Christie Firsts

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.

Image result for agatha christie

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 Peril at End Housesure 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 bestSad Cypress 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)

The Murder at the Vicarage

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)

Towards Zero

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)

Partners in Crime

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)

The Man in the Brown Suit

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)

Crooked House

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.

 

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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15 Responses to Christie Firsts

  1. JFW says:

    Interesting post! I think I concur with:
    * Poirot/ ‘Peril at End House’ – one of my very first forays into Agatha Christie;
    * Standalone/ ‘Crooked House’ – memorably shocking;
    * Thriller/ ‘Man in Brown Suit’ – I just love the villain.

    I’m less inclined towards ‘Sad Cypress’, much as I enjoyed reading it, insofar as Poirot seemed to appear only towards the end?

    I wonder if ‘Pocket Full of Rye’ might be a good an introduction to Miss Marple? ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ definitely has an edge over ‘Sleeping Murder’ in that the first novel would work better as an introduction than the last novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you agree with some of them. I thought Poirot was in Sad Cypress the average amount, though I am prepared to be corrected, as it is a long time since I have read it, but I was trying to find a book which showed a different aspect to Poirot and his work. Again been a while since I have touched PFOR, but I can see how it can be a good introduction, as there is a linear case where Marple can work alongside the police and there is the usual presumption that she is harmless due to her age.

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  4. Leaving out my unreasoning prejudice against Tommy & Tuppence, I like all yours, though not the biggest fan of Peril at End House. Sad Cypress is a good one, I think of it as more like her contemporaries, which is always a good way of leading people in.
    Great and fascinating topic – because it is quite different from choosing favourites.

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    • Yes I did realise that it wasn’t always about suggesting your favourite, as sometimes your favourites aren’t good ones to start with. Why are you not a fan of T&T? I’ve always liked that Tuppence is fairly involved in the investigative work in contrast to other spouse couples where the wife does not do very much.

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  5. Jose Ignacio says:

    Kate my suggestions are as follows:
    Best introduction to Hercule Poirot:The Murder on the Links (1923)
    Best introduction to Miss Marple: Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
    Best introduction to Superintendent Battle: Haven’t read any. I’ll follow your recommendation, Towards Zero (1944)
    Best introduction to Tommy and Tuppence Beresford: The Secret Adversary (1922)
    Best introduction to Christie’s Thrillers: The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
    Best introduction to Christie’s Stand Alone Novels:And Then There Were None (1939)

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  7. My post is up now, with a Poirot that nobody has mentioned so far. I consider Peril At End House, but at the end of the day, it uses one of her tricks that she does better elsewhere. I didn’t do the other detectives as they appear so little – does Battle really deserve his own category? Murder Is Easy is a cameo, so he’s really in the canon about as much as Colonel Race… But I’d start Marple with The Moving Finger – the idea of what one of the victims saw that led to their murder is a really clever one…

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    • Well actually Moira and John picked the same Poirot as you. How weird is that? TMF is certainly an unusual choice (well maybe it is just to me, then again I am a little biased against it), considering how little Marple appears, but if you going for the cleverness of the murder over the amount you learn of Marple then I can see the reasoning behind it. Equally it may reduce disappointment starting with a book where she is less in it and then moving on to novels where she is more involved, rather than doing vice versus. I think that might have been my problem. Glad you took part!

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