Agatha Christie and Sexual Abuse

Agatha Christie gave me the courage to include a currently-risky idea in Fatal Score

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not as widely-read in my own genre as I should be. The category ‘Thriller’ is a subset of Suspense, which is in turn a subset of Mystery. So I set out to read some contemporary and classic mysteries. My prior post covers several contemporary works. 

I’ve just finished Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, widely considered to be one of her best. It’s also the best-selling mystery of all time. 

It makes one understand why she is so important to the genre. The book was published in Britain in 1939 under the title Ten Little Niggers, taken from the minstrel song that structures the plot. It has been published in the United States under a couple of titles (including a substitution of ‘Indians’ for the n-word, which probably worked fine in 1940 but is surely suspect today). The edition I read uses the last line of the song. Which brings us to fashion, which is to say, what is considered good form at a point in time.

Clothing fashion moves quickly. I always thought writing fashion was far slower. But even eighty years ago, writing fashion was quite different than today.

Today, authors are encouraged to minimize the number of named characters to reduce confusion. By my count, Christie has twenty. We are taught not to switch character perspective (point of view) often. The exception is the Romance category, which tolerates rapid POV change (derisively known as head-hopping). Christie would give a heavy-breathing romance novel a run for its money. In dialog, we are told not to lead with ‘he/she said’, because we end up with a string of them. Christie does it all the time.

The point for me is, after all that, And Then There Were None is a ripping good story. Clean structure set up by the poem. By the second death, every reader knows what’s going to happen and has hints as to how. The technique issues quickly become irrelevant to the reading of the story.

I mention all of this because I got a surprising response from one of my (female) beta readers of Fail Deadly. In the story, Weezy is captured and tortured to force her to keep a secret. The torturer is a man, and when he gets the opportunity (when his female boss is not around), the torture is sexual. The beta reader said, “I would not read this. No agent will accept it.” The gist of the argument was that the tenor of the times will not allow it, particularly as written by a man. Too sensitive; too toxic. 

Unfortunately, the despicable acts are important to character arc, so I’m presented with a conundrum. Weaken the story or risk rejection and censure?

Emboldened by several other female beta readers and my editor, I finally concluded that the bones of the story override the sensitivity of the times. Hope I’m right.

Bring/Take and the Surrender of Grammar to Chaos

This morning, the Sunday New York Times delivered a shot upside the head before I even read about Ebola or the insanity that is ISIS.NYT paper bagThe bag.  It was the bag.  There, in the upper right corner

NYT closeup“Bring it Back” from the NYT. Bring it Back? Really?  Not “Recycle it?”

Since the delivery person already brought it to me, it has no further place to be brought, does it?

Seems to me (and very few other curmudgeons, apparently) that we are in an era of grammatical entropy. Articles on the subject seem to concentrate on the reality that language evolves (Duh…), that grammar really needs to represent what people speak, and so on. Maybe it’s that the brave new 140-character thought processes we seem to be bathed in so much of the time just can’t contemplate fine distinction, but the bring/take distinction is, it seems to me, different than, e.g., the who/whom distinction. Making all mentions of movement become ‘bring’ loses an important distinction, possibly … no, probably … causing confusion. Who/whom rarely does that, because it’s usually obvious to whom we are referring in a sentence. (And then there’s the issue of ending the sentence with a preposition.) (And sentence fragments.)

Maybe I need to find the address of the presumably long-suffering NYT delivery person and add to what must be a mountain of plastic bags in his/her living room.

Of course, it’s possible that all material things are meant to be brought to that black hole where odd socks and occasionally car keys are said to reside, from which they can never be taken out (of). Now, that’s entropy.