It is difficult to create a truly enduring protagonist for a mystery story yet Agatha Christie created several. Even ignoring some of her lesser creations like Battle, Parker Pyne and Harley Quin, several of whom are perfectly competent sleuths, we are left with Tommy and Tuppence, Miss Jane Marple and perhaps the most enduring detective of the Golden Age – Hercule Poirot.
These characters have endured and their stories continue to sell and be adapted into multiple media including films, television, video games and comic books. They endure because of the quality of Christie’s plotting, the inventiveness of the situations she creates and the personalities of these detective figures. Poirot may be a frustrating little man but his philosophy and his dedication to discovering the truth make him a compelling detective.
In addition to creating several great detectives, Christie also penned several of the most iconic mystery stories including a few that have a reach far beyond fans of the genre. To give a couple of examples, Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None both are widely known, even to those who have never cracked the spine on a Christie novel. There are also titles that are beloved by fans of the genre for their originality such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
While I have only blogged about a small fraction of Christie’s work I have read the vast majority of it – I believe all of the official Poirot novels (except Black Coffee, the play which was adapted into a novel some years after Christie’s death), all of the Marples and at this point a healthy number of original works. Below are links to all of my reviews to date.
The list of titles below has been quickly compiled for the sake of creating the index – some of Christie’s short story collections in particular may be missing or misfiled.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
The owner of a country estate is found dead from an apparent case of strychnine poisoning.
I personally rather enjoy The Mysterious Affair at Styles but I do think the mystery itself is one of Poirot’s less interesting cases.
The Murder on the Links (1923)
Poirot receives a letter from Paul Renard asking for his help and requesting he visit his home in northern France. When they arrive they learn he has been murdered and buried in a shallow grave on a golf course.
…a more complex and intricately plotted book than its predecessor…
Poirot Investigates (1924)
A collection of short stories featuring Hercule Poirot.
…the quality of these stories… differs quite sharply with only a couple of truly memorable stories and quite a few duds in this particular assortment.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
A wealthy industrialist is found murdered in his study. Poirot, now living in retirement, is asked by the deceased’s niece to investigate.
Right considered a classic and one of Christie’s greatest achievements. Make sure you read it before the solution is spoiled for you.
The Big Four (1927)
Hastings returns to London to find Poirot on the trail of a shadowy criminal organization known as The Big Four.
A tedious attempt at a espionage thriller. Largely dull, this suffers from poorly defining the aims and motivations of its villains.
The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)
A woman is murdered on a train traveling through France and her precious rubies are stolen.
This dull mystery plot has never really sparked any excitement in me. Sadly this time is no different.
Black Coffee (1930 – Play, 1998 – Novel)
Poirot and Hastings visit a famous physicist but on their arrival they find him murdered and a formula has been stolen.
I have not reviewed this on the blog.
Peril at End House (1932)
While holidaying in Cornwall Poirot learns of a woman’s narrow escapes from death and decides to act as her protector.
It is cleverly plotted with a memorable setup and some entertaining interactions between Poirot and Hastings.
Lord Edgeware Dies (1933)
When Lord Edgeware is found murdered suspicion falls on his estranged wife. But how could she have been seen in two places at the same time?
By no means a classic story but the plot has a few interesting features while the characterizations are pretty good.
Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
A man tries to hire Poirot to protect him during a train ride across Europe. Poirot refuses but when the man is found murdered, Poirot is called on to investigate.
A well-plotted story with a truly memorable conclusion. It is not my favorite Poirot novel but it deserves its reputation as a classic.
Three Act Tragedy (1934)
An elderly vicar dies of nicotine poisoning while having cocktails but there is no trace of the poison in his drink or the food he ate.
Very cleverly plotted with some great characterization.
Death in the Clouds (1935)
A moneylender is murdered during a flight between France and England while Poirot sleeps just a few rows away.
This boasts a memorable setting and method of murder but I was unconvinced by the solution.
The ABC Murders (1936)
A serial killer challenges Poirot to stop him from commiting murders which are taking place in an alphabetical sequence.
One of Christie’s most interesting cases. As good upon revisiting it as I felt it was the first time around. Highly recommended.
Murder in Mesopotamia (1936)
The wife of an archaeologist is found murdered in a room with just one entrance that was under constant observation.
Not a favorite. The setting and characters feel well-observed but I find Amy Leatheran tiresome and to say a couple of plot points are incredible would perhaps be understating things.
Cards on the Table (1936)
Poirot is invited to a party at which he will be introduced to four murderers who got away with their crimes. The host is stabbed during a game of bridge prompting Poirot to investigate the pasts and psychology of each of the four possible murderers.
While there are a few dry bridge-dominated passages and a few moments we might describe as a little stuck in their time, I think the story is a clever and original one…
Murder in the Mews (1937)
A collection of three novellas and a short story.
A rather uneven collection of stories. Those who feel that Christie works best as a novelist will find little here to challenge their belief.
Dumb Witness (1937)
An elderly spinster writes to Poirot out of concern that one of her relatives may have tried to murder her. The letter however does not reach him until after her death.
This clever tale boasts one of Christie’s most distinctive victims and a broadly satisfying conclusion.
Death on the Nile (1937)
A wealthy young woman on her honeymoon is shot in her bed during a river cruise.
Deservedly one of the most famous of Poirot’s cases, boasting one of her most interesting victims and some fascinating human drama.
