Thursday, 24 July 2014

Top Five Agatha Christie Novels




Five Little Pigs - nostalgia, childhood memories, and murder





I recently did a post on Sparkling Cyanide – yes, one of my favourites – and was idly saying that I should try to list my actual favourite, definitive, top 5 of Agatha Christie’s novels. Something I’ve been saying for ages. But this time my good blogging friend Christine Poulson took me up on it. Christine is the author of the marvellous Cassandra James novels, and the recent standalone Invisible – all of which have featured on Clothes in Books - as well as being a blogger and keen crime fiction fan.

Well, we decided we would both draw up our lists and publish them on the same day. So here’s mine, Christine’s list is here. And if you feel like making your own list, please tell me in the comments and I will link you in too
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1) Five Little Pigs (1941)



A long-ago murder: Poirot is
The exact spot where the murder happened
asked to find out what really happened during the hot, tense houseparty that ended with the death of artist Amyas Crale. He interviews each of the main characters, and then gets them to write their own accounts of the days around the murder. It’s a strange dreamy story, full of regret and memory and realizations, and with very strong characterizations. I like it in part because it is very recognizably set at Christie’s holiday house at Greenway in Devon (one of my favourite places in the world, and where this photo, with Elsa's yellow jumper, was taken), and because there was a marvellous TV adaptation of it. Blog entries here and here.





2) The Moving Finger (1943) 


Poison pen letters in a small village: Miss Marple investigates. This has been one of my favourites since I first read it as a young teenager – it has a particularly satisfying plot, very well-worked-out, and Marple is sharp and has sensible things to say. But of course secretly, what really sold it to the very young me was the makeover scene, where Megan Hunter is whisked off to London by narrator Jerry, because he has recognized her inner beauty. This was one of the original scenes I wanted to illustrate on Clothes in Books (see more of them in this entry), and it is astonishing that I haven’t yet done it. Coming soon.

3) Sparkling Cyanide (1945)  
Adultery, robes and cigarettes

See this very recent blog entry: again I like the sad atmosphere and strong characters.






4) The Hollow (1946)

This should be the archetypal bland country house mystery - Poirot is invited over for lunch to join the houseparty, and finds a tableau-like murder scene. But it has much more going for it – great atmosphere, complex plot, and some wonderful characters. Henrietta Savernake might be the best of Christie’s women.


5) Death on the Nile (1937)  

What the richest woman in the world wears
In a blog entry here, I said about this one: the relation between Poirot and the murderer in this book is exceptionally well done. It’s hard to discuss without spoilering, but there is a depth and sadness to the ending of the story that hits home and lingers in the memory. The murder is good, an unguessable plot and good clueing, but it’s the psychology of the main characters (who at first glance might seem like total stock figures from central casting) that is striking. And there is a very compelling use of the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite – it is one of the most heart-stopping moments in the Old Testament (‘You are the man!’) and the effect is very similar here. ‘Do not open your heart to evil’, indeed.



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So my favourites cover only nine years – nothing compared to Dame Agatha’s writing life – and 4 out of 5 are Poirot rather than Marple, which slightly surprised me. I might make a different list on another day: I just pulled up a complete list of Christie works, and had to look away quickly before I started tinkering with this list… (OK I just have to name two runners-up: Man in a Brown Suit - a very non-typical, very funny, early Christie - and Hercule Poirot's Christmas, or En Route to the House Party of Death as I called it in this blog entry.)

Just to whet your appetite:  Christine’s list has just one in common with mine, although it also features one of my runners up.  And as she points out, we're not saying '5 best' - or even that we'd have the same lists in a week's time. 


We would  be delighted to read anyone else’s, so please join in… Vicki (Skiourophile) has already added hers below. Col has a very individual list below (bless), and Sarah and Uriah posted full lists. Lucy Fisher posted hers on her blog here.



34 comments:

  1. Four out of five for me there (I'm cooler on Five Little Pigs - I think there's too many characters but the plotting is magnificent). I'd maybe swap in the classic flapper crime novel The Secret of Chimneys for a fun one, or A Murder is Announced for its blend of village and rationing and old-style diseases and remarkable plotting.

