Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to three blogger pals discuss John Dickson Carr on the podcast that two of them host on a bimonthly basis. Dan, of The Reader Is Warned, is an artist, and JJ, of The Invisible Event, is a mathematician, so between them they brought a lively blend of stats and pizzazz to the affair. But it was their guest Ben, The Green Capsule himself, who journeyed overseas armed with that brash American spirit and lay the course for an intriguing breakdown of Carr’s career into various periods and phases. Over the steady thrum of folks coming in and out of the British Library, the three raconteurs delighted fellow fans with their insights and opinions on Carr’s methods and style.

Of course, it could have been better –  if I had been sitting there with them. Not that I would have contributed much – each man carries more Carr-ian knowledge in his little finger than I have crammed in the form of tiny notes on many pads of paper which I then locked into a safe and spread fine white sand all around the floor. But I could have provided an insight here and a bon mot there and pretty much sat back and eaten the scones. Well, if they were gluten free, I could have eaten the scones.


Actual picture of JJ, Dan and Ben at BL (I’ve photoshopped myself in at left)



As an educator, who sees his students locked into their phones, my relationship with technology is ambivalent. Yet one of the things for which I am extremely grateful to the internet is that it has provided a locus for GAD fans to congregate and share ideas and opinions. Because aside from this, I have nobody to talk to about all things mysterious. And that has been going on for a long time.


When I was a lonely young GAD fan, it was my good fortune to find particular joy with mystery writers of some prolificacy. Agatha Christie – sixty-six novels! John Dickson Carr – seventy-one novels. Ellery Queen – a little more controversial, given the ghost writing at the end, but somewhere around thirty. Ngaio Marsh – thirty-four novels. Thanks to the contributions of fellow members of this blogging community and the wonderful GAD Facebook group, I have run down the leads of other prolific authors, E.R. Punshon, John Rhode, Christopher Bush among them, but so far, no real luck!


Thus, I plunge hopefully onward,  but as I do, I always return to the authors I grew up loving. Right now, I have plans in motion to revisit two writers whose work I devoured at an early age but whom I think I can get much more. Christianna Brand wrote only ten mystery novels, and having read them long ago I figure I can plumb greater depths in re-reading them as a grown-up. Even more exciting is the prospect of returning to Patrick Quentin, whose work I only touched upon (six novels featuring Peter and Iris Duluth.) I want to reread that series but also look at his other works. Thanks to the efforts of Curtis Evans, I have a guide to many newly republished titles. Wikipedia lists nearly forty and, given the shift in authorial responsibility and five aliases, I’m sure there are different “periods” to consider there.


Wherever my reading tastes – assisted by the local used bookstores and availability on Kindle – lead me, my heart will always belong to Christie, Carr, and Queen, the authors who nourished me through childhood and kindled (no pun intended) my love of classic mysteries. I love to think about them, to ponder their work and their processes. And I would love to discuss them with other people – if only there were other people around!

Can you blame me then for feeling so envious of JJ, Ben, and Dan for the incredible time they had at the British Library, holding each other in thrall to all things Carr-ian? Ben’s division of Carr’s career into eras resonated with me. Francis M. Nevins, who has made a deep study of Ellery Queen’s career, offered a clear division of his/their oeuvre which I have pretty much always accepted as gospel, largely because it makes sense to me, despite some recent dissent from other voices (all of whom I respect as highly knowledgeable in this field.)

Agatha_Christie_Heron_Books                                              Can anyone explain this division to me?


Trying to divide Agatha Christie’s sixty-six mystery novels into periods or categories may amount to nothing more than scholastic balderdash. Yet the exercise appeals to me, and I can’t help but offer that any form of rumination can lead to insight. I’m just not sure on what basis to do this. I offer several possibilities:



There’s a distinct shift in Christie’s work across the span of years. Superficially, this has to do with quality: like any career author, she simply got better at what she did. Yet I also see a clear shift in approach to the genre throughout five distinctive epochs:

  1. 1920 – 1929: The Epoch of Promise
  2. 1930 – 1938: Christie’s “Golden Age” of Puzzle Plotting
  3. 1939 – 1950: The Epoch of Maturity – to my mind her richest and best period
  4. 1951 – 1964: The Epoch of Loosening Up
  5. 1965 – 1973: Dotage

Leaving issues of quality aside, there are factors galore to explore here: the difference in perspective of a beginning author with an experienced, revered one, and then with an elderly one; the changing in writing style from the Doyle-influenced early years to a style that was semantically simpler but richer in characterization and societal perspective; the graph chart showing Christie’s slow perfection of the pure puzzle, which then tapers off to a more psychologically-based approach; the flashes of wit and meta-play, not nearly as sustained or proficient as in Carr, but interesting nevertheless. Yes, there’s a lot to play with in a chronological approach.



