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Dissecting Christie Part 2

Christie was a very competent mechanic. Her mysteries were linear stories with multiple, credible suspects. She did an excellent job of pointing the finger.

When it comes to describing characters, she was a minimalist. Writers are advised to avoid the laundry list, but she used it to good effect.

We view most of the characters through the filter of the point of view character, the amateur sleuth, as he meets each person for the first time. He notes their basic appearance and his first impression.

Chapter 1

Sleuth describes his fiancee Sophia.

I liked everything I saw. The dark crisp hair that sprang up proudly from her forehead, the vivid blue eyes, the small square fighting chin, and the straight nose. I liked the well-cut light-grey tailor-made, and the crisp white shirt. She looked refreshingly English and that appealed to me strongly after three years without seeing my native land.

Chapter 3

Sleuth describes himself.

“I shall figure in the reports you get. Five foot eleven, brown hair, brown eyes, dark-blue pinstripe suit, etc.”

Secondary character describes the Victim.

“Funnily enough he was attractive. He’d got a personality, you know. You could feel it. Nothing much to look at. Just a gnome – ugly little fellow – but magnetic – women always fell for him."

Two different characters describe the victim's widow, Brenda.

“A young woman out of a tea shop. A perfectly respectable young woman – good-looking in an anemic, apathetic sort of way.”

“She’s what I call a harem type. Likes sitting about and eating sweets and having nice clothes and jewelry and reading cheap novels and going to cinema.”

Chapter 5

Sleuth describes the elderly aunt.

Along the path toward us came a tall figure walking briskly. It had on a battered old felt hat, a shapeless skirt, and a rather cumbersome jersey. … Edith de Haviland was a woman of about seventy. She had a mass of untidy grey hair, a weather-beaten face and a shrewd, piercing glance.

Chapter 6

Sleuth describes suspect Philip.

He got up from behind his table as we entered – a tall man, aged somewhere around fifty, an extraordinarily handsome man. (…) Certainly I was not prepared for this perfection of feature – the straight nose, the flawless line of jaw, the fair hair touched with grey that swept back from a well-shaped forehead.

Sleuth describes suspect Magda.

I don’t know how she gave the impression of being three women rather than one who entered. She was smoking a cigarette in a long holder and was wearing a peach satin negligee which she was holding up with one hand. A cascade of Titian hair rippled down her back. Her face had that almost shocking air of nudity that a woman’s has nowadays when it is not made up at all. Her eyes were blue and enormous and she was talking very rapidly in a husky, rather attractive voice with a very clear enunciation.

Chapter 7

Sleuth describes suspect Magda.

The titian hair was piled high on her head in an Edwardian coiffure, and she was dressed in a well-cut dark-grey coat and skirt. With a delicately pleated pale mauve shirt fastened at the neck by a small cameo broach. For the first time, I was aware of the charm of her delightfully tip-tilted nose.

Sleuth describes suspect Roger.

He was a clumsy giant of a man with powerful shoulders, dark rumpled hair, and an exceedingly ugly but at the same time rather pleasant face. His eyes looked at us and then quickly away in that furtive, embarrassed manner which shy but honest people often adopt.

Sleuth describes suspect Clemency.

She was a woman of very sharp and definite personality. She was about fifty, I suppose; her hair was grey, cut very short in what was almost an Eton crop but which grew so beautifully on her small well-shaped head that it had none of the ugliness I have always associated with that particular cut. She had an intelligent sensitive face, with light-grey eyes of a peculiar and searching intensity. She had on a simple dark-red woolen frock that fitted her slenderness perfectly.

Chapter 8

Sleuth describes Victim's portrait.

It was a portrait of a little old man with dark, piercing eyes. He wore a black velvet skull cap and his head was sunk down in his shoulders, but the vitality and power of the man radiated forth from the canvas. The twinkling eyes seemed to hold mine. …

Sleuth describes widow Brenda.

She wore black – very expensive black and a good deal of it. It swathed her up to the neck and down to the wrists. She moved easily and indolently, and black certainly suited her. Her face was mildly pretty, and she had rather nice brown hair arranged in somewhat too elaborate style. Her face was well powdered and she had on lipstick and rouge, but she had clearly been crying. She was wearing a string of very large pearls and a big emerald ring on one hand and an enormous ruby on the other.

Sleuth describes suspects Laurence and Eustace.

There a fair-haired young man of about thirty and a handsome, dark boy of sixteen were sitting at a table.

Chapter 10

Sleuth describes the suspect Josephine.

The face still had its goblin suggestion – it was round with a bulging brow, combed-back hair and small, rather beady eyes. But it was definitely attached to a body – a small skinny body. (…) She was a fantastically ugly child with a very distinct likeness to her grandfather.

Chapter 14

Sleuth describes witness Nannie.

In the doorway stood an old woman – a rather bulky old woman. She had a very clean white apron tied around her ample waist and the moment I saw her I knew that everything was all right.

Chapter 15

Sleuth describes widow Brenda.

Brenda Leonides was the first. She was wrapped in a grey chinchilla coat and there was something catlike and stealthy in the way she moved. She slipped through the twilight with a kind of eerie grace. I saw her face as she passed the window. There was a half-smile on it, the curving, crooked smile I had noticed upstairs.

Sleuth describes suspect Laurence.

A few minutes later Laurence Brown, looking slender and shrunken, also slipped through the twilight. 

* * *

It is important to introduce your characters when they appear for the first time. The level and style of introduction is up to you. Too little and you risk talking heads. Too much and you risk annoying your reader. Christie advocated just enough to get the point across.

Next week, we'll look at how she used description of place.

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