I love to set myself a reading list each year, and since I love a classic Golden Age mystery, I thought it would be fun to tackle the works of Agatha Christie. A prolific writer, and an interesting woman in her own right, I thought this would be fun. While she had her famous detective stories, she also wrote some romances under the name Mary Westmacott, and tried her hand at supernatural mysteries and religious themes as well as an autobiography.
Some of her books I have read before, but since I generally have forgotten “whodunnit” because it’s been a while, I’m reading everything. Her books tend to not be very long, so I think I can do it! 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 **. Let me know which are your favourites or which you hated in the comments.
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) – Famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright hosts a dinner party at his home, where a Mr Satterthwaite (who is more often found in his native habitat of the Harley Quin stories), Hercule Poirot, and other guests join him. When the vicar suddenly dies, it’s at first dismissed as unsuspicious, but the second act begins when the guests are gathered together again and this time a doctor dies under the same circumstances. Breaking the book into 3 acts is a fun way to play up the theatricality of the book and the characters who make their money on the stage. There’s a few fun dramatic foreshadowing moments and the mystery is a fun misdirect that AC did so well.
- Death In The Clouds (1935) – (also called Death In The Air) Poirot is on a flight home from Paris when one of the passengers is found dead. Each of the other passengers has their own secrets and link to the deceased, and the clues of the wasp and the poison dart point to the Belgian detective himself! A fun location for a mystery, I like how the 30’s era travel scene is explored, and themes of the way that murder impacts witnesses lives in random ways, for better or worse. I like this one, and didn’t guess the killer at all.
- The ABC Murders (1936) – A serial killer writes Poirot a note, and starts killing based on letters of the alphabet. Hastings is back as Poirot’s naive sidekick and there’s a fun twist in the end, but felt like the book was a little dull in the middle. A classic, but not my personal favourite.
- Murder In Mesopotamia (1936) – A nurse joins an archeological dig to attend to a woman who is deathly afraid her first husband is still alive and wants revenge. No one believes it could be true til she’s found dead, and one of the team on the site must have done it. Influenced by Christie’s own experience on her husband’s digs, the ending has been widely criticised as being unrealistic, but that’s all part of the fun. I like the way that the sense of uneasiness and doom is built over the first several chapters, too.
- *Cards On The Table (1936) – Hercule Poirot is joined by Christie characters Ariadne Oliver, Colonel Race and Superintendant Battle, at a bridge game. It’s four detectives against four suspects… and the game is on once the host is murdered! One of Christie’s highly regarded entries, it has a fun way of misdirecting you and the end is satisfying.
- 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) – Linnet is the richest woman in England and has everything, including a wedding ring from a man who was engaged to her now ex- best friend, Jackie. While on honeymoon in Egypt, Jackie turns up and follows the newlyweds everywhere, loudly proclaiming her hurt and intention to get even. But when Linnet is murdered, Jackie has an alibi. The exotic location is fun, and Christies skewering eye for social types is fun, so I really like this one, tho I guessed what was going on immediately.
- 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) – Also known as A Murder For Christmas, Simeon Lee invites all his adult children home for the holiday and seems determined to stir up trouble and old arguments between them, but when he is brutally murdered, Poirot steps in to help solve the crime. A “locked room” mystery with a neat twist ending, this is classic masterful Christie fare.
- One, Two Buckle My Shoe (1940) – Poirot goes to the dentist. Later that day, the dentist is murdered. The murderer could be any of a number of people, a known Communist, a Leftist, or it may be part of a larger plot to assassinate a wealthy Conservative called Blunt. A very political murder case which reflected some of the concerns of the time, but not the most fun to read.
- *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) – Poirot is taking a seaside holiday in Devon when a beautiful and flirtatious woman is found dead. She had many emenies on the island where the hotel is, from her own stepdaughter to the wife of her paramour, but who killed her? I had some sense of who the killer was, but the full reasons why and how were not what I thought. Good fun.
- *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) – Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon asks for his help after a series of odd thefts take place at the lodgings of some students, which is a house managed by her sister. Whilst some of the thefts are easily explained, Poirot warns that soon there will be a worse crime… and he’s proved right when a student is found dead. Miss Lemon’s first appearance in a novel, she previously had only appeared in short stories, and an entertaining enough story.
- Dead Man’s Folly (1956) – Ariadne Oliver gets a bad vibe when she’s hired to appear at a country fete, and she calls her pal Poirot. When a 14 year old girl is killed and the lady of the house goes missing, Poirot is on the case. I quite liked this one. I like the ones set in English houses, though it is perhaps fairly formulaic. Ariadne is always fun.
