Christie Firsts: The Best Introductory Books

 
Christie firsts
Our heroine, Agatha
 


Kate Jackson is a fellow Tuesday Night Club-er and crime fiction fan who blogs as Cross-Examining Crime, and she had a brilliant idea for marking the birthday of the blessed Agatha Christie today, 15th September, in this, the 40th year after her death.

She said:
On this day I decided to do a post called Christie Firsts which suggests to new Christie readers which novels are the best introduction to Poirot, Marple, the Beresfords, Superintendent Battle, Christie's thrillers and Christie's stand alone novels. I've done my picking and given a reason why.

And then she extended the challenge to other bloggers. So I wasn’t going to miss that chance. These are my choices, and Kate will list other people’s as well as her own over at her blog.


So – these are chosen with a view to best introducing a new reader to Christie… (links are to reviews on this blog)

 
Christie firsts 1
Looks innocent. Ancient photos provide the clues
 

For Hercule Poirot: Mrs McGinty’s Dead My favourite Poirots tend to be the 40s and 50s ones, and this is slap bang in the period (1952) and a very appealing entry. It contains proper detection, and there is the excellent setup: Mrs McG died after saving a newspaper cutting about former murderers. Which of them is lurking in this very English village – who has a secret worth killing for? Anyone who believes, incorrectly, that Poirot deals humourlessly and over-respectfully with aristocracy in stately homes should read this one and be surprised. The details of life in the 50s are splendid too, and the hideous b&b is glorious.


 
Christie firsts 2
Land girls, impersonation and the black market
 


For Miss Marple: A Murder is Announced. (1950) Village life after WW2 – and far from being cozy despite surface appearances. The local paper contains an advert for a murder to take place that night: Is it a game or a joke? Everyone turns up at the address given, and someone dies. The plot is ludicrous, but everything else is excellent – great structure, a large cast of well-defined characters (some of whom seem like stereotypes, but then you never know with Christie), and great conversations and pictures of life, and of the uncertainties after the war. A really memorable Marple.



Colonel Race/standalone/foreign setting/flapperChristie firsts 4 adventure: One book to cover all of these: The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). This is a good introduction to Christie because it is such an enjoyable and unexpected book – it’s not particularly typical of her later work in fact, but the roots are all there – it’s funny, contains some wonderful female characters and some very clever tricks. Travel details (if not crimes) based on Christie's own round-the-world journey - that's her on board ship to the right.


For Superintendent Battle: Towards Zero (1944) Clever, well-worked out, nice characters and dialogue. A nasty murder and a chilling plot in an enjoyable holiday setting – there’s a lot of the ‘psychology’ she often mentions rather randomly, but in this case it is beautifully woven into an excellent plot.


Now I’m supposed to pick a Tommy & Tuppence book to recommend, but oh, look at the time! Must dash!... I'm supposed to be persuading you to read Christie not putting you off, after all. (But you can read about Secret Adversary and N or M? on the blog if you want to…)



Thanks to Kate for a great idea – do go over and look at her blog.




















Comments

  1. What an absolutely fabulous idea for a blog post, Moira! I'm so glad you did this. I agree completely with your choices, too. In fact, Mrs. McGinty's Dead was actually the first Agatha Christie novel that I ever read. And The Man in the Brown Suit was the second. Both serve as wonderful introductions to the characters and to Christie's style.

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    1. Oh that's a very nice coincidence, glad to hear that. And they really are two fine books. Love to know what your choices would be...

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  2. Great choices and it is interesting that you and John at Pretty Sinister blog picked the same Poirot novel. May need to give Mrs McGinty's Dead a re-read. Not one I have distinct memories of.

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    1. It is a very entertaining one, Kate. I enjoyed reading your choices too - this was fun to do, a different take from the usual questions about Christie.

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  3. Good heavens! You and I matched on every single category. Every one! I'm floored. But as they say: Great minds think alike. :^D

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    1. I think it is obvious that you and I are CORRECT in our choices! Am going over there to take a look.

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  4. Moira, when you think about it, this project is rather silly for us huge Christie fans. Yes, we're going to disagree on certain things, but ultimately every book someone suggests is going to make the true fan go "ooohh" and "aaahhh." I mean, who's going to suggest Elephants Can Remember for Poirot or Destination Unknown for thriller??

    Meanwhile, I love McGinty, too; perhaps it's my favorite "start to finish" Poirot, meaning that he's there from first page to last. (Good grief, Kate! If you don't remember it, re-read! Re-read!!!) If I was going to recommend my favorites, it would have been After the Funeral! But a newbie should read the classics, I always say; that's why I plumped for Nile.

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    1. I really enjoyed the thought processes of trying to imagine someone who had never read Christie - difficult for me to do when I've been reading them since I was very young, and that's a lot of years now, she's been very much a part of my life. and yes, there is some pretty general agreement on which are the stinkers.

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  5. Moira, I'm so glad I haven't read more than half of Christie's novels; this despite the fact that my wife has her entire collection, not counting Mary Westmacott. I liked "The Man in the Brown Suit" a lot. It kept me guessing till the end. Anyway, I have never been good at figuring out the identity of the murder.

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    1. You've got such joy ahead of you Prashant - and lucky you to have all the books to hand! Time you read another I think...

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  6. And more great choices! [Although I do like Tommy & Tuppence way more than you....] And, as I told John, I really do need to reread Mrs. McGinty. It's been a long time since I read that one and like Kate I don't remember it very well.

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    1. Thanks Bev - it's been so interesting to read everyone's choices. Mrs McGinty's dead is a real winner.

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  7. Of the ones you recommend, the only one I have read is The Man in the Brown Suit, which I did enjoy quite a bit.

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    1. Well you have lots of joy to come Tracy.

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  8. Yes, it's pretty difficult to argue with those choices, although an alternative Poirot might be THE ABC MURDERS. Usual dazzling plotting, and the whole set-up (the alternating point-of-view, the serial killings and so on) feel quite modern, and Christie even works in some humour.

    In some of the later Marples, she is shunted off out of the village setting, but this is the quintessential murder in the small village. It absolutely nails down that setting at that point in time. The plot is ludicrous, although one part of the plot subsequently happened in real life, I understand. When asked about his rather contrived plots, John Dickson Carr made the point that he followed the guide-line that he didn't care whether a certain thing would be 'likely to happen' merely whether it was 'possible that it could happen'. I tend to keep that in mind with some of Christie's wackier bits of plotting!

    The standalone for me could also be something like SECRET OF CHIMNEYS/SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY/ WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS? They really did surprise me when I first read them because of their breezy, Wodehousian style. There's also a sense that she's parodying what was then the current style of thrillers. I'm sllightly fonder of T&T than you are, but I suspect that if I were trapped in a house with them for a week I might end up murdering one or both of them!

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    1. ... and I'm sure your murder would be completely undetectable.
      I am very fond of Seven Dials mystery, it is funny and clever. ABC Murders - I recognize its good points with my head, but it doesn't have a place in my heart like some of the others.
      And totally agree - I do occasionally carp at improbabilities, but if it makes for a good book/plot we should be applauding it.

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  9. Well I haven't read her since my schooldays and despite the recs I'll stick with the couple I have in the tubs. Maybe I'll read them on her 150th Anniversary - but somehow I fear that may come around a bit too soon for me!

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    1. Resistance is useless, you will have to get to her sooner or later.

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