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Academics create formula to find Agatha Christie killers


If Agatha Christie was alive today, she might be inclined to bump off the entire team of academics who’ve created a formula to predict the killers in the Queen of Crime’s mysteries.

Known for her red herrings, plot twists and knowledge of poisons, Christie’s secrets are being spilled by the spoilsports who’ve figured out a formula to her crimes.

Strangled corpse? Look for a male killer. Country house setting? A woman dunnit. Trains and automobiles point to a female criminal. Airplanes and boats indicate it’s probably a man.

In honour of her upcoming 125th birthday, UKTV channel Drama commissioned a team of university research fellows and data analysts to make guessing whodunnit a lot easier. They analyzed 27 of the writer’s 83 books published in her lifetime, following in the footsteps of her two famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

“There’s no way Agatha Christie is formulaic, she kept readers guessing,” says Bahram Olfati, senior vice-president of Print at Indigo. The prolific writer threw so many twists at readers that when a new mystery novel comes along “there’s a great chance she’s already done it,” he says.

Growing up in England, he saw Christie’s play The Mousetrap four times and fell in love with her mystery-writing skills. The fact that she is one of the book chain’s bestselling authors, even though she’s been dead almost 40 years, shows that new readers are constantly discovering Christie, he says.

“The whole point of reading a mystery is to figure it out yourself, says Marzia Del Bianco, Toronto Public Library collections specialist. “That’s why readers like her books; they are interested in sleuthing.”

She doesn’t think fans would be interested in using an equation to solve a crime.

The key events in any Christie mystery are early discovery of the body, closed circle of suspects, the detective is introduced, clues abound, the crime is solved and the story is wrapped up quickly, the study says.

Major findings: The victim is murdered early in the book, usually within the first 20 per cent.

The academics created a mathematical formula where relationship to the victim, primary transport in the novel, sentiment of language used to describe killer, method, detective, setting, chapter of introduction of killer and number of mentions added up to a fairly predictable solution.

TORONTO STAR | ENTERTAINMENT