Agatha Christie 100 - If at first you don't succeed...

As you probably know, Agatha Christie did not shy away from reusing old plot ideas and devices and put them in a new framework to conjure up new stories in her writings. But we also know that in some cases she simply took an old story and rewrote it - often creating a new novel or novella from a short story.

I thought that in this post I would take a look at some of the most obvious examples of these re-writes, just to keep them handy in one place. I'm not going to list the stories that simply have plot similarities, like Lord Edgware Dies and Peril at End House, or "Triangle at Rhodes" and Evil Under the Sun, or for that matter "The Companion" and A Murder Is Announced. In those cases (and others), while there are similarities in plots or situations or settings, both works stand on their own.

However, there are clear examples when what we're reading is (essentially) the same story. Sometimes they're almost verbatim, sometimes the longer version simply adds more background, characterisation or allows Christie to add in more material but still keeps to the same basic plot, and sometimes Christie would change the stories enough - by changing the culprit or murder method or something similar - to make them fairly standalone from each other.

The listing below is in an approximate order from extremely similar to simply using the same basic structure. Some spoilers are unavoidable.

We'll begin with "The Regatta Mystery". This short story exists in two versions, one featuring Parker Pyne and one featuring Hercule Poirot. The former is apparently the original one, according to research from John Curran, though it was long thought that it was the other way around. These two short stories are almost completely alike, simply changing some names and some of the characterisation necessary for Pyne and Poirot respectively. Reading one will completely spoil the other.

Next, we have "The Submarine Plans" and "The Incredible Theft". The original short story and the later novella are also very similar. Being a novella, the later version obviously includes more material and allows Christie to expand on characterisation, settings and other descriptions, but on the whole they are very much the same story.

One recently discovered story is "Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly", never published during Christie's lifetime and an early version of the novel Dead Man's Folly. Here, the main plot and the setting is very similar. The novel is simply a more fleshed-out version of the novella. 

There weren't too many changes between "Christmas Adventure" and "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding" either. The longer novella simply allows the reader to experience the Christmas setting more fully. 

While the main plot of "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest" and "The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" remains the same, there are some obvious differences. The main one is using Hastings as a character (and narrator) in the earlier short story while the latter features Miss Lemon instead. Having read one will mostly spoil the other story.

Then we have "The Plymouth Express" and The Mystery of the Blue Train. Both stories have the same plot and the murder mystery has the same solution. However, there are a couple of fairly significant differences between the short story and the novel, mainly in the addition of several characters in the latter, and while the murder method is the same, additional culprits are featured in the later novel.

"The Market Basing Mystery" and "Murder in the Mews" differ somewhat in choice of victim, setting and characters, while the main plot is still the same in both stories. Again, the longer novella gives Christie the opportunity to expand the bare bones structure of the short(er) story.

"The Case of the Caretaker's Wife", "The Case of the Caretaker" and Endless Night is another case where Christie changed the detective for the final product (or rather removed the detective entirely), though the basic plot is exactly the same in all three variants. This is the only case where we have three different versions of the same story, though the first variant was only recently found, never having been published in the author's lifetime. The first two versions both feature Miss Marple and use very similar plotting, though the first variant uses a narrative technique where Miss Marple is front and centre of the action, while the second simply allows her to read an account of the events and then figure out a solution to them. Meanwhile, the novel is written as a first person account from one of the main people involved in the mystery, styled as a psychological thriller rather than the more regular fair play mysteries that we find in the first two variants. While the narrative style of the novel is very different from the earlier two versions, the reader will be spoiled for the solution by reading either of them.

Yet another case where a different detective is featured in the rewrite can be found with "Yellow Iris" vs. Sparkling Cyanide. The earlier short story features Poirot as the problem solver, while Colonel Race is the recurring character allowed to participate in the novel's investigations. The main situation is the same, as is the murder device. However, as usual Christie uses the longer version to flesh out everything, allowing the reader to get closer to the suspects. More importantly, she also changes the murderer which means that the reader can still read both stories and get surprised.

If you've read "The Second Gong" and "Dead Man's Mirror", you'll have noticed that the plot device in both stories are the same, but otherwise there are many differences between these two stories. The murderer is different, there are different characters and the motive is also different. This is also a rewrite where you can read both stories and still get a full experience.

Finally, we have "The Incident of the Dog's Ball" and Dumb Witness. Both stories have the same setup and use the same device for the murder. But the latter, being a novel, is much more fleshed out than the earlier short story (another one never published during Christie's lifetime), bringing in more characters and a different murderer. Again, you can read both without being spoiled.


Agatha Christie 100 - Dating Curtain and Sleeping Murder

I just might make a complete ass of myself here, but here's an attempt at trying to pinpoint a date for the writing of the final two Christie novels.


There's not a whole lot of in-text evidence in the novel that could leading anyone to find its place in the chronology, but it does feature both Hastings and George and assumes them to be well-known to the reader. As Hastings had been in almost every other novel with Poirot and certainly could be assumed to be a well-known character, that doesn't help us at all. 

George, on the other hand, generally didn't appear in any story where Hastings was a character. Since he was generally featured as a quick sounding-board to Hercule Poirot, that's hardly surprising. But if my reasearch is correct, George was first featured in the novel The Mystery of the Blue Train and the short stories Murder in the Mews and The Under Dog, apparently all written around the same time in the mid to late 20s. 

Then he appeared again in a number of stories from The Labours of Hercules, mostly first published in 1939-40, the short story Four and Twenty Blackbirds and also in the novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe from 1940. This indicates that as a character, George would be fairly fresh in Christie's mind during the early years of WWII, when Curtain was supposedly written.

One more thing that supports my assumptions is the fact that there is no mention at all of Ariadne Oliver in Curtain. As she became such a frequent supporting character to Poirot, and even appeared on her own in one novel, I think we can take it for given that Christie would have featured her in some capacity, had she known that Mrs. Oliver would be as prominent as she became. And as Mrs. Oliver had her second Poirot appearance in Mrs. McGinty's Dead, in the early 50s, this also supports the claim that Curtain is from the early to mid 40s.

There are also a few references to previous cases in Curtain. The last published work of that kind is Sad Cypress from 1940. The reference is to the hard-to-find murder motive in the case of Evelyn Carlisle. Since the character was renamed Elinor in the final version of the story, that seems to indicate that the Sad Cypress story had not been completely finished when Curtain was being written.

