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Assembling My Atheneum: Agatha Christie

November 9, 2011

If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves? That question originally arose from my musings about my home library, and I decided to start a new series to answer it. In Assembling My Atheneum, I’ll discuss the authors whose entire works I’d love to possess, as well as which books of theirs I’ve read, which I already own, and which I’d recommend to those wanting to give them a try. If you’re curious, you can see everyone I’ve featured so far.

Oh Agatha Christie, one of my most enduring loves! I think I first read one of her books when I was 13 or 14, and there’s been no turning back. I’m a huge Miss Marple fan, but over the years I’ve grown to appreciate Poirot more as well. And I’ve got a soft spot for a couple of the Tommy & Tuppence ones! Not to mention Ariadne Oliver, and the ‘random’ ones like And Then There Were None…really, it’s delightful to love a prolific author. For awhile, whenever life got too difficult or I hit a bump in the road, I would turn to Christie. She’s one of my ultimate comfort reads, and as she has been for over a decade (!), I’ve read quite a few of her books. Thanks to this bibliography (which delighted me, since it mentioned two Ariadne Oliver novels I didn’t know about), I’ve added them up: thirty-seven out of sixty-seven novels (so over half) and three short story collections. I’ve also reread quite a few of those: almost every Miss Marple twice, and a couple three or four times. I’ve even revisited a handful of favourite Poirots!

She’s also one of my few favourite authors who’s well represented on my bookshelves. In an ideal world, I’d own all of the Miss Marples and Ariadne Olivers as well as my favourites from the others. So far I have seven Miss Marples (At Bertram’s Hotel, The Moving Finger, A Caribbean Mystery, The Thirteen Problems, A Murder is Announced, Murder at the Vicarage, and A Pocket Full of Rye), two Tommy & Tuppences (one, Partners in Crime unread as well as By the Pricking of My Thumbs), one Ariadne Oliver (Elephants Can Remember: I just finished rereading it) and one Poirot (unread, Murder on the Orient Express…yes, I know it’s one of her most famous!).

For those new to Agatha Christie, I imagine it could be overwhelming to know where to begin! If you don’t want to commit to a sleuth, And Then There Were None is great fun, although not really typical Christie. For Miss Marple, you can start with her ‘first’ one, Murder at the Vicarage, or jump to my personal favourites: A Murder is Announced, The Thirteen Problems (this is a short story collection, and Christie re-uses a couple of the plots in later novels, so be warned), and Sleeping Murder. I’m not as well versed in Poirot, but as a skeptic of the Belgian sleuth, I will say that Death on the Nile won me over ages ago, as did Hercule Poirot’s Christmas more recently. He’s also the featured detective in my hands-down, number-one Agatha Christie recommendation: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. If you’re only going to read one of her novels, make it that one!

I hope I’ve convinced you to give her a try…her murder mysteries are like puzzles, and so it’s great fun to work them out! I also think she’s a much better writer than she’s usually given credit for…her recurring characters are marvelous, even if the one-off ones have a bit of ‘stock’ feel, and her actual writing is so smooth. When she does venture into a more emotionally heightened prose style (as in the end of And Then There Were None), she pulls it off swimmingly, which just goes to show that her standard style was a choice, and in my eyes at least a smart one. If you’re also a Christie fan, feel free to share the love! But anything the remotest bit spoilery will be edited out, because I’m a blank slate reader and this is my blog. ;) Also, if anyone has any recommendations for a good biography of her, do share; I know the outlines of her life, but I’d love to fill in the details.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention the film adaptations! I love David Suchet’s Poirot (a role he’s been acting since 1989) and Julia McKenzie’s Miss Marple (she’s the most recent actress to take on the role…none of the other ones matched my own Miss Marple and thus I don’t watch their shows). Usually, when I’m a huge fan of books, I can’t stand adaptations, but Christie’s an exception. :)

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 5:41 am

    Oh, I love Agatha Christie. I have a slighter preference for Poirot as I feel he is more humane (and human in his foibles). Also, when I am thinking through some problems, I tend to stack playing cards to form houses too. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover a fictional character doing the same thing :D.

    My favorite Christies have to be the travel ones – Murder on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia…I think there was one in Petra also, forget which one. She had a gift for building up the atmosphere of the place.

  2. November 9, 2011 5:49 am

    ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ is fantastic! Read it now before someone tells you what happens!

