A Tale of Two Novels

Well, I’m behind on blogs, and since the last two books I read were both murder mystery/thriller books, I’m going to do a comparison blog. How very exciting!

Now, there is a lot of difference between these two.  The first is a classic mystery by the queen of murder mysteries: Agatha Christie.  The book is Murder on the Orient Expresshttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0425200450&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifr.   Honestly, because it is old, and because I’ve attempted reading it before (in fifth grade when I went to London, so I guess it doesn’t count), I didn’t expect to enjoy the book very much. But I loved it!

I’d never read Agatha Christie before. This novel belongs to the Hercule Poirot series, which follows a Hungarian detective with a big reputation.  In this one, he is traveling on the Orient Express to London, which becomes mired in a snowbank during their first night aboard.  At almost the same time that the progress of the train is arrested, a man is murdered in his compartment, and Poirot must solve the mystery.
I was pleasantly surprised by Christie’s wit and cunning in writing her plot and characters.  In this novel, she breaks down the book into three parts, based upon the evidence presented in the case. The part of the book in which Poirot questions each of the characters is especially fascinating, as there is a chapter per character and they make for interesting studies of the characters.  Poirot himself is quite captivating, amusing, and sharp as a nail.  I’d say that the plot in this novel is definitely overshadowed by character development.

That’s not to say that the plot is lacking. On the contrary, it is fantastic. Sure, by today’s standards, it’s a little slow, but the novel wraps up all its loose ends so beautifully that the conclusion is well worth the sluggish chapters.  Christie gives seemingly wild details about the murder, none of which seem to fit together.  Yet the end just ties up as neatly as a Christmas bow.  I was bug-eyed by the end, not quite able to believe what Christie had done with the plot. I thought that perhaps it would be predictable, but not at all. She completely took me by surprise.

The style of writing is elegant and dated without being distracting or flowery. I thought the quaintness of the characters’ speech and the details of time and setting gave a great deal of romance to the story.  Really, Christie impressed me all around.

Red Dragonhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0425228223&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifr by Thomas Harris is about as different from Murder on the Orient Express can be, but they’re both about trying to solve murders, so I figured they were close enough to write about in the same blog.  Rather than being a simple whodunit mystery, Red Dragon is a thriller.  The reader knows all along who the killer is.  The thrill of the story is in witnessing the protagonist attempt to catch him, all the while expecting him to creep up and kill someone else.  Will Graham, the protag, must profile and attempt to catch a man dubbed the “Tooth Fairy,” who breaks into people’s homes and murders entire families.  Graham enlists Hannibal Lecter’s help to profile the subject.  The book is terrifying in a sneaky way–I wasn’t scared until I turned out the lights at night, and then every bump in the night turned into a psychopath coming to get me.  Harris’s writing will affect your psyche in an undetectable way.  It contains gruesome detail, so I recommend the weak of stomach not read this novel.  There’s also a great many things about forensics that I didn’t know before I read this novel that are actually pretty cool–for instance, on a letter or other written document, they can tell how many different pens were used, whether there was anything under the paper when it was written on, and how the pens were stored, just from observing the paper in detail.  Crazy!

It was interesting reading these books back to back.  Christie’s mystery had to be solved with limited resources on a train stranded in a snow drift.  Harris’s characters have the entire country and all the technology of the late 20th century at their disposal.  In Christie’s novel, the murderer is not known until the last few pages of the book. In Harris’s, the reader knows the identity of the murder almost instantly.  Yet what I enjoyed about both of these is that they relied as much on extreme human intellect and an intimate grasp of human nature as on forensics to solve their mysteries.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of mysteries or thrillers, but both of these books impressed me. I definitely recommend both and would read other works by these authors.

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3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Novels

  1. Mrs. Wadyko says:

    Courtney, I love mysteries! I am and have been reading a series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (The Pentergast Series). It's about an FBI agent from New Orleans who solves all these fascinating cases all over the place, then his personal life gets tangled…VERY GOOD READS! I have all of the audio books, and the reader is great! I even read them out of order (completely…haha), and they are still awesome; I think it's made it a better mystery when they are out of order! haha!! Here's a link to amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_sc_0_10?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=pendergast&sprefix=pendergast

  2. Thanks for the recommendation! I will check them out. Which is your favorite?

  3. Samantha says:

    I've been thinking about taking up Christie. You definitely just convinced me! 🙂

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