Agatha Christie 100 - Peril at End House

After a couple of years with no Poirot, the little Belgian returned with this novel.

Poirot and Hastings are relaxing at a seaside resort, where they make the acquaintance of Nick Buckley, a young woman living in the titular End House. It turns out that Nick has been the target of several suspicious accidents that nearly led to her death. Poirot vows to investigate and finds several suspicious characters in the coterie surrounding Nick.

This was written as Christie was truly becoming the Queen of Crime that she would forever be known as. It's a very fine example of a fair play mystery novel. Its chief drawback is that the main misdirection in this novel is a variation of a kind that she'd been using in every novel since at least 1929's The Seven Dials Mystery, and the astute reader should really tumble on to what she's doing here.

But excepting that quibble, this novel really shows why Christie became the front runner in the genre. There are several small touches where Christie bamboozles the unwary reader.

Hastings is not quite as obtuse as he was in the 20s novels, though I'm aware that that doesn't say much. At least here he doesn't misinterpret every single detail in the case.

I'm going to rate this a 72 out of a 100. It's a great Christie novel, but there are still even better things to come.

1933 1933 1970
2002 2014

The persons in charge of the Swedish edition probably had the same misgivings about Christie's early mystery titles as I do (what's an End House and who cares?), and therefore changed it completely. Badortsmysteriet simply means The Seaside Resort Mystery. I will happily admit that the change was not for the better...

There aren't that many editions of this novel in Swedish, but it's interesting to note that there were two very different editions in the first year. The first one isn't particularly good - another example of the thinking that just having the title plastered all over the cover is good enough. (At least it has a pistol to show that it's a mystery.) The second is a little better, except for two facts: a) There's no train in the novel, and b) the exact same cover had already been used for The Mysterious Affair at Styles!

The 1970 edition - which I own - is from the Zebra series and looks suitably sinister. For once, it simply looks as if it was stolen from Fontana, it's apparently an original creation. I suppose it's intended to show the murdered Maggie Buckley, though the position of the body makes it almost seem as if she is involved in a dervish dance...

This is the only novel I have two copies of. The second one is the 2002 edition, and the reason I have this one as well is that this was in fact the first translation that wasn't abridged in any way! Too bad that they decided to use a cover featuring one of the dolls from Pretty Little Liars.

The latest edition, on the other hand, actually looks pretty good. It evokes that seaside ambiance, and introduces something sinister with the wasp (though there is no such animal in the novel). And I like that they again used a part of the image as a typographical detail. I'm starting to warm to these covers, aren't I?


Agatha Christie 100 - The Seven Dials Mystery

After a couple of Poirot novels in a row, Christie would let the small Belgian rest for a few novels. The first of those is this hybrid adventure/mystery.

A gang of bright young things are gathered at Chimneys - at the moment rented out to Sir Oswald Coote. One of them is a notorious oversleeper and the rest decide to play a prank on him by placing a number of alarm clocks in his room. However, he still doesn't come down to breakfast in time. In fact, it turns out that he has been murdered...

The first few chapters could have been appropriated wholesale from a Wodehouse novel...

Of all Christie's adventure stories, this might be my favourite. There are some elements of fair play clueing, though not enough to satisfy a reader looking for only those elements. But it moves along at a brisk pace with Bundle Brent making a fairly satisfying heroine - not the brightest, not always making the correct decisions.

Inspector Battle is again featured in this story, and again he takes a backseat to the investigations conducted by Bundle and her cohorts Jimmy Thesiger and Loraine Wade. He really is the antithesis of those scheming master criminals...

With this novel, Christie will also start a streak of novels that have something in common - the identity of the villain. I would argue that every novel from this one up to at least Lord Edgware Dies features a variation of the same revelation.

I also like how Christie takes the idea of a secret criminal organisation, which she used so poorly in The Big Four, and makes something much more interesting from it in this story. I will rate this a 63 out of 100. It's a solid Christie, better than average, though as I said, be forewarned that there are few fair play traits in this one.

1930 1961 1987
Sweden made a minor adjustment to the title when translating it (De sju urens mysterium = The Seven Watches Mystery). I think mainly because the area in London called The Seven Dials isn't something anyone would recognise here.

This is generally seen as a minor work in Christie's catalogue, so it doesn't have many Swedish editions. The first one is actually quite fun, with the dials being made out to look like faces. From these early days of mystery covers, this is one of my favourites.

The Zebra edition from the early 60s is not bad either. The hanging arm looks suitably mystery-like. However, I don't think it works, the way the seven dials were added to the cover.