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    1. Just re-read Secret of Chimneys after you pointed out the hipband - look out for upcoming Dress Down Sunday. In that genre, my choice would have been Seven Dials. Murder is Announced was definitely nibbling round the bottom of the list (so hard to choose!) I so agree - that post-war atmosphere is brilliant.

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  2. Moira, am I glad I still have to read most of Agatha Christie's novels! They include the ones in your list which I'll remember as I come to them. Christie is clearly a favourite among author lists. One of the cable channels is telecasting David Suchet's "Poirot" series usually when I'm getting off the train and waiting to catch a bus or autorickshaw back home by which time I've missed most of it. I had seen a few of the two-part episodes in the past. Except for the excessive makeup, Suchet was the perfect Poirot.

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    1. I think Suchet took the role of Poirot and owns it, rather like John Thaw and Inspector Morse. I envy you reading the Christies fresh - I'm sure you'll find plenty to enjoy, and I look forward to reading your reviews and perhaps your top 5 list some day....

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  3. Currently my list has Miss Marple's Final Cases in 1st place. The Final Cases of Miss Marple's in 2nd position. Third come some Marple short stories title is Final Cases or something or other.
    4th and 5th to be occupied at a later date by Five Little Pigs, Roger Ackroyd and the something 10 either going to or from Paddington. They may usurp the first three at some point.

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    1. I dunno Col - there must have been, what, ten separate stories in that book. Maybe you should put them in order....? Look forward to your reading a few more of hers. All the ones you mention are good....

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    2. I had it in my head it was 3.10 in the title, which is going to bug me now - is there another book by someone else with 3.10? You are far too polite to correct me, but it's 4.50 - I looked it up.
      Might be able to give you a proper list in a year or two!

      Ping - Lightbulb moment Elmore Leonard - 3.10 to Yuma. You can see why I could confuse the Detroit crime king-pin with the Dame Agatha!

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    3. I know of 3.10 to Yuma, but I wouldn't have known Elmore Leonard wrote it. It's a film and a remake in my recollection...

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  4. Interesting, Moira. I like all these books but none are my favourites. My top 5 would be: 1. Crooked House 2. Sleeping Murder 3. Cat among the Pigeons 4. Mrs McGinty's Dead 5. Death Comes As the End

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    1. Oh my goodness, Sarah, don't do this to me! Cat among the Pigeons and Mrs McG both should really be on my list too....

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  5. All really good choices Moira, though MOVING FINGER did surprise me - if I have to pick a Marple I usually plump for A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, but I am going to re-read that as it has been a while!

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    1. I do very much like A Murder is Announced - as I imply above, I think the Moving Finger is a real teenage leftover. I can't get past my teenage affection for it, though I'm sure other books are better by objective standards!

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  6. Moira - I think you made some fantastic choices. And what I think is especially interesting about your choices is that each of them has a slightly different focus. It shows not only your own variety in taste, but also Christie's skill in my opinion.

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    1. Thanks Margot for those kind words, and for the deserved praise for Christie. I think we'd all love to know your own personal Top 5... can we hope for an upcoming blogpost....?

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  7. What a great list, and with some unusual choices too. I am reading all of Christie's crime novels in order of publication. I blog about the here: https://fennell-books.squarespace.com/the-great-agatha-christie-challenge/

    I've read the first 25 and I think the ABC Murders is my favourite so far. I like the way Poirot doesn't have a fixed list of suspects, as it could be literary anyone!

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    1. Thanks for visiting Nellie - I just went and took a look at your blog and really enjoyed what I found there: I'll be back. I love reading other opinions on Christie, and was glad to find you liked Man in a Brown Suit. You should do an interim Top 5 as you work through them, and then a definitive one when you've finished....

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  8. Agatha Christie's plots and her style inspired so many later authors. I wish I had time to read all her books. My favourites at the moment [1] Peril at End House [2] Five Little Pigs [3] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd [4] Death on the Nile [5] Endless Night.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your list Uriah - a good one. I like all yours, and Endless Night is all the better for being very different from her previous ones - Christie was still experimenting at an advanced age, you really have to admire her for that.

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  9. I have been looking forward to this post. I cannot come up with 5 favorites, because I have only read 10 or 12 Christies in the last 3 years, and I don't remember what I read in my younger years. Even so, I am sure Murder on the Orient Express will be near the top, and probably Crooked House also. I think I will have to come back to comment more later. Work beckons.