Knowing that Christie's schedule was to publish two novels a year with a helping of short stories at this point in time, it is telling that 1943 features only one novel and no short stories at all. Add to that the following statement from Christie in 1942 to her agent where she asked him to keep a manuscript in reserve:

I have been, once, in a position where I wanted to write just for the sake of money coming in and when I felt I couldn't – it is a nerve wracking feeling. If I had had one [manuscript] 'up my sleeve' it would have made a big difference. That was the time I had to produce that rotten book The Big Four and had to force myself in The Mystery of the Blue Train.

While Wikipedia says that this request probably referred to Sleeping Murder, I think it's just as plausible that it could apply to Curtain instead. Therefore, my conclusion is that it was written around 1940-42, which corresponds to the general perception.

Sleeping Murder

Unlike Poirot and Curtain, where the time of writing the novel does not seem in dispute, Sleeping Murder seems harder to pinpoint. The novel itself has no air of finality about it, instead appearing to be just any one of Miss Marple's cases.

In the text, there are two important facts that help to set boundaries for when it might have been written. First, there is a reference to a previous case of Miss Marple's, the poisoned pen letters in Lymstock. This is quite obviously the novel The Moving Finger, published in 1941. That gives us the earliest possible year for the writing of Sleeping Murder

The second in-text fact is the mention of Colonel Bantry as being still alive and still living at Gossington Hall with his wife Dolly. We were told of his death and the fact that Mrs. Bantry had moved out in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side in 1962. That gives us a definite final possible year for the time of writing. But in fact, I think it indicates that Sleeping Murder was finished quite some time earlier than 1962, because if Christie had known that she was going to kill off Colonel Bantry, then why use him as a living character in Sleeping Murder at all? It's not as if his appearance there is important to the story.

The Wikipedia page on this novel has a good runthrough of the different arguments regarding this novel's writing, and shows that there is clearly some merit to the assumption that Christie began writing the novel at around the same time as Curtain. Miss Marple is still fairly sprightly in this novel, working hard in her garden, which was expressly forbidden her in the aforementioned Mirror Crack'd, where she even had to have a live-in help, and gardening had gradually been shown to be something that was increasingly difficult for her in the 50s novels. This all points to a time of writing that is somewhat concurrent with Curtain. There is also the odd mention in Christie's correspondence of the fact that she is writing two novels to put aside for future use from the time of WWII.

However, as John Curran finds in his research into Christie's notebooks, we also know that there are several references to a novel in the planning stages, a novel which cannot be any other than Sleeping Murder. There are references to the novel's working title, Cover Her Face, as well as clear descriptions of certain events and passages in the novel. These references stem from 1947 and 1948.

It's also been pointed out that it seems somewhat silly to write a final novel featuring Miss Marple at a time when she had only been featured in one novel and one short story collection - exactly the same as Tommy and Tuppence, and less than Inspector Battle, who'd been in three novels by this time. I would therefore argue that it was the writing of The Body in the Library and The Moving Finger, as well as the four short stories Strange Jest, Tape-Measure Murder, The Case of the Caretaker and The Case of the Perfect Maid, all published between 1942 and 1944 that told Christie that Marple was going to be a important, recurring character, and thus deserving of a final novel.

Add also that Sleeping Murder arguably doesn't feature the strongest of Christie's mystery plots, and suddenly it seems rather doubtful that the novel as we now know it was completely written during WWII, when her powers of mystery plotting and characterisation were still extremely strong. 

It therefore seems to me that while the novel was probably commenced in the early 40s, it was still being re-written and re-drafted for several years after that, at least throughout the entire 40s. There's some corroboration as well to be taken from the fact that Christie continued publishing well above one novel a year from 1946 to 1956 (sixteen novels in eleven years, including three by Mary Westmacott and one autobiographical travel account), as well as the odd short story, and yet there was nothing new published in 1947, just a short story collection with a single new story, The Labours of Hercules. Could that be because around that time, she was heavily involved in re-writing the manuscript that would ultimately turn into Sleeping Murder? I think that might quite probably be the explanation.


Agatha Christie 100 - Ranking the novels

It took me around 10 months to read 66 novels, produced over a little more than 55 years. It's been a lot of fun most of the time. While there were definitely some disappointments, I've generally looked forward to reading each novel. 

Christie's level of mystery writing is generally very high, and now when I'm going to take a look at the rankings I've given to the novels, I want to emphasize that these novels are ranked against each other, not against any other mystery writing. If they were, there would have been too many novels with a ranking above 90.

Over on Ah Sweet Mystery, Brad's been doing a series of posts on Agatha Christie's production during different decades. His runthrough is excellent, and you should all take a look at it, if you haven't already. (The link above will take you to the first post in the series.) 

This overview will be different (because there's no point in competing with the internet's resident Christieologist), and I'll keep this post focused on the ratings I gave to the novels, and what they might tell us about Christie's career.

Career overview

I'd like to start with a quick look at the ranking of all the novels. We'll take a closer, more detailed look further on, so this graph is just to get a quick overview over how my ratings look.

While I was doing my ratings, I never looked back on previous novels to see what I'd given them. I didn't want any influence from that. Now, when I see this graph, my first thought is that the overall trend is exactly what I expected, but I also think that I might have been a bit kinder to the late career works than to some of the early ones.

What's perhaps most noticeable is that during the middle of Christie's career, she had very few dips below 50. And from the 1960s on, she rarely got more than 60.

The 1920s

Highest rating: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd 93

Lowest rating: The Big Four 12

Average rating: 46.8

Median rating: 39

Well, let's take a closer look at Christie's first decade. I could call it a bit up and down, but that's hardly the whole truth. Looking at the ratings, there's one really high point, one very low, and the rest of the novels, while varying in their ratings, are generally somewhere in the middle, though mostly below average as can be seen by the median and average ratings. The decade is also flanked by two novels that had better ratings than the rest of the middling ones, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Seven Dials Mystery, which makes the others look a bit worse than they actually were. 

The data here is what tells me that my ratings haven't been entirely consistent over this re-read, because I think several of the 60s works should be rated worse than quite a lot of these ones. 

