Agatha Christie 100 - Lord Edgware Dies

The 30s gave us lots of Poirot novels, and as that decade is Christie's best, it's no wonder that he is still regarded as her quintessential detective.

Poirot and Hastings are invited to join celebrated actress Jane Wilkinson - aka Lady Edgware - to a supper after they have all visited a performance by famed imitator Carlotta Adams, who is also invited. During this soirée, their hostess implores Poirot to help her get rid of her husband, who she says is unwilling to let her get a divorce. But soon after Poirot has visited Lord Edgware, he is found murdered at his home.

As I've now pointed out several times, the whole plot here hangs on a piece of misdirection which is simply a variation of the kind of thing Christie has been up to in her last few novels. Which means that if you read them in order, you will be very suspicious of certain characters.

But otherwise, this is a fine mystery novel, which is unfortunately hampered by a plethora of unnecessary Jew references. A huge number of characters in this novel are Jewish, and Christie for some reason sees the need to describe all their character traits as "typically Jewish".

Poirot is again fairly slow on the uptake - it is interesting that he tumbles onto the solution by a chance remark by a bit character, similar to what happened in Peril at End House. Really, Poirot, shouldn't you have had that case fresh in your memory?

A fine read, but be prepared for those unnecessary Jew remarks. It's a solid 64 out of 100. Strong, and shows how Christie was really coming into her own as a mystery writer.

1935 1940 1950
1965 1984 1985
1987 2000 2014
The Swedish title is based on the American 13 For Dinner, not the British one - 13 (Tretton) vid bordet means 13 (Thirteen) Around the Table. Again, I think the change is for the better - who cares about some anonymous Lord dying...?

The first Swedish edition has a fairly lazy cover. As for the second cover, I haven't actually been able to completely ascertain which edition it belongs to, but all evidence points to it being from 1940. It's not a particularly eye-catching cover, looking more like a P.G. Wodehouse novel than a Christie one, but at least it depicts an important scene from the book.

The one from 1950 isn't the greatest either, though I suppose it's playing up to the stereotype of actresses. Delfinseriens cover from 1965 is the one I have, and it is almost a bit spoiler-y in its cover. It's one of the least distinguished covers from this edition.

With 1984 we get one of those covers with a couple of sinister-looking(?) objects, probably inspired by the Fontana covers. These ones are drawn, however, not photographed. An adequate cover, nothing more. The 1985 cover seems inspired by the Delfinserien cover. I don't mind it - my main complaint is that there weren't more covers done in this style, and I like there to be a common style over several covers.

The Bonniers mid 80s edition got a makeover for 1987, and it's kitschy but pretty good to me. I like the use of the bloody knife as a substitute for the number 1.The 2000 cover is very similar to the one used for The Mysterious Affair at Styles the same year - a lot of china placed on a table. A more suitable subject matter for this story, I think.

After a couple of pretty good covers from the latest edition, this one from 2014 feels pretty lazy. A silhouette of a generic person with the title on top. Meh. To be honest, there's not a single standout cover here.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Secret Adversary

So, finally we leave the 20s behind with this, Agatha Christie's second novel, and her first Tommy & Tuppence outing.

Old friends Tommy & Tuppence meet again, not long after WW1 has ended. It turns out that they have both fallen on hard times, and not wishing to settle with regular boring jobs, they decide to try out adventuring for a bit. And as it happens, soon they are after a missing girl and the very important papers she has hidden somewhere.

A brief introductory passage introduces the MacGuffin that the novel will turn around - Jane Finn receiving the government papers from a doomed agent aboard the Lusitania, but then it's almost straight into the action with T&T. It really is quite amazing how quickly they both happen into adventure, particularly since they're both complaining about their lives during their first meeting. If it's so easy, why didn't you do it long ago?

Leaving aside the curmudgeonly grumbling, this is very similar to Christie's other early thrillers (e.g. The Man in the Brown Suit). It zips along quite merrily with implausible event following implausible event. Tommy and Tuppence are very likeable protagonists, though they spend quite a lot of this novel being apart. If you liked those other early thriller/adventures, you're going to like this one as well.

As far as I can remember, there is absolutely no fair play clueing here, and towards the end it comes down to two people who can be the big bad villain Mr. Brown (did AC have something against the colour brown?). And really, it could have been any of the two suspects. Christie probably just threw a coin to decide who it would be.

My rating is 37 out of 100. It's hardly essential, but still a readable novel - especially if you like Christie adventures.

1923 1941 1952 1954
1969 1989 2014
Den hemlighetsfulle motståndaren is more or less a literal translation of the English title. (Interestingly - or not - the 1989 edition chooses the feminine form of the adjective by using "hemlighetsfulla" instead of "hemlighetsfulle".) This was in fact the first Agatha Christie title to be translated into Swedish, which explains why such a minor title has had so many editions.

The first one from 1923 has a pretty dull cover. I wonder if that's supposed to be Tuppence or Jane Finn? The 1941 cover does the same thing as the British cover above - focuses on the excitement of the sinking of the Lusitania. I suppose it's fine, there's not that many other exciting scenes to depict from the novel.

And the other one is the killing of Rita Vandemeyer, so I guess it's understandable that the following two covers choose that scene to focus on. I like what the artist has done with the body in the foreground of the 1952 cover, though the depiction of the people in the background, particularly Tuppence, is much worse. The perspective seems oddly off - doesn't it look as if the chair is about to fall any second? The 1954 cover is unfortunately hampered by a lack of colours. The man in the background has the worst posture ever.

I have the Zebra edition, which goes for something completely different - I'm not sure whether I like it or not. The huge eyeball looks quite worrying, but the silhouette of the titular adversary works pretty well against it. Sometimes I think this is the best cover here, sometimes I think that 1941 gives it a run for its money.

1989, and it's book club time! Apparently Tuppence is now in a labyrinth/cave with Japanese demons' heads. It's not really the story that Christie wrote, and probably not a story I'd like to read either. 2014 has another fairly dull cover. Featuring just a silhouette doesn't really cut it, sorry. It doesn't even look vaguely sinister, to be honest.


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.