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    1. Two very good ones there. Other people mentioning their favourites is agony, I should have done a top 10, or 15, or 20. Look forward to hearing more from you about her as you read more....

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    2. I have not read any of the ones you chose. I am reading in order of pub., sort of. I really would like to read Death on the Nile and then watch the movie. And Five Little Pigs and the adaptation you mention.

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    3. Lucky you to have it all ahead of you...

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  10. Moira, I'm not qualify to choose my five best. Either I have not read enough of her books or it was a long time ago, when I was in my early teens. Instead I will select the five books I'm most interested to read in a near future: Peril at End House, Five Little Pigs, Crooked House, Sad Cypress and Endless Night. Two of my favourites that I have read more recently are The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None. Am less interested in Murder on the Orient Express and on Death on the Nile for the only reason that I have seen them countless of times on the screen. And I do have a good memory of Murder in Mesopotamia.

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    1. Nice selection there Jose Ignacio, and I hope you enjoy them when you get to read/reread them. They are all good ones. I'd like to reread Sad Cypress soon I think, and also Endless Night.

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  11. Hi Moira, so sorry, I thought I had left a comment this morning when I had posted my five. I certainly tried - twice - clearly have not got to grips with my new blog host.
    Third time lucky, I hope. I was so interested to read yours and see that we both chose The Moving Finger. I too remembered the transformation scene. I also considered A Murder is Announced.
    The Body in the Library is surely up your street? Clothes are important there?
    Years since I have read some of them. Must try The Man in the Brown Suit again and Death on the Nile.
    This has been fun. Let's do something similar again sometime.

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    1. Yes this is positively painful as others remind me of ones I should have had - I do love Body in the Library, and as it happens it was one of the very first books to get the Clothes in Books treatment way back in January 2012: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/body-in-library.html Like you I am ready for some re-reads now. And Yes, let's definitely do this again, I really enjoyed it.

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  12. I'm going at this by favourite book for each sleuth and favourite standalone:

    Crooked House. (Standalone. This one genuinely blew me away.)
    Sleeping Murder. (Miss Marple)
    After The Funeral. (Poirot. Nobody notices a... spoilers, sweetie.)
    N or M? (Tommy & Tuppence. I love how the plot revolves around... spoilers, sweetie.)

    Actually, I can't really count Harley Quinn or Parker Pyne among my top five books, and I really dislike a lot of the spy ones other than the T&T ones (even those with other authors) So what do I choose for the fifth book? Argh. Well,. there are my top books for each main detective and my top standalone (probably my top AC book all around). The fifth will have to remain nebulous and floaty.

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    1. Nice collection there, and I like the idea of choosing one for each sub-genre. I love Parker Pyne in fact, he would have been a good choice for me. Not so sure about some of the other random detectives.

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  13. A really enjoyable post. I'm glad you love that spot at Greenway, as I do. I'll have a think and come up with my own list.

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    1. Thanks Martin - and yes please, would love to read your list.

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  14. This is tough, Moira. I'd have to put "And Then There Were None" at the top of the list. Then, in no particular order, "The A.B.C. Murders," "The Labours of Hercules" (yes, short stories, but how well done and how well themed!), "Why Didn't They Ask Evans" and "Mrs. McGinty's Dead." These are personal favorites (and there are MANY others), not a "best" list! And "The Man in the Brown Suit" certainly deserves a place of honor.

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  15. Great list Les, and thanks for joining in. Labours of Hercules is a very good short story collection, though not many people have chosen stories as I can see you've noticed. I think we all accept that it's personal favourites - even though we're all good at arguing our case!

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  16. I just finished posting my top two on Martin Edwards's blog. For classic Christie, I go with Death in the Clouds because she gives you the clue as to the murderer's identity very obviously, but so lightly, you don't even notice it. But my absolute favorite is Endless Night, so unusual for Christie with its working-class narrator and frank expression of sexual passion. Also, for me at least, a completely unexpected twist toward the end.

    To round out the top five, I'd go with Cards on the Table (a lesson in how to sustain suspense with a very limited number of suspects); At Bertram's Hotel (which includes a quick mention of the Beatles); and Murder on the Orient Express.

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    1. Thanks Deb for visiting and posting. I like your list - and agree, Endless Night was very clever and unusual.

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