A young reader had requested help from The Book Doctor – the question was
“I detest Enid Blyton and like Agatha Christie. What should I read next?”
To which The Book Doctor replied : “The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, would be a worthy successor to Agatha Christie. Sherlock Holmes, the great detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, appears in many stories including, perhaps most famously, The Hound of the Baskervilles: the story would be a worthy successor to Agatha Christie. For a more contemporary sleuth, the eponymous heroine of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh is well worth following.”
I was rather disappointed that there wasn’t a comment section on the post, otherwise this article would have been posted there together with a link to the blog! But anyway, on with my minor rant.
This person seems to sum up my reading tastes at that age – which I’m going to suppose is around 12-13, or at least has that sort of reading age. I’d read a fair few Christies by then and indeed, dipped into The Hound of the Baskervilles.
One day, I must go back and finish the book. One of the things that still annoys me when reading a book with a given detective, be it Poirot, Marple, Gideon Fell or whoever, is when either it takes an age for the sleuth to turn up or they appear briefly to top and tail the book and are not there for the majority of the book. (Cases in point would be The Clocks, At Bertram’s Hotel and The Blind Barber). If I’m reading a “Hercule Poirot” novel, then I expect him to show up in the first 100 pages and basically stay there. The book can still be excellent, but there’s always a sense of disappointment for me when it happens.
Without spoiling the novel, the same thing happens in The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was supposed to be my introduction to Holmes and then he chose to clear off for ages and leave Watson to bumble around for most of the book. That made me put it down and it hasn’t been picked up again.
I do know what happens in the book, having seen at least two adaptations of it, and I do agree that it’s the closest to Christie that Holmes comes – most of the mystery seemed to be whether or not the Hound is real or supernatural (have a guess, given this isn’t In Search of the Classic Ghost Story) as there aren’t many suspects. However most of the Holmes canon isn’t the same sort of mysteries. I’ve never felt the encouragement to play along with the sleuth that Christie gives and, given most of the books are short stories, they don’t sit around long enough to have a good ponder.
So what would I recommend to the younger reader? Not an easy question, as most of my favourites are out of print, but here goes. I’m going to assume that the reader hasn’t read all of Dame Agatha’s work.
With the exception of At Bertram’s Hotel, these are all very accessible mysteries. I’ve given the list of my favourites here, but the writing style is clear and easy to follow – you might want to leave The Body in the Library and The Murder at the Vicarage until later though, as the prose is a bit denser, if I recall correctly. Start with A Murder Is Announced.
The books that I remember reading and loving when I was young were Lord Edgware Dies, Peril at End House and The ABC Murders. Also The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Death On The Nile, Evil Under The Sun and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Be warned, some of the others are much weaker and/or harder to get into.
OK, you know that old book shop tucked down a back alleyway in town? Go there and hunt out books by Carter Dickson. They’ll probably be, in the UK at least, green Penguin books and won’t cost more than a couple of quid. If you can find The Judas Window, She Died A Lady, He Wouldn’t Kill Patience or The Reader Is Warned, you’ll have some excellent accessible murderer mysteries up there with the best of Agatha Christie, if not better. Merrivale is very good company although Carter Dickson’s writing style varies a bit – some of the earlier ones, whilst still being excellent, are a bit harder to get into. Stay away from And So To Murder – Merrivale’s hardly in it. While you’re at it, John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson) wrote Till Death Us Do Part, The Case of the Constant Suicides and He Who Whispers, all of which are great introductions to the great Gideon Fell. If you can’t find a bookshop, persuade your parents to get on Abebooks.co.uk – it’s much more likely that they’ll buy you a good book than a DVD or CD.
Edward D Hoch
These are short stories, but each one is a fair play detective story with multiple suspects and often (indeed always in the Sam Hawthorne books – see here and here for more info) a locked room or impossible crime to figure out. Of course, you won’t find these in a bookshop over here, but they can be ordered from Amazon or the publishers Crippen & Landru direct.
I’ve run dry now , so over to you, dear reader. From what I can see, Harriet The Spy is not a detective book at all, but mostly a teenage angst book, but freely admit that I haven’t read it. What got you hooked on detective fiction and how would you indoctrinate… er, encourage a teenage into the ways of the great detective story. Remember, nothing too fiddly – that’s why I’ve not recommended any Ellery Queen, as the language isn’t exactly easy to read at times and the mysteries really need a pad and paper to keep track of what’s going on. So, I’m looking for simple, well-written mysteries, hopefully part of a series to keep the youngster reading. Off you go.