Agatha Christie, the undisputed Queen of Crime, whose novels characterised the golden age of crime fiction and had an influence on almost every crime writer that she preceded, wrote a vast catalogue of novels and short stories. Although most famed for the tenacious Miss Marple and the fastidious Belguim detective Hercule Poirot, she wrote many novels focusing on a variety of characters. With a sharp wit and an eye for detail, Christie, the best selling author of all time, transformed British crime fiction and is one of the most famous names in the genre. Known for her twee settings and contrived plots, Christie in fact wrote an immense range of books, from traditional detective stories to heart-stopping thrillers. For anyone yet to sample the matriarch of crime fiction’s work, here are ten of the very best for you to seek out.
- The Secret Adversary: A combination of thrilling crime story and a spy novel, the first appearance of Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley, a pair of out of work young people seeking occupation following the war, in which Tommy was a solider and Tuppence a volunteer. They soon stumble across a case of industrial espionage and set out on the trail of the illusive ‘Mr Brown’, a chase that is both exciting and expertly devised.
- A Caribbean Mystery: Set on the Caribbean island of St Honore, this fast paced novel throws the reader straight into an enticing mystery, as Miss Marple, on holiday to recover following an illness, has an ominous conversation with a fellow guest at the resort, who tell her of a man who got away with multiple murders. When this man is himself killed, Marple finds herself compelled to search for the truth. Unlike her Poirot novels, which were engaging and fascinating to begin with, the Miss Marple series was a slow burner, with the first novels garnering poor reviews due to their dull characters and uninspired plots, but her later books, in which she rejuvenated her detective, changing her from a gossipy busybody to a wise and intelligent old lady, are a true triumph and well worth reading.
- Murder on the Orient Express: A truly iconic novel, Murder on the Orient Express is more a study of human nature than a true detective novel. Boasting one of the most evil and truly vile characters of all time, Samuel Ratchett, who is both victim and criminal, the novel walks the reader through an enticing and terrifying tale of grief, despair and, ultimately, revenge.
- Murder is Easy: Retired Police Detective Luke Fitzwilliam finds himself plunged into the case of a serial killer when he share a train carriage with the doddery and initially unbelievable Lavinia Pinkerton, who informs Luke that a series of supposedly natural and unrelated deaths are all in fact murders. Following Laviania’s death, Luke sets out to find a killer who is so devious that they have fooled an entire community. Despite being entirely unbelievable, the plot to this novel is so brilliantly contrived, and the characters so wonderfully relatable that Christie can be forgiven for killing a man using pus from a cat, in what can only be described as the most obscure method known to crime fiction.
- At Bertram’s Hotel: Another tale of the adventures of the intrepid Miss Marple, this exciting novel has it all: from abandoned children, to jealous lovers and sexual intrigue, with a daft clergyman thrown in for good luck. An invigorating read, the novel is thrilling and packed with twists and red herrings. Overall this is traditional detection at its best, and makes a great read for those looking to escape into an easy detective novel with a bit of bite to it.
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles: The very first Poirot novel, and indeed Christie’s first overall, this excellent page-turner is introduces her most unconventional detective. Drawing strongly on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the novel is highly conventional and showcases Christie’s talent, as she uses the troupes the genre had become renowned for to showcase her narrative skill and superb dialogue.
- 4.50 from Paddington: Another exciting novel with a plot with so many twists in it that it borders on confusing, Christie skilfully guides her reader through to a dramatic conclusion which is both unexpected, yet at the same time perfectly foreshadowed.
- The A.B.C. Murders: This suburb novel is a true classic of the genre, combining the first and third person narrative to form a story that uses perspective as a narrative construct to heighten the tension and quicken the pace. Christie was famed for creating fiendish and frankly remarkable criminals, and this novel showcases the very finest of these. The characterisation is also perfect here, as Christie showcases her talent for observation and deep insight into human nature, providing a believable yet fascinating tale which has not aged as badly as some of her other novels.
- And Then There Were None: Christie’s best selling novel is a truly terrifying tale depicting the deaths of eight guests and two servants who have been lured to Solider Island and accused of having individually committed murder, each having escaped justice in some way. Dripping with suspense, this spine tingling book is one of Christie’s finest and highlights her narrative skill.
- Dead Man’s Folly: Perhaps a controversial choice for the top spot, the nonetheless remains my personal favourite of all Christie’s works. Panned by critics as being dull and uninspired, I believe that they miss a subtly in the characterisation of every one of the novel’s cast which heightens the intrigue and allows for sharp, witty dialogue which is some of the best Christie ever produced. The plot is as devilish and cunning as ever, with the novel’s startling twist retained for the very end, making for a stunning display of the very best of Christie’s climatic storytelling.
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