- Cat Amongst The Pigeons (1959) – During a rebellion in the Middle East, diamonds are smuggled out of the country and some people are very eager to get their hands on them, suspecting they might be hidden at a well known girls school where two pupils have links to the deposed ruler. Poirot comes in in the last third and the descriptions of the school and it’s inhabitants is quite funny.
- The Clocks (1963) – A typist is requested at a private home, but when she arrives and lets herself in, she finds a room full of clocks and a dead body! And the blind occupant of the house never called the secretarial agency. Poirot appears late and solves the crime from his armchair, while the plot is divided partly into murder mystery and part espionage plot. Such a great set up, but not the best pay off.
- Third Girl (1966) – Poirot and Ariadne Oliver investigate, and unlike some later tales, the detective is present for the whole. A girl comes to Poirot telling him she thinks that she murdered someone, then promptly leaves, assuming he can’t help. She is the third girl sharing a flat with two others, and the mystery seems to involve them all, but has anyone been murdered? Christie amusingly has her take on young people in the 60’s with their miniskirts and men with brocade waistcoats.
- Hallowe’en Party (1969) – Ariadne Oliver is at a children’s Hallowe’en party when a child says that she was once witness to a murder. The girl’s story is easily dismissed until she’s found drowned later that night at the party. This is a fun one, even though it lacks the charm of earlier books. It’s interesting that everyone in the book feels that the killer must be a stranger, a maniac or someone on drugs. Im not sure if this was meant as a misdirect or a comment on how Christie felt about people’s attitudes in the 60’s.
- *Elephant’s Can Remember (1972) – Ariadne Oliver and Poirot team up to solve a cold case of a double suicide of a seemingly happy couple that occured years age. The child of the relationship is now grown, and the case relies heavily on people’s memory. This was actually Christie’s last Poirot, as Curtain though published last was actually written in 1940.
- Curtain (1975) – Poirot’s last case. He’s very old now, and tasks Hastings with helping him solve one last case, heading back to Styles where it all began and trying to find the mysterious person who is a deadly link between many cases that all seem unrelated. Not my favourite Poirot story, it made me feel very sad.
- 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) – Four longer form short stories featuring Poirot, Murder In The Mews, The Incredible Theft, Dead Man’s Mirror, Triangle at Rhodes. These are all good stories and the longer format is nice, but they feel like re-workings of other plots.
- **The Labours Of Hercules (1947) – Poirot sets out to complete 12 cases that correspond to the mythical labors of the Greek hero he’s named after as a swan song before he retires to grow vegetable marrows. I really like the concept of this book and the clever ways the cases mimic the labors. The mysteries are not all murders, and it leads to some fun twists.
- *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) – Christie liked the idea of the classic mystery trope of the body in the library, and decided to try to do something novel and creative with it. This story opens with Mrs Bantry being woken by a maid to hear there is a murdered woman in their library, and the mystery is that they have no idea who she is. A Christie classic and Marple at her best.
- 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) – Christie based a few novels on a theme of nursery rhymes, and this is one of them. A shady business man is poisoned in his office, and the mystery centres around his home and family, where a maid works who was trained by Miss Marple, who gets involved. I wanted the killer to be a character that irritated me, but it wasn’t. Ain’t that just like life?
- 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 film star with a past moves to St Mary Mead and a death occurs at her first gathering at her home, Gossington Hall (where The Body In The Library took place). I love that this book is dedicated to Margaret Rutherford, who played Miss Marple in some adaptations, and also that Marina Gregg is based on Gene Tierney and her sad story. I like the way that Christie also explores aging and the changing times: the more things change the more they stay the same. However, it felt a little slow on the whole.
- A Carribean Mystery (1964) – Miss Marple is sent on a Carribean vacation by her nephew, and is told by a man in her resort that he has a photo of a murderer. When this man is found dead, Marple and another guest, the irascible Mr Rafiel, embark on finding the killer. Quite a nice plot and an interesting location, one of Christie’s solid mysteries.
- 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) – Mr Rafiel from A Carribean Mystery leaves Miss Marple a bequest: if she can solve a mystery she gets a sum of money, but there’s no clues as to what the mystery is. An intriguing way to start a mystery, I feel that this one takes a ling time to get going, gets flabby and a bit dull in the middle and the end didnt pay off satisfactorily, but still enjoyable.
