Agatha Christie 100 - Death in the Clouds

Another in a row of Poirot novels that are never less than solid, and frequently much better than that. Read on to see what I thought of this particular story.

The plane from Paris to London is full of passengers - among others a pair of architects, a dentist, a mystery novelist, and a certain Belgian detective. But before touching down on British soil, one of the passengers is found dead - and it looks like a suspicious death, especially once Hercule Poirot finds a blowdart next to the deceased woman.

Like Three Act Tragedy, this is another of those Poirot stories where he allows a couple of people affected by the crime to become a major part of the investigations, letting them initiate contact with other suspects. But unlike that earlier novel, in this one Poirot is a much more active participant in those investigations.

As befits a Christie novel from the mid 30s, the setup is rather lovely, and the misdirection is deftly handled by the author. The limited list of suspects that the plane provides contributes to make this one of my favourite Christies, and the final revelation of the villain is great. Sure, part of the motive for the crime is held back until very shortly before the dénouement, but overall this is very enjoyable.

I'll rate this an 83 out of 100, because there's very little wrong with it - and a lot of things that are just perfect.

1937 1961 1979 1985
The Swedish title is a variation of the British (and American: Death in the Air) title - Den flygande döden means The Flying Death. All the different title variations are good, in my opinion.

Apart from the first Swedish cover, which is another one of those lazy "title on the front page" jobs, I think we have a uniformly excellent round of covers available to us for this title. The Zebra cover from 1961 features the blowpipe and the tiny dart, while the Delfinserien cover from 1979 - which is the one I have - again uses Fontana's cover which focuses on the wasp.

Meanwhile, the mid 80s Bonniers cover (again, the hardcover version has some minor differences) has a lovely version of the airplane among the clouds. Oh, I can't choose which one I like best, they're really nice, all of them.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Moving Finger

It's been a while since we had a look at a Miss Marple story, but in this incongruous re-read we've now reached the third novel featuring that worthy lady.

Airman Jerry Burton has been wounded and is dispatched with his stylish sister Joanna to small town Lymstock, which seems to be haunted by anonymous letters. One letter is received by Mrs. Symmington, and she promptly commits suicide. But just one week later, her housemaid disappears, only to be found murdered. Does this mean that the previous death was in fact murder too? While Jerry is more occupied with the late Mrs. Symmington's daughter Megan, the vicar's wife invites her old friend Miss Marple to take a closer look at the goings-on in Lymstock.

While this is a Miss Marple novel, she's only in the final quarter of the book - the rest is squarely focused on Jerry Burton and his household and his burgeoning interest in Megan Hunter. The mystery plot itself is thin enough for a short story, but fortunately, Christie is still in her winning streak here in the early 40s, and manages to get Lymstock and its characters to come to life, making the reader interested in reading on and finding out what will happen to them on the way.

Miss Marple doesn't really have to do much once she appears on the scene - she simply listens to Jerry telling the whole story from the beginning and notes some of the salient points, before pointing the finger to the villain of the piece.

It's a rather lovely novel, but don't come to this if you're looking for one of those complex Christie mystery puzzles. I'll rate this 72 out of 100, because I did like it a lot. I do have to wonder what happened with Mrs. Symmington's two young sons at the end.

1944 1951 1964
1973 1984 1988

So, here we have another Christie novel where the Swedish title differs completely from the English one. As I understand it, The Moving Finger is a reference to Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam. Since it's not as generic as many of the 20s titles we've seen, I like it a bit more. In Sweden, Rubaiyyat is almost unknown, and so the publishers invented their own title which refers more to the story itself. Mord per korrespondens can roughly be translated as Murder by Correspondence. Not the most exciting title, and I have a hard time deciding which one I like best. Perhaps the English one just pips it this time.

The first Swedish edition of this novel was published the same year as the first Swedish edition of The Body in the Library, making 1944 a thorough introduction of Miss Marple for the Swedish reading public. The cover of this first edition looks like it's trying to portrait Fantasio from the Spirou comics. I suppose that's intended to be Jerry, which is appropriate, I guess. The second cover, from 1951, is more stylised and has lost Jerry from the cover, but is otherwise fairly similar to the earlier one.

Zebraserien gives us a femme fatale reading a letter which is... well, not their best cover. It's the one I have, because it's the only mass-market paperback edition published in Sweden. In 1973, we get one of those covers that I always compare with the Fontana covers in Britain. In this case it's not very surprising, because it is actually taken from that edition. It might be the one I like best here. (The 1984 cover has the same image, as you can see, it's just designed a bit differently.)

Finally, if the 1988 edition had also been published as a paperback, then it would have been my go to version. It's not fantastic, though I suppose it gets its message across with the envelope with a skull stamp. But it's better than the Zebra one, that's for sure!


Agatha Christie 100 - Three Act Tragedy

We return to Poirot with this mystery, which for a change features Mr. Satterthwaite from the Harley Quin stories.

