4.50 From Paddington probably sits squarely in the middle of Christie’s Miss Marple series – not a classic, but hardly one of the worst either. It certainly has a cracking premise at least. An elderly lady named Mrs McGillicuddy travels by train and shockingly comes face to face with a murder when she witnesses a woman being strangled in a train that briefly travels alongside hers. She promptly reports the crime, but no body is ever found and the officials dismiss her story as old lady ravings. The only person who believes Mrs McGillicuddy is her good friend Jane Marple, who knows that her friend lacks the imagination to make up a wild tale.
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.
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.
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.
This Miss Marple novel has a couple too many convenient coincidences for my liking, but remains one of the most fun Christie mysteries to re-visit.
It surely has one of her best openings. In a small village of Chipping Cleghorn, the locals settle comfortably into reading their favourite local Gazette when they spot a most peculiar notice announcing a murder that’s about to take place that day at 6.30pm, at a place called Little Paddocks. Nobody takes it seriously and all assume that it refers to some sort of murder mystery evening, but all agree that they should definitely show up and find out. The announcement comes as a total surprise to Miss Letitia Blacklock, the owner of Little Paddocks, but being a practical woman she’s resigned to the mob of curious villagers showing up at her doorstep, and prepares drinks and suchlike. Things turn from frivolous to serious when the evening ends with gunshots and death of a stranger.
Now that I’m officially doing a Christie challenge I suspect I’m going to give preference to the novels that stuck in my head the most, and leave the least favourite or poorly remembered ones for last. This Poirot mystery is definitely up there with the best.
Our favourite Belgian detective is investigating a sixteen-year-old case on behalf of a young woman, Carla Lemarchant, whose mother Caroline was convicted for murdering her husband. Amyas Crale was a brilliant and egocentric painter with an appetite for affairs, and all evidence points to Caroline poisoning him when his latest passion turned serious enough for him to consider divorce. Years later, Carla receives a posthumous letter from her mother swearing her innocence, and now, her mind in turmoil, Carla wants Poirot to find the truth, whatever it might be.