POST #400: Christie Community Service

This is my 400th post. I wasn’t sure I’d make it over the past year (which has seemed like 400 years). The question is: what do I write about? For a brief instant, I thought I would wax reflective about my current life, but you really don’t want to hear about it. (No, really. You don’t.) And then I thought, hey, it’s a celebration! Why don’t I write about Agatha Christie?

For, you see, way back in December, after I had posted a review of Mark Aldridge’s book on Poirot, I made a sort of vow to myself: I didn’t want to be the guy who always writes about Christie, and I thought I’d “cool it” with the Queen of Crime for a while. This decision felt even more justified after I had the wonderful experience yet again of chatting with JJ and Moira about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd for JJ’s podcast In Gad We Trust, and someone posted this in the comments: 

I am really disappointed to see that the Spoiler Warning series has turned exclusively Christie. Nothing against her but I feel that all of her books have already been discussed to death. Seriously, you can find thousands of reviews of all the books in your list online. I know that these podcasts are just for fun but it does seem a bit pointless going over all that again.”

Eager as I am to please others, I felt bad about this for a minute and a half and, aside from posting links here to JJ’s podcasts about Ackroyd and Cards on the Table, I have focused mostly on films, plus a few other authors. But as I said, this is my 400th post, and a guy gets to do what he wants to after he’s made this kind of journey. The only question is: what do I write about? 

The answer sprang, as it often does, from the thoughts of another fan, this time on one of the many pages about Christie to which I subscribe on Facebook. I intend no disrespect here, but this comment was personally gut-wrenching:

Firstly I have to say I love all things Poirot (but only when he is played by Suchet). I also like to watch the Miss Marple series (again only when played by Geraldine McEwan or Julia McKenzie). I have never, ever read an Agatha Christie book, I am ashamed to say. which would be the best one to start with? I do realize that it will be totally different to the TV series and am hoping not to be too disappointed.

“My dear boy . . . “

I could spend an entire post deconstructing this one. I could worry that the writer has missed out on some wonderful adaptations of Christie by focusing exclusively on Suchet. Or that they have made a terrible mistake in ignoring Miss Joan Hickson, the truly best Miss Marple. But let’s get to the crux of this, something that was hammered home to me a few years ago, again by Mark Aldridge, on the very first page of his book, Agatha Christie on Screen

. . . many people’s first experience of Agatha Christie is not through her original texts, but through adaptations of her work for film and television. Indeed, while I was writing this book, several acquaintances have declared themselves to be fans of Christie, only to confess later that they have actually never read a single one of her published works. While I would always advocate that any fan of the screen adaptations should at least try some of Christie’s books, I would not be so dismissive as to suggest that they cannot be ‘fans’ without having experienced the original, as the world of Agatha Christie is so much bigger than the published stories.

To paraphrase Mr. Kipling, “You’re a better man than I am, Mark Aldridge.” Look, I’m not totally heartless: I myself came to Christie through a babysitter telling me a bedtime story about ten people trapped on an island by an insane killer. (My babysitter was cool!) At least half the team over at the hit podcast All About Agatha watched some of the adaptations on Masterpiece Mystery with her mother before she picked up a single book, I believe. 

One thing Mark is totally correct about, at least as implied by his discoveries, is that the only way to talk to the speaker above is to eschew any judgments and simply make suggestions of books she should read. Then it’s up to her to figure out that the books are better, that coming to Christie through her books is almost always better than starting with the adaptations, and that if she approaches reading a book with the fervent wish that she will not be “too disappointed,” she is missing the point and needs to be punished. Er, I mean . . . well . . . . . . oh, never mind.

It turns out after several tries that it’s very very very very very hard for me to come up with a suggestion of what one’s first Christie should be. If this person has watched all the Suchet adaptations and every episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple, what do I say to them? Do I advise them to pick one of their favorite episodes and read that book? Do I pick one of the more excecrable adaptations and casually suggest they let Christie herself show them how it ought to be done? Or, like most people, do I simply point to my favorites – either my top ten (which has already changed) or some of the others that I most enjoy – and make those recommendations? 

I actually got over halfway through assessing every one of Christie’s books as a potential first read when I stopped and thought, “This is getting onto 10,000 words, Bradley. Why are you torturing these people?” And so, for my 400th post, I am performing a community service of 1) not posting that uber-post, and 2) offering a few thoughts that you can share with those neophytes in your lives who ask you, “Who is this Aretha Kirstie? Is she worth reading? Which one should I read?” Feel free to needlepoint these suggestions on a fluffy pillow, find your friend, and place the pillow firmly over their face.

“Proceed, mon ami.”

BRAD’S EIGHT HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS FOR SELECTING YOUR FIRST CHRISTIE

  1. Tell your friend not to choose one of Christie’s thrillers . . . unless they only like thrillers. This is where you should realize that you have selected a bad friend, at least when it comes to taste in books. After you have tried steering them to writers of better thrillers, I suppose you should recommend Endless Night as it’s a pretty good psychological thriller (surprisingly good considering Christie’s age at the time of writing it). If they demand a conspiracy thriller, give them Passenger to Frankfurt, and after they have fallen asleep on page 13, firmly place the pillow over their face . . . 
  • Let’s say your friend prefaces their request for a suggestion with the following: “Look, buddy, I know you think she’s great, but don’t try to lure me down the path where I’ll read a lot of dusty old mysteries by some long-dead lady. I wanna read one and only one of her books, so what’s it gonna be?” At this point, your recommendation should be And Then There Were NoneEveryone should read this book whether they like mysteries or not. Cultural literacy expert E. D. Hirsch included ATTWN in his book on what all civilized people should know. I believe it was the only murder mystery included. It is certainly one of the best ever written.
  • If your friend tells you they only like mysteries solved by a romantically linked couple, then you’ve got a problem. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are perfectly charming, but none of the four novels featuring them constitute anything approaching Christie’s best. If your friend is adamant, it’s best to read the books in order, starting with The Secret Adversary and including the short story collection Partners in Crime (probably the best book featuring the couple.) The best novel is N or M, but that’s not saying much, in terms of all the best features Christie possesses in terms of plotting and clueing and puzzle-making. I mean, the person who reads a mystery solely for the the detective is either a Sherlock Holmes fan or a fool. 
  • Do not recommend any of the books from the 1960’s – 70’s as a first read. All of them, even the best ones, are weaker than anything she wrote before. Even if your own favorite Christie is Elephants Can Remember (who are you???), do not recommend this to your friend for the simple reason that people must be better to their friends than they are to themselves. The exception to the rule of a weak final decade is Curtainbut this should never be recommended as a first read, and if you don’t understand why, then come, sit closer to me, I have an embroidered pillow I’d like to show you . . . 
  • The Rule of Ratner. If I get this wrong, then you will find a comment below, possibly of inordinate length, because Scott K. Ratner knows whereof he speaks about Christie, possibly more than any of my other online mystery-loving friends who have not written a Christie-centered book (but have written a Christie-centered play) and he will explain just how I got this wrong. If I recall my conversations with Scott correctly, he knows that certain Christie titles can be considered extra special by way of their especially twisty or original solutions and that this would not necessarily be the way to start with her. That would probably mean not recommending The Murder of Roger AckroydMurder on the Orient Express, or Crooked House. This leaves plenty of titles with juicy surprise endings, but these three are rather special for reasons well-known to those of us who aren’t foolish enough to find ourselves in the predicament at our age of picking our first Christie. Scott might have other titles he suggests – or he may simply (but kindly, Scott, kindly) say that I have misrepresented him. We’ll see if he comments below . . . 
  • Generally speaking, if your friend is most interested in Christie as a puzzle-plotter, the most fruitful offerings would be found in the 1930’s. The best suggestions here feature Hercule Poirot. (And so, it seems, do the worst!) If you tried to pin me down to one title, I would recommend Death on the Nile. Is it one of the longer books? Yes. Are there too many characters? Arguably, yes . . . but I disagree. This is the best of her foreign travel books and, as Robin Stevens recently revealed on an episode of Shedunnit, the fateful cruise taken aboard the S.S. Karnak can no longer be done on the modern Nile. It’s one of the first of Christie’s books to make you feel as much as you think, but it also has a beautifully clued puzzle at its core. 
  • If your friend would rather read a title that combines puzzle with heart, then you should peruse the titles from the 1940’s. There’s something for every taste here: courtroom drama (Sad Cypress), historical mystery (Death Comes as the End), post-war family tragedy (Taken at the FloodCrooked House). There’s The Hollow, one of my very favorite of her books, and there’s Five Little Pigs, another favorite and arguably her best novel. In both of these titles, Christie provides some of the best character work of her career, powerful themes, and a devastating finale. Oh, and Pigs has a great puzzle as well. 
  • If your friend is looking for something more light-hearted, even funny, then look to the 1950’s and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Christie’s funniest book. The second title of this decade featuring Miss Marple is A Pocketful of Rye, which contains an amusing family that feels almost like a pastiche of a classic mystery clan. The detecting is not very good, but the ending is quite moving. Although the second half of this decade would make a swift decline in the quality of Christie’s plotting, my favorite Miss Marple and my favorite Poirot can be found here. Nobody could do better with a first read than A Murder Is Announced or After the Funeral

