2020-08-04

Agatha Christie 100 - The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side

This is probably Christie's last really well-known title - at least if you discount the two novels that finish Poirot's and Miss Marple's careers respectively - and was Christie's first 60s Marple novel.



Famous actress Marina Gregg has moved to St. Mary Mead and bought Gossington Hall, which used to belong to Miss Marple's friend Dolly Bantry. The latter is invited to the manor along with many other celebrities. At the reception, one of the guests is handed a drink that is poisoned and dies soon after. Since the drink was given to her by Marina Gregg, the police are soon investigating who could have had cause to murder the actress.

While I read this one, it felt as if the main misdirection of this novel was something that Christie had used over and over again and should be picked up by the reader, but looking through her previous novels, there are really only two other stories that use variations of this plot mechanism - Peril at End House and A Murder Is Announced.

By the way, isn't it just a bit of a coincidence that there should be two(!) prospective blackmailers in this novel? It's also a bit annoying that one of them is hardly featured as a character in the story - it really robs the murder of him of any reader interest.

Miss Marple is clearly older in this novel, having to put up with a live-in caretaker/busybody, though the old girl is still fairly spry whenever she puts her mind to it. It's interesting that she falls for the misdirection in this one since she should remember the events in Little Paddock.

Otherwise, Christie has opportunity to discuss the progress of the world and seems to accept them as inevitable and not necessarily bad either. Not only has St. Mary Mead grown with newly built areas, but we're also treated to a description of Gossington Hall's trials and tribulations over the years.

A nice enough read. Unfortunately, there's nothing really new here, but Christie still manages to craft a good mystery plot. The fate of the murderer is quite affecting. 72 out of 100.

1963 1965 1974 1981
1987 2001 2014

A fair amount of Swedish editions for this novel, which got to keep a literal translation of the British title. Since it's one of the better known of the Marple stories I guess it's not too surprising...

The first cover is fine, in my opinion. As I've mentioned, I'm not too fond of the very angular drawing style, but otherwise, this is a fitting cover. The Zebra cover from 1965 is somewhat similar, but looks like a cheaper dime novel. With this edition, I've always liked that there is a small extract of the text from the novel on the front page.

The 1974 cover is from the British Fontana edition, and is for me the quintessential cover. It catches the imagination beautifully and draws the reader in. Which is just the opposite of the 1981 cover (which is also extremely similar to a second Fontana cover). It's so very grey and dull. Unfortunately, it's the one I own.

The mid 80s cover by Leslie Quagraine is fine. As usual we get a small skull, this time instead of an olive in the drink, which is an amusing detail. The red dots are kind of a spoiler, as they are almost certainly a reference to rubella, but I think it's so obscurely done here that I'm almost impressed.

The cover from the turn of the century is all right, I suppose. A spilled out drink glass and some pills. It does tell the reader that this is going to be a mystery. But again, a bit too grey... The final cover here is quite representative of this particular edition. Lots of small triangles? prisms? everywhere, and a few drops of blood. Nothing that connects to this particular title, really. And this time there's not even any playing around with the typography.

2020-07-31

Agatha Christie 100 - Taken at the Flood

The last Poirot novel of the 40s, this might be the last story featuring the Belgian that was written while Christie was at the height of her powers.


Family patriarch Gordon Cloade had just married when he was killed in a WWII bombing. His wife Rosaleen and her brother David Hunter both survived and are now in control of the family fortune that many of Gordon's siblings had relied on previously. Resentments are quickly building - and when rumours appear of a previous husband of Rosaleen's and a mysterious stranger appears in the village, things come to a head.

Is this the last truly great Poirot novel? I'm not going to rule it conclusively so - I have still to re-read the coming novels before I can make any such pronouncements. But this is an excellent mystery. As I've repeated over and over again, Christie's writing here is much more character driven, but there is still a solid mystery plot in this story.

Everything surrounding the mystery is rather lovely, with the village setting almost immediately after the war, and how this situation affects the different characters. The main misdirection concerning characters' identities isn't Christie's strongest, but I still think you need to be a fairly seasoned mystery reader to cotton on to what is really happening.

A rating of 88 out of 100 is what I'll give this story. It's good to see Poirot front and centre of the investigations, as he'll soon be sidelined by Ariadne Oliver in his own novels.

