This classic Poirot murder mystery always hovers near the top whenever a discussion of Christie’s greatest novels arises, rightly so. Along with a handful of later books, it made her name and displayed her particular genius for a simple yet daring concept, and an ending that yanks the carpet from under the unsuspecting reader’s feet.
Christie dedication at the beginning of the book (to her older sister, nicknamed Punkie) playfully refers to it as orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on everyone in turn! True enough, until its startling conclusion the novel runs as a straightforward and seemingly conventional murder mystery, taking place in a small village of King’s Abbot.
Books are like cities. Some you only ever need to visit once and you absorb all they have to offer in one go, while others you could re-visit over and over, getting lost in its alleys and passageways and noticing new things every time. This book, not quite a traditional novel but more like a novel in short stories, about the community in a small coastal town in Maine, is so rich in detail and insight I can see myself picking it up from the book shelf a few times over.
Though Christie wrote a great many standalone crime novels, Endless Night feels like a true departure, different to everything else she wrote before or since. It’s not a classic detective story with classic detective tropes, there is barely any criminal investigation and the crime itself happens almost three-quarters into the story. Back when I first read it as a teenager my reaction was ambivalent, but even then this eerie novel imprinted on my brain as much as the haunting passage from William Blake’s poem it takes its name from. Revisiting it now has cemented Endless Night as one of my Christie favourites.
Another of my favourite standalone Christie novels, this book also came with the author’s foreword calling it one of her own special favourites and a joy to write (according to Dame Agatha the usual ratio is one book that’s real pleasure to five that are hard work). It also boasts one of the most shocking endings Christie’s ever done, which is saying a lot. When you read a detective novel you’re supposed to suspect everyone, but when Christie said that everyone is a potential murderer she really meant it.
Time for some classic French literature! I first read Guy de Maupassant while still in Russia, and the worn-out collection of his short stories was one of the few books I took with us when we emigrated to Australia. In addition to being one of the greatest short story writers of all time, during his tragically brief time on earth (42 years to be exact) Maupassant also penned a few novels, which I never got around to reading in either language. Published in 1885, Bel-Ami is his second novel. I still think that Maupassant’s short stories are the best display of his strengths as a writer, but I very much enjoyed this book.
I’ll read (almost) anything by Neil Gaiman, so I’m the perfect audience for this non-fiction collection of random bits and bobs Gaiman produced over the years: essays, introductions for other writers’ books, album liner notes, speeches given at professional events, autobiographical pieces and many more. I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s writing over the years, but in addition to being a wonderful writer Gaiman is an interesting character with a distinctive voice and many things to say, which he does, passionately, in his trademark articulate, thoughtful and often humorous way. Many of his books I’ve read came with introductions that give you an insight into the man behind the words, so this is basically 500 pages of similar.
This novel, the world’s best-selling mystery with over 100 million copies, has recently been voted readers’ favourite Agatha Christie novel in a global poll. Though I’d probably struggle to name my own personal favourite Christie novel, I’m not inclined to argue with this honour. The book is a masterpiece of crime fiction whose power hasn’t diminished with years, and it’s said that Christie herself regarded it as her highest achievement.
It’s a testament to the Queen of Crime’s versatility that her best-loved novel doesn’t involve her best-loved fictional sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Instead the story focuses solely on a group of ten strangers who all get separate invitations to Soldier Island, an isolated spot off the coast in Devon. Once there and secretly puzzled by each other’s presence, their cosy dinner on the first night is interrupted in a startling manner by a recorded message accusing each one of them of murder, and soon after one of the guests drops dead. Meanwhile their mysterious host, Mr U.N. Owen, is nowhere to be seen. The next morning they discover yet another dead body, and find themselves cut off from the mainland.