*.  *.  *.  *.  *.  *

Out of the eight points above, you will find eight suggestions for a first read, all depending on your (or your friend’s) taste and goals.  Here is that list, in order of publication:

The Secret Adversary (1922)

Death on the Nile (1937)

And Then There Were None (1939)

Five Little Pigs (1942)

The Hollow (1946)

A Murder Is Announced (1950)

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952)

After the Funeral (1953)

As I mentioned, I tried writing up a pros/cons list for every title. Here are the entries for the seven books listed above, in case you would like more information: 

The Secret Adversary (1922)

Why it should be your first: 

This is the perfect first book if you come to Christie looking for 1) a detective team, preferably one that is both romantically and professionally involved with each other (and that is exactly who Tommy Beresford and Prudence” Tuppence” Cowley are; 2) a strong sense of chronology where the sleuths advance both in years and experience (in which case, your next four reads will be Partners in Crime, which is actually a collection of short stories loosely linked together, N or M?By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and finally Postern of Fate; and 3) you prefer mysteries that are light on clueing and heavy on spies, crooks, and madcap adventures mixed with a dash of romance. 

Why it should not be your first:

While all of this is perfectly charming (or tiresomely dated, if your taste doesn’t run to this sort of thing), this does not represent what Christie did best. It is lacking in suspects, twists, and clues, at least in the way a traditional mystery works. I do like Tommy and Tuppence, and they are the only characters in the canon who age is a relatively realistic way. Unfortunately, their last two adventures are weak, and casual readers should definitely avoid Postern of Fate

Death on the Nile (1937)

Why it should be your first: 

This is iconic Christie, her best travel book, and the most expert use of a trick that she employs in various ways throughout her career. It is one of her most romantic books as well: the central triangle at the heart of the mystery is fabulous, and the lengthy passenger list provides a wide range of romantic and domestic entanglements, enough to create a soap opera. (A soap of DotN? That is a delicious idea!) A personal favorite of mine and many other fans, it also inspired (so far) three film adaptations, one of which is due out next year. 

Why it should not be your first:

Apart from the idea of saving the best for last, if that’s your thing, the build-up to this one is slower than most, due to the wonderful evocation of the setting and the roll-out of an especially large cast of suspects. For me, these are good things, but only you can know how those elements would strike you.

And Then There Were None (1939)

Why it should be your first: 

Forget about Christie – if you decide you are only going to read one mystery in your entire life, it should be this one. It isn’t like anything you will find in the 20’s or 30’s, although there are hints of its genius. And while she would never write anything very much like it again, Christie’s career took a definite turn from this classic into the 40’s. Oh, and it’s the first of her books I ever read at the tender age of 11. Do you want to make something of it?

This book is so many things: a whodunnit, sure, although not a typically clued one and it’s missing a detective until the very end; a brilliant psychological treatise on guilt and punishment; a horror story; and, oddly enough, a wartime comedy of manners, although I don’t believe WWII is mentioned once. It’s one of the best-selling books of all time and one of the world’s best mystery novels.

Why it should not be your first:

If you or your friend are looking for a “typical” Christie to start you off, this is not that book. However, in all fairness, Agatha was not a “programmed” author like, say, Ngaio Marsh. Her cleverness clearly shines through here, even if the novel is not clued in the same way most of her other whodunnits are. 

Five Little Pigs (aka Murder in Retrospect) (1942)

Why it should be your first: 

The best of her novels of “murder in retrospect: has Poirot investigating a 16-year-old murder to find out if the now-deceased woman convicted of the killing was actually innocent, as she claimed. This is the best novel of the 1940’s; I would hazard a guess that it can be found in the top five of most Christie fans’ list of favorites. It’s beautifully plotted and characterized and contains the most emotionally devastating ending in the canon.

Why it should not be your first:

It’s not that this one isn’t a great puzzle mystery, believe me, because it is. Personally, however, I would get a few more standard titles under my belt before attacking this one. If, however, your taste in mysteries has been mostly engendered by the modern age of character-driven stories, this may be the one for you. 

The Hollow (1946)

Why it should be your first: 

In some ways, I see this one as a companion piece to Five Little Pigs: strong setting, vibrant, appealing cast of characters (even the victim is complex and attractive), similar themes appearing in both. The earlier book has a better-clued mystery and more significant use of Poirot, but The Hollow also resides in my top ten, one of the few of Christie’s books that I would not call “iconic,” merely great. 

Why it should not be your first:

Just as it is light on Poirot, it is light on clues. Not that they aren’t there, but this one is more a battle of wits between the detective and his adversaries. People have argued for years as to whether Poirot should have even been included; even Christie asked herself that question and eliminated the sleuth from the play version. (I am on the side of those who think Poirot’s presence enhances the book.) The Hollow eschews all the “murder in the past” business of Pigs, which some would say makes this one more interesting. Both titles save their most powerful emotional punch for the final page. Great book, great choice.

A Murder Is Announced (1950)

Why it should be your first: 

This is easily the best-clued of the Miss Marple novels. All too often she discovers the solution through divine guidance (she calls it a knowledge of village life), but here she actually makes a list of the things that led her to the truth, and they’re all wonderful. The characters are delightful, and the portrait of post-war village life and the plight of middle-aged and elderly women is beautifully rendered. Only The Moving Finger has a better depiction of a British village, and Miss Marple doesn’t appear in that one until ¾ of the way through. This is arguably the best Miss Marple mystery. 

Why it should not be your first:

There are admittedly elements here that stretch the limits of disbelief, but what classic mystery doesn’t go there, even a little bit? Still, if you like things a bit more, shall we say, realistic, I refer you to The Moving Finger

I will also suggest that one of the great qualities of this book is its ruminations on changing mores in post-war England, and most specifically the plight of older, unmarried women. In short, we’re seeing a change in the life of Miss Marple and her society, so reading this would be like skipping the Victorian Age section of The Forsyte Saga and going straight to the Roaring 20’s!

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952)

Why it should be your first: 

I suppose every prolific mystery author includes one “race against time before the wrongly convicted man gets hung” storyline. Here is Christie’s, and it has so much to recommend it! It takes Poirot out of his element and plops him in an incompetently run boarding house in a village. His research leads to some interesting developments that allow Christie to exercise her fascination with true crime cases, many of which had inspired her and her fellow authors in their fiction. Best of all, the novel is hilarious, both due to Poirot’s surroundings and to the presence of Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, Christie’s alter ego, who has arrived to collaborate on a stage adaptation of one of her own mystery novels. Pure comic gold!

Why it should not be your first:

It’s not her best clued, but it’s well clued enough. I believe the person who comes upon this book having read Cards on the Table first will enjoy this one more; having some back story under your belt is always a good thing. 