And yes, the 80s edition is yet another book club edition. Again, it's the worst of the bunch, making it look as though the novel is a contemporary one. (Just compare the looks of the masked man with the one of the British cover above - or for that matter, with the masked man on the book club cover for The Secret of Chimneys!) I can't remember Bundle wearing a catsuit in this one...


Agatha Christie 100 - The Mystery of the Blue Train

Another novel written in the wake of Christie's personal problems during the mid 20s. It is fairly obvious that it's not a major work of hers, though it has its charms.

The American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin has bought a precious set of jewels for his daughter Ruth. Meanwhile, young heiress Katherine Grey has been invited by family to visit at their place on the French Riviera. Both of these young women are travelling on the titular train towards the south of France, but only one of them will arrive. It is fortunate that on the same train is a certain moustachioed man with an egg-shaped head...

The Mystery on the Blue Train is a novel expanded from the short story The Plymouth Express. The new bits are the least successful parts of the story, with some international intrigue surrounding a certain criminal mastermind called Monsieur le Marquis and a shady Greek businessman and his daughter.

This has a reputation as a minor work of Christie's, like its predecessor The Big Four. Personally, I think this one is much better than that hodgepodge. Parts of it is certainly due to my love for train settings. I do recognise that this is hardly anywhere near Christie's best novels, but it has a lot of charm. Poirot acts like Poirot should and Katherine Grey is a nice creation.

The novel also features a number of firsts - Mr. Goby and Poirot's valet George make their first appearances here. More significant is that the village of St Mary Mead, where Miss Marple lives, makes its debut here, though we meet neither that worthy lady nor any of the other cast from The Murder at the Vicarage. Except for possibly the vicar, but he and his wife are described very differently here. Maybe it's a different village with the same name...

I'll rate this a 38 out of 100. Far from Christie's best work, there is still a lot of things to like in this novel.

1977 1987 2014

Another minor Poirot title, another novel that took a long time to make its first appearance in Sweden. The Swedish title is yet again a literal translation of the English title, which actually is the first Christie title chronologically that I find somewhat appealing, unlike the earlier, fairly generic ones. Yes, it is the fact that "train" appears in the title that makes it appealing.

The 1977 edition features the all-important necklace on the front, but is a bit dull overall. As for the late 80s one, as usual I like Quagraine's work, and the train with the smoke billowing is a beautiful detail. This is the copy I own. (To be accurate, this is the paperback cover from 1991. The earlier hardcover version has some differences in typography, but otherwise the cover is the same.)

But the cover from 2014 is actually just as good. Using a blue background is perhaps a bit on the nose, but again I like the depiction of the train, and I think losing Poirot from the cover is an improvement. I'm warming to these new editions, aren't I?


Agatha Christie 100 - The Body in the Library

The second Miss Marple novel wasn't published until 1942, and by then Christie was firmly established as one of the foremost writers in the business.

Colonel and Mrs Bantry wake up to the terrible news that a young woman has been found dead in their library. Almost immediately tongues begin to wag, and Mrs Bantry asks for assistance from their good friend Miss Marple. It is soon established that the dead woman was Ruby, a dance hostess at a resort hotel a couple of miles away, and Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple decide to take a room there.

This might be one of the shortest Christie novels around - it was my quickest read so far. Miss Marple has now become the seemingly woolly-headed lady that we expect her to be, though there is still a heavy focus on how she constantly sees the dark side of everyone and everything.

It's a fine mystery, as one would expect from Christie during this time period. But that doesn't mean that it's without flaws. The ending is quite abrupt. We're almost still in the middle of the investigation, and then suddenly revelation after revelation comes, wrapping everything up quite neatly. There's not much clueing to give the reader a fighting chance of solving this along with Miss Marple.

Overall, this is still very readable and I'd place it just a bit below the average Christie - my rating is 48 out of 100.

1944 1956 1964
1979 1984 1988
1990 2000 2015

Though the second Miss Marple novel overall, this was the first to be translated into Swedish, and we made a minor change to the British title when translating it: Liket i biblioteket literally means The Corpse in the Library, but it's also true that using the Swedish word for "body" would sound very awkward, so I don't think there was any other reason for that change.

Several of the covers feature the dead body, with two instead choosing to focus on the dancing that is central to the story. The 40s and 50s covers are quite similar in what they choose to depict even though they don't look all that similar to each other. For once, I prefer the earlier cover to the one from the Zebra series - in the latter the body looks a bit too cartoony for the surroundings.

Delfinserien has two different covers. The earlier one, which is the one I own, is again focused on the body, very minimalistic but quite striking. The later one looks very sinister with all those jewels and the foot with the painted toenails. For once, it's not only similar to one of those Fontana covers - it IS the Fontana cover!

