An Introduction to Agatha Christie

Agatha ChristieOK, this might take a moment to explain. Today would have been Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday. So what, I hear you cry? What’s so special about 126? Well, apparently there’s loads of celebratory stuff because it’s 100 years since she wrote The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Wrote, that is. It wasn’t published until four years later, so I guess there’ll be more stuff in four years’ time. But until then, I’ll play along.

In particular, I’ll play along with Kate over at Cross Examining Crime who suggested a series of themed posts suggesting ideal books to start reading for the various Christie series or genres. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Because it’s important that you start with a good Christie. How many poor souls have been scared off by The Clocks or At Bertram’s Hotel? Or the dreary obviousness of They Do It With Mirrors? Or, heaven forbid, Postern Of Fate? I’m going to stick to Poirot, as I feel that they’re generally Christie’s most consistent work.

First off, where should one start with a series? First off, the chronology of her books isn’t that important, although she does occasionally casually spoil earlier books – Cards On The Table spoils Murder On The Orient Express for example – but I don’t have a list of said spoilers, so we’ll ignore that aspect. But you also shouldn’t start with the best or it’s downhill from there… and you certainly shouldn’t start with a duff one. So let’s look for a better than average one that still shows off her skills.

But to entice a reader, you need the right bait. Everyone has different opinions and preferences amongst the Poirot canon, so you need to think about who the reader is before picking a recommendation. Readers who prefer a psychological mystery might prefer the somewhat flawed but well-written Five Little Pigs or the superior Cards On The Table. Readers who prefer entertaining but solvable problems should look to Peril At End House or Lord Edgware Dies. If you’d prefer a cunning mystery and can turn a blind eye to some horrendous sexual politics, then try Taken At The Flood.

mrs-mcginty1.jpgBut the Christie that I think everyone should start with is Mrs McGinty’s Dead. It’s Poirot at his most entertaining, with some genuinely funny scenes as he stays in a guest house that doesn’t come close to his exacting standards. The mystery is clever and involving and much less gimmicky than most of her “great” mysteries, and doesn’t (quite) use Christie’s most over-used trick. There’s a twist on the standard Golden Age romance (although that was more Carr’s thing than Christie) and even if you’ve seen the adaptation, you probably can’t remember who the killer is. I’d say it’s her most under-rated book, but that’s not really true as most bloggers who’ve reviewed it seem to like it a lot. Rather, I think, it’s one of her more overlooked books.

So, if you’re a newcomer to Christie – or an old hand who fancies a re-read – why not take a punt at this one? Or do you have an alternative ideal first Poirot novel?

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10 comments

  1. Great choice and I certainly can’t remember much about the book, so I will have to try and squeeze in a re-read of Mrs McGinty’s Dead at some point. Five Little Pigs is definitely another good contender that I forgot about. Can literally remember nothing of Taken at the Flood so think that will have to be another re-read as well.

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  2. As we draw a curtain over Kate’s blog while she re-reads all of Christie for the next six months, I do like the point some bloggers have made about starting with middle period Christie (late 40’s, early 50’s) as it’s still well-plotted but more character drawn, especially as far as Poirot is concerned. He stops manifesting all those cliched mannerisms (eyes glowing green, and so on) and becomes a more rounded figure – and a fun one at that!

    With that said, if I had gone with such a book rather than Death on the Nile, I would have chosen After the Funeral. Still great Poirot (utilizing the suspects’ xenophobia to get information), brilliant misdirection, and one of the cleverest murderers and motives in all the canon! I do love McGinty, but I love Funeral even more!

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  3. Uncanny! Another vote for Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. I’m thinking we really all have extremely similar tastes…at least when it comes to The Great Agatha. So many overlaps. I expected more DEATHON THE NILE votes for Poirot. Wasn’t at all surprised by the choice of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by several people. We know what Christie exemplifies in the detective novel and can flush out those quality trademarks in her better books like expert hunters tracking elusive game.

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  4. It’s almost uncanny. Because Mrs. McGinty was the book that get me hooked on Agatha Christie. I’ve read some others when I was younger – Orient Express, Appoitment with Death, even And there was None. And they’re left me cold. I still find Orient Express boring :). But after Mrs. McGinty, I became the fan, searching for her other books, and than other GAD authors

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  5. I think that Mrs. McGinty’s Dead may have been the very first Christie I ever read – as a teenager over 45 years ago – and I became a lifetime fangirl for Dame Agatha. So I believe it’s a good choice – and deserves a reread from me!

    I thought Five Little Pigs was brilliant, but I don’t think it’s a good place to start.

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