After the Funeral (aka Funerals Are Fatal) (1953)

Why it should be your first: 

The Abernethies are a wonderfully dysfunctional family, and the generation gap we see here is quite amusing. The set-up is marvelous: at the patriarch’s funeral, the batty old aunt blurts out that he was murdered, setting up a well-crafted spin of events. Great clues, great murderer, great motive. Hercule Poirot doesn’t come into this one until late, but his “disguise” as a foreigner is a nice dig at English prejudices for once. It’s easily one of my favorite Christies.

Why it should not be your first:

Honestly, if you tied me down and pressed me to name ONE title as a first read, then this would probably be it. 

*.  *.  *.  *.  *.  *

Finally, just because I wrote so many of these, I’m going to offer you nine more titles, with pros and cons attached. This should satisfy that poor, sad lady on the Facebook page (except she’s never going to see this because I’m not that mean.)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

Why it should be your first: 

It’s easily the best Christie of the 20’s and a recognized classic, both for the author and in the annals of classic crime fiction. The reasons for this will not be laid out here. Suffice it to say that this is a solid village mystery featuring Hercule Poirot – in retirement! His own version of beekeeping is amusing, but one can barely blink before he’s back in the saddle, solving a neighbor’s murder. The characters may be “types,” a common characteristic of the decade, but they are still well drawn, especially the book’s narrator and his sister. 

Why it should not be your first:

With an author as successful and prolific as Christie, it’s not surprising that there are a handful of books that stand out as epitomizing how beautifully the author parades her tricks. The Rule of Ratner asks you to exercise caution before sending your neophyte friend off with this title. I understand this sentiment, but my first two Christies were from this list (although I did not know it at the time), and the jaw-dropping effect they had on me made me a fan for life. Your choice . . . 

The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)

Why it should be your first: 

This is the first novel to feature Miss Jane Marple, perhaps the best “little-old-lady detective” ever created. If you like your sleuths both spinsterish and intuitive, and/or if you prefer a village mystery to one set in town, Miss Marple may be more to your taste than Poirot. She appeared in twelve novels, and none of them sink to the depths of a few of the very last Poirots. Plus, she evolves more definitely than Poirot does – or, at least, she is more cognizant and philosophical of the changes being wrought in the world around her. 

Plus, as village mysteries go, this one is excellent, both for the case itself of the much-hated town squire being murdered in the vicarage study to the wonderful assortment of characters. Among the best of these are the vicar himself, who provides perhaps the most charming narration of any first-person Christie, and his beautiful young bride Griselda. 

Why it should not be your first:

It’s a little over-long with a few too many half-developed red herrings. I would also say that this book makes for fascinating comparisons with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s first book and the debut of Poirot, both in terms of plot and Christie’s growth as an author over ten years. That would mean that you should probably read Styles first. 

Peril at End House (1932)

Why it should be your first: 

This is the fifth case for Hercule Poirot and could be the best of them all up till now. The seaside locale is wonderfully rendered, and the damsel-in-distress whom Poirot comes to rescue is a classic female character. Also, Poirot and Hastings are cooking on all cylinders together here, which is pretty much true in all the books they share in the 30’s. The clues are expertly placed, and Poirot’s deductions will make you kick yourself if you haven’t spotted their meaning before he does. 

Why it should not be your first:

It’s actually a good choice for first Christie. Some readers with a high instinct for these things may figure the problem out earlier than most, but it is a delightful ride from start to finish.

Murder on the Orient Express (aka Murder in the Calais Coach) (1934)

Why it should be your first: 

Well, it was my first Poirot (and my second Christie), and made a lifelong fan. This is one of Christie’s most famous titles, a technical masterpiece that manages to hit you in the emotional gut. It has been made into a film three times; therefore, it might behoove you to read it before you find yourself spoiling the whole thing while looking for a mystery to watch on Amazon Prime. It’s also one of Christie’s best travel books: the cast is a panoply of international travelers, and the train is a character in itself.

Why it should not be your first:

Books that twist as deeply as this one does are not typical mysteries, and you might find yourself expecting similar high-grade tricks from Christie every time and being disappointed. Some people find the investigation of such a large cast of characters a bit grueling (there are a LOT of witness interviews, but I think the witnesses are varied enough to make these interesting.)

The A.B.C. Murders (1936)

Why it should be your first: 

Christie centered her plots around a serial killer only half a dozen times, but these titles are always special. Here we have easily one of the best, and the culprit’s decision to match wits with Hercule Poirot ratchets up the suspense throughout. In some ways, this is not a typical Christie whodunnit, and yet it is still a remarkable novel of detection, full of twists, and easily ranks as one of her best. Plus, there’s lots of physical action here, just in case you don’t want your first taste of Christie to be too focused on the cerebral.

Why it should not be your first:

Some people complain about Christie’s more complex narrative structure here: most of the book is narrated by Hastings, but some chapters are not. I think this makes the book even more intriguing. After you read it, seek out the 1965 film adaptation The Alphabet Murders, which was my introduction to the novel. Then you should watch Sarah Phelps’ 2018 interpretation. After you have watched both, you will understand why those who view Christie before they read her are doomed to disappointment.

Evil Under the Sun (1941)

Why it should be your first: 

After the back to back sea change of And Then There Were None and Sad Cypress, signaling a new depth in the 1940’s books, we veer  back into clear ‘30’s puzzle territory, in a wonderful setting with great characters. I Poirot takes a vacation to a coastal hotel in Devon where, of course, he encounters murder. The red herrings are as delightful as the true murder plot. even love the minor characters who provide color, hilarious commentary, and even one or two vital clues. This would be an exemplary title to read first. 

Why it should not be your first:

There’s an earlier mystery that utilizes pretty much the same trick and is an even better book. However, since I’m offering no spoilers here, you’re going to have to take your chances as to which you read first. (Send me a message if you’re intrigued and want me to choose for you; I warn you, I’m going to choose the other title.) P.S. the 1981 film based on this novel is delightful, and yet it camps everything up, while the David Suchet version makes some unaccountable changes to the cast list. I strongly encourage you to read the book first. 

The Body in the Library (1942)

Why it should be your first: 

It took twelve years for Christie to return to Miss Marple, and it’s worth the wait. Given the tired old trope that the title represents, this is a lively and modern mystery that makes wonderful use of the denizens of St. Mary Mead (Miss Marple’s home) and contrasts them with more “modern world” shenanigans. Miss Marple is a more intuitive sleuth than Poirot, and that can make her deductions feel like they derive from divine influence. Here, she actually has some clues to work with, and she makes good use of them. 

Why it should not be your first:

Miss Marple operates in a more realistic universe than Hercule Poirot in that the satellite of characters around her advance in their own lives. Thus, if you have already read the short story collection, The Thirteen Problems, which introduced Miss Marple to the world, followed by The Murder at the Vicarage, you will enjoy this book even more for the sense of revisiting a group of old friends. Other than that, this is a great choice.

The Moving Finger (1943)

Why it should be your first: 

This is one of Christie’s very best village mysteries, populated by a highly interesting assortment of people. It’s main characters are a recovering war vet and his sophisticated sister, and for once in a Christie the romantic aspects of the story take center stage without distracting. Miss Marple swoops in toward the end and manages to solve multiple mysteries around two deaths and a plague of poison pen letters. 

Why it should not be your first:

Some folks posit that Christie’s last-minute addition of Miss Marple is confusing to her fans. If you’re coming to the author for this detective, I’d start with A Murder Is Announced  or The Body in the Library before you get to this one.

 Crooked House (1949)

Why it should be your first: 

This is definitely one of the iconic Christies and is arguably one of the top three stand-alones. For once, romance plays a major and interesting role: first, we have a protagonist who must solve the murder of a family patriarch in order to win his true love. And then there’s the marriage of the victim to a much younger woman that foments so much discord in his large family. Is she a saint or a sinner? It all leads to one of the more memorable endings of a Christie novel.

Why it should not be your first:

Some consider this the final book in Christie’s “Golden Age,” which may make you feel like you’re working backwards through the canon. Other than that, or putting aside the concept of saving the best ones for later, go ahead and read this one. 

Tres bien, cher Bradley! Vous êtes formidable!”

My 400th post is done. On to other matters . . . (as always, though, your comments are much appreciated. Yours, too, Ratner!)