The ratings aren't helped either by the fact that there are a lot of thrillers here. In fact, I'd contend that there are just four true fair play mysteries among these ten novels, though I wouldn't argue with you if you pointed out that at least one of the adventure thrillers had quite a lot of fair play elements in it: Seven Dials, if you hadn't already guessed. 

And since fair play mysteries were Christie's forte, it necessarily follows that the ratings of the works of this decade will suffer.

What the data also tells us - even if you don't agree with my individual ratings - is that this was a decade of learning, of stops and starts, and considering the personal upheaval that Christie went through immediately after publishing Ackroyd, the ratings following that one are not all that surprising.

It should be added here that a majority of Christie's short stories were produced in this decade, which shows that she was full of ideas already at this early stage.

The 1930s

Highest rating: And Then There Were None 99

Lowest rating: Why Didn't They Ask Evans? 44

Average rating: 74.8

Median rating: 78

Things look different here, as you can see. The lowest score here is just a smidgeon lower than the average of the 20s. While there are still valleys and ridges in this curve, they're generally more flattened out. The fact that one of the strongest novels, Murder on the Orient Express, is followed by the lowest rated makes for a sharp contrast, as does the fact that the highest rated one was preceded by one I had some reservations about, Murder Is Easy.

But just take a look at those scores. The average is at almost 75 out of 100, and the median is even higher, which tells us that there are a few titles that drag the average down. Add the fact that the 30s is the decade where Christie published the most mystery novels, and that's an awesome run.

Even more amazing is the fact that while the 20s featured the bulk of her short story writing, this decade provided most of the rest of them. (Yes, she wrote very few short stories in the decades after this one.) While most aren't up to the standard of the novels, it's amazing to think how prolific Christie was here.

The first novel of the decade gets it off to a running start by getting a higher rating than everything from the 20s (except Ackroyd), and then she just keeps 'em coming. Look at the trifecta of Nile, Appointment and Christmas - I wonder if there is any mystery writer who had a run like that. I'd have to think a while before finding one, at least.

Obviously, the ratings are helped by the fact that Christie stayed almost completely away from thriller writing. Evans is her only dip into that sub-genre, and well, its rating says it all. I think she had realised that her forte was her mystery writing, not her thrillers.

If the 1920s were a decade of learning and getting over personal tribulations, this decade shows that Christie had not only learned but mastered her craft, and the novels we find here will wow new readers for quite some time yet.

The 1940s

Highest rating: Evil Under the Sun 95

Lowest rating: N or M? 47

Average rating: 73.8

Median rating: 75

The variance is lower here, but otherwise the numbers are still wonderfully high. There's a rather big dip with N or M? and The Body in the Library (which looks even worse because of the two novels surrounding that period), though in fact, the actual ratings are just a tad below 50, but otherwise the ratings are quite high. Look at the end of the decade as well, that curve looks very promising.

I mentioned during the re-read that in the 1940s, Christie changed her style somewhat. (In fact, I'd argue that it began with her last title of the 30s.) Many of her plots began to rest on her characters and their traits. Don't get me wrong - we're not talking about modern "psychological mysteries" here. We're still generally firmly rooted in fair play writing. Clues abound for the reader to find (or not), the difference is simply what type of clue Christie provides us with.

Christie again managed to stay almost entirely away from thriller writing, with one exception, again the lowest rated novel of the decade... 

What I take away from this decade is that Christie had mastered her craft during the 30s, and here she branched out a little, offering stronger characterisation with her plots while generally keeping the standard as high as before.

The 1950s

Highest rating: A Pocketful of Rye 89

Lowest rating: Cat Among the Pigeons 44

Average rating: 65.6

Median rating: 62

That might be the most telling graph here... 

While the 1950s started out well and the highest rated book of the decade was actually published four years in, the trend over the decade is clear. It also looks as though the first half of the decade is generally much better than the second half. But it's also worth remembering that the lowest rated novel here actually is on a par with the lowest ones from both the 30s and 40s, so not even the numbers for the last half of the decade are that bad. 

So, while the trend is noticeable - Christie's powers are starting to wane - my ratings suggest that even if you pick a novel at random from this decade, you will still find a worthwhile read. To be even more specific, I'd argue that if you pick a book from the early 50s, you won't be disappointed, but if you choose something from the second half of the decade, things get a little bit more iffy. Something happened around the writing of Hickory Dickory Dock, and after that there wasn't much gas left in the tank for Christie.

It is, however, also worth keeping in mind that Christie, probably to spice things up again and not get stuck in a rote, returned to her old love, adventure thrillers. She was never particularly great at writing them, but still put one out each decade, and here we got two of them. Still, it's only fair to point out that these two are the best of the bunch.

The 1960s and 1970s

Highest rating: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side 72

Lowest rating: Passenger to Frankfurt 2

Average rating: 39.8

Median rating: 37

It's interesting to note that once again, a Miss Marple novel is the highest rated novel of this period.

But yeah, that's overall quite a dip. Those average and median ratings don't look good. Though the 1920s featured quite similar ratings, I think my ratings were kinder here, as I said above.

Remember, though, that the average is also quite heavily affected by my personal disdain for Endless Night, a novel many others have very warm words for. And obviously it doesn't help that Christie's two worst works by far were published during these last 15 years or so.

Looking at the graph, it almost seems that you'd be fairly safe if you chose every other book here. The graph goes up and down and up and down with some regularity...

While the final two publications give the curve a healthier look, neither of them are rated better than third in this time period. It's just that the run from Endless Night to Postern of Fate is so bad, they seem like a return to form. If they'd actually appeared around the time they were written, they'd have been distinctly below average. But in the early 60s, when Christie wanted to, she could still put out a solid mystery.

Some random statistics

There are six novels with a ranking above 90:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun, Crooked House

There are likewise six novels ranked lower than 30:
Passenger to Frankfurt, Postern of Fate, Endless Night, The Big Four, At Bertram's Hotel, By the Pricking of My Thumbs

I suppose there's some symmetry there, though I had to raise the bar to 30 for the lower ranking ones. There are four Poirots among the top rated novels, and two standalones. For the lower rated novels, there are two featuring Tommy & Tuppence, one each for Poirot and Marple, and two standalones.

Which leads me to this final bit, where I look at the average ratings for the characters' novels.

