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 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.

  1.  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.)
  2.  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.
  3. 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:
  4. 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:

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.

Love from the PPI Blogger


  • Stephen Sheridan

    19th November 2022 at 11:35 am Reply

    Making the victim evil, but only gradually revealing how evil the victim was adds to the fun of discovery. The next challenge is the motive of the killer. One of the twists I liked about the Odessa File (the film as I have not read the book) was the fact that the hero kills the Nazi not because of his evil genocide of the Jews, but because he had murdered his army officer father, which had been a reference at the beginning that was not automatically connected in the account written by the Holocaust survivor at the start.
    One question I have for you Penelope is have you considered shifting from the detective fiction genre within fantasy to more of a political aspect? It would make your plot lines far less restrictive and you could have more fun. The inter-relationship between Church and State as well as State v State and quasi-medieval Class v Class are a rich seam of alliances and conflicts to mine for your writing. Any thoughts?
    We anticipate your next one, but don’t feel pressured, although equally don’t do a GRR Martin on us! 🙂

  • Malachi Malagowther

    21st November 2022 at 6:59 pm Reply

    Agatha Christie seemed to like to have a series of connected murders in some of her books. This adds to the tension and suspense as the reader is led to expect another murder and wonder who it will be. In that case I don’t think you want too many upsetting murders of characters with whom the reader identifies or whom other characters will mourn too much. I was hoping for a second murder in the fourth book but it is looking less likely. Solving crimes in the mediaeval period is difficult enough without any forensic science and getting a convincing solution for one murder is probably as much as we can expect.

  • Stephen Hall

    24th November 2022 at 3:30 pm Reply

    You really must sample the Shedunnit podcast (available on BBC Sounds) which now has a back catalogue of over two years episodes devoted to the Golden Age of detective fiction, mostly very good. My particular favourite was an episode devoted to the incidence of crosswords in detective fiction, including a book in which important hints as to the murderer’s identity are gleaned from an examination of which clues from an unfinished crossword they had managed to solve! However, despite having attacked the topic from almost every imaginable angle, I don’t recall the presenter ever having picked up on the interesting aspect you highlight above. So well done!

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