Bonniers 80s editions also have two different covers. The first one is very cartoony, though it seems it is based on a painting by J. C. Leyendecker. The one from 1988 is also cartoony, though in a different way. I actually like that one better, though I'll readily admit that it could have been used for almost any Christie novel. The cover from 1990 is from the centenary of Christie's birth, and I think it is the same one used by the British contemporaneous editions, or at least a variation thereof.

We have another photo on the 2000 edition, which seems to be an image of Ruby's dancing feet, though it could actually be meant to have been taken in the library instead. It's one of the better covers from this edition. And then we have the 2015 cover, which I think is fairly dull. A couple of bloodstains on a chequered background does not really do much for me.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Big Four

The Big Four is Christie's first and only episodic novel. Published when Christie had become a household name after The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, readers flocked to buy her new novel.

Hastings returns to England again and finds that Poirot is getting involved with a world-encompassing crime syndicate, named The Big Four. He decides to stay and give assistance to Poirot. The pair are soon entangled in several episodes involving this mysterious organisation, and while Poirot often manages to right a terrible wrong, the persons responsible continue to elude capture.

This novel was the first after Christie's difficulties with separation and divorce from her first husband, as well as her disappearance for a few weeks in 1926. However, that doesn't mean it was written at that time - no, in fact this novel was fashioned out of a series of short stories that Christie published way back in 1924. Christie mainly created different openings to each short story in order to craft them into different chapters in this overarching story.

But that also means that we cannot blame this hodgepodge of evil superbaddies and secret hideouts on Christie's ordeals, as they were written before they happened. And this is by far the poorest story I've read so far in this re-read, so one has to wonder what on earth compelled Christie to write it. This is closer in style to Christie's adventure thrillers, but at least those other ones had some humour and lightness of touch - a simple sense of fun that this novel doesn't have at all.

Poirot hardly does any detecting like we're used to - there are a couple of episodes which resemble the mystery short stories Christie published in 1923 and which were later collected in Poirot Investigates (the oft mentioned A Chess Problem is one of them), but even those few examples pale in comparison with Christie's regular short stories.

I'll rate this a 12 out of 100. There are few Christie stories that are as bad as this one, though I guess we might find a couple of lower-rated novels when we reach the end of this re-read. Whenever someone tries to poohpooh Ronald Knox's rule "There should be no Chinamen", just direct them towards this story.
1929 1969

Reflecting this novel's standing as a minor work in Christie's catalogue, it only has two Swedish editions. There is a slight variation in the titles - De fyra means The Four, while De fyra stora is a literal translation of the British title.

The first of these covers is hideous in every way. It's quite apparent that a cover such as this one could never be used in these enlightened times, but even aside from that it's just plain ugly.

The Zebra edition from the late 60s is by comparison much better. Another example of that cover staple - a couple of items that signal excitement and mystery - I do wonder what that fetish (or whatever that face is) is doing on this cover.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Secret of Chimneys

In the early part of her career, Christie would often take turns between writing pure mysteries and adventure thrillers, often with a hint of romance in them. This novel belongs to the latter category, her third such novel after The Secret Adversary and The Man in the Brown Suit.

Anthony Cade, a man with a chequered background, undertakes to transport a manuscript of delicate nature from southern Africa to the publishers in London. Meanwhile, there is a political storm brewing in the state of Herzoslovakia, where the former king and queen have been murdered, but plans have been set in place to restore the monarchy again. All these plot threads centre on a meeting at Lord Caterham's manor, Chimneys.

I was looking forward to reading this one, because I had forgotten a lot about it since last time I read it. I still remembered the big reveal at the end, but most of the twists and turns on the way there were lost in the fogs of time. I can't say that it lived up completely to expectations. It was a fun read, an easy read and hard to put down. But it's also fairly silly, and everything just turns out conveniently for the best whenever Cade - our protagonist - does something. There's no clueing, really, and the reveal of the different villains doesn't really hang on anything that Christie has set up previously.

Inspector Battle doesn't makes a very deep impression here, leaving Anthony Cade to do most of the heavy lifting. Instead he's mostly there to confirm everything that Cade manages to find out, being the archetypal competent policeman - as opposed to the archetypal incompetent policeman that we so often get to see.

Anyway, Chimneys is decidedly better than its immediate predecessor, The Man in the Brown Suit. It feels a bit more assured, and at least you get the feeling that Cade knows what he's doing some of the time, in contrast to Anne Beddingfield in the earlier novel.

