7/30/19: It’s been over a year since I originally posted this blog, and it’s by far my most popular post ever. I figured it was time to do a little refresh and add in some of my newest Christie reads! Below is the original post, plus five new titles.
I. Love. Agatha.
I am not a slasher, psychological thriller, criminal minds mystery lover. I unashamedly love cozy mysteries, and Agatha Christie is one of my favorite mystery authors.
One of my goals is to read every single Agatha Christie book ever written, but I have a feeling this will be a lifelong pursuit (she wrote 70+ books!). Last year, I knocked several more Christies off my list, and I’ve finally read enough to begin a ranking list of my favorites.
I know some readers feel Christie mysteries are either a hit or miss, and while I’ve definitely read some misses, for the most part I find Christie’s books to be consistently enjoyable. Hopefully this list will help you select your next cozy read from the Queen of Mystery:
Ten men and women are mysteriously summoned to an island where they are forced to reconcile with their sins—as an unknown killer begins to pick them off one by one.
Utter. Brilliance. This is probably Agatha Christie’s most well-known work, and for good reason. It’s twisty, chilling, and just plain clever. This was also the first Agatha Christie book I ever read. As The Lord of the Rings is a must-read for any fantasy lover, And Then There Were None is required reading for mystery lovers.
Bonus: The 2015 mini-series is incredibly well done. Gave me chills and I even knew what was coming!
2. Death on the Nile [Hercule Poirot]
A beautiful young woman’s mysterious death shatters a peaceful cruise on the Nile, but Hercule Poirot is determined to find the killer who’s still onboard.
This is one of my favorite Hercule Poirot mysteries. The setting is exotic, the mystery is smart, and the reveal is extremely satisfying! I didn’t see the ending coming, and for me, that’s the mark of a great mystery. What I love most is that this book is that it’s transporting—meaning that I felt like I was floating down the Nile with Hercule Poirot. The atmosphere is fantastic!
Bonus: Death on the Nile will be the sequel to the recent Murder on the Orient Express movie!
7/30/19 Update: I decided to reread Death on the Nile in preparation for the movie, and was disappointed to find Egyptian children and Egyptians in general largely dehumanized and caricatured.
3. The Murder at the Vicarage [Miss Marple]
I’ve talked about Murder at the Vicarage here and here, so I think it’s safe to say that I LOVED THIS BOOK. Before I gave Miss Marple a try, I was convinced there could be nothing interesting about a little old lady solving crimes (judgmental, I know!). But I’ll fully admit it: I was wrong!
This mystery was not what I was expecting—Miss Marple is not the main player in the story (like in many Poirot books), but her expertise in “human nature” is ultimately what saves the day.
4. Murder on the Orient Express [Hercule Poirot]
Poirot must draw from all his resources to find the killer of a most-loathed man from among thirteen passengers on the Orient Express.
This book had one of the most surprising endings of any mystery book I’ve ever read. I definitely recommend reading the book if you’ve only seen the movie. While I loved Kenneth Branagh’s recent film adaptation, the book’s resolution is much more satisfying. This is one of Christie’s most famous novels, and for good reason.
5. The Mystery of the Blue Train [Hercule Poirot]
The Mystery of the Blue Train spans across Europe as Poirot investigates the death of a beautiful young woman on a train to the Mediterranean … and the jewel that lead to her demise.
This one starts out a bit unconventionally—cursed jewels, gangs, gypsies—but soon settles into a familiar Poirot storyline. I never suspected the killer, and like Death on the Nile, you’re pulled into a world of intrigue, passion, and European decadence. It’s one of my favorite Christie audiobooks too!
6. The Moving Finger [Miss Marple]
The village of Lymstock seems perfectly peaceful, until a series of vicious anonymous letters sends everyone into an uproar … leading one villager to commit suicide.
Sadly, this book doesn’t feature much of Miss Marple—she sort of swoops in at the end and solves the mystery—but the narrator is (mostly) likable and the plot is deliciously twisty. The only thing I didn’t really like was the relationship between Jerry (the narrator) and Megan Hunter. Throughout the story she’s portrayed as a 20-year-old who acts more like a 10-year-old in dress and behavior, which makes Jerry’s attraction to her seem kind of creepy. But overall, I loved how the characters evolved throughout the story, and how the murderer (as usual) was the person I least expected! Megan’s heroism helps save the day, and I found this Christie a thoroughly satisfying read.
7. A Murder is Announced [Miss Marple]
The whole village is aflutter when a murder announcement is placed in the local paper—and local residents can’t resist coming to watch!