56 thoughts on “POST #400: Christie Community Service

    1. I learn from those I follow, Margot, and if it hadn’t been for your support and encouragement over the past five and a half years, I wouldn’t be posting today.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sergio! I’ve been working on this post for a while and had to simplify it from the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure epic is was threatening to become.

      Like

      1. It works really, really well. Not re-read her in a long while but thinking about it now, FUNERAL and ANNOUNCED are definitely the ones I would go to in the first instance if I wanted to start again.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Indeed two of my absolute Christie favorites. Looking forward to Brad’s / Moira’s / JJ’s spoiler podcasts on those two wonderful books later this year.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Congratulations on reaching your 400th post!
    Your anniversary posts are in danger of becoming as long as mine lol
    Never be afraid to post about Christie. It is true there is a lot written about her work in the blogosphere (take my own recent 1300th and 1301th posts), but it is equally true that lots of people want to read about her. Whilst if I review a more obscure author then it is very hit or miss whether anyone will comment at all. So it is probably just a good idea to simply write about the topics you enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! Because as soon as I finished posting, I began to draft the first in what I hope will be a series of posts analyzing Christie’s characters: the victims, the murderers, the children, the heroic women, and so on. My first is on the victims, and I may need your help in learning how to put together a chart . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a most interesting post, for which my thanks. Considering your points, I kind of agree with the idea of starting with a “central” sort of story, before branching out to the one-time stunts. But I didn’t follow that route at all myself — I started with an anthology from the local library, which featured And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. (Filled out with Witness for the P, Philomel Cottage, and 3 Blind Mice.) So what do I know?

    And they’re making a THIRD Death on the Nile?! Any bets on whether they’ll finally get the pronunciation of “Linnet” right this time?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ironically, I’m responding to you while attending a Zoom class about Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which features the song, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” (accent on the first syllable). I have no idea if they will get it right, but I know that they’ve cast the great actress Sophie Okenedo as Salome Otterbourne, turning her into a Billie Holliday-type jazz/blues singer who is, like Lady Day, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. On the one hand, one can say that Branagh is really fiddling with Christie, but I actually think this interpretation is both fascinating and possible. Plus, it eliminates any comparison with Angela Lansbury’s hilarious take on the character in the first go-round.

      Since this post was inspired by a woman’s comment that she has only watched and never read Christie, I could have gone the route of focusing on whether or not there was a good adaptation available. Then does one read the novel with or without the good film version?? I fear this non-reader will have problems with the former as she will deem the Christie original as inferior to the movie she liked. And that’s what makes this a sad, sad world . . .

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  3. Brad, your blog has always brought me a great deal of joy ever since I discovered it a few summers ago, and your posts on Christie are always most welcome. I will never tire of reading new thoughts on my favorite author.

    Like so many others, I did come to Christie first through adaptations of her work, but in some respects, that has only made my love and appreciation of her work grow. The worlds of Christie in print and Christie on screen are – in some cases – two totally different ones, and exploring the bridges between these two disparate places is a fun (and, in a few instances, frustrating) exercise. Though my very first choices were unsurprisingly based on the films – at the age of about seven or eight I first saw the Albert Finney Murder on the Orient Express and had to read the book immediately after, my subsequent selections were not derived from best-of lists or recommendations, but simply the titles that sounded most interesting to me. That’s how I came to read Death in the Clouds and 4:50 From Paddington as some of my earliest Christies and, despite the general consensus about these books, I was still awestruck by them. Even in her weaker titles, Christie was ever capable of showing her readers why she is the undisputed Queen of Crime!

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    1. Nick, I figure that possibly a majority of Christie fans younger than, say, fifty, are going to come upon her the same way you did. But you are a literate man, and the fact that you embraced the books and ruminated on the different universes of lit-Agatha vs. cine-Christie comes as no surprise to me (and feels like a worthwhile pastime.) What I find cringe-worthy are the comments like that of the woman who inspired this post, who figure Christie has her work cut out for her trying to compete with the movie versions. I have avoided casting aspersions on her opinion, but in a general sense, I bemoan this anti-reading attitude that permeates our planet these days.

      I have three days more worth to say about this, but I’ll save it for a time when we can talk face to face about it! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think if I were recommending a book to someone who enjoyed the gritty dark quality of Phelps’ versions, I’d steer that person toward another author entirely, One of the hard-boiled guys, maybe. It’s almost false advertising tp keep Christie’s name on a story that has lost so much of what made it Christie’s!.

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  4. I wonder if someone who has only seen the adaptations would react to the differences in the books the same way I react to some adaptations. Especially when screenwriters combine or omit characters–or worse, change the actual murderer! “But–but–that’s not the way it was in the movie!!”

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    1. Marty, I Imagine that someone who watched Sarah Phelps’ grotesque reimagining of Ordeal by Innocence would accuse Christie herself of “ruining” it. Same goes for that horrific Sittaford Mystery that appeared on Agatha Christie’s Marple. This is a problem!!!🧐

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  5. Many congrats on 400, Brad! You don’t look a a day over 370!

    I really like what you wrote here, Brad, but (quite expectedly) I would like to clarify my own position in a (also expectedly) verbose manner…

    Most Christie works hinge upon a primary central twist, a central presumption that is overturned— whether it be that we take it for granted that death A was the catalyst for death B, or that C was planning on leaving his wife for D. But of her works that overturn central presumptions, the ones I don’t recommend as first Christie reads are those whose primary twist is dependent upon the reader never even considering the possibility of the culprit’s guilt. That is, works in which the culprit character serves a function in the story that places them as “categorically” above suspicion (the killer must be A, B, C, or D, because E is the _______ of the story, and the _________ of the story by definition lies outside the field of suspicion). These titles include not only The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Crooked House, but also Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Peril at End House, Endless Night, The Mousetrap, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, and several others (Crooked House is admittedly a bit different in this respect from the others, but I still believe fits into a model of “categorically exempt”— the culprit comes as a surprise primarily because he/she is never entertained as a possibility). I’m not sure Murder on the Orient Express actually fits in this category, because I believe the reader’s expectation is “Dame Agatha will try to fool us as to which one of these characters is the killer”— leading the reader to look outside the box for the one unexpected culprit character, and the surprise here is that….

    I recognize that stories from this not-recommended-firsts category can often deliver monumental surprise. The first-time reader who is caught unawares by the solution to Roger Ackroyd will very likely be staggered— even more so than by one of the books I WOULD recommend as a first read. But if that reader even momentarily entertains the possibility of the culprit’s guilt, such solutions can frequently be particularly transparent, and very disappointing… and I think the likelihood of a first time reader entertaining such a possibility is all the more great because— knowing only that Agatha Christie is famous for surprise culprits— he might very think along the lines of “Dame Agatha will try to fool me as to which one of these characters is the killer”— thus attempting to think “outside the box” … but only in terms of culprit identity possibilities.

    And even more damagingly, having seen through this (IMO, more fragile type) deception in his first Christie read, the reader may very well presume Christie will always resort to a high-concept, “outside the box” trick that they will be able to foresee (as I mentioned, nearly all Christie solutions depend upon “outside the box” possibilities, but only some of these surprises center on culprit identity possibility). That is indeed my biggest complaint with The Mousetrap— a concern that tourists will see it touted as her most enduring work and conclude that the limits of her ingenuity was the ability to come up with the idea of having the __________ as the murderer. The idea of a first read is to encourage the reader to try a second, and a major first disappointment can often put the kibosh on a second attempt (I’ve yet to read my second Ngaio Marsh).

    Roger Ackroyd is indeed a great whodunit novel, but I feel its greatness will be appreciated even more by the reader who has already experienced the likes of Five Little Pigs, Death on the Nile, After the Funeral, etc…(and like you, After the Funeral would be my first choice first-read recommendation), and thus be more likely to recognize that its ingenuity is not limited to the unexpectedness of its four-word high concept summary of its solution. And, in fact, I think that reader is actually even more like to be surprised by the Ackroyd solution!

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    1. I knew the gist of everything you say here, Ratner, but if I had even attempted to summarize your feelings, what would have been the fun in that?

