Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christie vs. Christie vs. Christie

Dame Agatha Christie will probably still be making news at the end of days or the closing of The Mousetrap, whichever comes first.

Lately, she’s been the object of sniping from Peter Temple, who doesn’t take her writing seriously (“often ridiculous plots and the fact that reading her can be like being trapped in the company of an aged thespian who turns what should be three-minute anecdotes into three-act plays.”)

A piece in the Spectator, on the other hand, accords Christie a kind of moral superiority over Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler because, the writer says, she took murder more seriously and found it more shocking than they did. (Hat tip to Petrona, where I found the article.) The writer exaggerates, possibly to the point of misconstruction, Chandler’s famous statement about motivation for murder in crime fiction, but the argument is nonetheless worth reading.

Somewhere between Temple’s Christie-is-bad argument and the Spectator’s Christie-is-good is Colin Watson’s that Christie could be sensitive, savvy, disingenuous, and, just possibly, not above a spot of pandering.

Once I have you here, readers, who else in crime fiction has sparked such widely divergent opinions?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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10 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Can there be divergence around the same character in different media? Spillane's Hammer books were awful dreck, but the Stacy Keach TV series was fairly good.

If that's not allowed, I'm temporarily stumped.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm not sure the TV series qualifies because I'm not sure how big a place it occupies in the public imagination. I think when people think of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer, they think of the books.

A better candidate might be Richard A. Posner's (yes, the federal judge) ripping into the new annotated Sherlock Holmes a few years ago. Holmes is a revered figure; among other points, Posner made a persuasive case that his methods of detection, purportedly scientific, had nothing to do with scientific thinking. I seem to recall Posner's concluding that the stories' only value, other than as boys' tales, was that they offered pioneering, atmospheric views of London.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

That would be this 2004 article, which I'd never read before (not surprisingly, since I don't subscribe to that publication nor am I a lawyer). Thanks for mentioning it.

While doing his critique Posner at least does get the idea that reading Holmes can be fun; most of us don't nitpick the "facts" unless we are obsessed. And whatever else Holmes is, he's a memorable character and an honored member of the Zeitgeist. I've seen references to Silver Blaze and that non-barking dog half-a-dozen times in the past month.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm no lawyer either. I read the article, or a version of it, in The New Republic.

Your observation that Posner acknowledges Holmes can be fun may lie at the heart of his scathing review. I think he was incensed less at the stories than at the mammoth, faux-scholarly apparatus erected around them in the form of the annotated edition.

His review cites one of Edmund Wilson's observations about detective stories. I have never read Wilson's famous essay on the subject, but the quotations I've seen from it have always struck me as snide and witless.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

By the way, how does one create a hyperlink within the body of a comment, as you did? I'm not sure Blogger offers that option.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

It's just standard html.

[a href="http://www.desiredlinkhere.xxx"]desired link[/a]

replacing brackets with "greater than" or "less than" signs.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks. You have contributed to the beautification of this blog.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Grins. Me and Lady Bird Johnson.

November 16, 2007  
Blogger Brian said...

I think Spillane in general brings about widely diverging opinions.

One camp sees him as a master of the form and the other sees him as an absurd parody of the form.

Don't know who is right?

November 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Spillane is probably as fine an example as anyone could come up with because of the vehemence of opinion on both sides. If no one has done so already, someone ought to write a critical biography of Spillane. I'd be interested in reflections on how someone like him could attain the phenomenal popularity he did. Some of the political opinions in his book, for example, are paranoid screeds. Were the more strident of his books as popular as the others? Lots of interesting questions surround the man and his work which, I suppose, makes him a cultural phenomenon.

November 17, 2007  

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