Agatha Christie was a pioneering mystery writer in the 20th century. According to Guinness World Records, Christie is the world’s best-selling fiction writer with estimated sales of over 2 billion. Throughout my lifetime I have read the majority of her novels and plays. I’ve also seen the numerous mini-series and movies based on the books. The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running play. Every year, my local theatre company performs a Christie play. On-screen, there’s no doubt in my mind that actor David Suchet is far superior in his portrayal of Poirot. However, I’m not here to discuss the screen adaptations. Below, I have compiled a list of my top five Agatha Christie novels.
I distinctly recall, at about nine years old, scouring our family bookcase for something different to satisfy my ravenous appetite for reading. Between Alfred Hitchcock’s Tales of Terror and Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe, was the Agatha Christie novel Halloween Party. My penchant for ghoulishness was gratified in the first half of the book, which featured a homicidal apple-bobbing incident. As a youngster, I was less interested in the “boring” investigation part so I skimmed through Poirot’s evidence gathering and interrogations to arrive at the juicy, triumphant revelation of the culprit.
Enduring and entertaining
Agatha Christie was contemporary for her time (primarily in the early 20th century). Her depictions of human behaviour and motivations are still relevant today. The novels are composed of cunning storylines with astute observations and a touch of humour. The most recent film adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express was released in 2017, which is 83 years after the book by the same title. This demonstrates how Christie’s iconic works have spanned generations and will endure for many years to come.
Some novels are focussed around individual characters, while many others feature ongoing protagonists that enthusiasts have grown to love. One of the most beloved characters is the pedantic Belgian detective Poirot with his perfectly groomed moustaches. He solves mysteries using his “little grey cells”, assisted by his friend Hastings. Another well-loved character is Miss Marple, a gentle, endearing pensioner whose intellect and perceptiveness are often underestimated. Then there are Tommy and Tuppence who get caught up in all kinds of adventures.
It’s hard to choose from such an incredible collection, but I’ve picked out five of the best Agatha Christie novels below.
5: The Mysterious Affair At Styles, 1920
Agatha Christie wrote her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, in 1916 while working as a nurse during World War I. Christie’s sister challenged her to write a novel where the reader has all the same clues as the detective. After being rejected by six publishers, it was finally released in 1920. The novel introduces Hercule Poirot, who is one of her most well-known and revered characters.
The storyline is narrated by Captain Hastings, who is staying at the Styles manor. When the murder is discovered, Hastings calls on his dear friend Poirot to investigate. The reader is witness to the seemingly innocuous items of evidence — a broken coffee cup and a splash of candle grease — and follows the investigation in real-time. Plus, we learn more about various poisons than we may care to know.
In the final chapter, Poirot reveals the murderer in an interchange with Hastings that is protracted yet satisfying. Hastings is frustrated at his own inability to reach the conclusion that seems so apparent to his friend — hence the quote below. As with all of Christie’s novels, any loose threads are gathered as neatly as the Belgian’s moustaches.
“I did not deceive you, mon ami. At most, I permitted you to deceive yourself.”Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles
“The mystery begins with the death of Emily Inglethorp at Styles. Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Inglethorp, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home when the woman is killed. Suspects are plentiful, including the victim’s husband, her stepsons, her companion, a nurse and a specialist on poisons. All of them have secrets they are desperate to keep, but none can outwit Poirot as he navigates the ingenious red herrings and plot twists that earned Agatha Christie her well-deserved reputation as the queen of mystery.” – Source: Amazon.com
4: The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side, 1962
Though this novel is a little more formulaic, it has a broader storyline than the closet drama whodunnit. Recovering from illness in her sleepy village of St Mary Mead, Miss Marple is subjected to her irritating housekeeper’s stories. Our shrewd protagonist weaves together the details of a murder mystery and eventually leads to a revelation.
The 1980 film adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d was superb. It featured Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, along with a star-studded cast. The catty rivalry of two glamorous film stars, played by Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak, adds levity to a tragic storyline. Watch the trailer here.
“One never quite allows for the moron in our midst.”The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side
“One minute, silly Heather Badcock had been gabbling on at her movie idol, the glamorous Marina Gregg. The next, Heather suffered a massive seizure. But for whom was the deadly poison really intended?” – Source: Amazon.com
3: A Murder is Announced, 1950
The premise of A Murder is Announced is intriguing and the beginning builds tension well. The reader is soon introduced to the story’s diverse characters. Murder is on the cards, yet its occurrence is nonetheless surprising and the clues are baffling. Our Miss Marple is the savour, laying out all of the evidence in a way that enables the reader to try to figure out the mystery for ourselves.
Though this novel is written three decades after The Mysterious Affair At Styles, it is once again post-war. While many whodunnits have a limited viewpoint, A Murder Is Announced touches on societal matters after WWII. Returned soldiers, class and wealth issues, and unease in the community. However, the story is not burdened with world-building, as the Queen of Crime delivers yet another clever and gratifying story.
“People in the dark are quite different, aren’t they?”Mrs Harmon, A Murder is Announced
“The villagers of Chipping Cleghorn are agog with curiosity when the Gazette advertises ‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6.30 p.m.’ A childish practical joke? Or a spiteful hoax? Unable to resist the mysterious invitation, the locals arrive at Little Paddocks at the appointed time when, without warning, the lights go out and a gun is fired. When they come back on, a gruesome scene is revealed. An impossible crime? Only Miss Marple can unravel it.” – Source: Amazon.com
2: Murder on the Orient Express, 1934
Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most iconic murder mysteries from the 20th century. Even when the cat is out of the bag, the novel endures for its skilful storytelling. The train, travelling from Istanbul to Calais, is presumed to be opulent, although the setting is described in little detail. There is a greater focus on revealing the characters’ social status and background. But the more the reader discovers about the travellers, the less we know who to trust. As Poirot races against time to discover the murderer, the carriage seems to become more claustrophobic.
“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
“Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer—in case he or she decides to strike again.” – Source: Amazon.com
1: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926
The ambitious and complex plot of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is executed masterfully. It’s a straightforward murder mystery with clues to get the reader guessing. However, as details are revealed and suspects are eliminated, any opportunity to commit murder seems to be impossible. Poirot appears to be equally baffled. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is perplexing, brilliant, and unforgettable. I even have a graphic adaptation of the book.
“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”Hercule Poirot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
“The peaceful English village of King’s Abbot is stunned. First, the attractive widow Ferrars dies from an overdose of veronal. Not twenty-four hours later, Roger Ackroyd — the man she had planned to marry — is murdered. It is a baffling, complex case involving blackmail, suicide, and violent death, a cast that taxes Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” before he reaches one of the most startling conclusions of his fabled career.” – Source: Goodreads.com
So, there you have it — my list of the five best Agatha Christie novels! Which ones are your favourites? Please share in the comments below. If you have never read any of her books before, this guide may help you to get started. And remember the golden rule — never spoil the endings!
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