OK, this might take a moment to explain. Today would have been Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday. So what, I hear you cry? What’s so special about 126? Well, apparently there’s loads of celebratory stuff because it’s 100 years since she wrote The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Wrote, that is. It wasn’t published until four years later, so I guess there’ll be more stuff in four years’ time. But until then, I’ll play along.
In particular, I’ll play along with Kate over at Cross Examining Crime who suggested a series of themed posts suggesting ideal books to start reading for the various Christie series or genres. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Because it’s important that you start with a good Christie. How many poor souls have been scared off by The Clocks or At Bertram’s Hotel? Or the dreary obviousness of They Do It With Mirrors? Or, heaven forbid, Postern Of Fate? I’m going to stick to Poirot, as I feel that they’re generally Christie’s most consistent work.
First off, where should one start with a series? First off, the chronology of her books isn’t that important, although she does occasionally casually spoil earlier books – Cards On The Table spoils Murder On The Orient Express for example – but I don’t have a list of said spoilers, so we’ll ignore that aspect. But you also shouldn’t start with the best or it’s downhill from there… and you certainly shouldn’t start with a duff one. So let’s look for a better than average one that still shows off her skills.
But to entice a reader, you need the right bait. Everyone has different opinions and preferences amongst the Poirot canon, so you need to think about who the reader is before picking a recommendation. Readers who prefer a psychological mystery might prefer the somewhat flawed but well-written Five Little Pigs or the superior Cards On The Table. Readers who prefer entertaining but solvable problems should look to Peril At End House or Lord Edgware Dies. If you’d prefer a cunning mystery and can turn a blind eye to some horrendous sexual politics, then try Taken At The Flood.
But the Christie that I think everyone should start with is Mrs McGinty’s Dead. It’s Poirot at his most entertaining, with some genuinely funny scenes as he stays in a guest house that doesn’t come close to his exacting standards. The mystery is clever and involving and much less gimmicky than most of her “great” mysteries, and doesn’t (quite) use Christie’s most over-used trick. There’s a twist on the standard Golden Age romance (although that was more Carr’s thing than Christie) and even if you’ve seen the adaptation, you probably can’t remember who the killer is. I’d say it’s her most under-rated book, but that’s not really true as most bloggers who’ve reviewed it seem to like it a lot. Rather, I think, it’s one of her more overlooked books.
So, if you’re a newcomer to Christie – or an old hand who fancies a re-read – why not take a punt at this one? Or do you have an alternative ideal first Poirot novel?