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Elizabeth Prevost, Grinnell College

The Detective in the Ruins: Reading Agatha Christie's Archeological Trail, Elizabeth Prevost, Grinnell College

The 1930s marked the heyday of Hercule Poirot in classic detective fiction, distinguished in particular by his repeated appearance in the Near Eastern archeological sites of his creator’s imagination. Christie’s second marriage to Max Mallowan yielded a new personal and professional canvas for developing her scrupulously well-crafted murder mystery plots, which reflected and further developed a hugely popular interwar literary culture later deemed the “Golden Age” of detective fiction. Critics of the genre then and now have dismissed the staple Golden-Age “puzzle” plot as overly formulaic and unrealistic—a mass product developed by uncreative writers to satiate the unintellectual appetites of an undiscerning reading public. Why, then, did readers themselves insist on following not only Poirot but Christie into the ruins of ancient civilizations, precisely to uncover the complex layers of universal human reality that dwelled therein?