I'd rate this a 39 out of 100. A whole mess of fun, but perhaps not quite what you're looking for in a Christie novel. But sometimes you want a distraction from the meatier fare, an amuse-bouche, and then you could definitely do worse than reading The Secret of Chimneys.

1948 1960 1970
1981 1988 1991

The Swedish title is simply a literal translation of the English one. This was another one of those early titles that had to wait a while until it was translated into Swedish, but Bonniers has made up for that by publishing a number of editions since then. The first one from 1948 has a cover in that style that we're beginning to recognise from around that time.It's good enough, I suppose, though it could definitely be mistaken for a youth novel. The Zebra cover from 1960 is one of their worst. It looks like a James Bond novel or something, and it doesn't help that it's quite cartoony.

The first Delfinserien cover - the one I own.- features a crescent and some flowers, which isn't the most exciting of covers. The second Delfinserien cover from 1981 is another one of those pictures of vaguely sinister objects (I suppose the firearm is more than vaguely sinister...). I might just like that one a bit more than the previous one.

And hey, here comes another bookclub cover! It's not the worst such cover I've seen, but why does every woman on these covers have an 80s hairdo? Let's move our gaze towards the 1991 cover instead, which is kinda fun with that cartoony eagle and the bloodstain. At least it hints at the international adventure mystery we know the novel contains.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

With this novel, we've reached the first of the milestones of Agatha Christie's long career. This is her first stone cold classic. Read on to find out what I thought of it.

Hercule Poirot has retired to a small village in order to grow vegetable marrows, but is soon roped into helping out with a murder investigation. The titular Roger Ackroyd has been stabbed in his study, with the window open and conspicuous footprints outside. Since Poirot is now retired and Hastings has moved to Argentina with his wife, he gets help from the village doctor, Dr Sheppard, who narrates this mystery in Hastings' stead.

Yeah, this is still a powerful story. It towers above everything else from Christie's first decade of writing. There are a couple of other Christie novels from the 20s that are perfectly fine mysteries, but this is the only one where you see why she is hailed as the best writer in the genre. It is interesting to note that it will take a couple of years after this one before she gets really going again - arguably not until The Murder at the Vicarage.

The misdirection here is rather wonderful - though if you read it with a knowledge of the solution there are one or two passages where you go "Hang on, does that really work?" - and while the village setting would later become Miss Marple's homeground, Poirot does well in this one.

I'd rate this a 93 out of 100, it's quite simply one of the better novels of the genre.

1927 1940 1952 1959
1964 1980 1982 1995
1997 2002 2005 2007
2009 2015
Okay, when it comes to Swedish editions of this novel, we've got a lot to talk about... First, this is the only novel of Christie's that wasn't published by Sweden's leading publishing firm, Bonniers. As I understand it, when it was offered to Swedish publishers, only two of Christie's novels had been translated (The Secret Adversary and The Murder on the Links), none of which had probably been tearing up the sales charts. Instead, this was picked up by a competing publisher, B. Wahlströms, who as you can see above have gone on to milk this novel to death. It is interesting to note, though, that the very latest edition is actually the same as the one we've seen for The Mysterious Affair at Styles. So maybe they have decided to align, or perhaps someone now owns all the Swedish rights to Christie novels.

Anyway, adding to this confusion, this novel has two different titles in Sweden. I said that the Swedish title for The Murder on the Links was the poorest ever, but it has stiff competition from the original Swedish title here: Hur gåtan löstes means How the Mystery Was Solved. Fabulous, no? No.

When the novel was published in the 40s, it received a new Swedish title, which has stuck with it since then. Dolken från Tunis (literally: The Dagger from Tunis) is also a much better one, better than the original English one, which I think is similarly bland to most of the other 20s titles.

Now let's move on to the covers, which are a mixed bunch. The first one is actually exactly the same one as the first British edition. It looks incredibly dated, and it's impossible to imagine a book today with that type of cover. As an exercise in nostalgia, it's fine, but not a favourite of mine. As for the cover from 1940, I think we have now established where Kenneth Branagh got his idea of Poirot's appearance from. If the Poirot depiction were better I'd like this a bit more.

If you've taken a closer look at the covers above, you've also seen that they are partly repeated over the years. Take the 1952 one, for instance. The same illustration appears on the covers from 1997 and 2002, though with different typesetting and colouring. The 50s one is definitely the best one of these three. I don't think it works anywhere near as well with the white and green of the later covers.

