white people, the activities of the Democrat Party and their GOP minions in Congress, militant atheism and all the rest of it–is all part of a concerted effort ultimately tracing back to… well, Satan. Because that’s where it all comes from, in the end.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places…    —St. Paul (Ephesians 6:12)


Why I Watch Movies and TV

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Some of you are down on movies and television for celebrating immoral and even wicked actions and letting the characters in the story get away with it. Those are not unfounded criticisms.

As a fantasy novelist, I must plead guilty to writing in such a way that the story turns out as I want it to. King Ryons gets to Obann in time to save the city. Lord Orth passes through a phase of madness and idiocy to emerge as a true man of God. These things happen because I wrote them that way. It can’t be helped.

I watch a lot of old TV and movies. One reason is for relaxation. After a day of writing, I need to veg out. I don’t think any of you will accuse me of allowing these films to shape my moral outlook.

But there is another reason.

Writing a novel isn’t as easy as it looks. The only thing easy about it is that it’s very easy to mess it up. And as I write, I have two overriding concerns: character and story. Both have to be right, or the novel will be wrong.

So I watch for the same reason I never go to bed without a book to read until I fall asleep. I want to learn how to create and manage believable characters that my readers will respond to, and how to tell a story coherently, convincingly, and compellingly. I can’t learn that unless I immerse myself in other people’s stories. And because the story-telling art is so difficult, I have to keep learning all the time.

As hard as I try to avoid it, some of the stories I watch turn out to be dreck. From these I learn what not to do! From the others, the ones that are not pigs’ breakfasts, I pick up innumerable hints that I can apply to my own stories. From C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, Walter R. Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Upfield, and many others, I learn the techniques I need to make my novels stand the test of readership.

And daily Bible reading is indispensable as a guide to what I ought to put into my stories and what I ought to leave out. As a writer, I can do nothing without God’s blessing and guidance.

A steady diet of B.S. fiction, consumed uncritically, unthinkingly, for no other purpose than “because it’s there,” has a really good shot at rotting the consumer’s mind.

If you want to be a musician, you have to listen to other people’s music. The same hold true for story-tellers.


A ‘Christian Spy Thriller’–by Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie was one of the most successful novelists ever, but we don’t generally think of her books as offering any identifiable Christian content. True, her two most famous detective characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, were solidly Christian. Poirot was a Roman Catholic, and Miss Marple always read her devotionals before getting out of bed in the morning. To most Christie fans, that’s about the long and the short of it, as far as Christian content goes.

Neither Poirot nor Marple appears in They Came to Baghdad–a spy thriller, not a detective story, published in 1951. Underlying this book is a surprisingly firm Christian foundation: not what anybody expects from a cloak and dagger job.

The plot concerns a secret superpower summit to be held in Baghdad, and the effort by British intelligence to foil a plan to turn the conference into a catastrophe–maybe even a new world war. And the success or failure of the intelligence campaign winds up depending on Victoria Jones, an unemployed typist with a gift for coming up with amazingly convincing and creative lies at short notice.

The bad guys are identified only as a shadowy organization, global in its scope and resources, neither communist nor capitalist, committed to manipulating the free world and the communist bloc into a mutually fatal showdown.

Here’s how Victoria’s mentor explains it to her.

“What they want is, I fear, the betterment of the world! The delusion that by force you can impose the Millenium on the human race is one of the most dangerous delusions in existence. Those who are out only to line their own pockets can do little harm–mere greed defeats its own ends. But the belief in a superstratum of human beings–in Supermen to rule the rest of the decadent world–that, Victoria, is the most evil of all beliefs. For when you say, ‘I am not as other men’–you have lost the two most valuable qualities we have ever tried to attain: humility and brotherhood.”

Coming out with that in 1951–wow!

Later on, Victoria reflects: “You get mad, perhaps, if you try and act the part of God. They always say humility is a Christian virtue–now I see why. Humility is what keeps you sane and a human being..”

Or, as the Bible puts it, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Our original temptation, provided by the Devil, was “ye shall be as gods, knowing [deciding for themselves] good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Have we ever been given a more accurate description of the humanist mind-set?

Hey, everybody–try this book. There’s a lot more to Agatha Christie than you thought.


Yet Another Movie to Avoid

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Spoiler alert? Actually, this whole review is intended to be a spoiler. This 2016 version of Witness for the Prosecution is just another exercise in postmodern futility and radical despair: totally rancid. You’re better off watching ants crawl in and out of the anthill.

