Rereading Agatha Christie — Part One

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.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

9781408889541Agatha Christie meets Quantum Leap in Stuart Turton’s high-concept, propulsive murder mystery.

A man with no memory wakes terrified in a forest. He glimpses a woman chased through the trees, her name on his lips: Anna. Then a gunshot rings out. And The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle begins.

As far as taglines go, Stuart Turton’s debut mystery novel has a great one: “Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie”. Which is so, so much better than the usual “Thriller of the Year” line that gets used constantly, and conjures, at best, an eye roll; probably not the emotional response marketing departments are hoping for. Not that a great tagline maketh a great book, but damn, you’ll pique my interest, and at the very least entice me to sample the opening chapters.

And the opening chapters got me. They got me good.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle needs to be read in a spoiler-free bubble. The less you know about its labyrinthine plot the better. It is an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery that takes place in the classic setting of the 1920s country house — Blackheath — with a sensational twist: our protagonist will re-live the same day, through the eyes eight separate individuals, until he identifies the killer. Every morning he wakes up in a different body, or host, with memories of his experiences in the previous hosts — and the personalities of his hosts battling for supremacy within his mind — but if he doesn’t discern the killer by the end of day eight, he’ll return to day one, and be forced to re-live the cycle, again and again; a cruel kind of purgatory.

The plot is complicated, myriad of clues laced throughout the narrative. Meticulously plotted and stylishly written, this is a page-turner with a distinct twist and surprises right up to the very end. It is a mystery novel on an epic scale, and you’ll be hard-pressed to read a more tightly-constructed, better-plotted thriller this year.

 

ISBN-10: 1408889544
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom