Hercule Poirot Top Five

After making a mention of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas a couple of posts back, it occurred to me that it’ll be a while before I get round to any of the Belgian detective’s exploits. So, given that he and Miss Marple are the best known of the classic detectives (I’ll try and get round to explaining why I’m not including Sherlock Holmes in this category), I thought I’d pop in some very brief reviews in the form of top 5 books for each sleuth. They’re in no particular order, by the way – picking five was hard enough.

Hercule Poirot Top Five

1.       The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Christie tried a few experimental books, but this is by far the best. A beautiful exercise in presenting every clue that you need in a way that makes perfect sense after the fact. Saying anything more might spoil it for the uninitiated. Read it. Now!

2.       The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The first Poirot, and a somewhat overlooked gem. One part of the plot requires a little suspension of disbelief, but that’s true of all the best mysteries.

3.       The ABC Murders

Poirot encounters what today would be called a serial killer. My first Poirot and hence the book that got me hooked. Also, it’s a book where you can’t apply the usual logic that will find the majority of Christie’s murderers.

4.       Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Again, another book where you almost certainly won’t guess the murderer – a masterpiece in deception by Christie. Just don’t be put off by the slightly twee title – this is a blood-soaked mystery – at least it’s the grumpy old miser who gets killed.

5.       Taken At The Flood

Definitely an overlooked novel – one of my favourites because it was one of the last that I read and, as I hadn’t heard much about it, wasn’t expecting much. A gem of a mystery.

Other contenders: Peril at End House, Lord Edgware Dies, Three Act Tragedy, Death on the Nile, Mrs McGinty’s Dead.

Lesser outings: A few spring to mind – The Mystery of the Blue Train, The Big Four and The Clocks are all underwhelming.

I’ll post the Miss Marple list in the next couple of days. Should be easier than this one, as there aren’t as many.

Other Poirot reviews:

There’s a dedicated Agatha Christie page containing links to all of my Poirot reviews

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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56 Responses to Hercule Poirot Top Five

  1. bianco2nero says:

    THREE ACT TRAGEDY is one that, upon re-reading, I found a lot less good than I remembered but I think you are absolutely spot on with all the others.

    Of Christie’s non-series books along with AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, CROOKED HOUSE and ENDLESS NIGHT I would personally ass as a particular favourite BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS, which still strikes me as a very strange yet powerful late work – not great for its plot but it has a really rich atmosphere. It was published in Italy about 20 years with a series of accompanying essays by Alex Falzon that as far as I know have never ben translated but which are really illuminatiog (especially if you are into Proppian literary analysis!).

    • puzzledoctor says:

      I’m very under-read on Christie’s non-series books – even the Tommy and Tuppence ones, as I read a couple (can’t remember which) and they were barely even mysteries. So I won’t be doing a top five there anytime soon.

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  3. bianco2nero says:

    Tommy and Tuppence were more fun on TV as played by James Warwick and the scrumptious Francesca Annis than ever on the printed page and are not really worth writing about although I really rate BY THE PORICKING (was even turned into a rather good cod-MARPLE with Greta Scacchi wonderful as an older Tuppence) although PARTNERS IN CRIME the book is fun as a spoof of the genre (one story has a character based on Father Brown, another on Lord Peter Wimsey, etc. etc.).

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  7. aldino says:

    I personally loved all of her novels. Each of them has something special and unique! I could mention SOME of my favourites here : The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (a classic…), After the Funeral (I loved the atmosphere of the novel, so dark), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (finished the novel in one day), A Murder is Announced (in my opinion, the best Marple book), Hallowe’en Party (very dark and horrific) and The ABC murders (I had such a surprise at the end…).

  8. rishi says:

    this is a good list, I have just finished reading appointment with death and its another good christie book, but once you have read and then there were none you compare all christie books with that one, and all fall short, and then there were none is perhaps my favorite mystery of all time.

    • puzzledoctor says:

      I can’t really comment on “And Then There Were None” yet, as the ending has been spoiled for me before I read it. Same for “Crooked House”, another highly rated one. I will give them a go at some point, but personally, I tend to rate the best detective books from an author as the best non-gimmicky ones.

  9. J F Norris says:

    Just say this post today. I’m catching up on your blog since I never knew about it until a few weeks ago.

    I’ll have to re-read Taken at the Flood. I remember not a thing about it. I’d add Evil Under the Sun and remove Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and in its place put Murder in Mesopotamia. These are the only impossible crime noels she wrote and I think …Mesopotamia is an overall better book. The solution and the identity of the killer is a whopper. I think it’s the closest thing she wrote to a Dickson Carr book. In terms of the solution it stands beside He Who Whispers as one of the most satisfying surprise endings I’ve come across in the genre.

    I agree about Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. It will always rank as one of my favorite Christies for the big surprise that is cleverly hidden but should be plain as the nose on your face, especially to a modern reader. I think also Five Little Pigs is a little masterpiece considering where and how she plants the clues and how the story is told.