1948 1970 1984
1987 1987

Both the British and the American titles (There is a Tide...) are taken from Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar Act IV. Funnily enough, while the Swedish title is not a direct translation of either of these quotes, the publishers managed to find another part of the same speech to use for the title. Högt vatten means High Waters, but in this case is a translation of the "full sea" from line five in the same speech. I like that they managed to keep the connection to the Shakespeare play while still use a title that speaks more to the Swedish readership - we don't sprinkle our language with Shakespeare quotations willy-nilly, so we wouldn't recognise it anyway.

This is the one of two late 40s Poirot stories, and like its predecessor it has only five editions in Sweden. The first cover from 1948 isn't the best I've seen. It's a bit too humorous for this rather serious novel. Delfinserien's 1970 cover, on the other hand, is great.The face in the water, the house all askew, wow. One of my favourites all through this re-read. I'm glad it's the one I own.

The cover from 1984 is a bit too minimalistic for my tastes. I'm not too sure about the broken mirror or photo-phrame either - I can't really remember anything like that in the story. The first of two covers from 1987 belongs to a book club edition and is actually quite effective. I wish it wasn't quite so cartoony, because the image itself is rather chilling and draws the readers attention.

The other 1987 cover is by Leslie Quagraine and is also quite good. While the bomber plays a fairly minimal role in the main story, this image still catches your eye, and this particular blue tone in the background looks pretty great.

2020-07-27

Agatha Christie 100 - They Came to Baghdad

With this novel, Christie returned to her beloved adventure thrillers after two decades where she focused mainly on her fair play mysteries.



Plucky Victoria Jones has just been sacked, but when she meets Edward, an agreeable young man, on a bench in London and learns that he is moving out to Baghdad to do work for a charity, she resolves to follow him there. Meanwhile, an agent called Carmichael is expected to arrive at that very same city with important information on a worldwide conspiracy to create a New World Order...

Well, this was an entertaining read, though be aware that it's a case of deus ex machina following unlikely event following coincidence after coincidence. Victoria is a typical Christie thriller heroine, stumbling onto adventure around every corner and having the wherewithal to get out of sticky situations.

Meanwhile, the enemy is their usual bumbling selves; one has to wonder how they managed to create such an effective, lethal organisation if they can't simply take care of a young British lady in a more permanent fashion.

So, no fair play mystery at all, and even the big villain surprise should be possible to spot by the seasoned Christie reader, because once a certain character is introduced into the main narrative, what else can happen?

But even though I'm not really talking up this novel, I did enjoy my read, and I'll have to give this story a 62 out of 100 for pure entertainment value.


1953 1956 1966
1976 1990 2014
The Swedish title is fairly similar to the British one, but again we avoid the contentless "They". "En flicka kom till Bagdad" means "A Girl Came to Baghdad". Six editions of this title seems like quite a lot - this is hardly classic Christie and was published during the final half of her career.

The first cover from 1953 is pretty good, featuring a stereotypical Arabic city background. As does the first Zebra edition from three years later. They are quite similar, though the latter seems to feature a chase through the same city streets. I like them both.

The Zebra edition had a second cover variant in 1966, and this one is quite obviously another Fontana style cover. But for once, it's actually the other way around - the Fontana edition was published three years after this one. It looks suitably exciting with the beetle and the background drawings.

The 1976 cover is another typical 70s cover, at least for Sweden, and seems to focus more on the "A girl" bit than the "Baghdad" bit. Not my favourite style, and isn't the way she's dressed much too modern? The later cover from 1990 is a bit too stereotypical for my liking. A sinister Arab with a camel in the background... Not the worst cover I've ever seen, but far from great.

The recent 2014 cover is again very typical for this edition, but this particular one doesn't even have the playfulness with the typographic details, so it's worse than average for this edition.

2020-07-22

Agatha Christie 100 - The Hollow

The first Poirot novel after WWII, this continues Christie's foray into more character oriented writing.


Lady Angkatell has invited her closest family and friends to a weekend at her mansion, The Hollow. These people have different reasons for wanting to come - or not to come! - which creates tensions among the group. Then one day, one of the guests, John Christow, is killed next to the swimming pool, and when everyone arrives, his wife Gerda is standing above him with a gun in her hand. But can it really be so easy? Luckily, one of the guests that day is Hercule Poirot.