      In many ways, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have read Christie at 1) a tender age, 2) as my first grown-up mystery writer, and 3) in a more innocent time. As a result, I almost always was tricked by whatever reversal Agatha had up her sleeve. Only three instances spring to mind where I caught the clue, and I would say that, at least in one instance, that’s because the clue was simply too easy (the brooch in Dumb Witness) while the other two were simply reading something clearly the first time (the heavy breathing in They Do It with Mirrors and Satipy’s over-the-shoulder look in Death Comes as the End.)

      I know Christie trained me to do better because when I read The Emperor’s Snuff-Box in my 50’s, knowing it was billed as one of the most “Christie-like” of Carr’s books, I saw through the killer’s ruse as it was going on. I also made an easy guess over the killer’s identity in He Who Whispers upon introduction of that person, even though I guessed so little about their plot that I wouldn’t say I solved that case. This happens to me a lot more in the movies, and I can pick out the killer in an episode of Perry Mason perhaps 83.7% of the time.

      So, yeah, After the Funeral or A Murder Is Announced work for me as FRS (First Reads Supreme). My quandary begins when I consider a book like Death on the Nile or The Hollow, two favorites of mine. Here’s why, and then I’d love to hear your impressions:

      For DotN, I think the murder plot is fantastic, sort of the epitome of the fantastical GAD crime plot. It’s the best use of the trope she uses time and again, since her first novel, and while some people have guessed it right off (Ben from Green Capsule, I believe) and therefore rank it downward, I think it does what it sets out to do beautifully. Christie takes us to a couple of places to show us certain truths about the relationships in this one, and then flips things by omitting key transitions. I feel that this is the use of that trope people should read first. I feel they should read this one before Evil Under the Sun because of certain superficial parallels. And yet the latter might be a better “first read” because it’s a bit easier to read. People complain that both books have too many characters, but I disagree. However, I would have a tougher time defending my position talking about DotN because not all the red herrings are created equal.

      As for The Hollow, one could argue that it’s simply not as well-clued as other Christies and so, despite the excellent character work and some unique features, it’s not a “typical” case. My own problem with suggesting this one as a first is that I believe a person should read Five Little Pigs before this one. They are soulmates in terms of theme, and I think a person would appreciate their parallels coming to them in chronological order. (Although 5LP is a superior puzzle plot in every way, The Hollow has a plenitude of charms.)

      You know, our middle initials are the same. My middle name is Kryptonite; what’s yours?

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      1. Your middle name is Kryptonite? So is mine!

        No, actually my middle name is Kimble – – that’s right, I was named after Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), the fugitive who was chased for several seasons by Lieutenant Girard. Coincidentally, Girard was played by Barry Morse, a British actor who several years earlier (1947) played the husband character in a radio play written on request for Queen Mary’s birthday by the queen’s favorite mystery writer….

        I think we’re in agreement that experience and expectation is a major determinant in our reading (and viewing) experience. In fact, I’d suggest that it’s THE major determinant. I’ve read about some rather staggering studies regarding the related “curse of knowledge,” and I’m often amazed at both what I can (and can’t) get away with as a magician, purely due to expectations and experience of the audience. Regarding GAD, I personally was taken in by both The Emperor’s Snuff Box and He Who Whispers, but was hoping throughout A Murder is Announced that the murderer would turn out not to be whom I predicted, and was quite disappointed that my prediction was accurate. Still, I will take the word of most readers that it’s a highly-effective deception, and had I not reached the point in my mystery reading experience where I especially suspected anyone who had apparently just escaped death, I’ve no doubt it would have fooled me. And though Roger Ackroyd did not have me fooled either (in one way or another I was prepared for it), I think I was later fooled by Endless Night due to a variation on the same reason— I presumed that if Christie had gone to that well again, surely I would’ve heard of it! In both cases, all a matter of expectation and experience.

        As for Death on the Nile, I agree with your assessment. I myself think its deception is particularly well-carpentered (the culprits have an excellent devised-alibi opportunity deception [the incapacitation], a motivational deception [apparent enmity] disguising another opportunity deception [collusion and distribution of duties], plus an unintended motive AND opportunity deception [the falling boulder]). But again, I believe that experience and expectation is an incredibly powerful factor… I do wonder if Ben had read Evil Under the Sun before he read Nile— I really believe it might have made all the difference. Even if he did not consciously recognize the parallels, it could very well have got him thinking along the same lines.

        Some of Christie’s reputedly cleverest deceptions have not fooled me, merely because I was looking out for that kind of thing, based on my reading experience and my expectations of Christie (and others). On the other hand, a barely-hidden deception in the 1932 comedy Jewel Robbery totally threw me for a loop, because I was not on the lookout for plot deception. Similarly, several people have been genuinely surprised by the (admittedly not well-hidden) “twist” in Kill A Better Mousetrap, simply because it is billed as “a one-act comedy” rather than “a comedy-mystery,” “comic thriller” or the like (I think the fact that it’s about Agatha Christie should be a big clue, but thankfully most people are dim) . I know that I correctly guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense, but the fact that someone told me it had a “big surprise twist” was undoubtedly the primary reason. I watched the film eagle-eyed, thinking “Bruce Willis is dead, or the kid is dead, or they’re both dead…” or— my most ingenious idea— we in the audience are dead, and only Haley Joel Osment can see us. Without hearing that it had a surprise ending, I’ve little doubt I would’ve been surprised.

        I do tend to agree that there are too many subplots (if not too many characters) in Death on the Nile. As you say, not all red herrings are created equal and, if my theory on the appeal of the genre holds true, even those elements that misdirect from the central plot should ideally still be deeply connected with it. That is, those that do are like the HDL to the LDL of irrelevant red herrings. After all, the inclusion of any characters beyond the culprit and victim are in one sense red-herrings (they widen the possibilities, thus diffusing the focus on truth), but one that is necessary for the mechanics of the central plot (e.g. Cornelia Robson) has more merit that one such as, say, Guido Richetti, whose only function is to distract. I feel Death on the Nile has too many of the latter— especially as I feel the central deception was strong enough without it— but the central plot is so strong that I tend to overlook much of the unnecessary clutter. I do think it’s a better plot than Evil under the Sun, but I think the question of which would be more deceptive is probably a matter of which is read first.

        As for the Hollow, as I’ve told you before, I just don’t get it. By that I don’t mean to say (as the term is often used) that I don’t share the general appreciation of the novel’s appeal. It’s not that I don’t like it— I mean that I literally do not understand some of the key aspects of the plot. The whole “dramatic tableau” thing is the primary one. I’m not suggesting it’s a bad plot point— I simply don’t understand it…I cant tell if it’s a bad plot point or not. What’s going on there? I realize that everyone wants to help Gerda, but I don’t understand that this tableau has to do with that. Or the holster thing. It’s all over my head. I won’t deny the novel’s characterization strengths, but maybe I could appreciate them more if I understood what the basic plot was about.

        At any rate, outside of the characterization strengths, I can see little comparison with Five Little Pigs, because I consider the latter not only a much better puzzle plot, but indeed— as a puzzle plot alone, even if one were to ignore its characterization strengths— one of the very best of all Christie puzzle plots. Perhaps THE best. I mean, I actually consider it better purely as a puzzle plot than Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, Evil Under the Sun, even Death on the Nile… Granted, many of these others are more complex in their plotting. But in both its multiple levels of deception and the elegance of its clueing,, I really think it’s as good as Christie ever got. Thus I’m comparing what I consider Christie’s finest puzzle plot with arguably her weakest— not her sloppiest or most ridiculous, certainly, but the one that seems to me (until I’m educated on what I’m missing here— and I’ll grant that I may very well be) to offer the least of anything in that regard. It seems to have neither clues nor deceptions… not so much bad as NOTHING.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I won’t spend a lot of time on The Hollow, except to say the comparisons to 5LP are really more in the trappings: both a beautifully characterized books, set in distinctive homes (based on Christie homes or places she loved) about the murder of an attractive man, talented in his field, but incapable of constancy with women. And both feature an artist who is a bit screwed up in their relationship between art and people, tending to favor the former rather than the latter. And even though it hardly compares, The Hollow ends on a haunting note, suggesting that Henrietta uses human experience primarily as inspiration for her art. You’re right – Pigs is better, but I like them both.

