I love to set myself a reading list each year, and I thought this year, 2019, I would tackle the works of Agatha Christie. A prolific writer, and an interesting woman in her own right, I thought this would be fun, because I love a good mystery. Although, as you can see from the list below, she wrote quite a lot of books, they’re usually quite short, so I think I can do it.
I’ve read quite a few of her books before, but I’ve forgotten “whodunnit” so I’m going to re-read those. There’s loads of her books that I’ve never read, including her romances, which I’m really curious to read, which she published under the name Mary Westmacott.
As I’m reading them, I’m writing a short description and a short opinion on each one, and if I like it, I’ve put an asterisk * at the start of the title. If I loved it, it gets two **. I love her old paperbacks with the funny, dramatic covers, so part of my goal is to only read old, second hand editions. I’d love to hear from you in the comments about which ones you love or hate, or if you disagree with my assessments of any of them, have any interesting facts, … Let me know.
Hercule Poirot Books
- *The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) – With some great twists and double crosses, Christie’s first book and the first novel featuring Poirot was witty and sharp, and a sign of great things to come. It follows the classic form of a wealthy home with an aging matriarch whose death seems inevitable when she is surrounded by her scheming relatives and hangers on. The home featured, Styles Court, would actually also be the site of his final case, written years later.
- The Murder On The Links (1923) – Poirot and Hastings set of to Northern France, following a mysterious letter asking for help. On arrival they find the author of the letter has been found murdered, his body left in a shallow grave on a new gold course. Intrigue follows as a beautiful neighbor was either the man’s lover or perhaps blackmailing the man. Plenty of twists, a great foil for Poirot in the form of an arrogant Paris detective and Hastings falls in love and does some very foolish things. Entertaining.
- *The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) – A wealthy widow commits suicide after being blackmailed. Her fiancee Roger Ackroyd gets a letter from her and retires to his study to read it, but later that night, he is found murdered, and the letter and his dissipated step-son are missing. A Dr Sheppard narrates this story, as Hastings has gone to Argentina with his new wife, and Poirot just happens to be his next door neighbour who has retired to grow marrows. The gossipy sister of the doctor is good fun, and the Doctor is a little less thick than Hastings, also has a nice twist in the ending.
- The Big Four (1927) – Poirot takes on a case of international criminal masterminds when a man who approaches him for help suddenly dies. Are the Big Four behind it, and can he stop them from their evil plans for world domination? This book feels a bit like a comic book and is a bit cheesey with some truly far fetched twists, but it’s still quite fun.
- The Mystery Of The Blue Train (1928) – When a millionaires daughter heads to the Riviera with a famous and much desired ruby in her luggage, she takes the Blue Train, and winds up murdered. Was she killed for her priceless ruby or by her desperate husband? His lover? Her lover? Poirot investigates with the help of Katherine Grey, a recent heiress. I liked the exotic location, the money grabbing relatives and lovers, and a side character Lenox who has loads of personality. A nice winding read with international, glamorous flavor.
- *Peril At End House (1932) – On a relaxing trip to Cornwall, Poirot and Hastings stumble upon an attempted murder. Beautiful Nick Buckley refuses at first to believe someone could want her dead, because even though she inherited End House, she has no money and is in debt. Can Poirot figure out who and why, before it’s too late? I loved the way that Christie evokes the devil may care, flippant attitude of the 1939’s smart set in this book. I also think that it has some lovely twists in it. I always love a story that has an interesting house with secrets.
- *Lord Edgeware Dies (1933) – An actress asks Poirot to help her get a divorce from her husband Lord Edgeware, who is a sinister and strange man. Poirot agrees to help, but soon Lord Edgeware and another actress are found dead on the same night. Ambition, secrets and a woman in two places on one night all play a part. This is a fun one and I liked the way that the world of actors and the upper classes interesected, though this is one of the rare ones where I guessed the killer early on.
- Murder On The Orient Express (1934) – Called back to London unexpectedly, Poirot finds himself on the Orient Express when a man is stabbed to death. Tasked with looking into the case while the train is stuck in a snow drift, Poirot soon finds that the dead man was actually connected with a tragic child kidnapping and murder case. There are many who would want this man dead, but the killer must be someone on the train. This is one of Christie’s most famous books and it’s very good with some great misdirects, but I feel like the surprise ending is pretty far fetched, though kind of satisfying.
