Book Review: Agatha Christie’s Golden Age: An Analysis of Poirot’s Golden Age Puzzles
There are many books that summarize the novels of Agatha Christie, but while many companion works address the plots, John Goddard’s book purports to be the first to analyze the placement of clues and how the novels work as fair play mysteries.
This is an exceptionally well-written, detailed, and thought-provoking book. Since a thorough analysis of every one of Christie’s books would fill many large volumes, Goddard has wisely chosen to focus only on the Poirot novels of the first half of Christie’s career– up to 1945. Each Poirot novel is concisely summarized, and then Goddard goes into thorough detail explaining each work, how Christie shaped the mystery, and how Christie telegraphed every clue that led to the solution.
This is not a book for people who are only casual readers of Christie. The enormous number of spoilers mean that it helps to be familiar with her Poirot books– unless one skips the chapters describing books one hasn’t read yet.
At the same time, this book is not just for Agatha Christie fans. It should be required reading for aspiring mystery writers who wish to craft intelligent storylines that their readers can solve, without making the solution too obvious. The correct use and pacing of clues, advice on subtlety, and other tips included in the book will prove invaluable for authors seeking to learn their craft or how to improve their technical skills.
Goddard’s critical skills are impressive. Goddard has a legal background, and he analyzes each book with a thorough eye, catching problems, shortcomings, and strengths that the casual reader will miss. Goddard has caught many potential issues with some books that I, a dedicated fan who has read all of Christie’s mystery novels multiple times, haven’t caught. There are one or two points that I’ve often wondered about that aren’t completely scrutinized (like why the killer in Death on the Nile didn’t try to destroy one telling clue), but these are minor matters for such a comprehensive study. At times, the critical tone is a bit dry and clinical, coming from a cool, logical, legalistic mind, and I rather wished that more of his obvious love for Christie’s work would appear in his prose. Still, it’s an invaluable addition to the growing body of Christie scholarship.
There are some international issues that Goddard should bear in mind, especially when he addresses issues such as phrasing and the fact that some points aren’t mentioned or are barely mentioned in the book. My research on various editions of Christie novels has shown that some international editions and works by different publishers change words, drop lines, and make all sorts of minor changes to the novels, so the criticisms that are valid for the editions Goddard read do not apply to other editions of Christie’s mysteries.
Goddard suggests that he will write a sequel to this book, and I deeply hope that the next volume in his analysis is released soon.
Agatha Christie’s Golden Age: An Analysis of Poirot’s Golden Age Puzzles
By John Goddard
Stylish Eye Press