It’s no secret that I’m a lover of Agatha Christie and that I won’t accept people underestimating her. You may remember that I got angry when The Truants got compared to the Queen of Crime when it wasn’t even a pale imitation. I got even more annoyed when the characters were talking about the books as some twee and childish examples of literature. Christie is a fantastic writer. She understands people and their motives better than most writers. She knows what she’s talking about and she has written some of the best twists of all time. She has ruined me for contemporary crime writers because I know what to look for. I always see it coming because Agatha taught me well. Yesterday was the 130th anniversary of her birth. 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of her first book being published. It’s a big year for Christie fans. So, as I’m still nowhere near finishing my current read, I decided to dedicate my second bookish post this week to her.
Now, I might call myself an Agatha Christie lover but, I have to confess, I haven’t read all of her books. I mean there are 66 novels and 14 short story collections. I know this isn’t really a lot in the grand scheme of things but I also have the whole of literary past, present and future to attempt to get through. Let’s be honest, she has an imposing biblography, so it can be hard to decide where to start. Do you read by date of publication? Do you read the standalone novels first? Do you pick a series? Should you just read Poirot or Miss Marple? Where is the best place to start if you want to get into Agatha Christie? Here are my thoughts.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
To quote The Sound of Music, “let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” This was Agatha’s first novel and the one that introduced the world to Hercule Poirot. He is introduced as an ex-detective and a war refugee. As he is settling into a new life in England, the wealthy heiress, Emily Inglethorp, is killed. Hercule must find the killer before an innocent man is convicted of the crime.
I’ll be honest, this isn’t Christie at her best but it’s great to see that she was already so close. In her first novel. This introduces us to one of her greatest literary inventions and to her knowledge of poisons. She uses everything she knows about chemistry to create a fantastic puzzle. There’s a bit too much going on but this is definitely worth a read.
AKA the popular one. This is, probably, Christie’s most famous story. Something that is definitely helped by the number of times it has been adapted. Since it was published in 1934, the novel has been adapted an impressive number times for radio, film and television. There’s even a computer game of it. It’s also an incredibly well-written and clever. When travelling on the Orient Express train, Hercule Poirot much solve the murder of Samuel Ratchett. Which one of his fellow passengers could possibly have committed the crime.
This story features a murder that is seemingly impossible to solve but Hercule makes it seem simple. Some could argue that it a little too easy for him but, when the book is this good, it doesn’t matter too much. This really shows Christie doing some of her most intricate work. She uses the reader’s preconceptions against them and manages to keep things very well hidden. It’s one of her most loved stories for a reason.
Okay, so I’m intentionally ignoring the racism that surrounds this novel because it really would be a great place to start with Christie. It is, by far, her best standalone novel and, according to many, her best ever. Ten strangers are invited to a mysterious island n the middle of nowhere. With a storm raging, they have no way of leaving. Something that becomes a huge problem when they start being murdered one-by-one. But just what are each of the guests hiding and just who is their host U.N. Owen?
This is really one of my favourite Christie novels because it features one of the best twists in crime fiction. It is an atmospheric novel that allows the tension to build naturally. It really draws you in and keeps you gripped until the final reveal. If you’re looking for a book to convince you that Christie is worth reading then this is it.
This is one of her most important books because it changed the rules. This is a great example of how much Christie was willing to go against the grain. It was her third Poirot novel and one that was well-received on publication. Hercule has retired and is attempting to live his dream to grow the perfect marrow. When his friend, Roger Ackroyd, is murdered, the detective decides to come out of retirement to solve the case.
I guess, really, the story behind Roger Ackroyd isn’t that special in terms of other Christie novels. It’s not bad in anyway but there isn’t anything too exciting. What really makes this is the ending. It was unheard of when the book was published and proved that Agatha was a writer to be taken seriously. Why not start with one of her most influential books?
Five Little Pigs
This is another of those novels that is often described as being one of her best. It is also another to take its title from a popular nursery rhyme. The titular pigs are the five witnesses that Poirot must talk to in order to solve a crime that took place over years earlier. 16 years after being convicted for the murder of her husband, Caroline Crale writes to her daughter, Carla, pleading her innocence. After her mother’s death, Carla reaches out Hercule Poirot to find out what really happened.
This is a bit of a different Christie novel and the events of the murder are retold repeatedly by different witnesses. It was the first time that Agatha wrote about solving a cold crime and it was an idea she would return to again. I’d say it was best utilised here and the novel is very well put together. Many critics praise this book for its echoes of the writer’s personal life. It also features her most realised and poignant characters.
The Secret Adversary
Who says that you need to stick with Poirot or Miss Marple? Why not start your Agatha journey with Tommy and Tuppence. After the war, childhood friends Tommy Beresford and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley are in need of work. With jobs scarce, they join forces to start their own business as The Young Adventurers. They are soon approached by a wealthy American searching for his cousin. This book is a rollercoaster ride that will keep you guessing until the end.
Tommy and Tuppence are fantastic characters and this is their best story. Featuring in a further three novels and one short story collection, they are an unusual pair but wonderful in their own way. This book is a little mad and over-the-top but it’s a fun read. It was only Agatha’s second published book but you can already see how much control she has over her narrative.
Or Agatha’s Christie’s favourite. Well, if it’s good enough for the writer why not start here? When the wealthy patriarch of a dysfunctional familyis poisoned, everybody in the house becomes a suspect. Not helped by the fact that the will is missing. When Charles Hayward returns after the war, he realises that he must solve the murder in order to marry his true love: granddaughter of the deceased. Charles begins investigating from the inside and uncovers plenty of family secrets.
This is another standalone novel and is a perfect place to start. Christie always talked about how much she enjoyed writing this and it shows. The ending is shocking and brings an unusual twist to this type of novel.