J. Ramanand is a software engineer by profession, and has also been blogging for a very long time. Besides this, he’s one of the best quizzers we know, being a winner of Mastermind India (where his chosen topic was an Agatha Christie character), and has won several short story competitions. We asked him to write an introduction to reading Agatha Christie’s books, and he’s sent us this list of his favourites:
“I began reading Agatha Christie, the Mallikaa-e-Crime, at the age of 9, thanks to some not so discerning cousins with well-stocked books. I was instantly hooked. Christie not only institutionalized the classic British crime formula (the closed set of characters, the social norms, the armchair detective, the country house, the last chapter revelations), but also subverted them in ingenious ways. Just like Wodehouse’s novels, her books (many of them also set in Britain during the Wars) have the uncanny ability to make you wish you lived in those times. So either you could have been privy to Bertie Wooster’s escapades or perhaps you’d end up with a dagger in your back. No wonder Bertie Wooster was himself to be found with a Christie book in hand, seeking solace from his many imbroglios. Christie’s novels are full of interesting characters, uncomplicated writing, exquisite plotting, and clever twists. To pick only a selection of them is tricky, but here goes.
Evil under the Sun: I recommend this as a starting point because it has all the trademark AC elements: a bunch of
(mostly) strangers, multiple motives and alibis, an intricate puzzle, and a stunning climax. Featuring an intriguing island setting and the even more exotic Hercule Poirot, this is a perfect way to get stuck into the Christie world. Like a stiletto in someone’s smooth neck.
The ABC Murders: One more before we take you to the really big ticket items. In this book, murders seem to be alphabetical– assuming A, B, and C are doomed, what will happen to the people whose names begin with D? Find out in this clever little Poirot mystery.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: To merely say a word about this astounding book is to give away spoilers. This Poirot story is considered by many to be Christie’s finest ever. When it came out, it caused a huge sensation, among readers and writers and critics alike. If you had to read just one AC book, this should be it.
Murder on the Orient Express: After Roger Ackroyd, you might need some time off to recover. So how about a trip on Europe’s most sought-after train? Just lock up your suite at night, even if you have Poirot in the next compartment, for you never know what will happen to you. A brilliant variation on the closed space mystery formula.
And Then There Were None (a.k.a Ten Little Niggers) As you can tell by now, I prefer Poirot stories over the others. But Christie also wrote several stories not involving Poirot or indeed any detective. This is one of them, and goodness gracious, what a story! Ten strangers meet on a mysterious island. They begin popping off one by one like a West Indian batting collapse. The result will come as an absolute stunner.
By the Pricking of my Thumbs: Since I am known for my unhealthy interest in the wildly obscure Tommy & Tuppence series of books by Agatha Christie, I had to include one of them. But I chose this one not because of its detective fiction chops, but as an example of how Christie could weave an atmospheric tale. I remember finding this very creepy as a kid, so I’d like you to have the same experience. Great for a lonely candle-light read during a thunderstorm.
A Murder is Announced: Pick up the paper and see an invitation for a murder. Would you go? Well, you should at
least read about some people who assembled for one such event. This is one of the better Miss Marple stories and if you read carefully, you’ll realize how the Dame sprinkles the story with lots of clues.
Crooked House: Agatha Christie kept pushing the boundaries of what was allowed in a typical detective novel, and there’s no better illustration than this book. The ending is quite shocking.
The Labours of Hercules: For variety, I include one of AC’s short story collections. In this, Hercule Poirot decides to emulate his mythological namesake and seeks out twelve appropriate cases.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case Let’s end with a double bill. I recommend these two be read together. Why? They are Poirot’s first and last cases. “Styles” is an average novel, but it makes sense to read it, because the far superior “Curtain” also takes place in exactly the same location. The end is deeply satisfying and a great way to sign off this list.