Today is Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday and it is also 100 years since the introduction of Hercule Poirot and to mark the occasion I decided (probably very foolishly) to suggest to new Christie readers the novels which best introduce Poirot, Marple, the Beresfords, Superintendent Battle, Christie’s thriller and Christie’s standalone novels. However, aside from giving myself this herculean task I have also extended this challenge to other bloggers, so keep your eyes peeled on your favourite crime fiction blogs. If you’re a blogger and you’d like to accept the gauntlet thrown, add your link to the comments section below and it would be great if you could link back to this post in your own, as over the next few days I will be gathering as many Christie Firsts posts as I can find. If you’re adept with social media and unlike me understand twitter, the hashtag being used is #ChristieFirsts (original I know!) If you’re not a blogger but want to share your own ideas add them to the comments section or tweet them, as I’m definitely keen to see what other people’s choices are.
Now for that dreaded moment where I have to give my own suggestions… (Happy reading I’m off to hide in a bunker somewhere)
Best introduction to Hercule Poirot:
Deciding on the best Poirot novel to start with was a very difficult task and I’m still not sure whether I have made the right choices. I decided to veer away from the ones which have been heavily adapted such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and Death on the Nile (1937), as I think their plots were a little too well-known, even by those who haven’t read the books, and therefore I felt a first time Christie reader should read one they don’t know the solution to. I also steered clear of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), as the premise in this one is superb but I don’t think it is the best one to start with. It’s a brilliant one that perhaps needs saving. What helped me make my final decisions was to split my choices in to two, picking one book which I felt demonstrated Poirot’s ability to solve a case with a strong puzzle focus, with lots of tangible clues, and another Poirot novel where characterisation and human psychology is fundamental. Though both novels are good at showing something of Poirot’s character and personality.
For the puzzle: Peril at End House (1932)
For the characterisation: Sad Cypress (1940)
Best introduction to Miss Marple: Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
Deciding on which Miss Marple case to choose was a much easier task. Although both Sleeping Murder (1976) and Nemesis (1971) are novels I really love, I don’t think these are the best place to begin with Miss Marple, especially in terms of getting to know her as a person and the way that she sleuths. Her debut in my opinion really is the best place to start, as it shows her in her natural environment, St Mary Mead, and I think the vicar narrator does a great job at revealing what she is like.
Best introduction to Superintendent Battle: Towards Zero (1944)
I think this novel not only has a great central premise of the Zero hour, but I also think it is a story where we get a more human or personal side to Superintendent Battle, who otherwise is often portrayed as having a very wooden exterior. I had been tempted by The Seven Dials Mystery (1929), but I didn’t feel he was involved enough in the story to really give a strong flavour of who he was.
Best introduction to Tommy and Tuppence Beresford: Partners in Crime (1929)
Perhaps this is a slightly unusual choice, a collection of short stories. However, within this collection I think we get the best of both worlds. We get to find out a lot about the Beresfords individually, as a couple and as detectives, but we also get narratives which are more detective work focused, rather than being thrillers such as The Secret Adversary (1922) or N or M? (1941). Furthermore, I think these short stories show their detective work at its best and the mysteries they have to solve are well-constructed. I also enjoy the pastiches Christie makes towards other fictional sleuths. I did enjoy By the Pricking of my Thumbs (1968), but I didn’t feel it was as strong a choice as the story collection and I definitely wouldn’t recommend Postern of Fate (1973) as a first Beresford read, as this is probably the weakest mystery featuring them.
Best introduction to Christie’s Thrillers: The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
Christie was never at her best perhaps when writing thrillers, as can be attested to by Destination Unknown (1954) and Passenger to Frankfurt (1970). However I feel some of her earlier ones are good reads and The Man in the Brown Suit (1924) is definitely a favourite, with a heroine embarking on a suitably dramatic adventure and it is also a tale which includes some of Christie’s famous misdirection.
Best introduction to Christie’s Stand Alone Novels: Crooked House (1949)
As with Poirot there is a seemingly obvious or rather famous choice; And Then There Were None (1939), which has recently been adapted by the BBC. But again I felt resistant to choosing this one. Not because I don’t love it, because I do. Yet maybe I felt another Christie standalone novel should get a look in, one whose solution is perhaps not as well known, well not to the Christie novice anyways, but which is equally deserving of praise, especially in regards to its’ choice of killer and violent ending. It certainly debunks the myth of Christie being a “cosy” writer! Although I was tempted by Ordeal by Innocence (1958), I remember enjoying Crooked House just a little more and I think it is a novel which gives a different sinister variation on the theme of murder in a rural and isolated house.
So what do you think? Are these choices you would also advocate? Or do you think some crucial texts have been missed out?
Also a post from the archives, looking at Christie in Translation, a post contributed to by Agatha Christie fans from all over the world.