Hercule Poirot average rating: 68.0
Miss Marple average rating: 63.25
Tommy & Tuppence average rating: 28.5
Inspector Battle average rating: 65
Colonel Race average rating: 66
Standalone novels rating: 53.5

Poor old T&T, Christie didn't help them by featuring them twice in her late career. 

Battle and Race are both helped by having been in Cards on the Table (and Race even more by having featured in Death on the Nile).

The average rating for Poirot is absolutely fantastic, seeing as he has 33 novels, but Miss Marple's average isn't bad either.

Overall thoughts

While I'm certain that none of you reading this will agree completely with me on the individual ratings, I hope (and think) that you concur with my overall findings.

Christie's 20s were a decade of learning that showed us that she had oodles of ideas, even if the execution wasn't always up to scratch.

By the 30s, she knew exactly what she was doing, she was firing on all cylinders and produced a volume of work that will stand on the top shelf of mystery writing for eternity.

She switched gears coming into the 40s, providing us with greater characterisation without skimping the least on her magical plotting, giving us another set of excellent mysteries.

As the 50s came along, Christie was still at the top of her game, but by the second half of the decade she was flagging a little. Individual titles could still be very worthwhile, but the greatest highs simply weren't there any more.

The 60s and worse yet, the 70s are better approached with care. While many of the titles from this period still have interesting ideas or characters, or an exciting turn of events, there are very few of them where the entire execution is truly worthwhile. And unfortunately, there is the occasional title that is better left on the shelf and not read for any other reason than completism.

That's it for this statistics feast. There's another post in the offing, where I'll discuss one or two thoughts or theories that I've come up with during the re-read. Don't miss it!


Agatha Christie 100 - Sleeping Murder

The final Christie novel features Miss Marple, but there isn't anything in the story that actually tells us that it's going to be her last case.

Young Gwenda Reed has just come to settle in Britain after a life in New Zealand. Her husband is due to come along some time later, but meanwhile she's out to find them a house to live in. As she passes through a small town called Dillmouth, she finds a lovely house which she buys. But as the house is being renovated, she starts to experience frightening visions, amongst others of a dead woman, that disconcert her. While staying with friends in London over the weekend, she meets their aunt - an elderly lady with a nose for evil called Miss Jane Marple...

Well, as I said above, there's absolutely nothing here that indicates that this is supposed to be Miss Marple's final case. In fact, it cannot be, based on things that are mentioned in the text. However, seeing as it was written some time earlier in Christie's career, the plot here is less meandering and follows a clearer path than in several of her late career works.

It's interesting to note that in this story, Miss Marple urges the young couple not to investigate into the past, as this is something she (and many of Christie's other characters) has been doing for the last few published novels.

The case itself is a pretty good one. Not great, but a solid plot that follows a clear trajectory with an investigation into several people that were involved at the time when the murder happened. And of course I liked it when I noticed that Miss Marple started suspecting the culprit at around the same time when I realised who it was...

While the story itself doesn't as much as hint at any finality, I take some pleasure in the fact that the last published novel featuring Miss Marple is a good, solid mystery with none of the blemishes that marred her last few outings. I'll award this a 62 out of 100.


Just one edition of this title in Swedish as well, a bit less deservedly so than with Passenger to Frankfurt and Postern of Fate. The Swedish title makes certain that the reader knows this is Miss Marple's Final Case, by titling it exactly so. 

The cover of the only Swedish edition is a bit minimalistic, but generally fine. I feel that there's this general perception that Miss Marple sits around in her rocking chair, solving murders while knitting, though I can't actually remember an instance where she did just that... 

With this post, the Agatha Christie re-read itself is over. I managed to squeeze it in during one year, even with some time to spare. Those of you who followed along (or only checked in from time to time), I'm grateful that you hung around. If nothing else, you will have seen a bunch of new covers that you've never come across previously...

But have no fear - I'm not finished with Christie quite yet. There will be a couple of follow-up posts where I'll discuss certain things and theories that hit me while reading through her works. In the next post, you can look forward to some number crunching on those ratings I've handed out. Stay tuned.


Agatha Christie 100 - Curtain: Poirot's Last Case

Poirot bows out with a mystery that harks back to his first recorded case in England.

A recently widowed Arthur Hastings is back again in England, travelling to Styles where he is going to meet his old friend Poirot. The detective, who is very poorly, intends to do one last murder hunt. He tells Hastings about five old cases that seemed to be solved already, but says that they were all caused by one certain person, someone who is now present at Styles. And now he wants the more mobile Hastings to help him find one final murderer.

I now wish that I hadn't read this novel so early on in my mystery reading career, because I wonder what I'd take way from it now, as a more jaded(?) reader. Back then, the emotional ending had an overwhelming effect which sort of overshadowed any impression of the mystery plot itself.

Because the thing is, I'm not sure this is a particularly great mystery. Or rather, I'm not entirely comfortable with the choice of having an Iago type villain, here called X, and the lengths to which Poirot goes in order to stop that villain from executing his plans. To some extent I feel that, while this X person definitely exploits the weakness of others, I feel that the ultimate responsibility for their actions lie with themselves, not with X. To put so much blame on X robs the individual killers of their agency, to use a modern term.

With that out of the way, the rest of the plot runs along quite nicely, if a bit circumspectly. There are in fact two culprits here, the X character referred to above and then a separate murderer who commits their crime towards the end of the story. And to be honest, most of the earlier parts of the novel become rather inconsequential to the murder mystery - they're mainly there to show the incredible power that X has over people and to justify Poirot's drive to find that person. However, there is some good cluing towards the person who commits the murder, which is a definite plus.

So, I'm somewhat in two minds about this one. It's a powerful story with a devastating ending, yet it is one that doesn't feel entirely earned due to some of the weaknesses I've discussed above. And yet again, chances are that a reader will be happy to overlook those weaknesses as the rest is just that powerful. I'll award this a 65 out of 100, but I'm not sure that is how I'd rate it tomorrow.

1976 1977 1977

It was a bit of a surprise to me that there have only been three editions of this pivotal novel, and even more so that all of them are almost contemporaneous, which means that Curtain hasn't been published in Sweden for over 40 years. The Swedish title is a direct translation of the British one, even keeping the subtitle.

