Writing about The Dry and its clever plotting reminded me of something I have been noticing about contemporary crime fiction, and brought me again to an appreciation of the skills of the masterful Agatha.
An Engrossing Procession
The clue-puzzle structure in The Dry is linear: a procession of clues or revisions point to first one suspect and then another, with the gradual revelation of new motives, until finally we land on someone who seemed to be on the edge of things. This is how most contemporary mysteries, in books and especially on TV, are structured.
The Dry is a great mystery plot, but it doesn’t provide the stunning, complete reversal that you can sometimes find in the best of the Christie-style mysteries.
Such a thing is rare today. It was even rare in Christie’s era, mostly because it’s ve-e-ery hard to do without it feeling contrived.
A Complete Reversal
There are some books where readers are drawn forward, believing we are solving one particular mystery, when all along something else entirely has been going on. Some early premise, something that set the whole story going, turns out to be erroneous, so that the ending provides not so much a twist as a complete re-organising of the whole story.
Here are some novels where I think Christie achieved that. I consider these to be among her cleverest plots.
You’ll have your own. What are they?
Death on the Nile (1937); Taken at the Flood (1948); Crooked House (1949); The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (1962); Endless Night (1967); By the Pricking of my Thumbs (1968); Towards Zero (1944).
Do you agree with these?
(Soon I’ll be writing about another 1997 novel that I think achieves a complete reversal. You can make up your own mind.)
Do you know other books that end with exceptional reversals? Please tell me.