- Three Act Tragedy (1935)
- Death In The Clouds (1935)
- The ABC Murders (1936)
- Murder In Mesopotamia (1936)
- Cards On The Table (1936)
- Dumb Witness (1937) – Called Poirot Loses A Client in North America. When Poirot receives a letter from an elderly women asking for help and finds that she’s been dead for two months, he decides to investigate. The wealthy woman has left her money unexpectedly to her companion rather than her three grasping relatives who expected to inherit, and Poirot suspects foul play. The Dumb Witness of the title is the victim’s dog, who is a lovely thread through the narrative. This book is apparently considered one of Christie’s less masterful works, but it’s a highly entertaining read, all the same.
- Death On The Nile (1937)
- Appointment With Death (1938) – In Jerusalem, Poirot over hears a voice say “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” The voice turns out to belong to a member of the Boynton family, whose stepmother is a sadistic emotional tyrant. When that step mother turns up dead, Poirot proposes that not only was it murder, but that he can solve the case in 24 hours. This one I felt was slow in parts, but I liked the exotic location, and I felt like the murderer was someone I never would have guessed.
- Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938)
- One, Two Buckle My Shoe (1940)
- *Sad Cypress (1940) – Set largely in a courtroom, which makes it feel a little different to other Christie novels, this novel opens with Elinor Carlisle accused of murder. She appears unable to defend herself, as all the clues point to her. Following her wealthy Aunt’s death, Elinor stands to inherit a large sum, but she has lost the love of her fiance, who fell in love with a young protegee of their Aunts. And then, that protegee wound up dead. Its a swift, winding mystery and leaves plenty of clues and red herrings. Very enjoyable.
- Evil Under The Sun (1941)
- Five Little Pigs (1942) – Called Murder in Retrospect in North America, Poirot is approached by a young woman who has found out that her mother was convicted of murdering her father 16 years before. Wanting to understand what happened and sure her mother is innocent, she asked the Belgian detective for help. There’s a good murder plot here, but the first part feels slightly rushed, and parts of the middle involve characters re-telling the event in their own words, which is a little tedious. A good read, but not Christie’s best work.
- *The Hollow (1946) – The Hollow is a beautiful country estate where the Angkatell clan live and gather, but alliances are uneasy between cousins, wives and lovers. When Poirot is invited to lunch while the house is full of guests, he arrives to find someone dying by the pool and a variety of suspects arrayed in a tableau. Is this crime what it appears to be? A good winding mystery with a focus more on the other characters than the detective, I really liked the vividly drawn Lady Angkatell, who often made me laugh. A good drama and mystery.
- *Taken At The Flood (1948) – When Gordon Cloade is killed in an air raid in the London Blitz, his young wife of a few weeks is left with his fortune. When Poirot is visited by a relative of the dead man, saying that spirits told her that the young widow’s first husband is still alive, he wonders at her motive, til a notice in the paper makes him decide to get involved. A really good one, where I thought I knew who the killer was once or twice, but was delightfully wrong.
- Mrs McGinty’s Dead (1952) – When Mrs McGinty is murdered, her lodger is charged and it seems like an open and shut case, but the police call on Poirot because they feel like it was all to easy. Can he find out who killed her and why? I liked the reference in this one to well known crime cases that mirrored some true crime I’ve read about. Nice misdirects and plot twists, and Poirot in fine form here. His need for order and perfectionism is made fun of here in a fun way.
- *After The Funeral (1953) – At Richard Lansquenet’s funeral, his sister remarks that she believes he was murdered. Everyone is shocked, until the next day her body is found brutally murdered in her home. Hercule Poirot investigates… I really liked this one. A classic mystery with interesting twists and an end that’s hard to guess.
- Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)
- Dead Man’s Folly (1956)
- Cat Amongst The Pigeons (1959)
- The Clocks (1963)
- Third Girl (1966)
- Hallowe’en Party (1969)
- Elephant’s Can Remember (1972)
- Curtain (1975)
- The Monogram Murders (2014) – As you can see, this one came out in 2014, years after Christie’s death. So what’s the deal? It’s actually a book by Sophie Hannah, who was commisioned by Agatha’s estate to write this book starring Poirot. It is set in the late 20s, so chronologically it sits just after The Mystery Of The Blue Train, but since it’s not written by Christie herself, I have opted not to review it here.
