Friday, 26 January 2018

A Beginner's Guide to Agatha Christie

If you’ve been kicking around Readabilitea for long enough, you’ll know that one of my favourite authors is Agatha Christie a.k.a. The Queen of Crime. A lot of people often ask me where to start with Agatha Christie and I can see why; she’s the author of 66 detective novels and numerable short stories about murder and the supernatural, so it can be difficult knowing the best place to begin. This is where I come in!

Agatha Christie

Here’s a little background information:

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 in Torquay to a wealthy family, living in the UK and France during her childhood. She married her first husband, Archie Christie, in 1914 and during the war worked as an apothecary’s assistant and started writing her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1916, eventually publishing it with The Bodley Head in 1920. In 1928, Christie divorced her husband in 1928 after finding out he was in love with another woman and after her famous disappearance. The same year in Baghdad, Christie met her second husband, Max Mallowan, and married him 2 years later. During the Second World War, she worked again in a pharmacy, which is where she gained her extensive knowledge of poisons. She became Dame Agatha Christie in 1971 and died of natural causes 5 years later in 1976.

The One Agatha Christie You Should Read

If you only ever read one Agatha Christie book, it should definitely be Murder on the Orient Express, not because it’s the best Christie out there, but because it contains everything that makes her books so incredibly good:
  • Poirot, the Belgian detective. You’ll get to know whether you like him as a character and it will give you a direction to go in afterwards, should you choose to continue your Christie journey
  • Poirot’s unmatched forensic analysis and thought process
  • An array of equally-plausible suspects
  • A shock ending
If you don’t know anything about Murder on the Orient Express, it’s about the famous train becoming stranded in a snowdrift, setting up a great locked-room murder mystery where the culprit can only be one of a finite set of suspects.

If You Like A Big Twist

My only regret about reading And Then There Were None is that I read it having already watched the absolutely incredibly BBC adaptation, so I knew whodunnit. Whilst I highly recommend you watch the adaptation, I also suggest that you do so after reading the book, because the suspense in it is incredible and Christie keeps you guessing until the very end.

If You Like Hercule Poirot

Have you read a Hercule Poirot mystery before and you’re looking for more of the Belgian sleuth? My favourite Poirot mystery to date is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it combines Poirot with the shock twist that I crave. It’s the book that made Christie a bestseller and the one I buy people if I know they like Murder on the Orient Express/And Then There Were None.

If You Like Miss Marple

Miss Marple is (currently) my favourite of the Christie detectives (though I’m yet to read any Tommy and Tuppence stories so who knows? This might change). Where Poirot’s skills lie in forensics, Miss Marple is a reader of people, and solves mysteries based on her knowledge of the human mind and the psychology of the crimes. My first Marple was 4:50 From Paddington, which is what I recommend if Poirot doesn’t seem like your thing/you already know you like Miss Marple.

A Rogue Choice

The Moving Finger is technically a Miss Marple, but she barely features in it at all and it’s laughable that the book is credited as a Marple mystery at all. However, it is the most recent Agatha Christie that I have read and I loved it for its characters, the subplots of romance, and, of course, the solving of the murder. It’s not one I see people reading often which I think is a shame because I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it should be appreciated more!

One To Avoid

To date, I have read 11 of Christie’s novels (i.e. excluding short stories) and I have only ever DNFed one: Nemesis. It isn’t uncommon in Christie’s works to come across something that writer’s wouldn’t get away with writing nowadays, whether it be stereotypes about people from other countries or her dated views on women’s fashion and how a woman should behave. Usually, I am able to disregard such views as a sign of the time in which the book was written, but with Nemesis, it got too much. Nemesis was the last Miss Marple written by Christie (though not the last published) and I think it really shows that it was written by an elderly woman with conservative views due to its victim-blaming when it comes to sexual abuse against women. Combined with the unusual plot of Marple solving an unknown crime, it wasn’t for me, and isn’t a Christie I would recommend.

If You Want To Know More About Agatha Christie

If you're desperate to know more about the Queen of Crime, you can do nothing better than read her autobiography, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. It does miss out those crucial 11 days that everyone wants to know about but otherwise is chock-full of information about Christie's life, from before she was born to 1965, 11 years before she died.

If you're hoping to read some more Christie in 2018, I really hope that this list gives you a few pointers to books you might enjoy. I would love to hear if you've read any of these and what you thought of them!