As a story of detection, there's not an incredible amount here. There's very few clues except for psychological ones. What makes this novel a success is the Angkatell family, who are very distinct personalities with various eccentricities. Poirot has almost met his match as the family closes ranks and are distinctly unhelpful.

The love stories here are handled quite differently - the John Christow, Gerda Christow and Henrietta Savernake triangle works wonderfully, while the romance between Edward and Midge takes some very sudden turns and therefore seems less realistic.

In the end, this succeeds on the strength of its characters, though the main misdirection in the murder is not bad at all. I'll rate this a 78 out of 100. A very good read, but not at Christie's highest level.

1947 1958 1966
1973 1981

Gropen is a literal translation of The Hollow, which I don't know whether I find ideal. But as you all know, I don't like titling novels after mansions and country houses, so you'll know I'm biased. Though it is worse when those house names are translated... Note that this fairly unsung novel has only had five editions in Sweden, and the latest of those is almost 40 years old by now.

The first cover from the late 40s is good. I like that it offers some originality by focusing on Henrietta's sculpturing, because almost every other cover focuses on the murder weapon instead. The first Zebra edition also uses an original cover, and presents us with Gerda standing next to John Christow and the pool. I'm not entirely convinced by the artist's depiction of Gerda's face, but it's still a pretty good cover.

Now, let's get stuck into those Fontana covers. As usual, Tom Adams is the cover artist, but interestingly, he made two different covers for Fontana, and one of those two was offered in two different variants. But fear not, us Swedes made sure that you could see all these cover variants over the next three editions!

The first of these covers can be seen on the second Zebra edition from 1966. As you can see it's got an image of the revolver in the pool. I like this cover, though I think that the rings in the water are too intrusive, nearly obscuring the revolver and the red leaf. (It has to be said that in the British original those details are easier to see - it's this Swedish edition that's mucked it up somehow.)

There is a variant of this cover with a greener tint to the pool water, and you can see this image on the 1981 edition. Though for some reason the Swedish publishers managed to reverse the cover...

The second, distinct cover from Tom Adams can be seen on the 1973 edition. This isn't bad either, with a revolver lying among a bunch of eggs in a basket. Though I do prefer the other ones here, because while the revolver does suggest some type of mystery I just don't get all that excited about an egg basket....

2020-07-16

Agatha Christie 100 - By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Christie returns to Tommy & Tuppence in her final decade of writing, after a break of over 25 years.


Tommy's aunt Ada is in a resting home and he and Tuppence decide to visit her there. While there, Tuppence strikes up a conversation with one of the other ladies, a Mrs. Lancaster. The latter asks Tuppence a question about a baby in the fireplace, which - obviously - strikes Tuppence as odd. When T&T later return to the resting home, it turns out that Mrs. Lancaster has been moved from there and the only thing she has left behind is a painting of a house - a house Tuppence remembers having seen before...

It's nice to see this elderly pair again. As usual with these Tommy & Tuppence titles, there's not much detection. Things just happen and they manage to meet exactly the right person at the right time and end up at the perfect place when necessary. Though it has to be said that this characteristic is even more pronounced in this late Christie novel.

Remember how I complained in my fairly recent re-read of 4.50 from Paddington how it felt rather loose? Well, that's nothing compared to this novel. In that Miss Marple story, it was only the plotting that seemed to take a few shortcuts. Here, everything is loose and woolly and fluffy (except the motive for the whole thing, which is the exact opposite).

There's the germ of an interesting mystery plot here, and the resolution is still quite chilling and surprising, but holy moly does it take a long time to get there. And coincidence piles up on coincidence so Tuppence (and Tommy, to some extent) gets exactly the information they need. Get me right, this is not horribly bad in any way, it's just not a true detection story. There's hardly any deductions made, and those that ARE made are generally made through very fuzzy logic.

I'll award this a 27 out of a 100. Enjoyable to a certain extent, but very far from being a necessary Christie read.

1969 1998
The British title derives from something the second witch says in Shakespeare's Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 1), and the Swedish title also alludes to what's said in the Swedish translations of that play, though I haven't found a copy that features exactly these Swedish words. One of Christie's least celebrated novels, perhaps the fact that we've had as many as two editions is the more surprising thing.

The first cover, which is the edition I own, looks a bit naivistic and not too imaginative. Another cover where I wonder why they don't make use of the entire page. Still, they manage to feature both the painting and the doll that Tuppence finds later in the novel.