The first cover is a bit dull. It focuses on the detective's most prominent characteristic but is otherwise just a bunch of text. Uninspired, would be my assessment. Meanwhile, the first of the 1977 covers is from Delfinserien. The image itself is fine, but the depiction of Poirot is not at all how I imagine him (nor most others, I think). 

Which means that the final cover is the best one here, and I think it's deservedly so, too. A dark-ish tint to the whole thing, with Poirot sitting in his wheelchair and an air of melancholy to the whole thing.


Agatha Christie 100 - Passenger to Frankfurt

This, Christie's last thriller, has a reputation as one of her worst works. How does it fare compared with other late career works of hers?

Sir Stafford Nye has been out on diplomatic negotiations and is travelling back to England by plane. His aircraft is redirected to Frankfurt, and while waiting there for his connecting flight, a young lady approaches him with a tale of being in mortal danger unless she's allowed to take his place on the flight to London. He agrees in the end, and this episode soon pulls him into a great plot of world domination...

This introductory scene is a fine thriller opening, and other thriller authors have used similar opening scenes to their stories. What differenciates this book from those other thrillers is that this is not a story. It's a whole mess of incoherent scenes that amount to nothing in the big picture. Anything that happens in the overarching plot (such as it is) happens offstage and is reported by characters in the opening of the next chapter of the book.

I'm reminded of Colin Forbes's late career works when I read this one. Everything in the world is one huge conspiracy, and the increasingly conservative authors seem as out of touch with reality as is humanly possible, seeing ghosts and ghoulies in everything around them.

This novel is as disjointed as the more infamous Postern of Fate and deserves as little consideration as that novel does in Christie's oeuvre - or less. It's a wonder that the intermediate Nemesis and Elephants Can Remember turned out as well as they did - even the latter, which is not particularly favourably seen, is eminently readable compared with this novel and, perhaps more importantly, much more coherent.

There are individual scenes here that arouses the reader's interest - Nye's travels to Bavaria/Austria/wherever, and Lady Matilda's visit there later come to mind - but ultimately they develop into nothing, and the disappointment almost worsens because of that.

Bit characters like Colonel Pikeaway and Mr. Robinson feature in this book, which means that they hold the ignominious distinction of being in almost every pointless Christie novel (they're in this one, Cat Among the Pigeons and Postern of Fate, and Robinson turns up in At Bertram's Hotel as well). Let's all blame them!

I'll award this a 2 out of 100, it's Christie's worst novel and should not be read by anyone.


This is another title with just one edition in Swedish, not much of a surprise there. The Swedish title is a direct translation of the British one.

The cover image is pretty much okay, better than the contents. A couple of baggage tags with the title. I'm not sure about the colours, the blue background for the title is a bit too eye-catching in my opinion, but apparently it's based on the British first edition cover, so there you go.


Agatha Christie 100 - Elephants Can Remember

Like my last read, this is the final written outing for one of Christie's detectives. In this case, it's Hercule Poirot, but unlike Miss Marple, he received a better farewell in the novel that was actually published last.

Mrs. Ariadne Oliver has for once agreed to accept a dinner invitation, but is both astonished and appalled when she is cornered there by a Mrs. Burton-Cox, who asks Mrs. Oliver about two old acquaintances of hers who died in a suicide pact alternatively were murdered. While she has no answer for Mrs. Burton-Cox, Mrs. Oliver becomes interested and turns to her old friend Hercule Poirot for help in sorting out exactly what happened to her friends.

This novel is based on a tragic story, a sad tale of the futility of man and boundless love, and it rather struck me as I finished the last few chapters. It's a pity it's not married to a stronger mystery plot. As soon as the character Dolly is introduced, any moderately astute mystery reader will know where the story is heading. Had this been written in Christie's heyday, she would have known as well and would gleefully have thrown in a number of red herrings and distractions, and then during the revelations she would either have dismissed the reader's expectations, or even better, turned the reader's expectations upside down by actually returning to this early solution.

That's unfortunately not what happens here. Instead, we're treated to the ubiquitous sins of Christie's late career works, tangents and digressions and every little happening being drawn out to (or beyond) its stretching point. The mystery plot could have made a fairly powerful short story, because the motivations are strong enough to carry a narrative of that length, but don't suffice for a novel.

Poirot's investigations (and those of Mrs. Oliver, who has an even larger role in this book than in most of her earlier appearances) are fine, but are a bit too thinly spread out. And unfortunately, at times there's an odd narrative structure where this reader was convinced that the story was contradicting itself, though I think it turned out that it could actually be worked out.

On the whole, this was therefore a bit of a disappointment, if nowhere near the catastrophe that would follow the year after in Postern of Fate. I'll award this a 33 out of 100. I wouldn't actively dissuade a Christie fan from reading it, it's nowhere near as bad as that, but it certainly shouldn't be among the first Christies you read.

1973 1981

Another title with just two Swedish editions. The Swedish title is quite different from the English one (but if I understand it correctly, derived from the second section of the book). The meaning is quite similar, though: Långa skuggor means Long Shadows. Also, we don't really use the saying Elephants Can Remember in Swedish, though after having read this one, any Swedish reader would be forgiven for beginning to use it, as often as the characters refer to it....

The first cover is intriguing and I like it quite a bit. Though it's not featured in the plot, the flower along the top border brings in a splash of colour to an image which otherwise probably had been a bit too stark. Meanwhile, the early 80s cover is quite obviously another Fontana steal. As usual, though, it's a rather lovely cover with a Tom Adams image that definitely draws attention to itself. Were I less charitable I'd say that the covers outdo the contents...


Agatha Christie 100 - Nemesis

The last written of the Miss Marple mysteries, though there is still one to go after this one, this might have been a better final to the elderly lady's career than what was actually published last.

Miss Marple is saddened to read in the newspaper that her old friend Mr. Rafiel (of A Caribbean Mystery fame) has passed away, but equally astonished when his lawyers inform her that he has one final task for her. It turns out that he booked her a coach trip through the English countryside. And now Miss Marple needs to find out exactly what Mr. Rafiel wanted and how the coach trip fits in with those wishes.

As I said in the introduction above, this would have been more suitable as Miss Marple's final case than Sleeping Murder, at least in most respects. As with many of her late career offerings, this feels rather woolly and meandering almost throughout, though there is an interesting plot beneath it all.