Patty and I are big Agatha Christie fans, and Witness is a famous Christie short story that she later rewrote as a stage play. It has since been made into several movies. This is the latest.

It has hardly any resemblance to the story Christie wrote.

Toby Jones, really a marvelous actor, plays a small-time lawyer who has to defend a seemingly hopeless murder case. Against all odds, he gets his client acquitted. But that’s because he and the jury have been cleverly tricked by the defendant and his accomplice. They really did the murder, they get away with it, and an innocent woman winds up being hanged–none of which is in the original story.

What the writers are up to here is wallowing in total moral confusion. The lawyer does wrong because he tried to do right–get it? Ain’t we smart? We know there ain’t no such thing as right or wrong, and aren’t you a schmo for thinking that there is!

Sophomoric bilge. They think they’ll be taken seriously by heaping tribulation upon their defenseless protagonist. Boy, does the poor guy suffer! Lungs are shot from being gassed in WWI, lost his son in the war, his wife can’t love him anymore, and now he’s got all this evil on his conscience while the real bad guys ride off into the sunset, happy as a pair of clams… Why didn’t they give him a nasty paper cut, while they were at it? Or tie his shoelaces together? Oh, and they finally have him commit suicide. That’ll teach him to seek truth.

As the Good Book says, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

This is a movie for interllecturals and other saps.


In Praise of Miss Marple

We just watched Joan Hickson as Miss Marple in The Mirror Cracked, and once again I’m in awe of Agatha Christie’s creative genius. Nor does it hurt that these English productions starring Hickson are as faithful to Christie’s plots as humanly possible, and that Christie herself chose Ms. Hickson to play Miss Marple–quite a few years before Hickson was old enough to do it. She is absolutely perfect in the role: Miss Marple to the life.

But think of it. You don’t want it to be just another detective story, seen one, seen ’em all. But you don’t want it to be outlandish, either–nothing like a seven-foot-tall sleuth from Manchuria solving crimes by dipping strips of specially treated bacon into the suspects’ drinking glasses.

So you come up with a detective who is physically incapable of violence, physically unable to run away if she’s in danger, and outwardly the most harmless of all creatures–a little old lady who’s lived in a country village all her life, but has, in the words of one police superintendent, “a mind like a meat cleaver.”

How did Christie ever think of this? There’s never been a more believable detective than Miss Marple in all of crime fiction: this sweet little Christian lady who does her devotionals every morning before she gets out of bed, and yet has such a penetrating insight into the sinful human heart. It sounds unbelievable when I write it down like that; but she’s perfectly believable when you read the novels, or watch Joan Hickson bring her to life.

Wonderful artistry. Just wonderful.


Agatha Christie: More Than Just a Pretty Murder

There’s a reason why Agatha Christie was the best-selling novelist of all time.

I’ve been re-reading “Taken at the Flood,” an Hercule Poirot mystery from 1948. You have to re-read Christie because, the first time you read one of her books, you get caught up in trying to solve the puzzle and you miss a lot of the nuances.

This is a spectacularly good book. Oh, the murder mystery is very nicely complicated. In fact, it’s so difficult because everything about it seems so simple. And of course there is Christie’s unsurpassed gift for creating characters and making them come to life.

But there are also all sorts of things to see in the background.

The setting is an English country town, immediately post-World War II. You’d think everyone would be overjoyed the war was over, but there’s very little joy to be seen here.

Instead, we are shown what a mess England was left in by the war. Everything has been thrown into disorder, and they’re nowhere near digging out of it. We are shown government policies, new regulations, and new taxes that burden the people (and doesn’t that sound familiar?) while also contributing to a general atmosphere of “ill feeling” that permeates the whole nation.

I’ve often wondered what has happened to the United Kingdom, spiritually. Well, here we see some indication that the nation was spiritually gutted by the two world wars.

I hope I haven’t made it sound like Christie does this easily. No: she does it masterfully. She doesn’t lecture the reader. By adroitly maneuvering her characters through all different situations, she shows you post-war England through their eyes. You experience it with them. This technique succeeds because the characters are, for all intents and purposes, real people. Trust me on this–there are an awful lot of writers who couldn’t begin to do what Christie does.

But don’t take my word for it. Treat yourself to Taken at the Flood. Enjoy a great book that doesn’t fly a Great Book flag.


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