The second edition from 1998 looks as though it's a movie tie-in with all those "actor portraits," but as far as I know this story has only been adapted twice, and both adaptations came several years later. So I don't really know what that is all about. But that hand looks super bad - almost like a rubber hand.

2020-07-11

Agatha Christie 100 - Five Little Pigs

Poirot's investigation into a more than 15 year old murder by interviewing people involved in this cold case continues Christie's turn into more character driven writing.


Carla Lemarchant comes to visit Hercule Poirot in order to convince him to take a look at the Amyas Crale murder case. It turns out that Crale was her father, and that her mother was convicted of the crime, dying in prison just a short time later. When Poirot learns the circumstances - Carla's mother wrote her a letter from prison, professing her innocence - he is only too glad to contact the five other people involved in the case to learn their view of what happened...

This is a sleeper hit among Christie's works. It's not as feted as some other books in her catalogue, though I think it has always enjoyed a fairly high status among fans. As I said, this novel is more character driven than most of what Christie had written before, though the move into this style of writing was noticeable in some earlier works.

Some people should find this story troublesome, because it consists of about 95% interviews, though Christie manages to spice things up by refraining from a pure Q&A scenario, instead allowing the interviewees to retell the events in their own words, which allows the reader to notice new layers as the story is retold again and again.

Poirot's reasoning is strong, though it would never hold up in any court (which the novel acknowledges), though it must be said that it's not very difficult to guess the murderer well ahead of time.

I'll award this an 88 out of 100. A very strong Christie novel, which could have been improved if the murderer was better hidden.

1943 1951 1956
1966 1986 1987
1990 2015 1983 *
A direct translation of the (British) title this time. Which opens up for a pig bonanza on the covers, but the Swedish publishers have actually been quite restrained in that respect.

The first cover is one of the better 40s covers I've seen. It focuses on the serenity of the artist's work and looks rather lovely. The 1951 cover, on the other hand, is more or less the opposite. A very cartoony look at the bohemian artist.

So perhaps it's no surprise that the Zebra edition from 1956 is a kind of cross between the two. Somewhat cartoony, but the silly depiction of the painting is gone. Though it's replaced with some scratches in the background that I have a hard time making heads or tails of.

The 1966 cover from Delfinserien is very, very 60s in its design. On the plus side, there is still no abundance of pigs, but on the minus side, there are no pigs at all, nor any connection to the artistic setting of the novel. The former is rectified with the '86 cover, though it's still quite restrained in its pigginess. It's the edition I own, and I'm quite fond of it.

And then we come to the book club cover from 1987. It has one thing going for it - the "10 Little XXX" aspect of the whole thing comes through loud and clear. On the other hand, there are pigs, pigs and pigs, and also, the novel doesn't feature a "10 Little XXX" type crime.

Meanwhile, the cover from 1990 is quite possibly the best one from this centenary edition. The palette and the colour blotches in pig shapes are really good and fitting for this title. The recent 2015 edition is also pretty good. It's less abstract than the other books from the same edition. Again, the typography is used in interesting ways, this time with a letter where the colour isn't completely filled in yet by the paintbrush.

The final cover is one we've seen before. This omnibus edition (with Cards on the Table) is featured here too for completeness' sake.

2020-07-07

Agatha Christie 100 - Crooked House

Another one of Christie's psychological studies, this non-series novel features yet another one of her memorable families.


While in Egypt, Charles Hayward has made the acquaintance of Sofia Leonides, and when he's called away - he's a diplomat - they decide that they will meet up later in England. When Charles returns, it turns out that Sophia's grandfather has just been murdered, and the suspicions lie heavy on the members of the Leonides family. Since Charles's father is a high-ranking police officer, he is asked to snoop around a little.

I liked this a lot, it was one of the novels I was looking forward to most in this re-read, and in many ways it fulfilled my expectations. The final line of the penultimate chapter is extremely powerful.

But it is rather remarkable that I like it so much, because it's not much of a detection novel. If I remember correctly, there's one single physical clue to the killer's identity. Everything else is simply psychological, and in the end the identity of the murderer is just revealed, without anyone having detected who they are.