          As for Guido Ricchetti – and just because you’re the second person this week to criticize him – he’s there to bring Colonel Race into the story. That’s a good enough reason!

          Yours truly,

          Bradley Kenneth Friedman

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          1. That’s a perfect example where Christie’s justification for bringing in Race is an LDL red herring, whereas Anthony Shaffer’s rewriting of it (having Race there to investigate Pennington) upgrades it to an HDL (all the more so because Pennington himself is a highly integrated red herring, not only a misdirection as an additional suspect, but providing an inadvertent alibi for Simon). I think there are here and there improvements in alteration, and I think Shaffer had a better batting average than most with that (though his elimination of the “Arlene Stuart as perpetual victim” surprise in EUTS is quite regrettable, IMO).

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  6. Congrats on the Big Four-Oh-Oh Brad!
    I thought a bit about this recently for some reason. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the “perfect” pick, but it’s going to be different for everyone. I’d simply recommend my own favourites, picking based the recommendee’s preferences.
    I think it would be quite neat to recommend that person read The Sittaford Mystery, since the adaptation will have spoiled almost none of the surprises for her. (Also it’s a really fun one imo!)
    When I was younger I somehow absorbed some literary snobbishness about Christie. I believed the books filmed well but weren’t very good (without having actually read any). The book that changed my mind was The Murder at the Vicarage. Such fun to read – and the pleasure comes from the narration, which is hardly possible to get in an adaptation. When it comes down to it, I’ll recommend the books that were the most enjoyable to read.

    Anyway… who is this mysterious hypothetical person who has read no Christie whatsoever yet will care deeply about how well clued a story is?

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    1. You bring up a good question here, Velleic! Most of the adaptations have had their puzzle plots simplified (from mildly to vastly), and some of them have had them trashed. I assume this FB person – can I just call them Patient Zero? – likes the adaptations because the people move around a lot and all the information is handed to her as a passive viewer. I’ve always been a big consumer of media, but I know that the majority of what we can still refer to as “television” requires little to no effort to enjoy. Now I have never seen an adaptation before I read the book, so I can’t tell you how it feels to try and solve a Christie through television. It’s impossible that the writers who changed the killer’s identity in The Sittaford Mystery, Appointment with Death, and Ordeal by Innocence, among (too many) others could have clued their adaptions as expertly as Christie did. But then I don’t think modern writers care a whit about “fair play” or even the semblance of it. And, to answer your question, most modern viewers of TV mysteries don’t care either.

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  7. I was lucky, not quite as lucky as you Brad, with And Then There Were None. You beat me by a year.

    I was 12 in 1969, at a rained-off Soccer tournament in North Wales, and I went to a local shop for something to read. The only book that appealed from the synopsis was one by someone called Agatha Christie with whatever title it was known as back then. And that was my taste in books settled for the next 50 years.

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    1. Awww, Stephen, you’re a mere babe! I was thirteen in 1969 and a seasoned Christie reader by then!! And yes, I began to branch out – to Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr – but my heart belonged to the Queen of Crime and still does. It’s not that there aren’t other who do certain things better than she does, but Christie has become the, for want of a better word, baseline by which I measure other writers. That means I’ve set the bar quite high. It happened for you in North Wales and for other young readers all over the world then. And now . . . the last couple of generations prefer their literature on the screen. I do understand this: I’m trying to adapt with the times and have even just signed up for Spotify and plan to get rid of hundreds of obsolete CDs!! But when someone says that Christie is going to have to prove herself on the page up against the movie versions?!?!? Something is screwy here!

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  8. Congratulations Brad on reaching this landmark and never apologize for sharing your live of Christie with us all. I always come away from these with a strong desire to go reread an old favorite or with a new appreciation for some aspect of the novels. Thank you for that!
    As for the adaptations, I had the relatively good luck of being introduced to Poirot during the first run of adaptations – mostly drawn from the short stories. This meant that I had the benefit of getting enticed by Suchet but then I had to go read and discover all the novels during that interminable hiatus.

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    1. Hit the send button early thanks to over enthusiastic reminiscing!
      I think the adaptations can be a great window into the world of Christie and often present interesting perspectives on the work, often speaking to the concerns of the time in which they were made, but the books themselves are magical.

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      1. Good grief, Aidan! Do you think the Poirot hiatus was . . . . planned?!? . . . for just that purpose?? Seriously, though, we know that the Christie estate wants to sell books, no matter how good their film and TV deals might be. They want to keep breaking records. I want fans to go to the source, which is the best way to get their dose of Christie.

        I come at the adaptations from the opposite situation: when I bought my first Christie, And Then There Were None, the paperback release was tied into the new film version of the book (the one set on a Schloss in Austria!). That was the first film version of Christie I watched, and it was . . . okay. I had not seen the ’45 version or the Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford. When I finally started seeing them (as well as the horrendous Tony Randall movie based on The ABC Murders, I was probably as pissed off as Christie’s daughter at the quality of these films. It wasn’t until Murder on the Orient Express came out in the 70’s that I was blown away, both at the quality of the film and the respect it showed the author.

        It’s just timing – when you were born – that creates this relationship. I bow to modern technology, and as a teacher I’m well aware of how reading has fallen out of favor. I used to have a mystery writing contest in my drama class, and the prize-winning team members each got a Christie novel. Some kids were thrilled, but some of them could barely stifle their disappointment at receiving a book!!! I agree with you that a good adaptation can be a window into Christie’s world, and I guess I’m here to fight the tendency of some folk to close that window before even breathing the wonderful aroma that comes wafting in.

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  9. You bring up two different topics here – which book to start with for a Christie fan who has only consumed the film adaptations, and where to start for Christie in general. Those are probably different answers. If someone’s started with the films, there are two paths that come to mind:
    1. Start with a strong book that hasn’t been turned into a film (understanding there are few of these).
    2. Show them a story that makes much more sense in the novel form.

    For #2, you could almost pick any novel, since the film adaptations take scandalous liberties with the stories – cutting key characters, shifting red herrings, changing entire plot arcs – always to a detriment in my opinion. Then there’s that entire topic that I posted on a few weeks ago as a reply to a review of Green for Danger, where I challenge that a film adaptation can ever really do justice to a GAD mystery.

    Of course the counterpoint is that the audience already had the twist spoiled for them, and even if they couldn’t quite appreciate it in full, it’s somewhat like a re-read. Yes, if you rave about Christie, arguably you’d enjoy experiencing the novel after only having experienced the twisted film adaptation of say, Murder in Retrospect – which drops the whole damn scene that makes the ending so jaw dropping – but you still read it knowing who did it.

    As to where to start for the uninitiated: in my opinion, some of Christie’s big twists have become standard fodder for semi-modern movies, especially in the horror genre. That’s not to say that they’re copied directly, but I think that an audience of even my age has been trained to suspect what in the 30’s/40’s may have been entirely novel. As such, I see stories like Death on the Nile and Crooked House as completely transparent. For any reader though, I hope I’m wrong.

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    1. THIS REPLY CONTAINS SPOILERS!

      I, too, see the distinction between the potential experience of two different types of people. The person who has become a rabid fan of Christie on film must be a bit confused watching the ’78 version of Death on the Nile and then the Suchet version. Why was the first one so funny? What happened to this or that character missing from one version, and who are the ones popping up in the second version I watched? So you give them the book and allow them to read the whole megillah – but you must account for the fact that a lot of casual mystery fans lock the door behind stories whose ending they’ve already discovered.

      Would the person who was introduced to The Sittaford Mystery by that execrable version on the Marple series be pleased or soured by the book? Would they think the killer’s motive was “silly” compared to the different killer’s motive in the TV show? Same goes for Ordeal by Innocence.
      Or say they liked the episode on Marple of Towards Zero and decide to read the book. Would it piss them off that Miss Marple is nowhere to be found? Ditto Murder Is Easy, The Pale Horse, or Endless Night!!

