It started with “Death on the Nile.”
It was a Potts Point Bookshop Crime Book Club selection. A few members indicated they had never read Agatha Christie; or it had been years — decades, even — since their last dalliance with the Queen of Crime. And I recalled it from childhood as one of my favourites. Little did I know it would lead to a literal orgy of Christie. During the last month I’ve devoured eight of her novels; seven Poirot’s and a standalone. I’ve had a grand time. I’ve only stopped now because my profession requires wider reading.
I chose these at random, based on what the shop had in stock, and recommendations from the Twittersphere. The writing in each is elegantly simple. Characters are mostly brushstrokes. They exist to service the plot. A suspension of belief is required. But as far as summer reading goes, these were ideal. Pacy, devised with precision, packed with red-herrings.
DEATH ON THE NILE (1937) ★★★★
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1934) ★★★★
CARDS ON THE TABLE (1936) ★★★★
EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1941) ★★★
THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES (1921) ★★★
THE ABC MURDERS (1936) ★★★★
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1939) ★★★★★
ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE (1940) ★★
The absolute standout was “And Then There were None,” which might just be my favourite mystery of all time. It’s no wonder contemporary writers iterate on it constantly. Ten strangers are united on an isolated island off the Devon coast, whence they quickly begin dropping like flies. It’s ingeniously preposterous, and ridiculously good fun; the kind of novel you can read again and again, to unlock its clues, and to understand its architecture.
“Death on the Nile,” “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Cards on the Table” were other favourites. Christie was a genius at the closed-room, limited suspect, constrained mystery. It’s especially impressive in “Cards on the Table,” where there are only four suspects.
“The ABC Murders” impressed me too, with its brilliant final twist, while “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” and “Evil Under the Stars” were satisfactory whodunits, cleverly plotted, but without the conspicuous ingenuity of the others. The only dud of the bunch, relatively so, was “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” whose crime and characters are rooted in ideologies of the day, and unravelled too convolutedly for my liking.