Hercule Poirot Short Stories
- Poirot Investigates (1924) – A book of classic cases featuring kidnapped prime minsters, Egyptians curses and the one case that stumped the youg Poirot. I like these because the characters are still fresh. Though I like all of the Poirot stories, sometimes Hastings is a little too stupid and Poirot a little too arrogant. This is Golden Age Poirot, and the cases are varied and interesting. The US version of this book had three extra stories than the UK one, but modern editions include these. If yours is an older copy and doesn’t have them, you’ll find them in Poirot’s Early Cases.
- Murder In The Mews (1937)
- The Labours Of Hercules (1947)
- *Poirot’s Early Cases (1974) – This book contains some really great cases from what seems to be different times in Poirot’s career, published in magazines and the US, but perhaps not before collected. So, these were not written in the 70’s, as far as I can tell, but contain some really good cases. Hastings and Inspector Japp make appearences in some, but not all of these. I think this collection contains some of the most tightly written and least comical of Poirot’s cases, even though you will find some of them printed in other books too.
Miss Marple Books
- The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) – St Mary Mead’s vicar finds a local man shot dead in his study, a man who many have wished dead. This mystery throws suspicion on everyone in turn in a way that’s pure Agatha magic. Here we meet Miss Marple for the first time, and we see some of the things that will become a staple of her stories: people dismissing her as a little old biddy, her hinting she knows things but not telling the narrator til the end, and also her taking a backseat in the story but also solving it all on her own in the end. It’s great stuff, and I think the Marple stories get stronger as Christie wrote more of them.
- The Body In The Library (1942)
- The Moving Finger (1942) – When a man moves to a small village to recover from a flying accident, he takes his sister with him and expects all to be quiet and dull. But poison pen letters set off a chain of events that lead to death… I nicely placed mystery with some fun characters and a snap shot of village life, but sadly Miss Marple only appears to wrap things up and save the day. Could have used more of her, but a good read anyway.
- A Murder Is Announced (1950) – An ad in the paper announces that a murder will take place at a local home and while curious neighbors gather, the inhabitants do not know who placed the ad. And then the lights go out, shots are fired, and a stranger lies dead. But is he really a stranger? And is everyone who they say they are? Miss Marple investigates, and while this is one of the few where I did manage to guess the ending, I really enjoyed the twists along the way and Christie’s ability to lampoon British character types and prejudices.
- They Do It With Mirrors (1952) – Miss Marple is called on to stay with an old childhood friend when something is not right at her large estate where she and her husband help troubled youth. When a murder occurs, is it one of the teenagers or is the real killer using smoke and mirrors to hide himself in plain sight? A fun mystery, but somehow this one seemed to lack urgency to me. The misdirect was quite nice though.
- A Pocket Full Of Rye (1953)
- 4:50 From Paddington (1957) – Titled What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw! in North America, this book is about an older woman who sees a murder from her train window. When no one believes her and no body is found, she enlists her friend Miss Marple to help her out. Teamed up with the remarkable Lucy Eyelesbarrow, the plot thickens nicely and the case takes some interesting turns. Personally, I would have liked a bit more time spent with Marple on this case, but it’s a very entertaining read.
- The Mirror Crack’d (1962)
- A Carribean Mystery (1964)
- At Bertram’s Hotel (1965) – Miss Marple stays at a hotel in London, but something about how “authentic” it is strikes her as odd. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard investigates a series of train robberies, a addle-headed clergyman goes missing, and a young woman wonders if someone is trying to kill her… Sometimes I feel like Miss Marple is too often not the main character in novels when she should be. This one has some nice misdirects and things, but seems to waffle a little. Not a classic murder mystery format.
- Nemesis (1971)
- *Sleeping Murder (1976) – Miss Marple’s last case. When Gwenda is tasked with finding a home for her and her husband, she is delighted by a house she finds. But on moving in, she finds strange memories surface, including an awful terror when she climbs the stairs. Is she going mad or is there some mystery in the house? This one is interesting with it’s themes of old murders and childhood memories. Gwenda is the main focus, more than Miss Marple, and on the whole, it’s a really good plot.
