I read the Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey books because of your blog and they are amazing! What are your favourite Agatha Christie books? (I'm guessing you like her, too, since you like detective books?)
*overcome with emotion, fidgets unnecessarily with the tea kettle*
Anon, I’m terribly pleased to have provided the catalyst for your reading of the Wimsey-Vane novels. Do have some Darjeeling. I enjoy Agatha Christie, and her Queen of Crime title is well-earned by her genius for plot. I confess that I find the richness of Sayers’ prose and characterizations more satisfying, on the whole. With that caveat, here are my recommendations:
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920.) This is the novel where Poirot and Hastings meet. It’s more tentative than Christie’s later work in some ways, but it’s also excitingly experimental. It’s interesting–to me–to see the recognizable Christie style, though the detective story model she’s most clearly informed by is that of Conan Doyle (who was still writing at the time) and the tea parties on the lawn are still Edwardian in spirit, though young women are starting to take jobs. Captain Hastings has been invalided out of WWI and is unable to adjust to civilian society. Poirot is a refugee, still in temporary housing. The construction of the crime is, of course, clever, but the main attraction for me is the poignancy of social change, and the excitement of seeing Christie work out a model that would come to dominate detective fiction for decades.
The Man in the Brown Suit (1924.) This is one of Christie’s stand-alone novels, without an iconic sleuth. It’s also hilarious. It’s an uproarious send-up of the cheap adventure fiction of its day; it exploits every trope of this fiction and runs it for all it’s worth. There’s a plucky, penniless heroine! There’s a tall, dark stranger! There are secrets honorable and dishonorable! There are spies! There are assassination attempts! It’s absurd and magnificent (and ripe for postcolonial analysis, incidentally.)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926.) On looking this up, I was astonished to find how early in Christie’s career this mold-breaking novel came. You’ll notice that Poirot is older here than he is later… he starts out deprecating his own age and gradually becomes unremarkably middle-aged, until aging again in the ‘50s/’60s. Set this aside and enjoy the brilliant family drama and extraordinary games with narrative convention.
The Thirteen Problems (1932.) This collection of Miss Marple short stories is inventive and charming; I often return to it as comfort reading. One of the interesting conceits in it is how Christie illuminates the characters of the socially diverse crowd gathered around the fireside/dinner table telling tales.
Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952.) Another strong novel in the Poirot series, this one centers on Poirot’s determination to confront middle-class respectability (and its secret-keeping) in order to solve the murder of a woman who was “only a char.”
After the Funeral (1953.) This (another Poirot novel) opens after the funeral of a wealthy patriarch. His eccentric sister (who married a continental artist! gasp!) says: “Well, it’s all been hushed up very nicely.” After claiming that her brother was murdered, she herself is–unequivocally, brutally. Poirot takes the case, and we can see his humane instincts and his cynicism in tension throughout, and I think it’s brilliant.
Third Girl (1966.) This, to my mind, is one of the most poignant Poirot mysteries, and one of the most interesting. A young woman comes to Poirot with a problem, only to exclaim, before explaining it: “Oh no! I can’t! You’re too old!” Her conviction that the generation gap makes it impossible for Poirot to understand her dilemma is contrasted with Poirot’s conviction that his knowledge of human nature–and his little grey cells–can and must enable him to transcend the many obstacles to his understanding this girl and the world she lives in.