      As for the total neophyte, I get what you’re saying. Nowadays, children who kill and best friends secretly sleeping with your man are a dime a dozen on the Hallmark Mystery Channel. (One night recently, I noticed that EVERY SINGLE movie listed was a variation on “Psycho Cheerleader.” Another night it was babysitters, then stepsons and -daughters. Modern kids don’t even see marriage as sacrosanct anymore. There’s always an out with divorce.

      There’s also something whimsical about a someone killing someone else to collect their contest winnings or because they want to take ballet lessons. Same goes for the ornate murder plan on the Nile. Why not just push Linnet off a pyramid?!? You and I like this stuff and see it as clever; your more average killer might find this nut harder to swallow than a bottle of tonic laced with strychnine!

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      1. MORE SPOILERS

        I think there’s a tendency to think that the GAD mindset was, hey, as long as we make it fun and clever, anything goes! But that’s not true at all. Christie and her colleagues actually went to great lengths to make their works logistically and motivationally sound. If they didn’t always succeed, that’s because they were also trying to present a complex, intriguing story. But it’s not as if reason and reality had no place, or were given no consideration. After all, anything that didn’t jive with both what could happen and what would happen could always be interpreted as a clue, and you don’t want unintentional clues (that is, unintended by the author)

        Why not just push Linnett off a pyramid? Well, who’s going to do it? If Simon goes up there, and she comes down many times more quickly than he does, it would be damn hard for her newlywed widower heir to escape major suspicion, and indeed very difficult for him not to be prosecuted and probably convicted. If Jackie followed them secretly and did the pushing while he gained an alibi for himself, she’d be a likely suspect (as he would, for presumably hiring a hit-man), and her absence from England at the time quickly established. Linnets death at her own estate would hold just as many problems for Simon, and not open suspicion to other possibilities, either.

        No, they needed a solid alibi for both of them, as well as other possible scapegoats for the crime. I’m not suggesting the path they took was the simplest and safest possible (remember what I said about balancing with a complex, intriguing story), but the “as long as its fun and clever” mentality does not apply. And the plot of the Doyles itself is really not all that baroque (establish Jackie’s hounding, drug the detective, Jackie shoot Simon in public, Simon insist Jackie be watched all night, shoot Linnet, run back, shoot own leg, throw bundle in River). It’s the things that go wrong— and the independent agency of other suspects— that really add the complications. And I think it’s a tribute to this book that the not-tremendously-complex plan DOES go wrong… as opposed to the significantly more convoluted and riskier plan in Evil Under the Sun that some how gives off like clockwork. And that’s not because Christie said “reality doesn’t matter at all” there, either. It’s merely that she wasn’t working as hard to make sense.

        Even setups the look particularly artificial are often guided by very credible motivation. Say you’re among a group of a dozen heartsick people whose lives were destroyed by a man who killed a beloved child and through corrupt means escaped punishment. You are all intent upon justice. But how do you go about this? How can you all take part in this “execution” in a way that no one of you shoulders the responsibility (either ethically or legally)? Where can you get this man in a place where you can exact this justice and where the presence of all of you at one time will not seem conspicuous and incriminatory— and far from cosmopolitan civilization where efficient urban police practices might readily discover your conspiracy? And in a way so that no other innocent person will possibly have to suffer punishment for your actions? Suddenly, what might at first seem like an unnecessarily operatic setup really makes a lot of sense.

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        1. SPOILER WARNING:

          I love Death on the Nile. It’s probably my second favourite Christie after And then there were None. But the possible logical flaw in it, is not why the killer didn’t push her off a Pyramide (I agree with your analysis). It’s that he actually saved her life during the novel.

          That would have been the chance to get her money and coming away totally a clean. But maybe it was an impulse/reaction to the unexpected moment that made him do it.

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          1. Maybe it was an impulse to save his own life . . . (Bad form to jump out of the way and leave your wife standing in the boulder’s path. People might talk . . . )

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            1. That’s what I’ve always assumed as well. In slow-motion, one might have time to delineate between yourself (whom you want to save) and your heiress wife (whom you don’t), but in real time you pull yourself and whoever is with you at the time out of the way. This especially works for Doyle, who is described as “who is slow in his mental processes” and yet ”very quick and deft in his physical actions!”

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      2. Are you sure that wasn’t the Lifetime channel you were watching? It’s notorious for that kind of movie, Hallmark Mysteries are much less sensationalistic, and more “family-friendly” They even have clues sometimes..

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  10. I am one of those who first watched a few of the adaptions (with my parents back then) and then started to read the books, because I liked most of the adaptions so much.

    Among the first ones were definitely two Ustinov as Poirot’s adaptions (Nile, Sun), the Rutherford movies, the Joan Hickson version of a Murder is Announced and two David Suchet adaptions (ABC Murders and One, two, Buckle my Shoe). Shoe was the only one of them, that I didn’t enjoy much.

    I still have a soft spot for the Rutherford adaptions, as different as she is from book Marple, and I seriously consider Rutherford’s 4:50 from Paddington much more entertaining than the one in the Joan Hickson series. Rutherford, the cheeky child, cranky old Mr Crackenthorp and Joan Hickson as gossipy Mrs Kidder all help a lot. As does the fact that they keep the basic plot intact in this adaption.

    When I started reading the books, I bought a book with two of her novels in it: The Mysterious Affair at Styles and the Body in the Library. So by coincidence the first novel Christie wrote was also the first that I read. And it’s interesting that you didn’t even include it as a recommendation for first Christie. 🙂

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    1. I actually did offer Styles as an option in an earlier iteration of this post, where I had many more rules and categories, including a fork in the road where you ask your friend if they 1. just plan on reading a few Christies, or 2. are smart enough to read them all. If the latter, I suggested they start at the beginning. Still, I’m not sure how wise that is, and I’m looking forward to joining JJ and a special guest on his podcast to talk about this. Watch this space!

      I love Margaret Rutherford, and Murder She Said is by far the best of her Miss Marple films. Then they start to get more farcical and, sadly, boring. I do love Flora Robson in the second film, but I’d hate to think anyone’s experience of After the Funeral was spoiled by watching Murder at the Gallup!

      I’m gratified that of all the early adaptations you watched, that of One, Two, Buckle My Shoe was the one that displeased you. It’s the most problematic novel of the ones you watched, and any charm or humor found therein is missing from the film. Plus, that case relies on a disguise, and I thought the way it was done in this episode was pretty barmy: they simply switched actors, and to me it was terribly obvious. Of course, I guess I knew what to look for – maybe you didn’t see it???

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      1. I am one of those for whom After the Funeral was spoiled by Murder at the Gallop. It didn’t hurt the experience for me at all, thankfully. Though I may like the Suchet episode even more than the book, but in the sense that I would give one an A and the other one an A+. Same for ABC Murders, actually.

        Shoe is one of my least favourite of her novels from the 1930s and 1940s as well. I never liked the plot, it’s thinly clued and the murderer was really lucky, that the dentist took all his patients in the exact right order for the plan to work. Poirot redeems it somewhat, both because his horror of the dentist and his decision in the end.

        I didn’t solve it while watching, but I was only ten or 11 back then and may not be the best judge in this case.

        The only time I got the killer while watching a Christie adaptation was in the Ustinov version of Appointment with Death. But a.) I was a bit older then, around 13 and 14, and had by then read several of her books, though not this one yet. And b.) they made it really obvious in the movie when they added the second murder.

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      2. I’m another fan of the Rutherford movies, for sentimental reasons. I discovered the real Miss Marple years after I’d seen “Murder, She Said” and think of her and the Rutherford Marple as two distinct characters. Didn’t Rutherford pretty much play herself in her movies anyway? As admirable as Lucy Eylesbarrow (sp?) was, I still get a bigger kick out of seeing Rutherford playing off the kids and the old cranky-pants. But I agree with most folks that Joan Hickson was the best Miss Marple ever.