- *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. Though 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) – Published after the authors death, this contains 6 Marple stories and 2 supernatural ones. This was published in the UK only because these had already appeared in other us volumes and the stories are not from late in Marple’s career but from the middle. The stories are entertaining enough, but not amazing and the spooky stories are only OK.
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) – Tommy and Tuppence are a little older and feel a bit useless, so they jump at the chance to go undercover and look for spies when there is a mole in MI5. Its fun, but you can guess where it’s going and who is secretly a Nazi. Perhaps the best bit is that Christie accidentally named a character after someone in MI5 and she was investigated by them herself!
- ** By The Pricking Of My Thumbs (1968) – A swift and adventurous story, this one sees Tuppence get involved in the disappearance of an elderly woman and find more than she bargained for. It has a dark mysterious house, secret passageways, a woman who looks like a witch and a serial killer. Dark but tempered with Tommy and Tuppence’s delightful natures. I liked the way the book explored aging.
- 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) – Here we meet Superintendant Battle and Lady Brent, aka Bundle, for the first time. More thriller than mystery (though there is a murder), this one involves an international plot resulting in a treasure hunt like search for a diamond in a big old house. It’s fun, but feels far fetched, but the 20’s vibes are good fun.
- The Seven Dials Mystery (1929) – A group of friends leave a bunch of alarm clocks to wake a friend as a joke because he always sleeps in. But he never wakes at all. Is he linked to the mysterious Seven Dials? Not considered one of Christie’s best, she doesn’t shine as a thriller writer, but it is a fun little escape with plenty of wry humour, even if the plot is a bit silly.
- Cards On The Table (1936) – see Poirot above
- *Murder Is Easy (1939) – Young Luke meets Miss Pinkerton on a train, and dismissed her claims that there are a spate of murders in her small town until he finds out she was killed on her way to Scotland Yard. He heads to the small town of Wychwood, a place that has a history of witcncraft and strange goings on, to investigate. Battle only makes a slight entry into the story and it’s pretty cheesey in places, but it has a dark, witchy spooky vibe that I really liked.
- 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) – In a tiny town in Winter, a seance is proposed, but when the spirits tell Major Burnaby that his best friend is murdered, he rushes to find out if it’s true. It is, but who did it? Young Emily Trefusis gets on the job to solve the case to exonerate her fiance. With shades of Hound Of The Baskerville, I really like the spooky, Wintery setting and the lead is a bright, fun character.
- 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) – A famous Christie classic, ten people are invited to an island, each of whom has a crime in their past that they got away with. Once the boat leaves, they realise something is very wrong, and one by one they start to be killed off. The ending has a really cheeky and unlikely twist, but one that works well with the tone of the book. This is the worlds most sold mystery book, and while the original title was based on a rhyme, it has changed due to a racial slur.
- **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) – Also called Remembered Death. This books goes into different characters and looks at their memories of Rosemary, a young wife who died by apparent suicide at her birthday party, where cyanide was put in her wine. One of the people at the table that night had to have done it, but who? Actually a reworking of a Christie short story, but no less effective because of that.
- **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) – Victoria Jones meets Edward right after getting fired and on an impulse, follows him to Baghdad, where she gets mixed up in a plot involving a secret summit meeting. A pleasant read, featuring places and types that Christie met when on location with her archaologist husband. A thriller, rather than a mystery, but not bad.
- Destination Unknown (1954) – Having been left by the husband she loved and lost a young child to illness, Hilary flees to Morocco. In despair, she plans to kill herself, but is stopped by a British agent to undertake a dangerous mission instead, impersonating the wife of a missing scientist who may have defected to the Soviets. One of the few novels to never have been adapted, it is a lot more entertaining than some of Christie’s earlier adventure thriller novels. Hilary’s running away and her loss are reminiscent of events in Christie’s own life.
- *Ordeal By Innocence (1958) – Two years after a man is convicted of the murder of his mother and dies in prison, a witness comes forward who could have exonerated him. As the case is re-opened, the family members all look at each other, which one of them did it? The book focuses on the idea that often the innocent suffer the most when a crime goes unsolved. It was Christie’s favourite of all the books she wrote, and has a more serious tone than some of her other books.
- **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) – Another of Christie’s favourites. Michael and Ellie meet cute at Gypsy’s Acre, where they fall in love and decide to elope. It turns out that Ellie is insanely wealthy, and they are able to buy the land where they met and have a house built by the sinister architect Santonix. But the land is cursed… Christie leaves too many clues for you not to see the end coming, but I love the spooky tone and themes. I real delight.
