Agatha Christie: Experts discover secret formula to unmask killers in author's books

Marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of Christie, the TV channel Drama assembled a team of people to try to find patterns in the books

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The Independent Culture

Experts believe they have worked out a formula to help reveal the killer in Agatha Christie’s novels before Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple.

To mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of Christie, the world’s best-selling novelist, the TV channel Drama assembled a team of people to try to find patterns in the books, The Guardian reported.

They looked at 27 of the books, including Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express.

Among their findings was that the killer was more likely to be male if the victim was strangled to death. They also discovered there was a 75 per cent chance the killer would be a woman if the book was set in a country house.

Dominique Jeannerod, of Queen’s University Belfast, said: “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.

“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 programme, 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.”

Another panel member, Brett Jacob, said: “The method of killing and the detective in the novel also point to the sex of the killer.

“By bringing all of these together, you can build a picture of the killer’s identity and so discount characters from the group of suspects.”

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