No one has ever written mystery stories more interesting and difficult for the reader to solve than Agatha Christie. But don’t let that get you down because guess what. As of this week – right now – the mystery of how she did it has been uncovered. And with enough patience, we can all do it too.
by Haroon Siddique
For almost 100 years, Agatha Christie has beguiled readers with her much-loved mysteries. But now a panel of experts claims to have worked out how to answer the perennial question: whodunnit?
To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the birth of the world’s best-selling novelist, academics have created a formula that they claim will enable the reader to identify the killer before the likes of Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple have managed the feat.
The research, commissioned by the TV channel Drama, analysed 27 of the prolific writer’s books – 83 were published during her lifetime – including classics such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. The experts concluded that where the novel was set, the main mode of transport used and how the victim dies were among the key clues.
One of the panel, Dominique Jeannerod, from Queen’s University in Belfast, said questions had long been asked about whether Christie followed a pattern. “We gathered data including the number of culprit mentions per chapter, a ‘sentiment analysis’ of culprit mentions, transport mentions and several cross-references with other key concepts of the novels,” he said.
“We were able to discover patterns emerging in several aspects of Christie’s novels: trends formed when we grouped our data via year, detective, gender of culprit, motive, cause of death.
“We also assessed the sentiment of the first mentions of the culprit in each work, using a sentiment analysis program, Semantria, to unmask themes in Christie’s word patterns and choices when mentioning the culprit. We found that, generally, for example, she employs more negative sentiment when the culprit is female, whereas a male culprit has higher levels of neutral or positive sentiment.”