Much of Agatha Christie 1923 mystery Murder on the Links seems, nearly a century after its publication, pretty hokey.
There is a drawing-room, stage-set feel to its scenes, and Christie’s characters always seem to be over-acting: the loveable doofus Captain Arthur Hastings; Monsieur Giraud, the supremely arrogant Parisian detective who flashes his modern methods with the same élan as he does his disdain; the mysterious young woman Hastings dubs “Cinderella” with her “modern girl” manners and brightness; and, of course, Hercule Poirot, the retired Belgian detective who, as a private investigator, is persnickety in solving unsolvable crimes through the application of his “gray cells.”
Murder on the Links has many more characters than those four, more than a few with more than one name, and they come across as roles that are being filled rather than as human beings.
Indeed, the formulaic quality of the story and Christie’s writing had me wondering midway through the novel how she put her puzzle together so that it would be attractively puzzling.
I wondered if she came up with the ending and then worked backwards to make things so muddy that no one could come up with the answer until Poirot pontificated.
I have the sense, although I don’t want to spend the time and thought trying to confirm it, that the reader of a Christie novel never has all the information that would be needed to figure the thing out. In other words, it’s unfair from the start, and the reader knows this.
On the other hand, the plots of Christie’s novels are so convoluted that I also wondered if, perhaps, she started off, as if on a dare, with the idea of the dead body in some mysterious situation and then, over the course of writing her book, figured out an explanation for how it got there.
So, for about two-thirds of Murder on the Links, I found myself strolling along through the story, mildly entertained.
What can I say? I found myself caught up in the story as it rapidly twisted and turned with a wrong man arrested, with Hastings falling in love with a woman he thinks is a murderer, with a mother denouncing her son, with an acrobat coming to the aid of a woman being strangled, and with a murderer who dies by accident.
I couldn’t stop turning the pages, and I was irritated when, only a few pages from the end, I had to set the book aside to go into a meeting.
A world the reader wants to visit
Yes, more than a century after it was written, Murder on the Links is rather hokey. Yet, there is a reason Agatha Christie sold more than 100 million books during her long literary career.
Despite her soap-opera-ish characters, despite her impossibly labyrinthine plots, despite dialogue that no real people would ever speak and actions that no real people would actually take — despite all the defects of her art, Christie was an artist at drawing the reader into a world the reader wants to visit.
Her writing made puzzlement pleasurable. She promised surprises and delivered.
It strikes me that, in creating the world of her novel, Christie wasn’t trying to duplicate real life. Instead, she was creating a sort of fairy tale place, a mythical place.
No Christie reader ever mistook her world for the world we live in. That’s why it was alluring.
It was the world of the fable, and it was not jarred by the pains and failures of real life.
Indeed, no character whom the reader knew to be or learned to be “good” ever died, and no murderer ever got away — although sometimes Poirot would explain why the killer was really “good” and so didn’t need to pay for the crime.
Good always wins in a Christie mystery. And all is right in the world — her world, at least.
Patrick T. Reardon