- 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
As a guide to which short story books to seek out: Many of the compilations below have a mix of previously printed stories, meaning you come across them more than once. As far as I can tell, all Poirot and Marple stories can be found in the compilations above, or you can buy complete short story volumes. So, below I’ve tried to be clear about what’s in each volume so that you can see where a story appears.
Top tip: If you get the compilations The Golden Ball, Witness For The Prosecution and While The Light Lasts you’ll have a fairly complete gathering of Christie’s short stories, other than the ones that feature her famous detectives.
- *The Mysterious Mr Quin (1930) – Christie loved the characters of Satterthwaite, the social butterfly, and the mysterious Mr Quin, who is a kind of Harlequin inspired character. Satterthwaite solves problems and mysteries at the prompting of Harley Quin, whose nature is never revealed. Is he magical? A psychopomp? Any way you look at him, he’s the catalyst in each story. These are lovely stories and some people have said they’re more like fairy tales than detective stories. Well worth a read.
- The Hound Of Death (1933) – A volume of Christie’s supernatural, spooky stories, or “stories about fate”, rather than detective style mysteries. I feel that while these creepy stories aren’t her strong suit, these are always interesting and often have an intersting premise. And of course, Witness is a famous Christie classic. (Hound of Death, The Red Signal, Fourth Man, The Gypsy, The Lamp, Wireless, Witness For The Prosecution, Mystery Of The Blue Jar, Strange Case of Arthur Carmichael, Call Of Wings, Last Seance, SOS)
- The Listerdale Mystery (1934) – A collection of lighter, relatively cheerful stories. Philomel Cottage has been very popular and adapted a few times. (The Listerdale Mystery, Philomel Cottage, The Girl On The Train, Sing A Song Of Sixpence, The Manhood of Edward Robinson, Accident, Jane In Search Of A Job, A Fruitful Sunday, Mr Eastwood’s Adventure, The Golden Ball, The Rajah’s Emerald, Swan Song)
- Parker Pyne Investigates (1934) – Parker Pyne worked in a statistics department for the government, and it’s given him an understanding of people. In these stories, he works to solve people’s problems and make them happy. The plots function like a light hearted detective story, initially solving problems and later solving some crimes. His use of his understanding of human nature makes him a lot like Marple or Poirot, and in fact, you will meet Miss Lemon and Ariadne Oliver in these stories. This volume has a total of 12 of the 14 PP stories. They’re a bit silly and Boy’s Own adventure-esque, but fun in an old fashioned way.
- The Regatta & Other Stories (1939) – Almost all these stories feature a detective, Poirot Marple or Parker Pyne. (The Regatta Mystery, The Mystery Of The Bagdad Chest, How Does Your Garden Grow, Problem At Pollensa Bay, Yellow Iris, Miss Marple Tells A Story, The Dream, In A Glass Darkly, Problem At Sea)
- The Witness For The Prosecution & Other Stories (1948) – An interesting mix, this was published only in the US as the stories had all appeared elsewhere in the UK. The book has one Poirot story, and includes some other fiction as well, from supernatural themes to crime. (Accident, The Fourth Man, Mystery Of The Blue Jar, Mr Eastwood’s Adventure, Philomel Cottage, The Red Signal, The Second Gong, Sing A Song Of Sixpence, SOS, Wireless, Witness For The Prosecution)
- Three Blind Mice & Other Stories (1950) – The title story is very entertaining and was adapted into the famous play Mousetrap, while other included stories appear elsewhere. A young couple turn a large old house into a guest house, but a snow storm moves in and there’s a murderer on the loose. It’s a bright, funny and melodramatic story, and as you read it, you can see why it made such a good play. (Strange Jest, Tape-Measure Murder, Case of the Perfect Maid, Case of the Caretaker, Third Floor Flat, Adventure of Johnny Waverly, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Love Detectives)
- 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 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 Under Dog, Plymouth Express, Affair At The Victory Ball, Market Basing Mystery, Lemesurier Inheritance, Cornish Mystery, King of Clubs, Submarine Plans, Adventure of the Clapham Cook)
- The Adventure Of The Christmas Pudding (1960) – This volume is a fun one to save and read at Christmas, as the title story has a nice cozy English Christmas theme. It does contain a mix of Poirot and Marple, the first of it’s kind to do so, though it’s not an even split, there’s more of Poirot. This was a UK release, but the stories within are all to be found in various US compendiums. The Underdog and title story are joined by Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Spanish Chest, The Dream and Greenshaw’s Folly.