Using the divisions Ben came up with for Carr, how does Christie fare? With one exception, the novels featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are clear whodunits (the exception is 1927’s The Big Four, a cobbling together of short stories featuring Poirot battling an unconvincing international conspiracy to take over the world.) Colonel Race and Superintendent Battle each solved a murder mystery on their own, and four of the eleven stand-alone novels classify as whodunits. That makes fifty whodunits. Only one of these is an historical mystery. The remaining sixteen novels can be loosely classified together as thrillers. Most of the 100+ short stories Christie wrote are straight-on detection, but some of them, notably the Parker Pyne stories, have thrillerish elements, and Christie also explored her love of the supernatural in a whole slew of these, often with indifferent results.

This may be the least promising premise because, compared to Carr, I fear Christie doesn’t fare so well. However, there is another way to divide the categories and, for want of a better term, we’ll call it  . . .



Thirty-three novels featured Hercule Poirotand one of the short story collections, The Labours of Hercules, can almost be counted as a 34thsince it has a brilliant conceit and coheres to a certain extent from first story to last. Twelve of the novels starred Miss Jane Marple. Again, we can add a 13thwith The Tuesday Club Murders, which was the sleuth’s debut to the public, has an even more elaborate framing device, and offers a rich picture of the central inhabitants of St. Mary Mead in the late 20’s-early.

Four novels and one fine set of interconnected stories featured Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. This collection must be considered when discussing the Beresfords because it is arguably their best performance in a long yet sporadically visited career. There are certainly detective elements to their tales: all of them involve the unmasking of a hidden foe,  and the short stories actually serve as tributes to various early sleuths. But the Beresford novels are really thrillers, connected in some way to their war work, and though these usually feature hidden villains, they are loosely plotted and haphazardly clued.

I admired the way the Men Who Explain Miracles provided a differentiation between the Dr. Gideon Fell novels and those featuring Sir Henry Merrivale. I suggest significant contrasts in Christie’s approach to plotting depending on the sleuth she uses. Even her stand-alones offer fascinating insights. True, some of this latter set represent the author’s weakest efforts, but we also have some remarkable books that showcase Christie’s experimental nature: And Then There Were None (the most successful published mystery novel of all time), The Pale Horse and Endless Night.


Here, then, is my question: does any of this interest anyone else? Because the truth is that while I can write about anything I like, I do not like ruminating in a vacuum. If any aspect of what I’ve written here is of interest to others, I would really like to hear from you. My students won’t believe me if I say this, but I really don’t do what I do just to hear myself talk. I’m interested in starting a conversation.

Anyone out there with me?


44 thoughts on “GOING OCD ON MY GAD

  1. I know the feeling, Brad, of not talking to hear yourself talk. First, let me say that one of the great things about modern technology is that a lot of the GAD books are easily available on Kindle. They’re much more accessible than in the past. As to the rest of your excellent post, I like the way you’ve structured Christie’s works. In particular I agree with you about the years of her best work. Thanks for giving me ‘food for thought!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am no anti-Kindle man, Margot. Still, with certain authors, I sure like the look and feel of a real live book on the shelf and in my hands. You’ll never find a Christie title in my e-books. Today, however, some authors are only available electronically, and I say, “Let’s be grateful for the opportunity to find new old friends and reacquaint ourselves with classic authors from long ago!” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yawn…nope, not interested at all, move along please…

    Before launching into the Christie bit, I’ll say that Patrick Quentin is heavily on my radar for being the next one. Of course it would be stupid of me to go full in on an author after just one short story, but Love Comes to Miss Lucy piqued my interest just enough. I read the recent piece on Quentin at The Passing Tramp, and I’m just dying for your angle on the library.

    As for Christie and eras – I’ve read too few of them to really comment on this matter. You’re familiar with all of the ones that I’ve read (although you can now toss After the Funeral on that pile…), and at this point in my reading, they all feel as if they belong to the same category. Granted, novels like Five Little Pigs and Death on the Nile are obviously pre-WW2 while A Murder is Announced and After the Funeral do focus on the post-war changes in the most delicious way.

    Of course, in my early days of Carr, I couldn’t see a difference between an early Merrivale and an early Fell, or for that matter an early Fell vs a peak-Fell. It was all just good. As discussed on The Men Who Explain Miracles, I do now see these books as being decidedly different. It isn’t so much that the character of Gideon Fell evolved over time (I don’t think he really did at all), but the book that embodied him did. The Mad Hatter Mystery, Till Death Do Us Part, Below Suspicion, and Panic in Box C – these are all books of different Carr eras.