Otherwise, the main thing with this story is naturally precisely that, the identity of the murderer. It's one you probably never will forget, and it's also telling that there are very few similar murderers in other works by Golden Age authors. At this very moment, I can only recall one other such story. (Modern mystery writing, on the other hand, is full of murderers of this kind.)

I'm awarding this an excellent 92 out of 100. I was close to putting a perfect 100, but realised that the absence of any true detective work at all needs some penalising. To be honest, the only one acting as a detective at all is Chief Inspector Taverner and maybe the twelve year old daughter of the house, Josephine.


1950 1963 1966
1977 1985 1990
Konstiga huset is one of the possible translations of Crooked House and works well as a title, both in British and in Swedish. I guess the novel is a bit of an outlier in Christie's production, but it still has six different editions here in Sweden.

The 1950 cover is yet another of those semi-humorous covers from around that period. In this case, I find it kinda suitable and fitting. It's interesting to contrast with the 1963 cover, which doesn't do much differently, but still manages to look quite a bit worse.

The Fontana cover crops up with the 1966 Zebra edition, looking its vaguely sinister self. It's the one I own, and I like it quite a bit. But isn't it actually a bit spoiler-y? One of the items is not mentioned at all until the very end when we learn the killer's motive. For 1977's book club cover we get a closeup of Josephine looking through the doorway. It's not entirely distinguished, which I suppose is quite a feat for a book club cover.

The mid 80s cover also features Josephine - at least I think that's supposed to be her - and the house in the background, though it doesn't look all that crooked to me. An okay cover, nothing more. But the 1990 one I like! All perspectives are off and it truly suggests the topsyturviness of the house and its inhabitants. Nicely done.

2020-07-03

Agatha Christie 100 - Evil Under the Sun

Another perennial favourite for me, this is another one of those holiday Poirot novels.


Poirot is holidaying in the south of England, and at the same resort is a famous actress, Arlena Marshall, who's famous for her many flings, even though she's married. She attracts the attention of one of the young men around, even though both her husband and step-daughter are present too. Not long thereafter, she is found dead by strangulation on a remote beach...

I still love this. The misdirection is simple (and partly based on an earlier short story, "Triangle at Rhodes") but quite effective, the characters are great and Poirot's investigation is well-handled.

To a certain extent, this feels like the final Christie 30s novel. She'd started moving into more character-driven storytelling with novels like And Then There Were None and Sad Cypress, and when we next meet Poirot again in Five Little Pigs, that transition will be complete. But this novel is more similar to Christie's 30s work, and particularly her best 30s work.

I'll rate this an impressive 95 out of 100. It's one of Christie's quintessential mysteries, and it's telling that it was one of the earliest Peter Ustinov adaptations - also one of the best.

1942 1969 1982 1985
1986 1987 2000 2014

This is another novel where the Swedish publishers saw fit to change the title around quite a bit - Mord på ljusa dagen means Murder in Broad Daylight. I don't think it's quite as effective as the original British title, but by now I'm so used to it that I often have a hard time remembering what the original title actually is...

The 40s cover above is a really good one. I'm not entirely fond of the angular portrayal of Arlena, but otherwise it's a very successful image. Delfinserien brings us a depiction of Hercule Poirot sitting dangling his legs, which I have a hard time ever seeing him do... But as this is the copy I own, I've gotten quite used to this portrayal.

The 1982 cover is another example of my pet peeve - why not use the entire page? And it seems the publishers realised this as well, because just a couple of years later they published a variation of the cover which does just that - make use of the entire front page. I quite like this depiction of the holiday house where the story takes place.

If the 40s cover was a fine depiction of the cove where the murder is committed, I'm less enamoured with the book club edition from 1986. It's not as garish as some of its ilk, but there's just something about the drawing technique used that doesn't sit well with me. (It doesn't help that Arlena Marshall is not supposed to have been lying on her back...)

Leslie Quagraine's cover from 1987 has fine colouring with the light blue and the sun in the background, but is otherwise quite nondescript. It really could have been used for any mystery. (Though I find it quite amusing how they managed to work in the Bonnierpocket logo in the skull's eye...) The millennium cover focuses on a beach setting with a number of deckchairs, but manages to use a colour scheme where everything is hard to make out.

For 2014's cover we get some gulls and a bright yellow cover as an indication of the holiday setting, but otherwise it could have been used for any novel, really. Not bad, but a bit too generic.