Reading ‘Agatha Christie’ makes one nostalgic. I wonder how an old-fashioned crime investigation can hold its charm for a 100-years now! Agatha Christie published her first book, ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ in 1920 and introduced Hercule Poirot, the detective who appeared in thirty-three of her sixty-six detective novels.
Sherlock Holmes (created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and Hercule Poirot are the two most widely read detectives in fiction. Though Sherlock influenced Christie in creating Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective stands out distinctively for sure. Hercule Poirot is a small man with two points of an upward-curled moustache who studies the psychology of his suspects and depends on the ‘little grey cells of the brain’ to crack a case.
Agatha Christie created Jane Marple too, the elderly female detective but I am not including her books this time (probably another post, sometime soon!).
So here goes my pick for the favourite three Agatha Christie books.
Murder in the Orient Express published in 1934
An intriguing mystery of a murder inside the luxurious first-class coach of the Orient Express that unfortunately gets stranded due to snowdrift, somewhere in Yugoslavia. This coach is sealed out from the rest of the train so the murderer definitely is one amongst the twelve passengers and the wagon-lit conductors. Or, is there an alternate theory of the murderer possibly escaping before the snow locked in the doors?
Hercule Poirot lands on the Orient Express owing to a message from London to return immediately from Turkey. It is difficult for him to secure a berth, though it is an unlikely time for the train to be completely booked. Poirot is finally able to get a berth with the help of a friend, Monsieur Bouc, a director of the railway traveling by the same train. While boarding the train, a rich American businessman, Mr.Ratchett recognizes Poirot and approaches him with the information that he had been receiving death threats.
The coincidence of Poirot’s presence and lack of assistance from Yugoslavian police puts him incharge of the investigation after Mr.Ratchett is found dead on the night of their train journey. Poirot’s classic style of examining the crime scene and the suspect interviews are pure treats to read. The old-world charm of finding clues in a cigar cleaner, red kimono, embroidered handkerchief, and a watch stopped at quarter-past one is sure to keep you riveted.
‘I mean,’ explained Poirot, ‘that if the murderer intended us to believe that he had escaped by way of the window he would naturally make it appear that the other two exits were impossible. Like the “disappearing person” in the cabinet – it is a trick. It is our business to find out how the trick is done.
And Then There Were None published in 1939
“Be sure thy sin will find thee out.” Quite prophetic as it sounds! Ten people are invited to the Soldier Island, cut off from the mainland where they meet their end mysteriously. Each of the eight guests to the Soldier island accept the invitation with an expectation of a delightful stay. The other two – husband and wife – are hired as butler and cook at the house to serve the guest just before their arrival.
Soon the guests notice the nursery rhyme ‘Ten Little Soldiers’ framed on the wall of every room and ten little soldier toys placed on the dining room table. A gramophone is played that accuses each member inside the house of committing a grave crime. Now the guests come together to try and understand their situation. It seems a mysterious man, Mr. U.N. Owen is the owner of the place but it also appears to be a crazy lunatic’s mere wordplay.
One-after-the-other, the inmates begin to meet their end, and ominously a little soldier toy vanishes on each count. It spooks you out as a reader, the eerie atmosphere of an isolated island, the childish whim of the murderer to follow the nursery rhyme, and unexpected happenings. And, no Hercule Poirot!
Agatha Christie writes in the Author’s note, “It (the book) was well received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been.”
Fun fact: The book will remind Indian readers of the old Hindi movie ‘Gumnaam’ released in 1965 starring Manoj Kumar, Nanda, Mehmood, and Helen.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd published in 1926
When you reach the last chapter of this book, you would surely want to go back and re-read the clues, courtesy our ‘unreliable narrator’. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was Christie’s third book featuring Hercule Poirot and she already had him retired to a far-flung village to grow vegetable marrows.
King’s Abbot is a non-descript sleepy village where people have nothing better to while away their time with except gossiping. Enter the scenario of a wealthy Mrs. Ferrars who commits suicide and thereafter, her rich admirer Mr. Roger Ackroyd is murdered. The speculations and conjectures point to Ralph Paton, Mr. Roger’s stepson. Flora, Mr.Ackroyd’s niece is engaged to Ralph who seems restless with the police investigation and seeks Poirot’s help for the case.
Mr. Roger Ackroyd was murdered in his study at a time when the members of his family, secretary and house help were inside the house. Poirot examines the case with his cool temper and composure. And, Dr. Sheppard who was invited for dinner on the night of Mr.Ackroyd’s murder, becomes ‘Watson to his Sherlock’. It is interesting how every time Poirot speaks, there is something added to the clues that turns the investigation to a newer angle.
“Every new development that arises is like the shake you give to a kaleidoscope – the thing changes entirely in aspect.”
Again, the classic evidences of a murder weapon, the footprints, and alibi confirmations fit like cogs in the investigation. Poirot interviews the suspects with his not-so-important questions to disclose the truth.
You also see shades of Miss Marple in Caroline Sheppard, Dr. Sheppard’s elder sister, a very nosy woman who somewhat turns into an amateur assistant to Poirot.
The twist in the climax of each of these three books will jolt you for sure. As a reader, you would feel like diving deep into the ocean floor and uncorking the bottle with the little note to unravel the mysteries.
Do let me know about your favourite Agatha Christie book? And, maybe drop a recommendation and I would love to read that one pretty soon!
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