  3. November 9, 2011 5:55 am

    I also recommend Mysterious Mr. Quinn which is a collection of short stories that are slightly spooky. I love watching the tv adaptations even though most aren’t faithful to the books. But I read all her books years ago and have realised I’ve forgotten most of the detail so it doesn’t bother me as much. I re-read Elephants Can Remember earlier this year and it reminded me why I love her books so much.

  4. November 9, 2011 7:58 am

    I’ve recently visited her house in Cornwall and loved it (the restaurant alone, in the old kitchen, is worth the trip). http://thesleeplessreader.com/2011/07/26/devon-and-cornwall/

  5. November 9, 2011 8:07 am

    I had to read And Then There Were None in seventh grade…and I positively *loved* it! So why I never read anything else by her until a few years ago when Annie and I read a handful of her plays, I honestly couldn’t say. (And yes, that gap between 7th grade and a few years ago is rather vast. :P ) I’m so happy you put in a recommendation for newbies–that will definitely be the next one I pick up (hopefully not leaving nearly the gap between readings as I did last time!)

  6. November 9, 2011 8:21 am

    A couple of months ago I started read the Christie novels in order of publication and I’m loving them. The next one I’ll be reading is The Man in the Brown Suit – so I’ve got a long way to go! Kerrie at http://paradise-mysteries.blogspot.com/ organises an Agatha Christie Carnival where once a month people post their Christie thoughts and reviews. Have you come across it?

  7. November 9, 2011 9:24 am

    I first read Christie about that same age, Eva and she certainly IS the ultimate comfort read. A few years ago, when I was working full-time and had a bit of spending money, I turned to eBay and started buying up Christie titles (just inexpensive mass paperbacks)….still have many to obtain but I’ve had hours and hours of enjoyment thus far from them.

    A VERY interesting Tommy & Tuppence is Partners in Crime, a collection of short T&T stories in which they emulate the popular detectives of the day (1929) story by story. I couldn’t recognize most of them – some now long forgotten – and that set me off on another journey of discovery…

  8. November 9, 2011 9:49 am

    I love Christie! My best friend and I devoted the entire summer between grade 5 and 6 to reading as many of her books as we could – one of the only times our reading tastes overlapped. It’s also so interesting how differently readers imagine the characters – for me, Julia McKenzie’s Miss Marple is the only television version I can’t watch!

  9. November 9, 2011 10:19 am

    I have always meant to read Christie. I even had books by her on my TBR pile for a while. I still haven’t… Mysteries are not really my go to genre, so it takes me a while to get around to all the authors and series out there. I have a book here to read by her. Hopefully I will actually do so, but I am not really reading at all lately…

  10. November 9, 2011 10:25 am

    I love Dame Agatha as well, though I haven’t read her as prodigiously as you have. A few years back I decided I would work through her works chronologically so I could see her develop as a writer, but since that decision, I’ve only read 3 of her books! Not a great track record (though I did read a whole bunch of her books when I was a teenager). One of the reasons I’m actually kind of grateful for having such a poor memory regarding the plots of books I’ve read, is that I can always return to mystery novels after a few years and it’s almost like reading them tabula rasa! ;)

    I know lots of people hate him, but I love Poirot best, I think. He just makes me laugh because he’s so particular, and yes, because David Suchet portrays him so magnificently!

  11. November 9, 2011 12:04 pm

    I’ve become quite a Christie fan myself. There are still so many I haven’t read though! I love the Miss Marple books I’ve read and my favorite actress portraying her is Joan Hickson (showing my age?). I agree with you about David Suchet :)

    My first Christie was “And Then There Were None” (aka Ten Little Indians) when I was a teen and I remember LOVING it. I just finished Endless Night which is a stand alone and somewhat different than the others I’ve read. It is a bit gothic-y. I’m still thinking about it and trying to gather thoughts to write a post. I’m looking forward to Roger Ackroyd.

    I know you asked about biography and I don’t have any recommendations. I have “An Autobiography” by Agatha Christie (1977) in my book collection, but have yet to actually read it so can’t really recommend. Hopefully someone else will make an actual biography recommend here; I’d be interested too!

  12. November 9, 2011 12:44 pm

    The Murder of Roger Ackroyd blew my young mind when I read it in middle school. It may have been the catalyst that set off a lifelong love of “mess with your head” type novels.

