I still remember my first Agatha Christie novel. I was still in grade school at the time, and though I was already a voracious reader, my definition of the mystery and detective fiction genre consisted of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and the like. All that changed when I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. In retrospect that may not have been the best “first” novel for someone who has never read Christie or proper Golden Age detective fiction before, but I was blown away by the story and especially by how, as jaw-dropping its infamous reveal was, Christie dropped plenty of clues for the reader to pick up on, if only they were looking for them. From that day on, the mystery genre gained a new life-long fan.
Now, many years and mystery novels later, I still love Christie’s work and think that her title as the Queen of Crime is well deserved. There are definitely other mystery authors who are better at plotting or characterization or atmosphere, or have more erudition or have better prose, but Christie is exceptional in how well balanced her books are, in that she is at the very least decent in every one of those aspects (in my personal opinion, anyway). It’s a quality I appreciate more after reading novels with exceptional plotting but terrible characterization, or have excellent prose and characterization paired with a plot that moves at a glacial pace, whose twists one can see coming fifty pages in advance.
So here are my four favorite Agatha Christie novels, in no particular order (I was going to do five, but I couldn’t decide on a fifth). They are not necessarily her best works, but the works which have delighted and shocked and stayed with me, all these years later.
And Then There Were None
Ten strangers are invited to a lonely mansion on an isolated island, and one by one they are killed off according to the lines of a nursery rhyme. Tense, well-paced and with an interesting array of characters all with their own secrets, this is probably Christie’s most famous work and deservedly so.
Cards on the Table
Hercules Poirot is invited to a dinner party with three other ‘sleuths’ and four other people who have all supposedly gotten away with murder. Not surprisingly, the host ends up murdered during a game of bridge. One of my least favorite things about mysteries is when there is a huge list of suspects, so I loved that there are four and only four here. Besides Poirot who is in fine form here, the other sleuths are also very entertaining, especially the mystery novelist Mrs. Ariadne Oliver who is clearly an author avatar for Agatha Christie herself. The only complaint I have about this book is that the solution is easier to solve if one knows bridge, and I don’t.
The Moving Finger
The seemingly idyllic small country town of Lymstock is plagued by a spree of poison pen letters, and Ms.Marple is called in to investigate when things take a deadly turn. Despite being the main sleuth, Ms.Marple only shows up about three quarters of the way into the book. I liked that the solution to this mystery isn’t convoluted or even too complicated and an experienced reader could probably solve it, but I was still completely fooled.
Partners in Crime
This isn’t a novel but a collection of short stories about the adventures of the married couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford as they run a detective agency as part of a Secret Service operation. The cases range from theft to mysterious disappearances to murder and spy hijinks, and the stories are often parodies of other famous detective fiction of the time such as Thorndyck, Edgar Wallace and even Sherlock Holmes and Hercules Poirot himself. A light and humorous romp.
Some other Christie books that I loved but are a slight edge below ‘favorite’ status:
- The ABC Murders
- Crooked House
- The Thirteen Problems/The Tuesday Night Club Murders
- Towards Zero
- The Pale Horse
- Witness for the Prosecution (the play, not the short story)