Trials and smiles of an author (11) also featuring Agatha Christie
The Fourth Tale from Ragaris is still not imminent, but progress is being made. I am approaching the first draft of the denouement. It’s been tricky; this fact and the lollipop are my excuses.
When you last heard about it, the book was called “Naming People and Places”; the title’s been changed to the possibly snappier “Tell Me Your Name.”
I think I’ve already mentioned https://www.penelopewallace.com/trials-and-smiles-of-an-author-10-competition-time/ that this Tale has created difficulties for me through being set over a very short time-span in a very restricted setting with a large group of suspects, all of whom may be pursuing their own agendas at any given fictional minute.
But there are a few other hints to give.
- It is set eleven years after “The Servant’s Voice,” and includes a returning character from that book. (Not the heroine Hridnaya, who for reasons of national security will never be allowed to travel abroad.)
- Like most detective stories, it contains a detective. This person however is not up to the standards of Hercule Poirot, nor even Fillim Queensister. They are not stupid, but their competence may leave something to be desired. I think this is quite an unusual trope.
- Falli is a land of tales, and there are tales interspersed, mostly of relevance to story and theme, through the narrative. One of them of course is here: https://www.penelopewallace.com/the-tale-of-the-naming-of-city/
- Another major difficulty has been the victim.
In detective fiction, neither the reader nor the characters are usually encouraged to spend much time feeling upset on behalf of the corpse. The shock, disorientation and grief that would naturally be felt following the murder of a loved one would get in the way of what has traditionally been thought of as a fairly light read, and would also, if realistically portrayed, be quite boring. And yet the shock and grief ought to be there.
I’ve been pondering the way Agatha Christie, say, gets round this problem; and I’m amused to see that in my previous books I’ve followed her general techniques.
The first and traditional solution is to make the murderer as unpleasant as possible, so that they cannot really be mourned – this has the added advantage that such people automatically create motives for their murder as they go about their daily unpleasantness.
Not all Christie’s victims are as overwhelmingly horrible as Mr Ratchett alias Cassetti in “Murder on the Orient Express”, but Colonel Protheroe (“Murder at the Vicarage”), Mrs Boynton (“Appointment with Death”), Lord Edgware (“Lord Edgware Dies”), Simeon Lee (“Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”),and Mr Shaitana (“Cards on the Table”) are all people for whom pity is extremely limited. Slightly less unpleasant, but still not much regretted, are the victims of “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, “Sparkling Cyanide” (first murder), and of course “Evil Under the Sun” about which I’ve written here: https://www.penelopewallace.com/defending-women-in-evil-under-the-sun/
The second solution is to make the investigation (the one in the book) take place some time after the crime, months or even years later; so that people’s grief is naturally softened by time, and they can concentrate on evidence without constantly bursting into tears. Examples of this type are “Five Little Pigs,” “Mrs McGinty’s Dead,” “Ordeal by Innocence”, and several late Christies, of which “Sleeping Murder” is possibly the best.
The third method is to make the victim pitiable and loved, and allow their loved ones to express appropriate misery – but to arrange matters so that these loved ones are not suspects and have minimal part in the plot. The child victims in “Dead Man’s Folly” and “The Body in the Library” are of this type, and so is poor Maggie Buckley in “Peril at End House,” one of Christie’s most estimable and sad victims.
Finally, combined with one or two of the above, there are the victims who may not have been horrible, but simply seem to have no or few close family to mourn them, such as Madame Giselle in “Death in the Clouds.”
In the Tales from Ragaris, I haven’t made a great deal of use of the Evil Victim trope, but I have used the others – the children in WDNKC are mourned mainly offpage by minor characters, Jeppa in 10th P is killed far from her husband and children, who never appear; Hridnaya’s investigation into Gridor’s possible murder in SV starts more than a month after his death.
Rightly or wrongly, however, I have in this new story killed off a kind, young, well-intentioned person, on whose behalf family and friends, and even the reader, ought to feel angry – and some of their family and friends are around throughout the tale.
So there is some weeping. Is there too much? I don’t know.
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