Which Agatha Christie should I read? I asked myself while reading Lucy Worsley’s enjoyable biography, Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman. Though I am not a Christie enthusiast, I am intrigued by her life and career; and Worsley examines the most striking details of her history. Perhaps Worsley’s book is better than Christie’s mysteries.
I have a stack of Christies I’ve accumulated over the years. (Some of them are a bit musty, from years in the mudroom.) I enjoy Christie’s Miss Marple books, but never made much headway with the others. This month I chose to read two, the first a standalone, The Sittaford Mystery (also published as The Murder at Hazelmoor), and the second, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first in the Hercule Poirot series.
These are the perfect length for bedtime escape reading. But honestly, I found them only so-so. Worsley explains that Christie hated description and devoted her energy to dialogue. It shows, unfortunately.
Of the four Golden Age Queens of Crime – Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers – Christie is my least favorite. There is more depth to Sayers’ characters, Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham are both better stylists than Christie.
But back to reading Christie: I started this month with The Sittaford Mystery. The murder victim is Captain Trevelyan, a crusty old man who wins prizes for crossword puzzles and acrostics. Before the body is found, the murder is announced during “table-turning” (rather like a ouija board only done with tilting of the table) at a small party given by Mrs. Willett and her daughter, Captain Trevelyan’s tenants. The table spells out TREVELYAN – DEAD- MURDER.
His friend Major Burnaby walks through the snow to the captain’s house and finds the body. Shortly thereafter, the police accuse Jim Pearson of the murder: he had visited his uncle, the captain, in the late afternoon and then fled on the early morning train.
And then the comedy begins: thanks to Jim’s charming girlfriend, Emily Trefusis, the murder is solved quickly, with the help of a journalist who has a crush on her. And the police are also adept sleuths. Their investigation parallels Emily’s.
I enjoyed this gentle comedy, but it was not particularly brilliant. My copy of The Sittaford Mystery actually crumbled as I read it, which didn’t help. (VERY old paper in a used book.)
Then I read Christie’s first Hercule Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, said to be a classic. The narrator is Captain Arthur Hastings, a soldier convalescing from an injury, who is staying at Styles Court, the home of his friend, John Cavendish, who lives there with his dysfunctional extended family. The family is dominated by the rich owner of Styles Court, Mrs. Inglethorp. She is murdered – by poison – and anybody could have done it. It takes Hercule Poirot, a friend of Arthur, to solve the crime.
I didn’t love this novel, but it was entertaining enough. Which Poirot should I read next?
I want to be a Christie fan now that I’ve read Worsley’s book. Tell me what to read!
BY THE WAY, THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED. There are five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. It’s like the Booker Prize, only with more genres. I do hope to read at least one of these before the winners are announced in October.
You can read the longlists here.