Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Top 5 of Agatha Christie

Crime fiction has always fascinated me. My childhood was filled up with the adventures of the likes of Feluda and Sherlock Homes. The way these characters gathered clues, the way they challenged the intelligence of the reader, I was thrilled to say the least.
But then when Agatha Christie entered my life, I understood what crime psychology was all about. She changed my focus from the clues to the Psychology and the Motive of the criminal. She always gave an honest opportunity to the reader to reach the solution through logic and still never failed to surprise at the end. The Queen of Crime has always left with an urge to read more and more of her.

It is then but logical for me to enlist five of my all-time favourite Christies. Although, my favourites are numbered in double figures, I take up this challenge just to test myself and my understandings of Christie. While rating her novels, I have taken three criteria on which the overall ratings are decided:
  • Quality of the mystery- self-explanatory.
  • Quality of the narration- self-explanatory.
  • “The surprise but believable factor”. – I think, without an absolutely surprising end (and convincingly surprising), murder mysteries cannot be worth reading.  Your explanations to the crime, the occurrence of events, the psychology, the motive- all have to be very believable (with minimum gimmicks) with the surprise intact. Many popular classics of Christie had to be left out from top 5 only because of this important factor. For example, Appointment with Death is a brilliant mystery with great story telling, but lost its shine a bit in the end when it was found out that the murderer was enacting the victim with a make-up, much after committing the crime, and no one identifying. For me, these are gimmicks and makes the believability of a story fade- a problem found in Evil under the sun, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Lord Edgware Dies(hardest to digest alibi formed by the murderer), Three-Act Tragedy, After the Funeral etc.- and all are classics of Christie and deserve must-read label. But for top5, you need to be strict. All the five novels I have selected might not be the most believable ones in our regular lives, but if you think about the events with a consideration, you won’t find them absurd or hard to digest also.

And here are my ratings:
1.       The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
2.       And then there were none.
3.       Death on the Nile.
4.       Curtain-Poirot’s Last Case.
5.       Murder on the Orient Express.

                                                 THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD
Roger Ackroyd has been the most controversial as well as most popular of all Christie novels. But, guys, tell you what, she did not deserve any criticism at all, in fact what she deserves is all accolades for this astounding piece of creation. She gave all sorts of hints possible throughout the book, and still, the climax is shocking to say the least.
Unlike most of her mysteries, this one has only one murder, the murder of Roger Ackroyd. And there could have been at least half a dozen suspects who had motive and chance both, to have killed him. Poirot is the protagonist, supported by Dr. Sheppord as a Watson like assistant in this book, who also is the narrator of the story.
I won’t let the story or the suspense of Roger Akroyd be revealed here. But, this is a book I would go on recommending to anyone I meet, who would want to start reading Christie.  Don’t look here and there for the story or think twice- just go get it!! This is one book you must read if you are a mystery lover.
For Quality of Mystery= 5/5.
For Quality of Narration= 5/5.
For the Surprise Factor=5/5.
                                                   AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
The idea itself would give you Goosebumps. Ten people, each with a criminal record in the past with getting away with it, are called at an island by an unknown person and start getting killed one by one until there were none. Amazing mystery- full marks to Christie for convincingly constructing such an ingenious crime with a spine chilling climax. There is no protagonist detective here; in fact, it cannot be called a detective story also. The crime remains unsolved right till the end, and only when an apologia of the murder is received, that the things fall in places.
It has been cinematised many times in many countries, including Hindi (Gumnaam-1965), with all of them deviating from the original climax of the story. And this is where the book stands tall. The climax of the book is actually a lesson to the Cinemakers that not everything can be depicted on the screen. Yet to see a cinematic version which stays true to the original story. A must read book for all.
For Quality of Mystery= 5/5.
For Quality of Narration=4/5.
For the Surprise Factor=5/5.  