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  11. 400!!! Congratulations! I’ve read some of Christie’s novels (Loved ABC!) but my first exposure o Christie was in her short stories. In Jnr. High I read an edition called “Thirteen Clues for Miss Marple.” Later on I read most of the rest. My favorite collections are “Partners In Crime” and “The Labors of Hercules.” Again, Congrats and here’s to the next 400!

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    1. The three collections you mentioned are my favorites, too, Jeff. And yet I don’t think Christie was at her best in the short form. I think it was Martin Edwards whom I recently heard compare Christie to A. C. Doyle, whom she admired very much, and yet one was at his best with short stories while his acolyte excelled at novels.

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      1. I feel the same way— I have several favorite Christie novels, but find it hard to name Christie short stories that really satisfy me. I was trying to fill a list of favorite mystery short stories (several were standard selections— “The House in Goblin Wood,” “The Nine Mile Walk,” “Mind Over Matter,” “The Red Headed League,” “The Gemminy Cricket Case”) but had real trouble finding a satisfying Christie representative. I really don’t think ‘Philomel Cottage”:and “Accident!” are that impressive, and though “Labours of Hercules” is my favorite collection, I was having trouble finding any single story that really wowed me (“Cretan Bull” came closest). I finally settled on “The Witness for the Prosecution” which is I feel in several respects most impressive in its short story form.

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        1. Kemelman’s collection has been sitting on my Kindle for two years! I should give “The Nine-Mile Walk” a try. And yes, “The Witness for the Prosecution” is perhaps the best story, partly because its twist best suits the short form. You can hardly hang a novel on this. Can you imagine if that awful defendant in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead had been guilty?!?

          I love the Wilder movie, but ultimately I think I mostly love what the director and script added for his cast.

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  12. Congratulations, Brad! I see that you started celebrating a bit early, though, because surely otherwise you’d never have said that “Peril at End House” is Hercule Poirot’s fifth case. It’s perhaps his thirty-fifth or so.

    😉

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  13. Brad – congratulations on your posting milestone. Your love of Christie and GAD is engaging and infectious as evidenced by the number of thoughtful comments left on this post.

    I came to know Christie at eleven years old. My family was at store on a rainy afternoon that had a stand of used paperbacks and I found the synopsis on the back of And Then There Were None irresistible. I convinced my mother to let me buy that and devoured that book in a day. My grandmother also was fan of Christie and when we would visit, I would look on her shelves and see the new titles she had for me to read.

    It was only a couple years ago that I found your blog via a google search on Christie and was pleased to see other fans of this wonderful author. I then discovered there was a whole world of GAD titles that I never new existed including Carr, Berkeley, Boucher, Brand, Hare, McCloy, etc. via your blog as well as that of Kate, John, Curtis, JJ, Steve, Ben, TomCat, Aidan, etc. You and the others have not only deepened my appreciation for everything Christie but also I have learned a significant amount from all of you. Thanks for that.

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    1. I love that we share the same “first” Christie, Scott – and at the same age!!

      The great joy for me in pouring out all this stuff is when it generates conversation. I find myself popping in and out of different blogs to leave a comment and hope for some back and forth. You were so lucky that your grandmother was a fan, even if it mostly meant finding some Christies on her shelves. I only knew one other person growing up who also liked Christie, a friend of my brother’s who I admittedly didn’t like very much. Still, we occasionally bonded over our love of Christie (and comic books!), and I credit him for informing me about a bookstore downtown that carried her novels in the British editions, which introduced me to the work of Tom Adams. So I guess this kid made up for occasionally being a creep!

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  14. I would recommend Styles as the first Christie. Good introduction to who Poirot is, and who Hastings is. (Whose name gets mentioned a lot, even in books he is not in.) And really a very good mystery.

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  15. I agree, Johan, that Styles is both a good mystery and a great debut. I just had a conversation (which I hope folks will be listening to shortly) about authors and their detectives. When you have someone as fully formed as Poirot (or Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe) emerge on the pages of an author’s first novel, you can easily excuse certain flaws (like it doesn’t play fair with knowledge of poisons!). I personally would only recommend it as a first try to a friend who swore an oath of blood that they would read more Christie afterwards, but the person who picks it up at random shouldn’t be disappointed.

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  16. Mes félicitations, mon ami! Assuredly you are on the side of the big battalions. And 400 is a number of order and method, n’est-ce-pas? It is symmetrical; it is 20 times 20 – a square. If only one could eat eggs so!

    The first Agatha Christie I read was Poirot Investigates; it was the only one I had at the library. I was 10.
    ME: Mum, what does “ejaculated” mean?
    MUM (cautiously): What’s the context, dear?

    Then I read ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER – which I enjoyed. I thought it was tragic and adult (same kind of vibe, I suppose, I got from Greek plays as a teenager). This was in the moody Pan edition:
    https://pictures.abebooks.com/isbn/9780330281652-us.jpg. The black background is rather like the Penguin classics of the sixties.
    I even recommended it to my father, who thought it one of the worst books he’d read. So obviously not a good first choice, then! (He had read – and enjoyed – Endless Night back in the sixties, when the film came out.)
    And MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA, too. Those came from an aunt.

    But I also watched the Ustinov DEATH ON THE NILE – before reading the book. That really was splendid – exotic, lots of murders. And the book was even better.

    Then onto NILE, ORIENT EXPRESS, EVIL UNDER THE SUN, and 4.50 FROM PADDINGTON (I liked the idea of the murder seen from the train window). All while moving to Belgium, land of Poirot.

    I’d love to see your thoughts on the rest of the Christie canon as possible starters. Here’s why you should read POSTERN OF FATE as your first Christie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have always loved the numbers 4 and 8 for how beautifully they divide into themselves. Vive la OCD!!!

      I would get down on my knees and beg the Christie estate to let me write the book that Postern of Fate ought to have been . . . if I only had the talent. Think of it, though: even at the end, she shows how naturally the set-up comes to her: her beloved “Love Detectives” move to their final home, reassure the readers that neither of them is close to dying, just old, and then find an old children’s book and spot the underlined letters: “Mary Jordan did not die naturally. Somebody killed her. And I know who did it.”

      That’s so brilliant! Wouldn’t we all love to find an old book in an attic or library and pick up on an intriguing hidden message that leads us to solve a mystery??? At this point, Christie should have split the narrative and let us meet a family straight out of the Golden Age, then jumped back and forth as Tuppence, with Tommy’s begrudging help, tries to solve her own Daughter of Time mystery – which she ultimately does, and somehow it proves a boon for some late relative in the village, thus endearing T&T to the entire town and guaranteeing that their swan song, unlike Poirot’s, will have a happy ending!

      That would have been a book . . . sans spies, sans confusing filler, sans everything . . . .

      Aside from the series of pointless reminiscences, Elephants Can Remember suffered from the fact that I glommed onto what was going on pretty much before it happened! That’s what happens when you break the rules and use a forbidden cliche in your mystery! However, I love the whole thing about Mrs. Burton-Cox and her undoing! She is a great villain, plus you have to work overtime to make anything with Mrs. Oliver in it totally worthless.

      The only thing I knew about Belgium is that the French like to tell Polish jokes about the Belgians. Is it a beautiful country? Did you find the imaginary house where Poirot was born? I envy you!

      Merci beaucoup, mon ami, pour votre félicitations,” he ejaculated.

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      1. Lack of talent hasn’t stopped Sarah Phelps or other adapters, and I’m sure you have lots more than they do. And we know you wouldn’t turn Tuppence into a lush! You could do a “suggested by” novel, like those Agatha mysteries PBS has been running (but please don’t make Tommy a hunk, as they did to Max). You could always change the names, they’d still be Tommy & Tuppence in your mind even if they don’t have the estate’s blessing–and really, how much is their blessing worth anymore?

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        1. I will hopefully have a post soon – if I can get through this book I’m reading – reviewing these “sorta Christie” books and films making Agatha herself the character. The first movie in that trilogy wasn’t . . . bad, and next up is the “Max as hunk” one. But yes, I’ve given up on being sought out by James Prichard to write continuation novels and am constantly churning out ideas for “original” sleuths, the real identities of whom there would be no doubt to my friends!

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