    Which leads me to the question – how did a Poirot book evolve over time? That’s obviously a naive question since I haven’t read a great breadth of them. I’ll admit that my own assumption follows what you laid out in your Chronological section.

    Oh, and the scones? The scones were delicious…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Any response to your question at this point would be sort of off the top of my head. The Poirot of The Mysterious Affair at Styles (a.k.a. the 1920’s) pays homage to Christie’s adoration of Doyle and the Holmesian style. The Poirot of The A.B.C. Murders (the 30’s) is looser and more human; he inhabits his tics beautifully and he enjoys playing the game with allies and criminals alike. The 1940’s Poirot of Five Little Pigs is a more serious man, more in tune with the greater vicissitudes of human nature. By 1954, Poirot suffers from his creator’s irritation with him: he appears late in the show or is much less of a character – or at least less than the sum of his parts – than he used to be.

      It works differently with the other sleuths. Miss Marple transforms into a real person. Tommy and Tuppence actually get older and older throughout but probably change the least!

      Stuff like that . . .

      Liked by 1 person

    • Regarding Patrick Quentin: my only familiarity is that I read most of the Duluth novels. There is so much more to explore – and the ones I read could benefit from a refocus from a more developed and informed intellect than I had the first time. I’d look forward to looking into his work together! 🙂


      • Unfortunately Patrick Quentin seems a little difficult to track down at a good price. I’ve located some nice copies with great vintage art, but they’re a bit above the price threshold that I’d be looking to spend on an author who is new to me.

        Oh well, I just bought four short story collections by Jorge Luis Borges, so I have another “next big thing” to occupy myself with for a while…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I picked up a few PQ and Jonathan Stagge titles for a decent price when I was at the Mysterious Bookstore in New York. PQ is NOT an author you tend to find at a typical used bookstore. It looks like a lot of his stuff will be available in electronic form, however.


      • I think you will thoroughly enjoy the Dr Westlake books, Brad. Filled with all sorts of subversive gay humor. Each book has a token hunk that Wheeling and Webb describe with uninhibited detail. And go back to the Peter & Iris series. PUZZLE WITH PUPPETS has Peter in a San Francisco bathhouse! He loses his towel at one point. Hilarious scene! Anyone interested in knowing about the Webb & Wheeling mystery novels out to trot over to Pretty Sinister Books. I’ve written about several hard to find Q Patrick novels, all but two of the Dr. Westlake books, a couple other Patrick Quentin books without Westlake, as well as some short stories that I don’t think are reprinted anywhere outside of their original 1940s publication in American Magazine, a trove of which I found several years ago at an estate sale. There’s are 11 reviews on their books at PSB, more than anywhere else in the vintage fiction blogosphere. Am I bragging? Don’t care.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve also only read the Duluth books, so I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Quentin/Patrick/Stagge reprints. I’m especially intrigued by THE GRINDLE NIGHTMARE, which seems to have acquired quite a reputation as the most gruesome GAD novel ever written.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I actually picked up a cheap, cool pb copy of GRINDLE when I was in NYC this summer! It’s a title I’ve been leery of reading because it’s quite gruesome and sick! I also fear I had the ending spoiled for me reading a book about it. But I’m looking forward to it . . . I think!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Regarding the picture of JJ, Dan and Ben at BL above, which person is JJ ? I couldn’t place him. I have seen his picture on the cover of some third-rate Paul Halter novel and none of the 3 men look like him ! 🙂


  4. [Also posted this on Facebook, but I thought I’d add it here as well. Just wanted to say that I love your blog, too!]

    I was also just thinking about splitting Christie into different periods. I agree with your general ideas, but I’d change a few of the dates:

    1. 1920-1929 (THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES to THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY and PARTNERS IN CRIME): Christie is still figuring out what kind of book she wants to write. Many of her books in this decade are thrillers, but the last two are *parodies* of that genre, indicating that she wanted to move on to a different type of story.

    2. 1930-1942 (MURDER AT THE VICARAGE to THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY): Just about every book in this period is a classic GAD puzzle plot with brilliant misdirection. Bookended by the first and second Miss Marple novels.

    3. 1942-1953 (FIVE LITTLE PIGS to AFTER THE FUNERAL): While still providing ingenious plots, Christie increases her focus on characterization, often providing tragic and poignant endings. CURTAIN and SLEEPING MURDER are written during this period and fit into this style. Other great examples are THE HOLLOW and CROOKED HOUSE.