There is a gathering at Sir Charles Cartwright's, and among the guests are Hercule Poirot, Mr. Satterthwaite and Sir Charles's friend Sir Bartholomew Strange. But the person who dies from poisoning is the mild-mannered Reverend Stephen Babbington... However, some time later Sir Bartholomew dies at a similar gathering, in the same manner, and Poirot gets suspicious - surely these two deaths must be connected somehow?

As we've established, this comes in the middle of Christie's upwards trajectory. The previous Poirot was a masterpiece, and there are several novels of that ilk to come. I'm not sure I see this one quite at those high levels, but it's a very good mystery indeed. While the misdirection is somewhat familiar, there's a lot of good clueing and Christie does her best to befuddle the reader.

This might be the first instance where Christie allows a group of her characters to start investigating the crime for their own reasons, with Poirot acting like the grand armchair detective in the background and making the all-important connections towards the end. In previous stories, Poirot has always been at the centre of investigations.

I'll rank this a 66 out of 100. It's a middling 30s Christie mystery, but a middling 30s Christie mystery is better than almost everything else you might read in the genre.

1937 1947 1970
1985 1987
In Swedish, it would sound very awkward to structure the title the way the English title is structured - Treakterstragedin is very cumbersome. So we fiddled about a little with it - Tragedi i tre akter means Tragedy in three acts.

The very first edition is another one of those that look very dull with the title plastered all over the cover. (Cf. Lord Edgware Dies and many more).

I've not actually managed to establish with 100 % certainty that the second cover is from the 1947 edition, but I haven't found any other edition that it could be from, so everything indicates that it is. It's a better cover, though the artist seems to suffer from the misconception that one of the murders takes place onstage.

I like the colours of the Zebra edition from 1970. If you look closely, that is in fact a man's shoe in the background, making the cover more sinister than it immediately appears. It's the one I own, so I'm happy it's the best one here.

For the two mid 80s covers, the artist seems to have focused on the Greek origin of the word "tragedy". None of the covers are bad per se, but there's nothing inherently Christie-y about them.


Agatha Christie 100 - Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

A non-series novel in the middle of a slew of Poirot titles, how does this story hold up with all those classics surrounding it?

Bobby Jones is out golfing when he comes across a man who seems to have fallen down a cliff. His golfing partner goes to find help while Bobby remains with the man, who is obviously dying. But before expiring, the man utters the words that have given this novel its title. When an attempt at Bobby's life is made a little later, he and his friend Lady Frances "Frankie" Derwent decide to investigate...

Well, this was one of the titles I was looking forward to, because I didn't remember too much of it. Unfortunately much of the plot came back to me while reading it, so I wasn't very surprised at the twists and turns. The reader is well advised to remember that this is NOT a mystery novel, it's another one of Christie's romantic adventure thrillers. In fact, while I was reading it I felt as if this was almost the same story as the later N or M. We'll see if I still think so when I re-read that novel...

And yes, this story is a Tommy & Tuppence story in all but name - I am still a little baffled as to why Christie chose to invent a new pair of sleuths for this one. It's a fun story, but there is very little detection. What we get is a couple of annoying deus ex machina scenes and a pair of protagonists that, while being good companions on the road towards the dénouement, just stumble and fumble about before a hunch gives them the solution.

I'd rank this 44 out of 100. While it's a fun ride, everything's a bit too coincidental, and I also question how Christie chooses to deal with her villains.

1943 1966 1977
1984 1990 1995
In translating the British title of this novel, the Swedish publishers had a small problem, because the word "ask" can be translated in two different ways in Swedish, depending on whether it means "ask a question" or "ask someone to do something", though I guess that both interpretations could be valid with this story. In the end, they went with the latter, and otherwise Varför bad de inte Evans? is a literal translation.

The first translation of this story had to wait almost a decade. It features a cover that isn't bad at all. The steep cliffs are quite evocative. The only thing missing is the golf connection, but I guess all the other covers make up for that.

The Zebra edition and Delfinserien use the same cover, nicked from the first British Fontana edition, though the later one is just a tad more colourful. I like it quite a bit. The mid 80s cover is perhaps too focused on the golf thing, making this seem like one of P. G. Wodehouse's golf story collections.

The cover from 1990 also concentrates on the golf setting, and I like the tiny detail that the golf ball is a skull. And talking about skulls, the rather well-made mid 90s cover also has one, this time in place of an eye. It doesn't really scream mystery - apart from that skull - but I like the way that it presents a face both in profile and en face.

To be honest, I think this might be one of the novels with the best Swedish covers overall so far.


Agatha Christie 100 - Murder on the Orient Express

Perhaps you've heard of this one? It's the one where...

Hercule Poirot has been helping the French army with a sticky situation in Syria, and is now due to return to Britain again. He does so by riding the famous Orient Express, which is unusually crowded for the season. In the middle of Yugoslavia - as it was then known - the train gets stuck in the snow, but what is worse - one of the passengers is found murdered with a slew of stab wounds in his chest!

