Comparison: “The Man with the Watches” & “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

Barnhill (1991) stated that a good detective story is a mystery novel of less than 300 pages, which can be read in a day. Such a novel entices the reader by presenting a plot and creating a mystery about what has already happened, and what is to come. Unlike thrillers and crime caper novels, a mystery novel does not reveal the murderer until the detective solves the crime (Barnhill).

Auden (1948) argued that a plausible murder mystery should involve a “closed society” to lessen the possibility of an outside murderer. The author contended that the mystery of a detective novel is much more plausible when all members of a closely-knit society are potential suspects (Auden). In order for a mystery novelist to attain maximum suspense, he or she has to adhere to a certain literary framework. According to Auden (1948), four possible scenarios exist within an exemplary detective novel: (1) the characters are a group of blood relatives, (2) the characters are a close-knit group located in a specific geographical area, such as a small town, (3) the characters share a certain occupation; for instance, they all work in the same store, and (4) the characters are isolated by a neutral place (Auden).  Another formula for a well-written detective novel pertains to the “concealment manifestation formula.” Auden (1948) attributes increased suspense to the case where the characters appear to be strangers at first, but are later revealed to be related. Another good attribute of a solid mystery novel is the gradual revelation of the good and bad that resides within each character. Auden (1948) argues that a good mystery novel exposes the characters, who initially appeared to be good, law-abiding citizens, as the opposite; and dark, mysterious characters, who at first appear to be bad, as characters of good moral standings. The true colors of each character is revealed as the mystery progresses and eventually wholly exposed as the murder is solved.  Lastly, a strong mystery novel is peppered with interesting and eccentric individuals (Auden).

This paper will compare Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Man with the Watches and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

The Man with the Watches

On a rainy, windy day, the five o’clock train pulls out of Euston Station and heads for Manchester. Not many people like to travel on days like this as it is cold and uncomfortable; however, it is a well-traveled business route between Manchester and Euston and it has only three stops. From the start of the novel, the reader senses a rush as the clock strikes five and two passengers race across the platform to catch the departing train. The first rushing passenger is tall and dressed in a black overcoat with a striking collar and cuffs. He has his collar turned up to protect him from the wind. His companion, a woman, is dressed in dust cloak and has her face covered with a dark veil. This sets the tone for the mystery that is about to unfold (Doyle 133). Less than an hour into the journey, an ostensible corpse is discovered on the train. Prior to the discovery, three other passengers have disappeared, yet none were seen getting on or off the train. The mystery begins as the reader questions the whereabouts of the three passengers and asks why the dead man has six golden watches in his possession.

And Then There Were None

A recently retired judge, Justice Wargrave, boards the train to the seaside town of Sticklehaven. From there he will sail to Indian Island, a place engulfed in mysteries of ownership. The Justice was invited to the island by his good friend Constance Culmington, whom he had not seen in eight years. Another passenger on the same train, Vera Claythorne, is going to the same island, but as a new employee. Five more characters are introduced, all going to the same island. The author builds suspense through the use of dramatic irony; each character thinks he or she knows the truth, but the reader is given a different story. Although each character believes they know why they are going to the island, the reader is aware of deceit. In fact, unbeknownst to the characters, they are about to embark on journey unlike any other (Christie).

When the eight guests arrive on the island, they discover that none of them actually know their host. Furthermore, on the second day, one of the guests is found murdered. After much mystery and a series of discovered plots, the protagonist reveals his desire for revenge propagated his evil plan. He, in fact, wanted to punish each of the guests for a crime they committed in the past, but were never punished for under the law.

Comparison of Two Tales

The Man with the Watches is a concealment of truth from beginning to end. The victim’s identity is concealed to save his elderly mother the agony of losing a son. The story culminates in an ironic twist as the murderer shot the wrong man. This is an example of a group of characters who are isolated in a neutral place. The story starts at a train station and the murder happens on a train, so naturally the reader is aware that the murderer is on the train. Doyle unravels the mystery through a series of frank interviews between the suspects, the inspector, and the detective. The rest of the story, such as the characters’ motives, is revealed throughout the rest of mystery. The cultural assumptions in this story pertain to the first characters introduced. They are described in such a way that the reader automatically assumes they must be guilty of some crime. Because of that association, the reader links them to the murder of the young man. However, through a series of discussions, those assumptions are shattered and new information is revealed. For instance, the second passenger who was rushing for the train in the beginning was not a woman, but a man. And he was not a criminal, but the victim. Furthermore, the narrator of this mystery is unnamed, and simply serves to introduce the circumstances in which the mystery will unfold. Although the story centers on solving a crime, the crime itself was not calculated, and therefore, the story itself is not as sinister as is to be expected of a detective story.

By contrast, the narrator in Christie’s mystery is the murderer. The author broke all barriers related to the detective novel genre by making the murderer such a central part of the story.  Furthermore, the reader learns that the eight characters were invited to the island to receive punishment from a self-proclaimed man of justice. Upon this revelation, the entire mood of the story shifts from one of mystery to one of dark, murderous gloom. The story dissects the topic of justice and takes an unconventional approach to the genre of detective novels, by making victims out of those who committed murder themselves. This mystery is an example of a group of characters who are isolated on a neutral place. The cultural assumptions in this story are subtle, yet profound. Justice Wargrave decides to punish each of the other characters for a murderous crime in their pasts. The cultural question is whether or not he has the right to make such a decision? As a Justice, he has the authority to punish murderers and thieves. However, he is on an isolated island, and not in a court room. His authority should therefore be null and void. Furthermore, he is intent on killing each character because of their relation to the death of another person earlier in their lives. Yet, not each character is equally as guilty of murder as the others. For instance, Emily Brent was not responsible for the death of her servant. Does this mean she should receive a lesser ‘punishment’ than the other characters? Despite his authority to serve justice in the court room, Wargrave is a cruel man with little likeability and even less sympathy for other people.

Each of the mysteries are true their genre; however, And Then There Were None has a darker, more mysterious aura about it. Its plot is more refined and addresses several issues simultaneously. In other words, the reader is constantly engaged and curious about what is going to happen next. The Man with the Watches is short and leaves very little to the reader’s imagination. Once the dialogues commence between the suspect and his inquisitors, it becomes easy to piece the rest of the mystery together. The result is weak detective story with little detective work.

References

Auden, Wystan Hugh. “The Guilty Vicarage: Notes on the Detective Story, by an Addict.” May 1948. Harper’s Magazine. Online Magazine. 4 December 2011.

Barnhill, Suzanne S. “The Perfect Detective Novel.” Fairhope Public Library, 26 November 1991. Document.

Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. New York: Harpercollins , 1991. Book.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. Tales of Mystery: The Man with the Watches. New York: CreateSpace, 2011. Book.

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