Of tea and cosy murders

The world is becoming a place I don’t particularly like. Gigantic malls have gobbled up charming little retail outlets. The city is breathing noxious fumes of massive cars which hog our narrow lanes. Everything — literature, spirituality, charity — is now about hard sell. People no longer write Standard English, but sprinkle their text messages with a generous dose of ‘Hmm’ and ‘K’ (Abbreviation of “OK”, I’m told).

A bombardment of the above merits a retreat into one’s own world of cosy murder mysteries, accompanied by a good comforting cup of tea. During such times, Dame Agatha Christie’s books are my comfort. I’m alternately soothed and stimulated by her simple writing style and deep insight into human psychology.

Over a career spanning decades, Christie has immortalised two detectives: the egocentric Hercule Poirot and the affable Miss Marple. The modus operandi of the two investigators varies greatly. Poirot’s detection style involves close observation, brisk interrogation, combined with exercising his famous ‘grey cells’ to merge the dichotomy between what appears to be and what is. Miss Marple, on the other hand, is more ‘passive’. To solve a case she relies on casual conversations, introspection and drawing parallels between the humans and circumstances surrounding the case at hand to people and incidents which had transpired in the past in her secluded little village, St Mary Mead. Miss Marple believes that human nature is the same everywhere, whether in a tiny village or a city, and uses this knowledge to her advantage.

Christie also writes equally delightful books with less popular protagonists like Tommy and Tuppence, Inspector Luke Fitzwilliam et al. Novels like Crooked House and Towards Zero have neither of the above mentioned legendary protagonists, but are equally riveting, with well-etched characters, a solid plot and skillful execution. Incidentally, six strikingly unusual novels Christie penned under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, are also byproducts of her subtle genius.

I also patronise Dame Ruth Rendell, another British crime fiction writer. Her style is more intricate than Christie’s, and nearly as captivating. Her protagonist is Chief Inspector Reginald ‘Reg’ Wexford, a heavyset, sensitive policeman.

When Rendell is not penning murder mysteries, she offers chilling insight into the psyche of society’s extreme deviants and explores issues that are socially relevant. Live Flesh, for instance, presents (doesn’t justify) the perspective of a serial rapist and Simisola touches on the themes of racism and welfare dependency.

Much like Christie, Rendell too has published novels of a different genre under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read any of them. Over a period of time, other mesmerising authors of the genre, including Keigo Higashino and Kalpana Swaminathan have been discovered. However, when ennui strikes, one mostly finds succour in Christie or Rendell. Maybe, one is a creature of habit. Or perhaps, I’m getting old before my time. 

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