- Double Sin & Other Stories (1961) – This collection of stories all appear elsewhere as well, but it’s a nice blend of her different detectives and genres. A kind of sampler. (Double Sin, Wasp’s Nest, Theft of the Royal Ruby, Greenshaw’s Folly, Double Clue, Last Seance, Sanctuary)
- Star Over Bethlehem & Other Stories (1965) – A book of stories and poems with a religious theme. This is a little hard to find and I think not her best work at all, but shows Christie’s personal, religious side. Perhaps one just for more die hard fans.
- The Golden Ball & Other Stories (1974) – Some of these stories appear in other short story 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. (The Listerdale Mystery, The Girl In The Train, The Manhood of Edward Robinson, Jane In Search Of A Job, A Fruitful Sunday, The Golden Ball, The Rajah’s Emerald, Swan Song, Hound of Death, The Gypsy, The Lamp, The Strange Case Of Sir Edward Carmichael, The Call Of Wings, Magnolia Blossoms, Nest To A Dog)
- Problem At Pollensa Bay & Other Stories (1991) – Contains two Poirot, two Parker Pyne, two Harley Quin, and two spooky tales. A nice way to read some more well known and some lesser known Christie fare. (Problem at Pollensa Bay, The Second Gong, Yellow Iris, The Harlequin Tea Set, The Regatta Mystery, The Love Detectives, Next To A Dog, Magnolia Blossom)
- The Harlequin Tea Set (1997) / While The Light Lasts & Other Stories (1997) – these two volumes are virtually the same, and contain various stories originally published in magazines. They are a mix of crime, fiction and supernatural themes. (The Actress, The Edge, While The Light Lasts, The House Of Dreams, The Lonely God, Manx Gold, Within A Wall, The Mystery Of The Spanish Chest, The Harlequin Tea Set)
- 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) – Giant’s grind up mens bones to make their bread in fairy stories, hence the title. The giant here is life, and the book is the life of a musical genius, and his two childhood friends: his free spirit cousin and his outsider neighbour. Full of drama and humour, there is a real talent for dramatic writing here, but the over written characters are sometimes irritating and hard to like. Not Christie’s best.
- Unfinished Portrait (1934)– A man stops a woman from committing suicide and in listening to her life story, manages to help her heal. Celia is painfully shy and retiring in personality and is devastated by her divorce. This book shares a lot with Christie’s biography. The husband is diabolical, and on the whole, it’s a good read.
- *Absent In The Spring (1944) – While waiting for a connecting train, a middle aged woman is forced to reflect on her life. She is someone who feels she knows best and has done well, but we start to see that she isn’t the selfless, caring person she sees herself as, and that she refuses to see certain ugly things about her life. A thought provoking character study and very well written.
- The Rose And The Yew Tree (1948) – A love triangle. A crippled man is drawn into the drama of a local election while recovering in a country home. While he falls for a younger girl, she falls for the charismatic man running for office. Full of amusing descriptions of characters and plenty of emotion, 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 feels very dated.
- A Daughter’s a Daughter (1952) – A widow plans to remarry, but her jealous daughter ruins any chance of the relationship succeeding. This will change the course of both their lives. Originally a play in the 30’s, the action sometimes feels stilted as a result. A bit socially dated and sometimes quite dark, but not a great novel.
- The Burden (1956) – Is it better to love or be loved? A little girl hates her sister until she saves her from a fire, then her intense love for her becomes a burden to her sibling. Roughly, this book explores three interlinked characters in three sections who love deeply, and whether that kind of love is a burden to the receiver. I found this a bit dull over all.
- Mousetrap – adapted from the short story Three Blind Mice, see above.
- Witness For The Prosecution – adapted from the short story, see above
Charles Osborne wrote a novelisation of Black Coffee which was so successful, he was tasked with Spider’s Web and The Unexpected Guest too. These follow the plays incredibly closely.
- Black Coffee – there is a novelised version of the play by Charles Osborne. Poirot is tasked with solving the crime of who put poison in the coffee of physicist Sir Amory, who has just invented a formula for a new type of explosive.
- Spider’s Web – written at the request of actress Margaret Lockwood, this book involves the wife of a diplomat finding a body in her home and tasking her three house guests with helping her hide it to avoid an incident with a foreign politician, whilst she tries to solve the mystery.
- The Unexpected Guest – A man has car trouble in the middle of nowhere and finds an isolated house, where he plans to ask for help, but instead stumbles on a woman who appears to have just murdered her wheelchair-hound husband. He offers to help her cover up the killing…
- 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.