    4. 1954-1967 (DESTINATION UNKNOWN to ENDLESS NIGHT): Christie begins to experiment again, returning to thrillers and even introducing some gothic overtones. Many of her darkest books (ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, THE PALE HORSE) are from this period. The quality of her work begins to waver a bit, with some books below her previous standards.

    5. 1968-1973 (BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS to POSTERN OF FATE): Basically all of those late books which no one likes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for putting this on the site, too, Jack. It’s worth pondering. By any chance, do you live within a fifty mile radius of San Francisco??? In other words, would you be my friend??? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting. Some comments on your categories:

      Period 1: Also note that a large majority of Christie’s short stories were written in this time period.

      To be honest, I’d extend this period to at least 1931 and “The Sittaford Mystery”. I think “Peril at End House” is the first novel where you can see what Christie really wants to do and knows exactly how to get there. Both “Vicarage” and “Sittaford have elements of experimentation and trying new things out.

      Period 2: To be honest, I’d end this in 1939, with “And Then There Were None”. I think the three Poirot novels from 40-41 have a slightly different quality from the earlier ones and in particular “Sad Cypress” is an early indication of the increased characterisation of period 3. “N or M” doesn’t really belong here either.

      Period 3 ends with “A Murder is Announced” in my mind, because “They Came to Baghdad” fits better with the books of your period 4. And I see the novels between “Baghdad” and “Destination Unknown” as a small step down from the greatness of the earlier works, though they are still better mystery novels than most other authors would be able to write.

      And here’s where I differ most from your categorisation: I’d introduce a new period from “Ordeal by Innocence” to “Hallowe’en Party”. Here’s where I think it’s noticeable that Christie can’t really live up to what she’s created earlier. There are still great ideas or settings or murder methods, but the books don’t quite gel anymore. Poirot is absent from huge parts of the stories where he is supposed to be the detective.

      Your fifth period is fine, except I think it should begin with “Frankfurt” where the rot really sets in. Both “Nemesis” and “Elephants” have moments, but are ultimately too thin.

      So here’s my proposed changes:
      1. 1920-1931 (THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES to THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY) – early experimentation and a plethora of ideas
      2. 1932-1939 (PERIL AT END HOUSE to AND THEN THERE WERE NONE) – the GA Queen in full flow
      3. 1940-1950 (SAD CYPRESS to A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED) – a mature mystery author who knows all the tricks
      4. 1951-1957 (THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD to 4.50 FROM PADDINGTON) – a solid Christie who looks back to her early loves
      5. 1958-1969 (ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE to HALLOWE’EN PARTY) – a declining writer trying to keep up with her reputation, sometimes succeeding, often not
      6. 1970-1973 (PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT to POSTERN OF FATE) – yeah, you know, those books

      Liked by 3 people

      • I started trying to do this, but found it far too difficult…which is weird, when you consider that Christie is the author I’ve read most by. However, I would say that the First Period ends with Partners in Crime, because she’s clearly going out of her way to show how she’s boiled down the essence of many of her forebears, and from there goes on a, like, 16 or 17 year run of staggering creativity and invention.

        But, well, that’s as far as I got. Unless anyone wants a 38-period career breakdown. Which I’m guessing no-one does.

        Liked by 2 people

      • See, Christian? You see?!? This is exactly why a person shouldn’t have to think of these things by himself! If we all put our heads together, matters of worth sort themselves out just like that.

        When do you want to start collaborating on the book??

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Five aliases of Patrick Quentin? I only count four: Patrick Quentin, Q. Patrick, Jonathan Stagge, and then there’s the standalone mystery that Hugh Wheeler published under his own name. Did I miss something here?

    As for your attempt at dividing Christie into different eras or categories, please do continue. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of analysing these authors, even though I’m sure to disagree at certain points. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you count the one Hugh Wheeler wrote, you should also count Mary Louise White Aswell’s one novel published under her own name in 1957. This is according to Wikipedia, so I take no credit or blame for it. Curtis Evans could probably clear this up quickly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, I see your point. I kinda discount it in my head mainly because I don’t really see Aswell as a big part of the Q. Patrick collaboration, and also because Wheeler’s lone novel came while he was in effect Patrick Quentin, since Webb had left the partnership by then, which means that any novel he was putting out under his own name was in all but name a Patrick Quentin book. But I guess there is a case for counting her novel as well.