Coming into this re-read I had fairly high expectations on this one, because I remembered it as a pretty good story. I did feel less impressed during this read, though. I speculated earlier that I might have been getting used to Christie's tangents and digressions, but with this one I again felt a bit annoyed. There was one instance during the final explanations where Miss Marple explains something twice, and the second time the listeners react as if they'd never heard that information before. Some editing would have been good here.

Also, my perception was probably coloured by the fact that I felt that the culprit was fairly obvious the whole time - somewhat unfairly, perhaps, because I don't remember it that way from previous reads. The attempts at diverting the reader's suspicions elsewhere didn't really convince me this time.

But nevertheless, while I was less impressed with this than with, for example, Third Girl, it's still a fairly decent mystery and an enjoyable read, if too drawn out. Miss Marple's claims of being a Nemesis seem all the more apt after the dénouement of this one.

I'll award this a somewhat below average rating of 36 out of 100.

1973 1976

Another title with just two Swedish editions, perhaps a bit surprisingly - this novel has a better reputation than most of Christie's late career works. The title is, perhaps less surprisingly, exactly the same in Swedish as in English - I mean, the Greek goddess has the name she has.

The first of the covers is a direct steal from the first British edition. A pretty clever image with a ball of yarn and a scarf forming a question mark - good stuff. Then we have the Delfinserien cover - only 44 years old by now, and the one I own - which is all right. Per Åhlin has modelled his Marple on Margaret Rutherford, but as he couldn't have known that Joan Hickson would become the ultimate Marple, that's not his fault. Perhaps a bit too cluttered with all the greenery, but the greenhouse is important to the backstory, so that's okay.


Agatha Christie 100 - Hallowe'en Party

Poirot encroaches on Miss Marple's territory, the village mystery, in this, Christie's final 60s novel.

At a party for kids and teenagers, 13-year-old Joyce Reynolds is eager to impress the visiting celebrity, stating that once she saw a murder. The others profess not to believe her, but when she turns up dead later, the visiting mystery writer, a certain Ariadne Oliver, takes her story to her old friend, Hercule Poirot. And now he needs to sort out not only who killed Joyce but also which murder it was indeed she saw...

I found this story pretty good, all things said. Like several other Christie novels, this is another mystery that harks back to an older crime which affects the events of the story. Also like many late career Christie novels, it's a bit woolly and long-winded at times, but it's less annoying here - or perhaps I've just become used to these longueurs by now (always a hazard when reading an author's works chronologically). But there are genuinely some good bits in this mystery, and there's a particularly great bit of misdirection when a vase is dropped. 

During Christie's last 20 or 30 years of writing, Poirot was often sidelined, but in this one he is front and centre of this story, which is always a good thing. 

This story is partly set in a particular garden, which confused me, because I'd always associated the memory of that setting with Elephants Can Remember. This means that I have no idea whatsoever what will happen in that novel. Ah well, I suppose it's never bad to go into a book not having any idea what it's about...

There are a few things during the final revelations in this novel that should have been mentioned earlier on, but on the whole this is an enjoyable read, although clearly not up to the level of Christie's peak writing. I'll award this a 44 out of 100.

1971 1984

Two Swedish editions for this title, and again it's been a long time since the last one was published... At the time this was first published, Hallowe'en was almost unheard of in Sweden - the Americanisation and commercialisation of Sweden hadn't come very far then - so instead of using the American name for the holiday we used the most similar one we had, resulting in a title that would be something like Murder on All Hallows' Day, were it directly translated into English. At least we got the word "murder" into the title.

Both covers focus on the apples, which is fair since they belong to the most memorable scene in the novel. The first one features that very scene and an outline of Joyce as she's in the middle of the game of bobbing for apples. A pretty good cover, all things said. 

The second cover from the mid 80s is a bit more sparse, just an apple with a worm in it. I would like this one as well - but the typography is really ugly and the colours don't contrast very well.


Agatha Christie 100 - Endless Night

This non-series title, as opposed to most other Christie non-series novels, is a psychological domestic thriller.

Young Michael Rogers, a restless spirit, becomes enamoured with a specific location called Gipsy's Acre and sees himself living there in a specially built house. He runs into Ellie Guteman, who is also quite taken with the place, and they strike up a relationship. They soon end up married with a house commissioned by a famous architect. But in the neighbourhood lives a Mrs. Lee, a village gypsy who warns them that something evil will happen if they keep on living there...

For such a late career work, this features some of Christie's strongest writing. The narration by Michael feels genuine and the arc of the novel fits perfectly with his characteristics. I've seen that it was one of Christie's own favourites, and I can understand that. It's cleverly done, and the narrative trick is quite devastating.

And yet... I thoroughly dislike this one. I really, REALLY don't like it. This is, as you'll understand, not due to the quality of the writing, because I firmly agree that it's very well done in this respect. But it belongs to a subgenre that I detest - the psychological domestic thriller - and also, I'm not overly fond of having characters with mental problems as villains. I am certain that the effect that it has on me is the one that is intended by the author, but I am not interested in being thus affected.

So, if you feel differently and don't have any issues with this sub-genre, take my ranking with a healthy helping of salt, because to me this is a 4 out of 100.

1968 1987 1988 2014

Oändlig natt is a literal translation of Endless Night, so not much to discuss there. Four editions of this novel from a late stage in Christie's career isn't too bad, all things said. Particularly the fact that there has been a recent edition lends some credence to the commonly held opinion that this is Christie's last halfway decent novel (though personally I disagree, as I rated her previous novel highly).

The late 60s cover is a bit too murky and yet too humorous for my liking. If there is one Christie novel that shouldn't be treated to a cover with a humoristic tinge, I think it's this one.

The paperback edition from 1987 is fairly weird. All those celestial objects really make no sense to me. One year later saw a book club edition, and while the image is fairly appropriate, the typeface is horrible. Not only is it much too large, it doesn't contrast particularly well with the image.

The cover of the latest edition is a bit nondescript, but still probably the best one here. A faint outline of a skull and the flying crow(?) isn't the most original image ever, but at least it's not inappropriate.


Agatha Christie 100 - Third Girl

Hercule Poirot returns, and this time he needs to sort out a mystery in the middle of the swinging '60s scene.