    I love that image of Christie – she really does look like a dame. It’s been forever since I’ve read any of her novels, but David & I do enjoy a BBC adaptation now and again. I used to prefer Poirot, but Marple has definitely grown on me over the years, especially once I took up knitting. :-)

  13. November 9, 2011 12:57 pm

    I have only read one of Dame Christie’s books, and that was eons ago. I would like to read another as their reputation is so good, but was lost at where to start. So – I appreciate your suggestion here as a place to get going…

    I had no idea Christie was so prolific… Lots of back list to choose from makes me a happy reader (assuming I go on to enjoy them!)…

    liz in texas

  14. November 9, 2011 2:00 pm

    Confession: I’ve never read any Agatha Christie. I don’t know how it can have happened! Last year I even bought a 10 book set but I still haven’t read any, even this last 6 months when I’ve actively been trying to read more crime. I must mend my ways.

  15. November 9, 2011 3:40 pm

    I love Agatha Christie too, though I haven’t read as many of her books as you have. I think I prefer Poirot to Miss Marple, but some of my favourites so far have been the ones that weren’t part of a series – And Then There Were None and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?. I’ll try to make The Murder of Roger Ackroyd the next one I read, since you’ve recommended it so highly!

  16. November 9, 2011 3:58 pm

    I simply adore Hercule Poirot! :) And the film adaptations with David Suchet are very good. Suchet is perfect for the role. You really should read Murder in the Orient Express soon. It’s one of my favorite Christie mysteries, perhaps even the favorite. Some time ago I saw a documentary where David Suchet travelled on the Orient Express now operating between Paris and Venice.
    For me Christie really is the Grand Dame of mystery writers. First there’s Christie, then there is Sayers and then, well behind those two, all others.
    Oh, I just remembered I have an unread They Came to Baghdad on my bookself. Hmm….

  17. November 9, 2011 4:01 pm

    I love Agatha Christie!

  18. November 9, 2011 6:01 pm

    Oh! I remember once being on a fairly miserable family obligation sort of trip, and my dear good kind mother took me to the library and dropped me off there and told me to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I sat in one of the library chairs and read the entire thing cover to cover, and when I got to the end, I was like, Oh wow, I didn’t even know that mysteries could be like this. (My experience up until that time having been limited basically to Nancy Drew and similar.) It was amazing.

  19. November 9, 2011 8:52 pm

    It’s been ages since I’ve read any Christie–I really should remedy that. The last time I picked her up was nine eight years ago, an Italian translation of And Then There Were None, when I was trying to improve my Italian. (It didn’t actually work, as I stopped reading at about the second chapter–the lure of English language books was too strong! I still have it though, so someday…)

    I haven’t read any biographies of Christie, but I did read most of her (rather lengthy) autobiography when I was in high school. As an autobiography it of course only covers her life as she wants to show it and leaves out her mysterious disappearance after her first husband asked for a divorce. If I recall correctly, it was an interesting read, though.

  20. November 9, 2011 8:58 pm

    How amazing is she. She is my ultimate comfort read too. If ever I am in a reading slump or I am having a rough tiem and need some distracting I turn to Christie. Poirot is my favourite hands down but let’s face it, they are all fabulous books

  21. November 10, 2011 3:25 am

    Right with you on the brilliance of Agatha. What I like about her is that every page, she gives the reader something to think about. We are constantly being given fascinating information about the characters and the crime, so they all keep revolving and developing in our imaginations. I can’t think of another crimer writer who can do this so well.

  22. November 10, 2011 1:08 pm

    Oh, I need to give her another try. She’ s one of those authors whose works I approached with an expectation that I need to re-work so that I can enjoy what she’s all about instead of expecting her to be something else!

  23. November 10, 2011 9:27 pm

    I would save up my allowance when I was a teenager and then ride my bike down to the used bookstore to buy another Agatha Christie. They still sit on the downstairs bookshelf and I re-read them frequently. She was the master of mystery. Try one of the Harley Quinn short stories. They are fun to read.

  24. November 11, 2011 11:39 am

    I’ve only read one of her novels and it was so many years ago that I can’t even remember which one. It sounds like she is an author that I could easily enjoy and want to collect!

  25. November 11, 2011 3:32 pm

    I’m celebrating Agatha Christie this month and it’s so much fun to pick up old favorites! Right now I’m revisiting Mr. Quin and loving those stories again. I’ll be taking pics of my Christie collection before the end of the month but I’m a bit scared to see it all together. Right now the books are in boxes so it’s not so obvious that I own over 60 of her books!

  26. November 12, 2011 6:34 am

    I love christie my gran was ahuge fan ,I love poirot best he is just so quirky ,all the best stu

  27. November 16, 2011 8:39 pm

    Whoa, I can’t believe how many books she has written! I’ve really still only read one book.

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