by Terry Ambrose
“We don’t ask why certain classics have survived despite their styles passing into history. Certain books are meant to remain. Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie are among the authors who have successfully bridged the years,” said Lori Rader-Day, whose debut mystery was nominated for multiple awards.
Scottish-born Catriona McPherson, who was also a 2015 Edgar nominee, feels a strong connection with the works of Agatha Christie. She said of her Dandy Gilver series, “It would be folly to claim that Dame Agatha isn’t an influence [for me]: I write 1930s-set British detective stories, some of them set in country houses. I greatly admire Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Sherlock Holmes. But, I genuinely would love to go for tea and a chat with Miss Marple. I’d like to get to know her better. I’d probably ask intrusive questions and have to be withered.”
Another writer from the other side of “The Pond” is Jenny Hilborne, who hails from Great Britain. Hilborne’s latest Inspector Doucette mystery is Easy Target. She finds Agatha Christie’s stories to be “classy,” in that they have far less violence and gore than today’s crime fiction. Hilborne, however, isn’t so sure about the tea McPherson wants. “I find Jane Marple a bit of an annoying character to be honest. She is too much of an interfering fusspot for my taste and it annoys me that an old lady with no background in solving crime manages to always beat the police at their own game and make them look incompetent. In my opinion, she’d be an aggravating neighbor, though one you’d probably want to have around as nothing gets past her.”
Plenty of crime-fiction fans do prefer Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. One of those is New York Times bestselling writer Susan Elia MacNeal, who is herself no stranger to award nominations. The latest entry in her award-winning Maggie Hope series was The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent. MacNeal said, “With all due deference to Agatha Christie, I’m an Arthur Conan Doyle fan. While writing I often find myself remembering the Holmes quote: ‘The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.’
MacNeal said Holmes is one of her heroes and she loves the quote, “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know…I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.” She added, “Is Holmes arrogant and sometimes annoying? Yes. But is he always the smartest person in the room? Yes. So he can get away with it – and always does!”
Lori Rader-Day loves both writers. “What self-respecting mystery author doesn’t love them both? Agatha Christie was an early reading inspiration for me, one of the first authors for adults that I read when I first switched from the kid’s floor in the library to the scary upstairs adult section – and she made me feel right at home. I discovered Doyle through a battered copy of The Hounds of the Baskerville left behind in a cabin I was staying in as an adult. What a great way to find a new author. I truly felt as though I had discovered him.”
The longevity of Conan Doyle’s and Agatha Christie’s works can, in part, be attributed to what McPherson called, “the renewing effect of screen adaptations.” She added, “I realize I’m getting close to shaking my walking stick here, but I think a lot of the sneering at Agatha Christie is done by people who haven’t read her books and at least some of it can be put down to sexism. She’s not cool. Me neither.”
Hilborne disagrees about the “cool factor.” She said, “Murder Mystery weekends and day events are hugely popular and often based on at least one of these three characters. The 1920s, 30s and 40s are still hugely appealing eras. Despite the struggles of those decades, they seem glamorous, which attracts us.”
Beyond the cachet of the early 1900s, there is one more factor MacNeal sees as contributing to the longevity of Sherlock Holmes. She feels there’s something archetypal about Holmes, and noted how some people even believe he was a real, living person.
“It’s as though he’s always been there, and always will be there, in our imaginations,” said MacNeal. “He’s a legend. I’m fascinated by how much Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes contributed to actual criminal investigations and the development of modern forensic techniques. He was the first to use ballistics, to test for the presence of poisons, to examine blood splatter. One of my favorite documentaries is How Sherlock Changes the World, which focuses on how Holmes influenced forensic science. A fictional character whose techniques have helped investigators identify and capture real-life criminals? Legendary, indeed!”
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