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In Memoriam: Agatha Christie

My first foray into "adult" mystery novels

· Reviews

I've been a fan of mysteries as long as I can remember—Encyclopedia Brown, Danny Dunn Scientific Detective, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. By the end of junior high, I had burned through most of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels. I love mysteries with twists, and it’s easy to see why Murder on the Orient Express continues to be a bestseller: the sense of claustrophobia on the train. The characters all trapped in a snowdrift ramps up the tension, and the resolution is incredibly satisfying (and relatively simple, to boot). 

Christie was a master of the puzzle mystery. She featured surprising but solvable crimes, almost all clued fairly. She rang changes on almost every who/howdunnit there could be except for the butler, and she came up with many of them first. Not only that, but, while written for adults, Christie's books are clean and simple enough for teens (and the occasional tween) to enjoy.

  • Christie's methods of killing characters are clean and she uses poisons for most of the murders in the books. She used her experience as an apothecary's assistant during the first world war to construct crime scenes based on poisons. Her perfect depiction of Ricin poisoning was apparently the first in literary history- this poison now known by its use in the Popular TV show “Breaking Bad”. She believed in clean deaths and had nearly no description of gory or violent murders in her books.
  • The plots are not very predictable so it would pique a kid's curiosity with every story. I nearly stopped reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew once I discovered Christie.
  • Very well researched plots and attention to detail. I remember reading the Murder in the Orient Express and later finding that all the train switches were perfect. She also had a lot of archaeological detail in her plots aided greatly by her archaeologist second husband at the time. She certainly made me read more than her books.
  • The characters she used as heroes, whether Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, were ordinary everyday people, sometimes with mildly funny mannerisms and habits. The characterizations were very consistent over time and really lovable at that.

All in all, a perfectly enjoyable and appropriate read for every kid from nine to ninety.

My favorite Agatha Christie books and screen adaptations:

  • Murder on the Orient Express. The iconic book was published in 1934, and both the 1974 movie starring Albert Finney and the 2017 film starring/directed by Kenneth Branagh are star-studded events worth a watch. 
  • The ABC Murders. Every detective attempting to connect seemingly disparate victims can trace their roots to Christie's ABC Murders. The 2019 three-episode miniseries starring John Malkovich as Poirot is engaging and dark.
  • Ordeal by Innocence is not in the Poirot or Miss Marple series, but it kept me guessing right until the final reveal. The 2018 miniseries is a great adaptation. 
  • One of my favorite Miss Marple novels is A Murder Is Announced. A thoroughly baffling setup (and quite progressive for its time, I think), this 1950 novel kept me reading long past my bedtime. I haven’t yet seen the 2005 adaptation for the Marple TV series, but the book is splendid.
  • While not part of the Christie canon (and not authorized by the Christie estate), three recent PBS movies are cunning, witty, and thoroughly engaging. They are loosely based on events in Christie’s life that aren’t well-documented, and the filmmakers create “what if?” scenarios, putting Agatha Christie in the role of sleuth. Not at all true—but the movies are well-done and fun. The series starts with Agatha and the Truth of Murder.