The 1959 cover is more in line with what covers looked like in Sweden around that time (see also the almost concurrent cover for Murder at the Vicarage), and I quite like it. Moving on, you can see another cover that was repeated, just with some design details changed. The one from 1964 is a bit more cluttered than the cleaner 1980s variant. The cover illustration gives vibes of a more hardboiled story, but at least it looks exciting.

And that's in contrast to the 1982 cover, which is the edition I have. Yeah, the dagger looks impressive, but why cover it with all that text? Bah. By 1995, the Suchet TV series is going strong, and therefore we need a tie-in cover, of course. This is the type of cover I hate the most.

Finally, let's take a look at the latest four editions. The one from 2005 has some design similarities to the 1982 one, though manages to both improve on it and make it worse at the same time. They've managed to separate the dagger and the text, but the dagger itself is just a silhouette and the font they've chosen is ugly. I also dislike that it's all in lowercase letters.

The 2007 and 2009 covers are a bit meh. The first one has a lot of flowers, while the later one at least manages  to indicate that this is going to be a mystery, with a dagger and a magnifying glass. And then we have the latest edition, whose covers I'm starting to warm to, funnily enough. They have the same style of design, and I like that they've managed to make the dagger part of the title. It's still not the most eye-catching of covers and doesn't scream "mystery!", but I'll try not to dismiss them out of hand henceforth.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Murder at the Vicarage

So, time for our first Miss Marple book in this re-read. This was published a little later than the others so far (1930), so Christie is more assured as a writer by now.

The cantankerous Colonel Protheroe has made enemies of all and sundry, and therefore it comes as no surprise when he is found murdered, shot to death in the vicar's study. Because of the Colonel's nature, there are plenty of suspects, but almost immediately his wife and her lover admit to the killing - separately! But there are inconsistencies in their stories, and any Christie reader will immediately guess that their confessions are not genuine. It is therefore fortunate that next door to the vicarage lives an old lady with a lot of common sense - Miss Marple.

I think one could call this Christie's first "standard mystery". She's beginning to hit her stride here, and from this point on and for up to 20 years she will be writing great mystery novels - some will push the boundaries of any rules you can think of, while others will just tinker around with the different building blocks that make up a mystery to confound the reader as much as possible.

As I said, this novel is the start of all that. It's very good, and even though I remembered almost all the big developments here, I enjoyed reading this story a whole lot. Miss Marple isn't really the character she would become in later stories, she is much more fearsome and more of a village gossip, like the other old ladies that we come across in this novel. There's nothing of the woolly old lady who can fool criminals with her innocent blue eyes.

I'd rate this a 78 out of 100. One of her finest mysteries, but there's still room for improvement before we reach the very tops of greatness.

1952 1967 1984
1987 1989 2000
2001 2005 2015

Again, the Swedish title is a direct translation of the English title (Mordet i prästgården = The Murder at the Vicarage), so nothing much to discuss there. More interesting is perhaps the fact that this title wasn't published in Sweden until 1952, well after three other Marple titles had already been translated into Swedish.

Despite the fact that Vicarage had to wait quite a long time before being published in Sweden, it has had a whole bunch of different editions since then, with as many as four coming this century. If we take a look at the first edition, it has a rather humorous looking cover. It's very typical of Swedish 50s covers. Its main drawback is that it says very little about the contents of the novel, but I like it anyways.

Come the 60s, and Delfinserien has a pretty good-looking cover with the Old Hall front and centre - another one of Per Åhlin's creations. Nowhere near his best, but still preferable to many of the others here. The two Bonniers editions from the mid 80s actually belong to the same series, but as you can see, they switched illustrators before the second one. While the first one is fine, if a little nondescript, the second one, again by Leslie Quagraine, is awesome in every way. Again, perhaps it doesn't say much about the contents, but doesn't that cloud look wonderful? I just wish it was the one I owned. (I used to have the earlier 80s version, but upgraded to the Delfinserien one some time ago.)

The edition from the late 80s is a book club version, as you can probably glean from that cover, which is pretty awful. It looks like the cover of a vampire story, to be honest. As seen before with The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the 2000 version has a photograph. This one is evocative but a picture of a tree doesn't really spell out "village mystery" to me.

The large print edition from 2001 at least has the clock, which was an important clue in the story, while the latest edition at least continues the same abstract stylings that the other publications in this series have. Note that they've incorporated Christian crosses in the title, which is kinda nifty.

Before coming to the 2005 cover, I might need to explain that in Sweden, we always have a "Book sale" period in late February. A lot of books are published in special editions for this sale. And this edition is just such a one. To be honest, I think it's a fairly evocative cover, much better than it has a right to be. And it helps that it actually depicts something important to the story. If only it weren't so very dark.