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Agatha Christie - Plot Devices


There are many layers in Agatha Christie’s mysteries - so many complexities, clues and red herrings - that try as hard as you can to get to the conclusion before the detective, very few people actually succeed.

Agatha Christie rarely fails to stun the reader with the final solution.

Why is that, and what plot devices does she use to keep the reader guessing?

To understand Agatha's Plot Devices in greater detail, please choose from the menu below :


Clues & Red Herrings
The Least Likely Suspect
The Disguise
The Locked Room
The Discredited Witness
Servants & Domestics
The Big Reveal
Other Plot Devices



Agatha Christie Clues & Red Herrings  
Clues and red herrings were Agatha Christie’s greatest device for misleading and confusing the reader. The key to solving the murder is to determine what is a real clue, and what is a red herring.
Quite often the vital clues are given at the beginning of the book, but they are so underplayed that it is easy to miss them amongst all the other clues and red herrings which are presented.
One of the researchers on The Agatha Christie Code (see Method) also pointed out that Agatha quite often uses the word “interesting” before a clue which is of little relevance, but then omits the word when writing about a clue which is vital to the plot.
Christie’s red herrings are sometimes linked to unrelated minor crimes, which the reader is lead to believe might be connected.
Be wary though, because on occasions, everything really is as it seems.

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Agatha Christie The Least Likely Suspect  
It is vital for a good murder mystery story that the murderer approaches unnoticed, both to the victim and to the reader trying to solve the case.
Quite often, it is the least likely suspect whom Agatha Christie has as her murderer.
Often a watertight alibi leads the reader to believe that the suspect is completely innocent, only to have the alibi disproved at the last minute.
At other times, it is an individual whom you would expect to be completely above suspicion, such as a policeman or detective. In other of her crime novels, Agatha has the murderer being a child, the narrator, or even all of the possible suspects.

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Agatha Christie The Disguise  
The disguise is frequently used in Agatha Christie’s mystery stories; she used both characters who altered their physical identity, and those who adopted a completely fake identity.
The murderer would often pick an identity which was beyond suspicion, in order to set up the ultimate murder or to stalk their prey. In some cases, a character disappears completely and then comes back in a different guise.
In others crime stories, the murderer impersonate a long lost family member to gain the trust of others.
In some of Agatha Christie’s earlier novels, characters often feel that a suspect looks familiar, and Agatha uses this to indicate that the individual might be in disguise. In later novels however, she becomes more subtle when she uses this device.
However there is frequent debate about the credibility of such devices – sometimes a wig or a false beard has everyone involved convinced that the character is someone completely different.

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Agatha Christie The Locked Room  

In the “Closed Community” or “Locked Room” scenarios, Agatha Christie carefully limits the number of suspects by having them confined - such as in a country mansion, train or on an airplane. This way Agatha restricts the number of people who could be the murderer.
This device allows the reader to play detective for themselves – the murderer is one of the people present, but who is it?
Christie is careful not to cheat her readers in these scenarios - all the evidence is there, and there isn’t another suspect turning up at the last minute.

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Agatha Christie The Discredited Witness  
A witness has on occasion revealed the name of the murderer or a vital clue early on in the novel, only for the witness to be discounted as unreliable, and so no-one listens to them.
Make sure you pay strict attention to even the most un-credible witness.

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Agatha Christie Servants & Domestics  

At a time when many large houses still had a team of domestic staff to keep the place running, there were often servants in the background of Agatha’s stories.
These servants were usually seen and not heard, and therefore usually ignored. However their evidence is often vital because they overhear and see things that others might not simply because they melt into the background.
However it is interesting to note that Christie’s murderers were rarely from the domestic staff; unless of course the murderer was in disguise as a servant.
Agatha did on occasion though break the rules and have the murderer be a servant – after all, who better to commit the ultimate crime than someone who blends in to the background?

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Agatha Christie Intuition  

Agatha Christie’s detectives often seem blessed with a sense of intuition, although the theory never really comes out of thin air. It is usually an initial intuitive insight which focuses the detective onto a possible suspect, despite any alibis that he or she may have. Quite often a discovery is made as a result of a random occurrence or something unconnected.
The style of intuition varies with each of Agatha’s detectives. Miss Marple’s intuition is often more about the psychology of people – the understanding of human nature helps her to solve the crime. She often comments on how an individual reminds her of others she knows, and how those people would behave.

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Agatha Christie The Big Reveal  

The most obvious and consistent plot device is that Agatha Christie doesn’t reveal the whole truth until the end of the book, keeping the reader hooked and absorbed until the end. Until that final piece of the jigsaw is in place, the whole picture isn’t revealed.
There will undoubtedly be fake revelations along the way, causing you to believe that it’s all over, but invariably there are a couple more chapters to go, so perhaps the whole truth hasn’t properly been revealed yet?

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Agatha Christie Other Plot Devices  

There are numerous other plot devices used in Agatha Christie’s novels, too many to mention here.
In some books, attempted murders or actual murders are used as a device by the suspect for masking the real murder. In others, the murderer makes it appear that they are the intended victim. In another, the murderer stages his/her own death, so excluding themselves from the list of final suspects.
Agatha Christie also used a fake murder to provide an opportunity for the real murder to occur after a body had already been discovered and the police called.
In cases where there are two conspirators acting together to commit a murder, Agatha often ensures we don’t suspect both of them, by leading us to believe that they hate each other; although be warned because Christie has also used this device as a red herring.

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