    • puzzledoctor says:

      Yes, Mesopotamia probably should be in there – it’s technically better than Flood, but that’s there for personalish reasons as I said in the blog. I wouldn’t go with Evil Under the Sun though – it falls back to Christie’s typical “one person has a cast iron alibi, so work out how they did it” that tends to plague the Marple books – Christmas has more of a Queenish “person you didn’t even suspect” vibe to it.

  10. arp27 says:

    Got to agree with you all.

    Would add “One Two buckle my shoe”. Very underrated. Didn’t expect much from it when I started. Bit long and painful in-between. But she spins it off nicely. Puts you entirely in another direction. And what a solution it is! Only Poirot could’ve solved it.

    • puzzledoctor says:

      Hmm. Been a very long time since I read that one. I remember that the solution is very clever, but, as you say, it goes a bit astray between the beginning and the end.

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  14. themysteryman says:

    Hello there.
    Though I liked your list, I have two complaints:
    1. I was nearly out of your site when I read the second sentence of your post where you said that Sherlock Holmes is not as good as the other two. You are completely wrong there man. Though I love Agatha and both her characters, I believe that Sherlock Holmes is definitely the best detective who explains every single point he makes.
    2. You did not include “murder on the orient Express” which should be in no.2. It’s ending was almost unguessable. I cracked the murder of roger ackroyd(though it is still my favourite Christie book) 80% through the story when I was told there was some kind of a plot twist.

    • To address your points in order:

      1. Sherlock does always explain his deductions (as do Poirot, Marple, Fell, Merrivale, etc) but often the explanation includes information that has not been made available to the reader. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes deduces a crucial fact about the villain from a comment that Watson relates concerning where the character went to school. But that is the only thing that the reader is told – Holmes took that and went and did some research off-page to find the important information. And that’s not to mention all the “I can tell you’ve been in a wrestling match with a 1-legged piano tuner and a penguin” stuff that often turns up at the beginning. I’m not a massive Holmes fan – there’s more at the start of my recent Sherlock review as to why. But the critical reason is that you can’t really play along with him – it’s not that sort of mystery.

      2. Everyone has their own favourites. Personally I found Murder on the Orient Express thunderingly obvious. As with your experience of Ackroyd, it had been flagged to me as “something clever”, and with that in mind, it, to me, was really simple and rather dull. I tend to prefer the ones that are a straightforward mystery done well rather than the gimmicky ones.

  15. themysteryman says:

    Hi there.
    Your blog definitely is really well done. It would be great if you would include some ratings or score to the books you review. Any ways, Keep up the good work.

    • themysteryman says:

      And another thing, what did you think of “and then there were none”. i had heard it was great. But after reading it, I was hugely disappointed. The book, I thought, went well upto the ending which seemed unreasonable. The revelations were nowhere near surprising nor great.

    • Not really a scoring person – always felt that any sort of score would be kind of arbitrary. Besides, as a teacher, I’m well aware that with a score, people will skip to the end rather than read the review.

      Now that my style has settled down a bit, I tend to end my reviews with a recommendation which takes the place of a score, I guess.

  16. Manish says:

    ‘Cat among the pigeons’ is a very good one too..

    • Interesting – it seems there’s a gap in my memory over the quality of this one. I can remember reading it and something about the plot but not much else. Maybe I’ll have another look at it soon.

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  18. I liked the way you have compiled the list. I have just completed reading Murder of Roger Ackroyd and I just cannot wait to get my hands on more of Poirot titles.
    Would love to hear your views on Death In The Clouds.

    • Death in the Clouds – that takes me back. It’s unfortunate that I can remember not only the killer, but the vital clue and where it occurs, but can’t remember much else about it. I did remember that it’s a very clever clue, given that it’s given so early on and is really obvious, if you look at it in the right way, but other than that, I’ll have to re-read it. Not high on my list of Poirot re-reads though because I’d have to find a copy.

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  20. Jenny says:

    Great list! I’m headed for the library for the three out of your top five that I haven’t read yet. Murder on the Orient Express was a really well-written one as well. I think it is a shame that I did not discover how much I love mysteries until a year ago!

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  22. Bhushan says:

    The Hollow is also a amazing Book

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  25. Brother T says:

    i think “The hollow”, a masterpiece not just mysterywise but also literaturewise and, “Curtain”,her last one , must be in her top 5

  26. Maria says:

    What a wonderful list! I believe that the ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ is her most overlooked book. I’m gonna go buy now the ‘Taken At The Flood'; I haven’t read it yet and although it’s the first time I see someone recommending it I think that you know what you are talking about :)

    My favorite one is ‘Five Little Pigs’. Maybe because it was one of the first of Christie’s I read but still…it shocked me like a punch in the face! ‘Cat among the pigeons’ is wonderful as well.