One day, Poirot receives a visit from a young woman, who first says that she thinks she may have committed a murder and then suddenly simply bursts out "You're too old!" and just as quickly leaves again. Poirot is intrigued (and hurt) and starts looking into the identity of the young woman and what this supposed murder might have been.

Though I remembered the villain's identity, I'd been looking forward to reading this quite a bit, because most of the rest of the plot had escaped me. And on the whole I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. This felt like a much stronger plot than several of the novels that surround it chronologically (The Clocks, At Bertram's Hotel, Hallowe'en Party) and at least on the same level as A Caribbean Mystery

Admittedly, again the mystery hangs on a specific misdirection (or in this case, you might say you get two of the same kind), and you might very well see through it if you're well-read on your Christie tricks, but generally the plot hangs together very well, the developments follow naturally and the ending is quite powerful.

It helps that Poirot is front and centre of this story - Mme Oliver also has a bigger part to play than she's had in previous appearances - and that we get to follow along as he investigates, questions and ruminates. Indeed, one could say that we've rarely been able to follow Poirot's thoughts more closely than in this one. There's a whole section in this novel where the reader gets to see when Poirot simply sits and tries to figure out the puzzle in his head. If you contrast this with the last few Poirot novels, it's quite a startling change.

Yes, it's a bit long-winded at times, and the plot could have been tightened up in places, but I will rate this quite highly for such a late-career mystery. In fact, I'll give this a 68 out of 100.

1967 1974 1988

Another literal translation of this title, though we put it in the definite form (= The Third Girl). As usual with these late career releases, there aren't too many editions of this novel. In fact, even though there was a third edition in the late 80s, it never got a paperback release.

The 60s cover is fine, I guess. Not my favourite drawing style, but I suppose it works. Not sure what the harlequin is doing there, though. Delfinserien's cover from 1974 is a bit strange, to be honest. More of an art piece than a correct depiction of anything in the novel. I wonder why there are two women on the cover...

Finally, there's the 1988 cover. As usual Leslie Quagraine manages to work a skull into the image, this time in the form of a palette. At least the painting connection fits the contents of the novel, and of the covers here, this is the one I like best.


Agatha Christie 100 - At Bertram's Hotel

Another outing for Miss Marple. This time she's staying at Bertram's Hotel, a fashionable, old-style hotel in London.

Miss Marple has been treated to a stay at Bertram's Hotel by her kind nephew and niece Raymond and Joan. But while she's staying there she is concerned that some things do not seem to be exactly what they look like. And when the police turn their interest towards the goings-on at the hotel, it is lucky that there is a sharp-witted old lady staying there...

As you might have noticed, I had a hard time coming up with a blurb for this novel. That's because it's very hard to say what the story is actually about. For about half the novel or so, nothing much actually happens. 

We get to know a handful of characters around the hotel in question who all do vaguely suspicious things. Then we are introduced to the police who are concerned about several robberies and other bloodless crimes that seem to be planned by some well-hidden mastermind, and their focus soon turns to Bertram's Hotel. And then suddenly (if by suddenly, you mean around two thirds through the novel), there is a murder! 

So, the pacing is fairly off in this story, at least if the reader is expecting a mystery. If instead you want to read reminiscences of how it used to be in the olden days, then this is a book for you! Mind you, it's not just a story of the good old days, Christie is careful to note that the good old days aren't really here again, not even at Bertram's, and perhaps that is for the best - at least in some respects.

Okay, but what about the murder mystery then? Well, what there is of it is fairly good. There's a short story in here that could have been interesting to read. The motive behind the murder is chilling enough and the culprit turns out to be a truly despicable person. There's some cluing as well, and also a piece of misdirection, though we've seen this very type before, so a Christie reader might well pick up on what's actually going on.

But there is mainly an awful lot of padding here. Most of the story here instead revolves around the criminal mastermind and the bloodless crimes committed by a well-organised gang, but unfortunately most of the investigations into these crimes are also carried out behind the scenes. Come the dénouement we are suddenly presented with a lot of facts that we've never been allowed to see, which makes it a lot less exciting to see the conclusions drawn by the police.

As you'll have gathered, this is a bit of a mess. There are several strong sections here, though, and it should definitely not be sorted in with abject failures like Postern of Fate. Most of the story here is at least coherent, if not at all as exciting as it should be. I'll rate this a 26 out of 100.

1966 1968 1974

As you can clearly see, the number of editions have gone down quite a lot for these later titles... (It should be perhaps be mentioned that the final cover variant here has been used over a number of pressings, some of which came in the mid 80s.) Still, no new editions for almost 40 years now. The Swedish title is more or less a direct translation of the original's - we just lost the preposition.

The first cover here is horrible. It looks like something I could draw. Meanwhile, the 1968 cover is extremely unimaginative, but still manages to be better than the previous one.

And finally there's the 1974 cover, which quite obviously is pinched from the British Fontana edition, and is just as obviously miles better than the other two covers, with its evocative focus on a woman's hand and the foggy and wet surroundings.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Clocks

Poirot acts mainly as an armchair detective in this, his first case of the 60s.

Stenographer Sheila Webb is called out to help a Mrs. Pebmarsh, but when she enters her house, what she finds is a dead man lying in a pool of blood, surrounded by a handful of clocks set to the time 4.13. When she screams and runs out of the house, she encounters Colin Lamb - luckily, he's a friend of Hercule Poirot's and will challenge him to solve the case.

As I mentioned above, Poirot acts mainly in a consulting role here, though it is he who puts together all the clues and reveals the solution. Instead, the main parts of the investigation are carried out by Inspector Hardcastle and Colin Lamb, who works in some kind of intelligence capacity and has his own reasons for being in the neighbourhood where the murder took place (and appears to be the son of good old Inspector Battle). Both these characters are quite likeable and it's a pity that we didn't get to meet any of them later.

The case itself is a bit so-so, as well as the narrative structure. There's a bit too much focus on Colin's search for foreign agents, and in the end it all becomes rather inconsequential. 

As far as the main murder case goes, again I have to say that Christie is a bit skimpy on the clues. A lot of Poirot's solution is conjecture and based on things happening behind the scenes. The second murder sort of points the suspicion in the direction of the culprit, but only vaguely so. And don't get me started on those clocks - the explanation of the clue is one of the greatest disappointments of my Christie reading career.