At first, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish this one. The first few chapters introducing all the characters were just boring. Then, the “murder attempt” was so ridiculous I was almost embarrassed for the characters! “How can this book be on so many top lists?!” I wondered. But once you get past the “setting the stage” portion of the book, it gets really good.
This one also features plenty of Miss Marple, and I never saw the ending coming! Highly recommend.
8. The Body in the Library [Miss Marple]
This is a classic Marple tale and one I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. As a librarian, anything with library in the title has my attention! The Body in the Library benefited from some great secondary characters, including smart and interesting investigators and Jane’s friend Dolly.
When Dolly and the Colonel awake to their maid shrieking that a body has been found in the library, Dolly thinks it’s all marvelously exciting. That is, until speculation and rumor about her husband and the young, dead blonde cause her to enlist Miss Marple’s help.
This book had good atmosphere, characters, and a twisty plot. The audiobook is also particularly good. I love the narrator!
9. They Do It with Mirrors [Miss Marple]
I’m not sure if any Agatha Christie mysteries are set at a psyche ward, but a reform school for delinquent young men is almost nearly as interesting!
Miss Marple’s friend Ruth is worried about her younger sister Carrie-Louise. She can’t quite put her finger on why she’s worried, but Ruth suspects all is not well at the reform school Carrie-Louise and her husband run. Miss Marple is on the case!
I enjoyed the wide cast of characters and the twisting family history. This is a semi-locked-door mystery, and you’ll be wondering until the end who is reliable, and who is not. This book is narrated by Emilia Fox, who does a bad job with American accents in The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, and while she does better here, her American Southern accent was especially poor. Thankfully, that character doesn’t speak too often.
I usually avoid short stories like the plague. I don’t know why … something about the shortness of short stories always seems to leave me wanting more. I actually only picked this book up because I wanted to read something short to hit my 2017 reading goals.
So, imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed this collection! Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Parker Pyne all make appearances. Far from being disappointing, these quick, punchy stories get right to the mystery and resolution quickly. I enjoyed listening in short spurts as I did chores around the house. It was great to not feel pressured to listen for long periods of time while still having the satisfaction of listening to a complete story.
11. The A.B.C. Murders [Hercule Poirot]
The A.B.C. Murders is arguably a fan favorite—and it is extremely clever, twisty, and has a wonderfully creepy serial killer who seems to be murdering his way through the alphabet.
Most of the build up was a little slow for me. The payoff at the end was excellent, but unfortunately this one gets low marks from me because I can’t stand Poirot’s friend Captain Arthur Hastings. I know he’s a foil to Poirot’s genius, but still. *Begin rant* Besides the fact that he’s one of the most idiotic characters ever written, his internal monologue is painful. Painful. You’d think he would stop questioning Poirot’s abilities … how many investigations has he helped Poirot with at this point?! But no, he always thinks he knows better than Poirot and always ends up being amazed that Poirot figured out the crime without any help from him. Shocker! *Rant Over*
You’ll have to decide for yourself what you think about Hastings, but The A.B.C. Murders is definitely still worth the read.
An interesting premise—a man awakes from amnesia only to realize he could have provided an alibi for a man convicted in a murder trial. His guilt leads him to confess to the family, and he is surprised to discover they are displeased. Jacko, the black sheep of the family, was the one person they all hoped was guilty.
This one gets lower marks for a few reasons. First, I essentially figured out the mystery before the reveal, one of the main characters was just plain annoying (and yet for some reason everyone seemed to be in love with her), and lastly, it purports some ideas about mothering and adoption that I’m still not sure about. One of the main sources of conflict in the story is that the matriarch of the family (the one murdered), cannot see people as they really are, and thus is overbearing in the extreme. This causes resentment, anger, and frustration for all the adopted Argyle children. I am not adopted, so I cannot speak to what it’s like to be part of an adopted family, but it seems like at times the book is implying that adopted children can never truly love or trust a family they’ve been adopted into.
7/30/19 Update: I recently watched the mini-series based on this book on Amazon Prime. Even though they changed the murderer, I really enjoyed the show.
13. Endless Night
This is probably one of the creepier Agatha Christie novels I’ve ever read, and perhaps that’s why I wasn’t a huge fan. The mixture of psychological suspense, obsession with architecture, disturbing passion, and that crazy twist at the end … it’s definitely not what you expect from a typical Christie. And that’s ok. It just wasn’t exactly my cup of Earl Grey tea. For much of the book, I didn’t know where the story was going, and I certainly disliked Michael Rodgers as the narrator. Add to that the creepy poem (quoted above) that is sung by one of the main characters at different points throughout the book, and you have a recipe for an eerie thriller.