Miss Marple Short Stories
- The Thirteen Problems (1932) – Called The Tuesday Club Murders in North America. A group of six disparate people gather and decide to each tell a tale of an interesting case that has baffled them. One of the six is Miss Marple. The cases all have a nice puzzle to them, and each story teller has a unique voice. It’s a nice variation on a way to tell six short mysteries.
- Miss Marple’s Final Cases (1979) –
Tommy & Tuppence Books
- ** The Secret Adversary (1922) – The first book about the young adventurers Tuppence and Tommy, two friends who’ve known each other since childhood and find themselves struggling to make ends meet after the war. They decide to advertise themselves as sort of detectives and fall into a case where they must find a mysterious Jane Finn and a missing document before it falls into the wrong hands. I really like these two and this book has a real Jazz Age, upbeat and fun attitude about it. Good fun.
- N or M? (1941)
- By The Pricking Of My Thumbs (1968)
- Postern Of Fate (1973) – Tommy and Tuppence have retired and bought an old house in a small town, when they find a mysterious coded note in a child’s book. It seems that there was once a murder in the house, and the two find themselves irresistibly drawn to find out what really happened, even though they’re meant to be retired… It’s a good plot, but it seems to end a little abruptly and there are several references to the N or M mystery, which feel a little repetitive.
Tommy & Tuppence Stories
- *Partners In Crime (1929) – Tommy and Tuppence are bright young things, newlywed, when the Secret Service puts them in charge of a Detective Agency. Since they’re playing at detective they pretend to be Mr Blunt and his secretary, the original proprietor of the premises, and also apply the personalities and methods of various litery detectives to each case. It’s a fun conceit, especially when they try out Poirots methods for size! Often very funny, this is a fun if far fetched book of stories.
Superintendent Battle Books
- The Secret Of Chinmeys (1925)
- The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
- Cards On The Table (1936)
- Murder Is Easy (1939)
- Towards Zero (1944) – This time, Christie looks at the build up to a murder, as opposed to opening on one. We know that someone is going to be killed, when a man heads to the home he grew up in with his wife, knowing that his ex wife will also be there. I like the way it leaves you guessing who and why, though I think having a murder earlier on is a more satisfying format.
- The Man In The Brown Suit (1924) – Anne Beddingfeld moves to London after the death of her father. Hoping for adventure, she gets more than she bargained for when she sees a man killed at a train station and picks up a mysterious clue on a peice of paper. The plot involves diamonds, South Africa and The Colonel, a criminal mastermind and the man of the books title. A thriller more than a mystery, this is dramatic and has plenty of action but I don’t enjoy these as much as her straight mysteries for some reason.
- The Sittaford Mystery (1931)
- Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1934) – Also sometimes titled The Boomerang Clue, this book is one of Christie’s thriller style mysteries, and borrows a little from Tommy and Tuppence, in some respects. On the golf course, a man whispers the words of the title before dying. It seems like an accident, but Bobby and his aristcratic lady friend Frankie are soon embroiled on the trail of murder. I found this book slightly frustrating because the leads don’t ask the obvious questions or make the obvious connections, but they are a sweet duo.
- And Then There Were None (1939)
- **Death Comes As The End (1944) – An unusual theme for Christie and in fact the first historical whodunnit, this book is set in Ancient Egypt, a subject that the author knew about due to her husband’s work as an archeologist. It’s the story of household of Imhotep, a mortuary preist who foolishly brings home a concubine who starts to turn everyone against each other and upsets the delicate balance of the home. Then she’s found dead, and her spirit seems to reach from the grave to complete her revenge… Highly enjoyable and full of interesting historical details as well as twists and turns.
- Sparkling Cyanide (1945)
- **Crooked House (1949) – A man falls in love in Cairo, but when they’re reunited, her grandfather is murdered. He and his crooked family all live in a crooked house together. But who did it and why? I guessed the killer in this one, which I usually don’t, but I love the sinister nature of the whole book and why the murder was done. Deliciously dark.
- They Came To Baghdad (1951)
- Destination Unknown (1954)
- Ordeal By Innocence (1958)
- **The Pale Horse (1961) – This one has a really different feel than a lot of other Christie books, with it’s themes of witchcraft, mind control and organised crime. It opens with a priest murdered to cover up some kind of conspiracy, and takes us through some locals witches and a series of murders that appear to have been done via some occult means. It’s a bit darker and a bit more swinging 60’s than other books, but still has that Christie charm.
- Endless Night (1967)
- Passenger To Frankfurt (1970) – When a fun loving aristocrat gives his passport and coat to a woman so she can enter the country under his identity, he thinks the spy game sounds like fun. But the rising youth revolution hides a dangerous game of armaments, drugs, and a rising Nazi youth movement that threatens the world. No, really. This is one weird Agatha Christie novel, and for that reason, it’s kind of entertaining, but I never enjoy her spy novels as much as her mysteries and this one is all a bit weird.
Short Stories Collections
- The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930)
- The Hound Of Death (1933)
- The Listerdale Mystery (1934)
- Parker Pyne Investigates (1934)
- The Regetta & Other Stories (1939)
- The Witness For The Prosecution & Other Stories (1948)
- Three Blind Mice & Other Stories (1950)
- The Underdog & Other Stories (1951) – These are all Poirot stories, and the title story, the Underdog, is longer than all the others. It’s a mix of stories from different eras of Poirots career and some of these I think appear elsewhere, but I really like a Poirot short story. Amusingly, my beaten up paperback copy had an ad for cigarettes printed in it.
- The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding (1960)
- Double Sin & Other Stories (1961)
- Star Over Bethlehem & Other Stories (1965)
- The Golden Ball & Other Stories (1974) – It looks like some of these stories appear in other short stories collections, but what’s interesting about this book is that there’s not a murder to be found. The book is full of mysteries about stolen jewels or strange people, and the latter half has quite a few ghosts or supernatural themes. They’re all really good stories, but not a murder to be found here…
- Problem At Pollensa Bay & Other Stories (1991)
- The Harlequin Tea Set (1997)
- While The Light Lasts & Other Stories (1997)
- 13 For Luck (1961) – this is like an Agatha Christie primer. It opens with a quick intro to the author and her works, and contains 13 short stories in 5 sections, one for each of her famous detectives from Poirot to Inspector Evans. Each detective gets their own introduction and history at the start of each section. It’s pretty neat and a great place to start for the uninitiated.
Romance (as Mary Westmacott)
- Giant’s Bread (1930)
- Unfinished Portrait (1934)
- Absent In The Spring (1944)
- The Rose And The Yew Tree (1948) – A crippled man is drawn into the drama of a local election while recovering. He meets a young girl born to privelidge and the magnetic and charismatic man running for office, and he falls into the role of confidant to everyone around him, not knowing that all their lives will be changed forever by the unfolding events. Full of amusing descriptions of characters and plenty of drama, this book shows Christie’s ability to understand people and lampoon social niceties, but with it’s long paragraphs about politics it is a little slow and dull, and the romantic relationship has some weird psychology to it.
- A Daughter’s a Daughter (1952)
- The Burden (1956)
- Come, Tell Me How You Live (1946) – Christie’s second husband, Max Mallowan, was an archeologist and his work and her time spent with him on digs influenced her to set some of her books in ancient places and once even in ancient times. This book is a memoir of a trip she took with him to show was it was really like. A sort of travelogue and often very funny, it’s another side of Agatha and her life you don’t get in her other books. Personally, I liked it but also felt like it was a little dated and a little dull sometimes, perhaps becuase now people travel and have the internet, so times have changed.
- **An Autobiography (1977) – I enjoyed this book so much that I was a little sad when I finished it. Agatha comes across as an old friend somehow, telling you the story of her life and the times she lived through. She’s by turns funny, dramatic and sometimes tragic, but always warm and human. It’s interesting to see her thoughts and feelings on life, relationships and events, even when they’re sometimes outdated by modern standards. A private and shy person, this book feels like as close as you’re going to get to the real person. It’s not that she tells you everything, it’s that you can really feel her in her writing. Highly recommended.