Killing Time with Agatha Christie

Under virtual house arrest in Paris during the covid-19 epidemic, it occurred to me to write an essay on the transcendent meaning and value of crime novels. I happened to have three with me, and one of them was The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie, published in 1943, the year of Stalingrad and the apogee of the Final Solution.

I am a great admirer of Mrs. Christie. I enjoy her irony, and she sometimes reveals herself to be an acute psychologist. Quite apart from the pleasure she gives, reading her is not entirely a waste of time. She conveys to the reader the impression of enjoying the human comedy without bitterness or rancor, and thereby acts as an antidote to our resentment of the imperfections of the world and existence. There is also something deeply comforting about her fairy tales in which evil suddenly erupts into a pleasantly settled world only to be quickly defeated and for order to be restored. The world is not really like this, of course, and no one imagines that it is, but which of us never needs imaginative escape from reality?

I have several times considered writing essays about her work: for example, about the doctors in her books, the moral judgments and observations that she makes, and even one proposing that, in fact, both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are serial killers, this being the hypothesis that most economically explains why there are so often murders wherever they go, it being the only hypothesis, indeed, that fulfills Occam’s Razor, namely that entities (such as murderers) are not to be increased unnecessarily.

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