Top 5 and Bottom 5

Based on what I can remember, here are five Agatha Christie books that I would point a new reader towards, and five that I would say they should definitely keep away from.

Starting with a bottom 5, you could say almost anything written after 1965 (and that is the disadvantage in my decision to read them in order of publication because I will be saving some of the worst for last) but I would specifically say:

Endless Night – for re-using a very successful plot device, but in a very different context

By the Pricking of My Thumbs – I can’t remember much about it, but I think family consensus is broadly negative

Passenger to Frankfurt – see above

Postern of Fate – see above

The Hollow – a much earlier book, surrounded by many much better books, but to me it just isn’t a regular Poirot. I believe Christie was trying a different style, but for it didn’t work for me.

For a top 5, I would say:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – one of the first that I read and it completely blew my mind

The ABC Murders – you think you know what is going on and then suddenly everything changes

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – appropriate for the time of year, but I can’t say any more without spoiling it

And Then There Were None – gripping and creepy with a very unexpected ending

A Pocket Full of Rye – a Miss Marple needs to be included and although the method is completely bonkers, it makes complete sense given the characterisation that has gone before

What would be in your Top 5/Bottom 5?

Have a good new year and see you in early 2018 once I’ve read “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”.

7 thoughts on “Top 5 and Bottom 5”

  1. I’d certainly agree on Passenger to Frankfurt and Postern of Fate. Haven’t read Endless Night or By the Pricking of my Thumbs so can’t comment. It’s a while since I’ve read The Hollow, but I recall enjoying it. I seem to recall Elephants Can Remember as being particularly dull, as you say the later Christie’s are generally her weakest.

    Lots to agree in your top 5. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas was one that I worked out so have a particular fondness for. I don’t recall A Pocket Full of Rye, but I know I’ve read it. I really enjoy The Secret of Chimneys and The Seven Dials Mystery. The latter reads very differently the second time round but is nonetheless still enjoyable.

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  2. Hi John—excellent blog! I haven’t written about Christie for a long time, but you’ve inspired me to pick up another AC soon… Anyhoo, to answer your question:

    Best:
    1. Death on the Nile
    One of the best detective-stories of them all—possibly the best, and certainly with the king of all alibi techniques (which is rather Carrian, fitting as it was Carr’s favorite Christie). Ingeniously simple, obvious once you know it, and thus effective. Superb.

    2. Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect)
    Brilliantly-characterized, yet with an equally brilliant central deception that reverses everything the reader had assumed (thus one of the great Christean themes, the error of assumptions). Poirot is at his most likeable here—wise and compassionate without being twee, à la later Marple—and murderer (both identity and characterization), method, and motive are all excellent.

    3. The Pale Horse
    Where did this late flash of inspiration come from? Her tribute to John Dickson Carr. Good hero and spooky witchcraft background, along with a very ingenious central gambit to disguise the identity of the murderer. Mrs. Oliver (alone here, without Poirot) is, for once, amusing rather than annoying, and she provides a central clue.

    4. The Seven Dials Mystery
    A Wodehousian romp with murders thrown in, a first-class problem, and a shocking least-likely suspect with some connection to Ackroyd. Why isn’t this one better-known?

    5. Endless Night
    Proto-Rendell (which is why I was always surprised that Rendell disliked Christie so much), also somewhat proto-Halter. Utterly brilliant character portrait of the likeable, roguish narrator, as his carefree life descends into horror. One of her very best—interesting similarities to Death on the Nile, as Nick Fuller noted.

    Worst:
    Hmmm… I found Cat Among the Pigeons, Curtain, A Pocket Full of Rye, Appointment with Death, and Dumb Witness to be deathly dull in the telling; of these, I only thought Curtain had a good plot, too. (I was trying to find earlier ones, not the late books, which are certainly weaker.)

    Karl

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