Endless Night is considered one of Christie’s best, and in fact, is one of her own favorite works. It’s worth the read, but don’t expect it to be Agatha Christie business as usual!
14. A Caribbean Mystery [Miss Marple]
Miss Marple’s relaxing (and rather boring) vacation is interrupted by a simple question: “Would you like to see the picture of a murderer?” Before Miss Marple can answer, a man is dead, and the mysteries surrounding his sudden departure abound.
I found this book enjoyable, if not a little slow in places. Miss Marple, as ever, is clever in solving the mystery and saving a life while she’s underestimated by everyone around her.
One minor pet peeve was that the cover of the book has a cruise ship on the front, but none of the characters are ever on a cruise. Miss Marple flies back and forth from England. You also have the problem of how black people are portrayed: One character says something to the effect of, “they work like blacks.” And it seems implied that black island women are “naturally” promiscuous, which is obviously untrue and offensive.
15. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side [Miss Marple]
This Miss Marple is set later in her life and career, and much of the beginning of the story focuses on the “changes” and modernization in St. Mary Mead. (*cough* THE DEVELOPMENT *cough*)
This story brings back Dolly and a few characters from The Body in the Library, and a murder of misplaced poison takes place in Gossington Hall—now under the ownership of a famous actress. (Have you ever noticed how many Christie books involve a famous/rich person buying a country estate and disturbing local life?)
I love listening to Christie books on audiobook, but this title really suffers from the narrator’s inability to do American accents. And there are a lot of American characters. But it wasn’t just a bad narrator problem. I found this book a slow and a bit tired, and the reveal wasn’t satisfying. In a way, this title felt like it’s maybe trying to bridge between earlier Miss Marple books and later ones.
After coming off my high and loving The Regatta Mystery, I picked up this one with high expectations. I was thoroughly disappointed. Honestly, if these hadn’t been short and sweet, I likely wouldn’t have continued reading. That being said, this still isn’t the worst Christie I’ve ever read (that spot is still reserved for The Seven Dials Mystery). Thankfully, it’s still the only truly bad Christie I’ve ever read.
The stories “The Dressmaker’s Doll” and “The Last Seance” were truly awful (and truly silly), and the rest were just “meh.” I would skip over this collection and go with The Regatta Mystery instead if you’re looking for some enjoyable short stories.
17. The Mysterious Affair at Styles [Hercule Poirot]
Who killed the wealthy heiress? Was it her new husband? Her stepsons? Her housekeeper or her nurse? And how did they get into her locked chambers?
This is another Captain Hastings + Poirot mystery. As stated above, I don’t like Poirot books that feature Hastings. He’s like a more ditsy version of Dr. Watson. Which makes me wonder if Christie was trying to play off the Sherlock Holmes/Watson dynamic in these books? I suppose the Watson of the original Sherlock Holmes books was dazzled by Sherlock in a way that could be annoying, but that’s another discussion.
Back to this book. Besides my dislike for Hastings, I just didn’t think this was a very interesting mystery. Keeping track of the characters was more difficult than usual, and I suspected the resolution before it happened. Basically, a disappointing Poirot book all around. I recommend skipping this one.
18. Hallowe’en Party [Hercule Poirot]
An annoying teenager is drowned in a tub of apples during a Halloween party … not long after she was heard bragging that she witnessed a murder. Was she crying wolf again? Or was she finally telling the truth?
I read this book for Halloween because I love reading holiday-themed books. But goodness … this was disappointing. I had to keep forcing myself to finish and I was very close to having the whole thing figured out two-thirds of the way in. The whole plot felt odd and disjointed. I left with the feeling that this book was just an excuse to have a book that centered around Halloween—which is really a shame. I don’t recommend this one!
19. The Seven Dials Mystery [Superintendent Battle]
A group of young adults decide to play a prank on their friend who is known for oversleeping—they place eight alarm clocks in his room, only to discover he is dead the next morning. Soon, the survivors are involved with a secret society and international spy ring before discovering the truth of their friend’s murder.
The worst Christie I’ve read to date. The characters were incredibly one-dimensional, pompous, and ridiculous. I barely recognized Christie’s voice—the story is too light and the characters too petty. It was also annoying how every single character said, “Oh!” before they began a line of dialogue. Superintendent Battle barely played a role in the story at all (even less than Miss Marple), which seems like a waste.
The twist at the end redeemed it a little, but this book was the closest I’ve come to DNF-ing a Christie book. I just couldn’t take the plot (or a character named “Bundle”) seriously. I love this review on Goodreads about the book and recommend you read it if you’re still unsure.