I recall reading a poem in some book on Christie, where the author lamented how she had only one Christie left to read and this one she just couldn't read because if she read it then she wouldn't have one left to read! Her precious jewel, her Agatha Crystal she called it.
Now, how's that for a pressing conundrum?
I have been reading Christie since I was eight, actually (rather a long time ago!). Yet still I have never read her mystery Destination Unknown (1954), or So Many Steps to Death, as it used to be called in the States.
It is one of Christie's thrillers and it has just never interested me from the description; but I suppose I should read it just so I can say that I have read all the Christies.
It is not supposed to be bad, I gather, just middling, not up to the level of, say, They Came to Baghdad (1951).
Sometimes you stay away from a book by a favored author, just because it's supposed to be so darn bad.
John Dickson Carr's last detective novel, The Hungry Goblin, is a case in point. Even Carr's biographer, Doug Greene, hates it! But I have read even Christie's Postern of Fate (in a tree house in 1978), which probably is even worse than Passenger to Frankfurt, so should be able to make my way through Destination Unknown, surely.
Now I present an excerpt from a fascinating review essay by Donald Dodge, published in The Bookman in 1927. It is called "Nothing But The Sleuth" and it doth protest (too much?) against the presence of "love interest" in detective novels:
Of late years a sinister influence has come to corrupt the fine tradition of the great Sherlock Holmes who was a knight without fear and without a love interest. Now you can't get through a fine tale about battle and murder and sudden thugs without having to spend half your time with a blue-eyed heroine intent on getting into trouble so that the detective-hero can fish her out from the nets of crime....Even so delightful a thief-taker as [Edgar Wallace's] Mr. J. G. Reeder has got to go and fall in love and shave off disfiguring side-whiskers to make himself a boy again for the sake of a sweet wench.
|Horrors! Even Mr. Reeder|
gets caught in love's meshes
Why, Harriet Vane was lurking just around the corner, in Dorothy L. Sayers' Strong Poison (1930)! And there was actual sex in the offing too, in The Thin Man (1934). Nick and Nora Charles were getting out the glasses and popping corks.
And today of course people actually expect the detective to have some sort of credible inner emotional life (even if it is mostly misery).
Mr. Douglas would not approve!
There is more than a whiff of sexism to the piece, not just in the language ("a sweet wench"), but in the idea that a woman could play no functional role in a mystery save that of a helpless heroine who exists to be rescued by the "detective-hero." There is no thought of course that the woman might actually be the sleuth!
Yet even by 1927, Tuppence Beresford frequently got the better of her partner Tommy when it came to cracking cases in Agatha Christie tales and Miss Marple, Miss Silver and Mrs. Bradley were on the horizon. And today, of course, things are vastly different.
This is one of the ways crime novels have changed for the better, laudably widening the scope of what can be done in them, but I must admit sometimes it does make a nice change to go read a book where the detective can just go about the business of crime-solving without the baggage of emotional burdens. Sometimes you just want to solve the crime problem!
|on the lookout for femmes fatales|
A knight without fear has a certain resonance of Raymond Chandler, I thought (and you could write volumes about the question of Marlowe and love interest).
But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid....He is the hero, he is everything....