  6. Great subject for discussion which I’ll bear in mind as I continue my re-reading of the entire canon.

    From an overall consistency of quality perspective I’d say the early period goes on even until the mid-thirties, with the only must reads being The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Peril at End House, and Murder on the Orient Express.

    Then you hit a great sequence from Death in the Clouds (1935) to And Then There Were None (1939) which has The ABC Murders, Murder in Mesopotamia, Cards on the Table, Dumb Witness, Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, and Murder is Easy of which only DW (definitely duff) and MIE (can’t remember much about it) are on the bad side.

    I’m less excited about most of the forties, but then we get to another seriously good run from Taken at the Flood (1948) to A Pocket Full of Rye (1953) which contains Crooked House, A Murder is Announced, They Came to Baghdad (the only one these that I can’t remember), Mrs McGinty’s Dead, They Do It With Mirrors, and After the Funeral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I love here, John, is that I fervently agree with about 65 – 70% of what you say, and I totally disagree with the rest. This will make for some dynamic back and forth, eh???


  7. You know, it’s only relatively recently I even thought about authors’ works in terms of eras and dividing up their books on that basis; it’s really only after I started reading various blogs which mentioned this that I noticed it. The thing is I came to most writers and their books purely by chance, selecting titles more or less at random, sometimes drawn by the title or even the cover art.
    I guess I’ve read a fair bit of Christie, maybe half of her output and most of that was done when I was paying little or no attention to publication dates.
    Now while I don’t feel that made any difference to my enjoyment of the books, I think it’s interesting to see how they fit into a timeline and what that has to say about the writer’s development. So for me, interesting but I’m not convinced it’s essential, at least not from a purely entertainment based perspective. From a more academic perspective, I suppose that would be different…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a friend who is a published writer, and years ago I mentioned doing something vaguely along these lines – maybe not this exact topic but a detailed analysis of some aspect of the genre I love. He said nobody would publish or read it. So rest assured, Colin, I have no illusions about that. But of course I do like to entertain, and if this were to prove boring, then what exactly is the point?

      I, too, came at all these authors in a haphazard fashion, grabbing whatever books I could find at the bookstore. At least Queen was republished in the 1960’s-70’s in pretty much chronological order, so I know I read Period One before Period Two, and Two before Three. I was aware of a change but didn’t understand it.

      Well, as JJ proves time and time again, we have to do this for ourselves and hope a lively discussion is generated at the moment. You never know what insights will pop up in the process.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a moment suggesting an approach or analysis like this is boring. I’m fascinated by some of the insights and comments I’ve seen arise out of similar discussions, often highlighting aspects I’d not thought about much if at all before. It’s just relatively new to me.
        I think this is partly down to coming from that era when one had to grab whatever happened to be available at any given time as there was, frankly, no other alternative. It also harks back to that time when almost all series (where they existed), regardless of whether they were books, television or movies, tended to be made up of almost wholly standalone efforts.

        Liked by 2 people

    • For some reason I can’t reply to your nested comment below, but I wanted to highlight this comment that you made – “I think this is partly down to coming from that era when one had to grab whatever happened to be available at any given time as there was, frankly, no other alternative.”

      There was really something to that time, not just in collecting books, but in collecting music by more obscure bands, or maybe even trying to track down that elusive movie. What we have today is much better in a sense, but someone growing up now could never relate to the experience of exploring a niche without having it all at their fingertips. I recall being absolutely in love with a fairly obscure British band, and after 10 years of collecting, there were still entire albums worth of songs that I had never heard. That would be completely unrelatable today.

      You can still hold onto that to some degree with books in the written form today. Yeah, you can still go onto a website and order a wide range of any author’s catalogue, but it isn’t all immediately available in the same way as music, movies, and ebooks, and it certainly isn’t as cheap. As such, there’s still a bit of a commitment to track down a desired title, or you happen to stumble upon it at a bookstore.

      Getting started with Carr, I didn’t quite know what I’d make of it, so I went out on a limb and bought two books that seemed interesting – Hag’s Nook and The Nine Wrong Answers. Looking back, these were an odd point of entry (and two completely different samples of the author’s library). I’m happy it happened that way though, because those two books will always have a unique meaning to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, there’s a lot to be said for both approaches. Actually, there’s a lot to be said for any approach to reading that brings us pleasure. I think, for me, the idea of being able to access a writer’s full body of work (even if it needs a bit of searching) essentially from one’s armchair and then going through it chronologically still feels relatively new.


  8. Pingback: #436: “I am in my own way an emissary of justice” – A Long Goodbye to Aunt Jane in Nemesis (1971) by Agatha Christie | The Invisible Event

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