Oh my god, an Agatha Christie novel I’ve never read before! I can’t claim to have equally strong recollections of all the Christie books I read as a teenager, but Ordeal by Innocence was a genuine blank spot, since somehow it avoided my collecting zeal. Of course, I couldn’t resist trying to figure out the mystery; while I did guess the identity of the murderer before the final reveal, it was probably too late into the book to feel smug about.
While not the most watertight or plausible Christie mystery, Three Act Tragedy is a fun Poirot outing, though it’s also one of the novels where Poirot himself is absent for most of the story. What makes the book memorable is the murderer’s motive, not only unique for Christie but also unlike anything I’ve encountered in crime fiction. When it’s revealed, it’s both outrageous and true to the psychology of the character.
In the foreword she wrote for this novel, Christie names Cards on the Table one of Hercule Poirot’s favourite cases. I guess there’s no arguing with the author who is basically God of her fictional universe, but even so it’s a plausible claim. This case depends almost entirely on psychological sleuthing, and there’s nothing that our favourite Belgian detective enjoys more.
In this novel, Poirot goes on a holiday in Egypt to escape dreadful British winter and has a nice relaxing cruise down the Nile, enjoying sunshine, tranquil balmy evenings and the ancient Egyptian temples. At least, that was the idea before he ends up investigating a murder onboard the river ship. Don’t you hate it when your job keeps following you around?
“Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?”
This Poirot novel was written as Christie’s response to her brother-in-law James, who had complained that her murders were getting too refined and anaemic. You’d hope that James’ craving for a ‘good violent murder’ was satisfied with this locked room murder mystery: its chief victim, a cantankerous wealthy patriarch, is found in a pool of his own blood, his throat cut, after making a noise described by witnesses as “a soul in hell” or “a stuck pig”.
An earlier Miss Marple murder mystery, this clever and engaging novel is, in Christie’s own words, a variation on an old classic scenario in detective fiction. It wastes no time and gets down to business right at the beginning of Chapter 1, where Colonel and Mrs Bantry, a wealthy and respectable couple, wake up one morning to the shocking news. A dead body of a young blonde girl in a white evening dress has been found in their most conservative and conventional library, an incongruous sight that upsets and puzzles the couple. The mysterious girl seems to have been strangled and neither Bantrys nor their servants have any idea who she is and how she ended up in the library.
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.