Appointment with Death (1938)
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938)
The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories (1939)
Sad Cypress (1940)
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940)
Evil Under the Sun (1941)
Five Little Pigs (1942)
The Hollow (1946)
The Labours of Hercules (1947)
The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (1948)
Taken at the Flood (1948)
Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (1950)
The Under Dog and Other Stories (1951)
Mrs McGinty’s Dead (1952)
After the Funeral (1953)
Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)
Dead Man’s Folly (1956)
Cat Among the Pigeons (1959)
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960)
Double Sin and Other Stories (1961)
The Clocks (1963)
Third Girl (1966)
Hallowe’en Party (1969)
Elephants Can Remember (1972)
Poirot’s Early Cases (1974)
The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
The Thirteen Problems (1932)
The Body in the Library (1942)
The Moving Finger (1942)
A Murder Is Announced (1950)
They Do It with Mirrors (1952)
A Pocket Full of Rye (1953)
4.50 from Paddington (1957)
The Mirror Crack’d (1961)
A Caribbean Mystery (1964)
At Bertram’s Hotel (1965)
Sleeping Murder (1976)
13 Clues for Miss Marple (1977)
Miss Marple’s Final Cases (1980)
Tommy and Tuppence
The Secret Adversary (1922)
Partners in Crime (1929)
N or M? (1941)
By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968)
Postern of Fate (1973)
The Man in the Brown Suit (1924)
A young woman determined to start a new life moves to London where she witnesses a man being murdered and discovers a secret message leading her around the world.
Christie’s story maintains a strong pace and I found both narrators to be charming and distinctive
The Secret of Chimneys (1925)
The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
The Sittaford Mystery (1931)
During a snowstorm a group chooses to use a ouija board for entertainment. When a message appears that Captain Trevelyan has been murdered his friend Major Burnaby insists on walking through the snow to check on him. Finding the door locked he summons the Police who find the Captain lying dead.
Unfortunately while the introduction to the crime is interesting, it turns out to be dressing for a much more pedestrian murder case.
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1935)
Bobby Owens, trying to retrieve a golf ball that went over a cliff edge, finds a man lying dying and muttering “Why didn’t they ask Evans?”. Feeling obligated to pass on this cryptic phrase to the deceased’s relatives he writes to them, setting in motion a strange series of events.
…far from Christie at her best, particularly if you don’t warm to Bobby or Frankie the way I did (based on some of the comments I have read it seems that Bobby is an acquired taste).
And Then There Were None (1939)
Murder is Easy (1939)
An elderly woman travels by train to London to report a murder she believes will take place in her village. When she is killed in a hit and run on the way the man who sat next to her on the train investigates her claims himself.
…much of the setup for the story and the atmosphere it conjures up is quite delicious and shows enormous potential [that sadly isn’t fully realized]
Death Comes as the End (1944)
Set during the period of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, this story begins with Imhotep returning to his home with a young woman he installs as his concubine. This leads to jealousy and resentment in his children. Then the woman is found dead at the foot of a cliff…
…it conjures up a strong sense of place and culture and though I think it may disappoint a little as a detective story, I felt gripped by the way it unfolded.
Sparkling Cyanide (1944)
A woman dies of cyanide poisoning at a dinner to celebrate her birthday with her friends and family around her. An inquest returns a verdict of suicide but a year later her husband begins receiving notes suggesting it was murder.
It is beautifully paced and the characterization is very strong.
Towards Zero (1944)
An elderly woman is brutally murdered in her bed during a family gathering. The physical evidence seems to indicate a suspect but they do not seem to have a motive.
Perhaps its most effective aspect… is the development of the novel’s key themes and ideas which are powerful and, at times, quite chilling.
Crooked House (1949)
They Came to Baghdad (1951)
Destination Unknown (1954)
A scientist’s unexpected disappearance during an overseas conference worries the British intelligence service. They intend to use his wife to track him down but when she is injured in a plane crash they employ a lookalike to take her place.
It’s not really much of a mystery but I think there are some excellent story beats and I think it does present some interesting ideas.
Ordeal by Innocence (1958)
Jacko Argyle had died in prison after being convicted of murdering his adoptive mother. Arthur Calgary could have proved his innocence but was injured in an accident and only recently recovered his memory. He meets Jacko’s family and shares this information, hoping it will bring them peace. Instead it just proves that the killer is still among them.
I would not agree with Christie’s own assessment that it is one of her very best works but I did find its central theme interesting and provocative.
The Pale Horse (1961)
Endless Night (1967)
Passenger to Frankfurt (1970)
A British diplomat is approached at an airport and agrees to switch passports with a stranger and drink drugged beer. Soon afterwards visitors arrive at his flat and secretly search his possessions. And then there is a strange message in the classified section of the paper telling him to visit a location at a particular time…
I wish I could say something more original than this but it is far from Christie at her best.
The Golden Ball (1972)
The Mousetrap and Other Plays (1981)
Surprise! Surprise! (1983)
Miss Marple (1985)
Problem at Pollensa Bay (1992)
While the Light Lasts (1994)
The Harlequin Tea Set (1997)
The Unexpected Guest (2008) (play adapted by Charles Osborne)
Author portrait in header image by Bassano Ltd. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Used under Creative Commons 3.0 licence. This photograph has been slightly cropped.