So we reach the second of Christie's stone cold classics. Over the last decade or so, there's been a few mumblings that it's a bit gimmicky and there's too much focus on interviews with the train passengers. Pish posh is what I say to that. This is a great, great detective story. The interviews are interesting, especially as soon as Poirot makes the important discovery that the murder is connected to a previous kidnapping in the USA.

I really don't have much else to say about this novel. If you haven't read it before, then you should, and if you have and you didn't like it, then you should read it again, because you're wrong.

This gets a 97 out of a 100. Why only 97? Well, it might very well be Christie's best novel, but I have to leave room for a novel to overtake it if it turns out that this re-read brings me another favourite.

1936 1953 1957 1964
1974 1984 1990 2001
2014 2017

So, Christie's second classic, and obviously there's been a lot of Swedish editions of this one. Us Swedes made a tiny change to the title when translating it, putting the "murder" in the definite form unlike the English title. By the way, this is an excellent title, as opposed to all those "murder at [manor]" for one simple reason, and that is that the reader can be expected to know what the "Orient Express" is and therefore have all sorts of associations and connotations, while "Styles", "End House" or "Hazelmoor" will not immediately tell the reader anything. Just to explain my personal idiosyncracy...

The first cover above is one of those dull ones where the publishers couldn't even come up with an image, instead just plastering the title all over the cover. The cover from 1953 is better, though unfortunately looks a bit like a parody with the amount of surprise shown by those two men.

The covers continue to improve with the Zebra one from the late 50s. A fine cover with the corpse and train window and snow, but minus points for not capitalising "orientexpressen". Delfinseriens cover is not one of their best - unfortunately it's the one I own - though at least they manage to show both snow and train, tiny as it is. But that mountain, is that really in the story?

There are two editions with film tie-in covers. The one from 1974 is not particularly good. If I remember correctly, it's taken at one of the stations the train stops at, but you'd be hard-pressed to know from that picture. While the 2017 one is uncomfortably modern in its design, it is still quite a bit more exciting. The train and the fog and the dim lights set a great atmosphere.

But let's get back to normal book covers, and let's do it with one of the best here: Bonniers's 1984 edition gets almost everything right. The one thing to improve it would have been to show the snow surrounding the train. The edition from 1990, again to commemorate Christie's 100 year jubilee, is okay, I guess. But it really could have been from any mystery story with a murder committed with a dagger.

Which also goes for the 2001 cover. To be honest, there's not much difference between that one and a couple of the covers for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The more recent cover from 2014 is in some ways a repeat of the mid 80s cover. It adds in a bit more background with the mountains and what could possibly be interpreted as snowflakes, but unfortunately only presents the train in silhouette. Making the O in the title look "oriental" is a nice touch.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Sittaford Mystery

Interestingly, this is a detective novel featuring none of Christie's regular characters, unlike most other non-series novels, which are almost uniformly adventure thrillers.

In Sittaford, the villagers are having a gathering at mysterious and stylish Mrs. Willett's, and they decide to hold a séance - as you do - where the spirits spell out that a murder has been committed in the neighbouring town. Their friend Captain Trevelyan is supposed to have been killed. One of the guests, Major Burnaby, decides to investigate further, and lo and behold! it turns out to be true. Suspicions quickly fall on one of Trevelyan's nephews, whose fiancée decides to investigate the case more fully.

It's interesting that Christie didn't put Battle in this novel, I think he could easily have taken the place of Inspector Narracott, or even Mr. Duke. You might argue that Emily Trefusis is the actual detective in the novel, but it's not as if Battle didn't have help from young amateurs in his previous outings...

Overall, this is a fairly good story. I feel that Christie could have made more out of the wintery settings, but Sittaford and neighbouring town Exhampton are described skilfully. Emily Trefusis is a fun acquaintance, though I question some of her life choices. Her investigative ways are very similar to Miss Marple's.

The main problem with the novel is that it feels a bit disjointed. Emily isn't introduced until we've come a long way into the narrative, and in fact most of that early part is focused on Inspector Narracott's investigations.

I do feel like a parrot, but at least this is the final novel in this streak where Christie uses a certain type of misdirection to fool her readers - if they read these in order I wonder how fooled they would be?

This novel is worth a 55 out of a 100. A bit average for a Christie story, but on the whole a worthwhile experience that any mystery fan should enjoy.

1986 1987

While the English title for this book is again somewhat generic - the custom of naming a novel by jumbling up words like mystery/murder/puzzle and <insert name of country house/nobleman/place here> has never been a favourite of mine - the Swedish one is no less generic, just in a different way. Mördande seans simply means Murderous Séance. I still think it's better, though.

This was the second to last Christie novel to be translated into Swedish, which means there are very few editions available. The first one from 1986 looks suitably impressive with a country house surrounded by snow and the transparent skull in the ominous sky. A favourite of mine. (Again, there are some slight typographical differences between the hardcover and paperback editions using this cover - this is the paperback version, which is also the one I own.)

And here's a surprise, a book club edition which doesn't completely muck up the cover. In fact, the artist very much seems to have used the earlier cover as a basis to create his own impression, because all the elements from the 1986 cover are there. It is by far the best book club cover I've seen.