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Monday, June 06 2011

My five-year-old son has discovered the joys of Looney Tunes. With at least ten channels offering current children's programming and cartoons, I hadn't thought to show him the classics that I grew up watching. But I happened to turn on the Boomerang Channel the other day, and pretty soon, my kid was in hysterics. I've never heard him laugh so hard at a show. Of course, today's shows are more focused, with Diego rescuing animals, Curious George learning to count and recycle, and Sid the Science Kid conducting experiments. And that's all great. I want to know my kids are learning something when they watch TV. But sometimes we all need the pure silliness of Looney Tunes. Based on Jake's laughter, I'd say these old shows stand up to the test of time.

I've noticed that about old mysteries as well, particularly Agatha Christie novels. I found a handful on my bookshelf a while back and am rereading them for the first time in years. One difference between the mysteries of a few decades ago and those of today is that mysteries today are heavily driven by characters, from the protagonist to the victim to the supporting cast. While everyone is fond of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, Christie's books focused less on characters and more on plot. She was a master at creating puzzles and interweaving clues that gives the reader enough information to solve the crime but usually leaves me stumped.

Part of her technique was to throw in lots of random clues, some of which were related to the murder and some that only applied to other secrets of the various characters, leaving it up to the reader to sort out which was which. And, of course, she'd always throw in a red herring or two, just to cause a little frustration.

Another favorite technique, particularly in the Miss Marple stories, was to have the characters lie. I have a tendency to believe people when they state things, even fictional characters, but Miss Marple is shrewder than me. She would always comment that unless she could verify what someone said through corroborating evidence, she couldn't accept their information as fact. But it's so easy to take people at face value, especially the distressed young woman who needs Miss Marple's help or the wise old man who wouldn't hurt a fly. And Christie would use that sympathy to distract the reader.

This clever plotting and test of people's mental faculties is what makes Christie as compelling an author today as any modern day writer, just like the Looney Tunes show still makes kids laugh. Some things never get old.

Just a reminder, if you haven't done so already, check out the LadyKillers blog ( for a chance to win a hundred dollar gift certificate to your favorite independent book store or a Kindle. It's easy to play and runs through June 14th.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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