    PS. I hated, hated, hated her last book, ‘Curtain’. I found it almost a disgrace to Poirot, who being the genius he was, could find another way to… well, deal with the problem.

  27. Why don’t you simply state that the list is your top five favorites?

    • As opposed to what? I think I make it clear that these are my favourites rather than the best sellers or most critically acclaimed books. And rather than just a list, I’ll always give my spoiler-free reasons

  28. J says:

    This is a very good list! I agree with all of your choices, except for perhaps Three Act Tradegy, which, despite featuring strong “protagonists,” seemed to focus on some suspects more than others rather than treating them on equal ground, and I figured it out rather quickly.

    What are your thoughts on Cards of the Table? I thought that one was good enough to have been on the other contenders list…

    Also, I think Hallowe’en Party should be on the lesser outings list… that one was extremely predictable, while making absolutely no sense at the same time. Also, it was extremely boring and filled with tedious and long descriptions of things that had nothing to do with the characters or plot.

    • To be honest, Three Act Tragedy and Halloween Party are based on long term memory. Similarly, the bridge clues in Cards… put me off this one. Too precise. All three are up for reviews in the next year or so – I’ll change the list if I change my mind

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  30. Enigma says:

    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd definitely tops my list. Everything falls beautifully into place when the murderer and his plot is revealed. Evil under the sun is another amazing book. I personally dint like Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. How the plot is revealed wasnt very impresive. Clues on which he deduced werent very abstract. Not very chistie like novel! I do prefer Poirot to holmes any day. Poirot has an unique style..

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  32. Scooter says:

    Interesting… whereas my top five Gideon Fell novels matched yours almost entirely (though the order was different), by Hercule Poirot list is almost entirely different than yours! Here’s mine:

    1. Five Little Pigs – Often praised for its characterization, I actually love this one primarily for its puzzle… which works BECAUSE the characterization is so strong. One of the great things about the tail-end of the Golden Age (the late ’30’s and the ’40’s) for Christie, Carr, and even Queen, is that plotting and characterization meet, each enhancing the other, and this book is a key example.

    2. Death on the Nile – It has too many subplots (which were expertly excised by Anthony Shaffer in his screenplay for the 1978 film adaptation), but the central plot is perhaps Christie’s most brilliantly deceptive and richly clued.

    3. After the Funeral – Not among the most entertaining to read, but the solution is certainly one of the most ingenious and unique in the genre. In fact, if just the core idea is to be considered, perhaps her cleverest novel.

    4. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead – Not quite as richly clued as some of these others, but wonderfully executed in nearly all respects.

    5. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Its brilliance can’t be denied, and it’s certainly worthy of its acclaim, though I think it suffers from what I call “simple sentence fragility”– that is, like Murder on the Orient Express, Peril at End House, (or to a lesser extent, the ABC Murders), it is liable to be transparent to anyone who considers a basic possibility than can be explained in a single sentence of a few words. In the case of Ackroyd, Orient Express, or Mousetrap, this is merely a matter of considering that “______ ______ did it.” This is not really a charge to be leveled against Christie– there is a lot more to her ingenuity at stake in these works (especially Ackroyd), but it unfortunately works against Christie’s reputation, as there are people who clearly think that these simple gimmicks are the be-all and end-all of her brilliance.

    Most of the titles in your top five would show up just after #5 on my list. I like ABC Murders, but I don’t find the clueing in it particularly strong, and I consider the Chesterton story that clearly inspired it to be even more clever. Taken at the Flood is undeniably underrated, though its “ironic symmetry” strikes me as a bit too artificial and coincidental (I prefer After the Funeral in that respect). I understand the objections to Curtain, but it almost makes my top 5 list, as its solution play as almost a “best hits” catalog of Christie devices.

    • All of your suggestions could be on the list – in particular, as I’ve re-read it and reviewed it elsewhere on the blog, Mrs McGinty’s Dead. And After The Funeral doesn’t make the cut simply because it takes a while to get going – although the overall solution is remarkably clever. But it’d take a lot to make me change my mind of Curtain.

      When I’ve re-read more, I’m going to redo this post, but a concentration of Poirot is a long way down my list of priorities at the moment.

  33. Scooter says:

    I meant to write “In the case of Ackroyd, Orient Express, or End House”… though this idea applies to The Mousetrap as well (though I didn’t mean to include it because it’s not even in the same ballpark as the others in terms of ingenuity– with the Mousetrap, the simple four sentence explanation actually does do justice to the solutions).

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  37. zurlocker says:

    Loved “ABC Murders” and “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”. I’ll need to read a couple of the others on your list which I’ve not got to. But I was not blown away by “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” I think “And Then There Were None” or “Lord Edgware Dies” were even better. But of course, this is just personal preference. I can’t say I’ve read a bad Poirot.

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