So far this week there have been two big events, one personal and one international. The personal is that I have passed my M.Litt, which is a relief to know! It’s been a bit of a struggle whilst I work full-time, and it’s taken just over two years, but it’s done and I can finally stop worrying about it!
The second big event is that Tuesday 8th March was the 100th International Women’s Day. With events all around the world, most concentrating on women (and some men) meeting and walking over bridges to ask for peace, the day was largely a huge success.
To celebrate both of these things, I am going to write about a female author who featured heavily in my Masters, Agatha Christie. In terms of book sales , she is in the top three with the Bible and Shakespeare, and is one of the four so-called Queens of Crime from the Golden Age of British detective fiction (approx. 1918-1945), along with Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham.
I love many of her books and personally think that Miss Marple is a great example of a female detective who uses her femininity and social status as a spinster to aid her detection, whilst letting the masculine power of the police think that they have solved everything. Typical!
So, without further ado, my five favourite Christie novels (in no particular order):
1) ‘Crooked House’ (1949).
Focused on the Leonides family, with three generations living together in the ‘crooked house’ of the title, this does not feature Poirot or Miss Marple, but instead uses Charles Hayward as the detective figure trying to discover who killed the patriarchal Aristide. Hayward is engaged to Sophia, Aristide’s grand-daughter but she will not marry him until the murder is solved. Everyone is a suspect, in typical Christie fashion, as they all knew about the poison and they all benefit in some way from his death, but the identity of the murderer is a definite shock, even when I’m re-reading it for the tenth time. A must-read in the Christie canon.
2) ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (1934)
This is a bit of a classic- the solution to the murder is ingenious and I always feel a bit sorry for the murderer as, without Poirot on the train, this would have been a perfect murder. An elderly American is murdered one snowy night on-board the Orient Express, whilst it is snowed up, meaning that Christie creates a scenario in which all the suspects are contained in one place for the duration of the novel. Poirot is on brilliantly conceited form and there is the usual cast of suspects, from the retired Colonel to the pretty young governess, for the little Belgian to twirl his moustaches at. The film with Albert Finney is also brilliant.
3) ‘Dumb Witness’ (1937)
Admittedly, my main reason for loving this one is Bob, the fox terrier. He’s a wonderful personality and Christie’s love of dogs really shows in her characterisation of him. Aside from him, ‘Dumb Witness’ is also a fun mystery featuring Poirot being typically conceited and brilliant, whilst Hastings is back once more to be typically dense and infuriating. It is by no means one of Christie’s best novels, but it is one of the nicest to curl up with, and I doubt if anyone will guess, or work out, the murderer much before the denouement, despite the major clue being obvious once the solution is revealed.
4) ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’ (1930)
Miss Marple’s first full-length novel is also a portrait of St Mary Mead and its inhabitants. The sympathetic vicar is the narrator, and it is his study in which the body of Colonol Protheroe is found, shot dead. Inspector Slack, in charge of the investigation, is enjoyably ridiculous, and I love how Miss Marple’s frequent shrewd observations thoroughly throw him. The elderly detective is far more acidic and ‘catty’ than in later novels, which makes a nice change to how outwardly sugary she becomes as the years progress. The solution is a little bit of an anti-climax but the build-up, with double bluffs and reversals, makes up for it.
5) ‘The Moving Finger’ (1942)
Miss Marple doesn’t really feature in this until about half way through, with more time being given to the detective abilities of Jerry Barton, a young man invalided home from the war and living in a small village with his sister to recuperate. He is the novel’s narrator and, somewhat predictably, becomes involved in trying to solve the mystery of the anonymous letters that are circulating the village. As these letters take a more sinister turn towards murder, Miss Marple arrives to save the day (as always!). This book marks the start of her journey towards the increasingly strict judge of evil who features in her later novels, and her method of unmasking the killer demonstrates this clearly. The development of Jerry and Megan’s friendship is also really rather sweet, which is unusual for Christie’s books.