                                                        DEATH ON THE NILE
                     Yet another beautifully narrated book by Ms Christie.  In fact, it is the beauty at which                 the book is written, makes it a classic. The mystery might not be the best of Christie (for a beginner to Christie world, it might be though), but the story telling, development of characters, knitting the story are all supreme. Poirot solves another ingenious crime during the cruise on the Nile with the help of Colonel Race.
Linnet Doyle was shot through her head at her cabin in the ship at night. And yet again, like Ackroyd, this seems to be anyone’s game. Each and every one on the ship seemed to have the motive and the right chance to have killed her, except her husband, who had been shot and injured at the time of murder at some other place on the ship and her friend, who was under a shock at another place on the ship having shot her husband.
Apart from being a murder mystery, this book  stands as a classic for its emotional treatment, crime psychology of human beings and a delicate handling of the subject overall. A pleasure to read, Christie at her best.
For Quality of Mystery= 4/5.
For Quality of Narration=5/5.
For the Surprise Factor=4/5. 

                                                             CURTAIN- POIROT’S LAST CASE
The concept is simply outstanding. There is a serial killer, difficult to be traced out and impossible to be convicted. I won’t go into the details of the plot as that is actually the strongest point of the book along with its shocking denouement. Read it to explore further.
Concept wise, this is the most innovative plot Chrstie ever tried out, if not the best, delving deep into the crime psychology. But the overall mood of the story is very sad. There are several sub-plots which keep on popping here and there. Poirot and Hastings have turned old, one with an ever deteriorating health and the other widowed, with a daughter who has a stiff generation gap problem with him.
The story was written by Christie in the mid-40s and was locked up in her locker under the understanding with the publisher that it would be published after her death as the final book of Poirot. It was eventually released in November 1975, just a few months before Christie passed away.
More than a crime novel, the book delves into many socio-political problems of England and psychology of human beings as well. It loses its pace sometimes in between, but then; the denouement makes it worth reading. Definitely, a different Christie and a different Poirot as well…J
For Quality of Mystery= 4/5.
For Quality of Narration=3/5.
For the Surprise Factor=5/5. 


                                        MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

The classic Christie- ten passengers caught in a train, a dead body lying in one of the cabins, suspect falling on one person to the other and lots of red herrings to divert your attention. It is a gripping tale of murder with one of those rare occasions when Poirot actually supports the cause of crime.
All the novels of Christie written between late 20s to late 30s have her storytelling prowess at the peak. Apart from the already discussed Ackroyd, Death on the Nile and And then there were none, even some gimmicked novels like Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Lord Edgware Dies and Murder in Mesopotamia qualify as classics just because of the quality of narration. Orient Express, released in 1935, is no exception.
And of course, even though I don’t rate the quality of this mystery too high, the surprise at the end is quite intriguing. I include this in my top 5 after lots of reconsiderations amongst Appointment with Death (another 1930s masterpiece), Five Little Pigs (a one of its kind tale were Poirot solves a murder committed 15 years ago only by studying the five possible suspects) and Endless Night (one of the best of Christie in her last years with original ideas taken from her earlier works like Ackroyd and Death on the Nile). Classic plays like Witness for the Prosecution, Unexpected Guest and Mousetrap were also tight contenders. Orient Express wins mainly because of its innovative yet believable solution given at the end.

For Quality of Mystery= 3/5.
For Quality of Narration=4/5.
For the Surprise Factor=4/5. 


  1. Dear Arghya

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Agatha Christie is truly the Grand Dame of Mysteries. I love your selection but have unfortunately forgotten about Curtain. I remember it in broad-lines but don't remember much about details like Hasting's daughter. Guess it is time to have a relook.

    And Then There Were None was turned by Christie herself into an insipid play with a cheesy romantic ending. Guess that's why Gumnaam had that Nanda-Manok Kumar milan at the end.:)

    It's always good to come across a fellow Indian blogger. I look forward to more of your posts.

    1. Hi Neer,

      Thanks for that info on ATTWN and your encouraging comments. Curtain, conceptwise, is a great book to read. I too look forward to your blog.