As I wrote back in September, I’ve decided to reread my entire Agatha Christie collection—all eighty-one volumes—in chronological order of publication. So far I’ve made it through Christie’s first decade. I had hoped this would mean an even number of ten books (as Christie published roughly once a year), but, in a shocking twist I never saw coming, she published two books in 1929 and so this post goes to eleven.
While not the best Christie mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is the first, and introduces us to legendary detective Hercule Poirot and his loyal sidekick Hastings. Styles also introduces us to what will become a staple of Christie’s work: the English country manor murder mystery. Despite being set during World War I, this novel does not have the most exciting of plots, but it certainly captures a vanishing age.
Like Styles, The Secret Adversary also begins during World War I, more specifically, on the sinking Lusitania after it has been torpedoed by a German U-boat and the passengers are waiting to board lifeboats. However, the scene quickly shifts to postwar London. This novel introduces Prudence Cowley and Thomas Beresford, soon to be Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, sort of a Nick and Nora Charles but with less drinking. The Secret Adversary is more of a rollicking spy adventure than a proper mystery, but it’s great fun.
Murder on the Links is like a Clue game come to life—there’s even a lead pipe! The story takes place in France and, while still in the country-house style, the plot is far more complex than Christie’s previous novels. Even though I have read this multiple times, I always forget most of the details. In fact, there are so many twists and turns that even writing this up now I can’t remember who did it. Frankly, I’m not sure if that is good or bad. Links is fine, just not super memorable.
Though Tommy and Tuppence make a lovely couple, The Man in the Brown Suit is the first truly romantic Christie. Like The Secret Adversary, it is also more of a spy thriller than pure mystery. The first of what will turn out to be quite a few adventure stories to take place in either Africa or the Middle East, this one always causes me to dream of taking the luxury train from Pretoria to Victoria Falls.
I am not generally a fan of short story collections but with mysteries they somewhat work for me because you just get the essence of the puzzle. And I love puzzles. Unfortunately, Poirot is rather insufferable here as Hastings is always left playing the fool to an outrageous degree.
For some reason, this spy thriller / adventure / romance really dragged for me. Or maybe it’s just that I got caught up in other books at the same time. In any case, this mash-up of The Secret Adversary and The Man in the Brown Suit is ultimately less successful than either. It plods along at times and the plot strains credulity more than once. But I do love both Virginia Revel and Bundle, who seems very much like a lost Mitford sister. Luckily, she shows up again (see below). This is the first appears of Superintendent Battle, who will show up from time to time in future novels.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the few Christies where I will never forget who did it, so it does not fare so well as a reread. However, what I do love about Ackroyd is that it really lays out the clues well and shows the reader how Poirot operates. This novel was extremely innovative for its time and was very well received; it is one of Christie’s best known novels.
The Big Four was actually first published as distinct short stories that were then woven together to create one narrative (apparently, due to her mother’s death and disintegrating marriage, Christie found herself unable to write for a time). The stories themselves are fairly derivative and imitative of Sherlock Holmes in that they focus on a mysterious international crime ring. She even introduces a reclusive but brilliant brother for Hercule Poirot in the last act, with Poirot joking that every great detective has one. Still, this novel is quite enjoyable and I’m at a loss to see why its rating on Goodreads is distinctly lower than the others.
I have no memory of reading The Mystery of the Blue Train before. I always like mysteries that have to do with trains, and this one was no different. I love the character of Katherine Grey and I wish she would reappear in later books—especially since she lives in St. Mary Mead! This is one of the more complicated Christie plots and I think it is handled well; however, it does get bogged down at times in its intricacies and given the large number of characters.
There is something about this Christie that gives it a very Nancy Drew vibe. Maybe because it focuses so much on Bundle (the young woman from The Secret of Chimneys)? Or maybe because of the clocks? In any case, The Seven Dials Mystery is one of those novels where I really like the story as it’s going along but am ultimately disappointed in the solution. I don’t know if it’s because it gets wrapped up so quickly or what. In any case, it does offer some of the best commentary of any Christie on British society.
As I wrote above in reference to Poirot Investigates, I am not a fan of short story collections. Here, because it is Tommy and Tuppence, and they are riffing on other famous detectives, I was able to enjoy these stories more than I otherwise might have. However, only a couple of the mysteries are really interesting in and of themselves. Mostly they fall flat.
I’ve linked to my mini-reviews of the titles above. As always, you can see all my reading and access other reviews on my Goodreads page.