But it's not a total loss - as I said, the characters are likeable, the investigations are generally interesting and the murder plot is a pretty good one. It's just unfortunate that Christie didn't focus more on the murder investigation and give us more clues. I'll give this a 37 out of 100.

1964 1966

A direct translation of the title of this novel - an arguably fairly dull title. Just two Swedish editions of this novel, both of them from around the time when it was first published. Which means that this particular title hasn't had a new edition for more than fifty years!

The first of these two covers makes the most of the clocks motif, but unfortunately also includes one of the most hideous depictions of Hercule Poirot that I've ever seen. Without that, an okay-ish cover, but now it really doesn't look good at all.

The second edition is from the Zebra series. Again a whiff of a cheap dime novel makes itself felt, but I suppose the whole thing is passable. There's a short extract from the novel and some clocks. Better than the first cover, but there's much room for improvement.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Pale Horse

Another non-series mystery from Christie, though this one features a couple of appearances by Ariadne Oliver.

A Catholic priest is killed after having performed the last rites for a dying woman and hearing her confession. The only thing the police find with the priest is a list of names. Writer Mark Easterbrook becomes aware of this list and can identify a couple as people who have died recently. Recently, he has visited the three "witches" in their abode, "The Pale Horse", and when this name turns up in conjunction with the list of names, he is intrigued enough that he starts looking into what it all means...

Well, stating that this is an Ariadne Oliver novel is a bit misleading. As usual, that worthy lady only puts in a couple of appearances, though it is a chance remark from her that makes Easterbrook put two and two together and realise exactly what's been going on.

On the whole, Christie succeeds well with the whole creepy atmosphere of the novel. It isn't always easy using the occult in an effective way in a mystery - the risk is that it all starts to feel hokey - but it works rather well here. Easterbrook is a pretty good detective to use in this story - he doesn't really know what he's doing most of the time, but he muddles through in a fairly effective way nonetheless. 

Obviously, it's a bit of a coincidence that he should know so many people on that tiny list of names that he's able to make connections. But as it turns out, the police are further along in their investigations than anyone could have known, and it is in fact they who make the final connections and arrest the culprit.

One question remains, though: What on earth was the name Corrigan doing on that list of names?

I'll award this a 53 out of 100. It's a good read and should definitely satisfy the Christie fan. There's actually more detection in this one than, say, the contemporary Poirot Cat Among the Pigeons.

1962 1964 1975
1988 2004

Like so many other later Christie novels, this one also has five editions in Swedish. The title is of course derived from the Book of Revelations, and in the Swedish version of the Bible, the horse is not pale but yellow - hence The Yellow Horse (as a literal translation of the Swedish title would be).

The first cover above is serviceable, nothing more. The yellow horse is there, but again they do not make use of the entire page for the cover image, which to me seems a bit lazy. The Zebra edition from two years later is quite similar to what they've done elsewhere - a somewhat gritty, lurid image of a damsel in distress. Again, a plus for the extract from the novel on the cover page.

Delfinserien's cover from the mid 70s is a bit more imaginative and original. I like it quite a bit with the bottle emitting toxic fumes and the mild allusions to witchcraft. The cover from 1988 is less original, and quite why the yellow horse needs to jump out of a window is beyond me. (There is a hardcover variant of this cover with minor typographical differences.)

Finally, there was a large print edition of this title (Why this particular title? Beats me.) in 2004. I can't really make heads or tails of it. Is that image supposed to be a generic allusion to witches? It's definitely not great, at any rate.


Agatha Christie 100 - Cat Among the Pigeons

Poirot gets involved in international hijinx in this story, Christie's last 50s novel.

The prince of a fictional Middle Eastern country has convinced his British friend Bob Rawlinson to smuggle out some valuable jewels, as his country is on the brink of revolution. But when the prince and Bob are later found dead in a plane crash, the whereabouts of the precious gemstones remain unknown, but as the sister of Rawlinson and her daughter was present in the country, suspicions start to centre on the school where the daughter is enrolled. And when one of the teachers is found shot to death in the gym, things start to heat up...

Well, this is a bit of a hodge-podge, albeit an entertaining one. The first third of the novel reads just like another of Christie's adventure thrillers with valuable jewels, a fictional country in turmoil and secret service agents trying to ascertain the whereabouts of said jewels. Then, by the second third, when the first murder occurs, we move towards a more regular Christie mystery, with Inspector Kelsey of the local police taking charge. Only in the final third does Poirot appear, quickly untangling all the loose ends and tying everything up in a lovely bow.

As a sort of hybrid mystery/thriller, it's lots of fun, but the mystery parts aren't wholly successful. The balance between the three different crime strands - the disappearance of the jewels; the murders; and the kidnapping of a young princess from the school - doesn't work very well. While Christie provides some cluing, it's mainly focused on the whereabouts of the jewels and to some extent on the princess's disappearance. I defy anyone to realise the killer from anything mentioned in the story.

Both Mr. Robinson and Colonel Pikeaway make their first appearance here - they will both appear in coming works, among them the already discussed Postern of Fate, which ties the Poirot and Tommy & Tuppence universes together.

While an entertaining read, this novel cannot be seen as an essential part of Christie's oeuvre. I'll award it 44 out of 100.

1960 1963 1972
1981 1986

Another Poirot title with five Swedish editions. The title is yet another direct translation, with the minor detail that the Swedish idiom doesn't use the definite article "the".

The first cover from 1960 focuses on the pigeons - or at least on their feathers. I suppose it fits the title fairly well. The Zebra cover from 1963 focuses on the boarding school for girls, and places the grim reaper in the middle of the milling pupils and employees. I like this one quite a bit.

The first Delfinserien cover from 1972 is yet another Per Åhlin creation. It focuses on the murder in the gym with cat's eyes in the background. I have a copy of this edition, and I've always liked it. If I need to come up with anything negative, then maybe it's just a tad too dark.

I suppose Delfinserien was less impressed with the cover than I am, because in 1981 they decided to use the British Fontana cover instead. It really looks pretty striking with the surreal image of a tennis racket instead of a head. The final cover here is a book club cover, and it really is pretty unimaginative. Hey, look, a cat and some bird's feathers!