I was a big Agatha Christie fan during my junior high and high school years. It all started with The Mystery of the Blue Train. Actually, it probably started with the smart marketing of the Pocket Books editions of Christie’s novels. That ominous cover, showing a skull and crossbones sign at a train crossing, and the blurb on the back cover, encouraged me to take a chance on my first adult mystery. I bought it at TG&Y and took it home with me.
Now, the funny part of the story: I never finished reading it! Here’s what happened: Toward the end of a junior high math class—8th grade? 9th grade? I don’t remember—I’m talking to my good friend Kathy about the book, telling her how much I’m enjoying it.
She gets into a kidding mood. She has the book in her hands, and she tells me she’s going to reveal the killer. A playful argument ensues, and she says she’s just going to open the book to a back page and read a sentence. She does. And, honest to gosh, she reveals the murderer!
She is immediately apologetic, and I have to check to make sure she really has done what I think she’s done. A quick review of the page tells me that she has given away the perpetrator. Kathy was just kidding around, and she feels bad. I feel bad, because I really loved this book and it’s been ruined for me.
A whodunnit really is all about whodunnit. They’re not called mysteries for nothing. Luckily, this premature reveal didn’t stunt my new Christie obsession. Over the next few years, I devoured the novels of this incredibly prolific “Queen of Crime.” Nope, I haven’t read them all, but still I present…
Young Bill Young’s Best of Agatha Christie
Best Hercule Poirot Mystery: Murder on the Orient Express. (Curiously, Murder in the Calais Coach was the U.S. title when I read it.) Ah, the little grey cells! Have they ever been employed so deliciously? Others will put their vote in for The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd or Death on the Nile, but they don’t even make my runners up list: The Clocks (a real brain twister for my then-young mind), There is a Tide (Taken at the Flood, U.K.) and Cat Among the Pidgeons.
Best Jane Marple Mystery: A Pocketful of Rye. I suspect Marple fans may find this an odd choice. Others would probably put forth my runners up: A Murder is Announced, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side and What Mrs. McGuillicuddy Saw (4:50 from Paddington, U.K.). There is a sadness to A Pocketful of Rye that probably suits my sensibilities. Plus, I think it has one of the most eloquent endings of any Christie novel.
Stay Away From the Poirot mystery Hickory Dickory Death (Hickory Dickory Dock, U.K.), and the Marple mystery Murder by Mirrors (They Do It With Mirrors, U.K.). The Queen of Crime was simply not up to her usual standards in these instances.
- The Pale Horse (murder for hire with a delightful appearance by Christie character Ariadne Oliver)
- Crooked House (a precocious little girl is at the center of this whodunnit)
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs (sleuths Tommy and Tuppence solve a crime in their later years)
- Endless Night (probably the darkest Christie I’ve ever read)
About those big and small screen adaptations…
Best Hercule Poirot: David Suchet
Worst Hercule Poirot: Tony Randle (The Alphabet Murders, based on The ABC Murders)
Best Jane Marple: Joan Hickson
Worst Jane Marple: Margaret Rutherford (Not the actress’ fault. The fault lies with the movie creators who wanted to make Miss Marple a comic figure.)
Best Film Adaptation of a Christie work: Witness for the Prosecution. (This is also Christie’s best short story. There are differences, of course, between story and film, but they both work in their own way.)
By the way, I never read the final mysteries of Christie’s two most famous sleuths, the Marple mystery Sleeping Murder, and the Poirot novel Curtain. They were written decades earlier than their mid-70s release, and were not published until after Christie’s death. The author had them all ready to go, and it was a big news story that she had both of her creations die in their final tales. Perhaps it was fitting, but I preferred to keep the little Belgian detective and the busy-body spinster from St. Mary Mead alive and solving crimes in my mind. Much better that way, don’t you think?
Agatha Christie is timeless. Her talent is evident in her continuing popularity. Variety reports that she has sold four billion books! As befits such a true literary force, there are plenty of places in cyberspace to get your Christie fix. Visit agathachristie.com for much more information, or follow the Christie community on Facebook.
Now it’s your turn. Tell us what Christie book you loved. Or let us know what kinds of whodunnits you like to read.