Agatha Christie 100 - N or M?

One of very few Christie novels that truly recognises that WWII even existed, this Tommy & Tuppence story features that worthy couple chasing fifth columnists at a seaside resort.

Tommy & Tuppence are discontent as they feel they are not allowed to contribute towards the war effort, but one day an acquaintance of their old employer Mr. Carter comes by. It seems British intelligence are looking for the titular characters N or M, though they don't actually which of these two elusive characters they are after. So in order to catch that person unawares, they want to send in an outsider, someone who isn't known to the other side. Only thing is - it's only Tommy they want...

It probably won't come as a surprise to you that Tuppence soon insinuates herself into the narrative. As usual with these T&T stories, they aren't really mysteries. Instead we get to follow the two as they suspect everybody in the seaside resort, set different traps for the suspects and generally aren't very thorough in their investigations. Poirot wouldn't be too impressed...

It's a good romp and exciting enough in places. Christie shows herself to be somewhat of a humanist, arguing that it's not the individual Germans we should hate, it's the German war machine. And then promptly undermines her whole argument with the revelations about German refugee Carl von Deinem. Meh.

It's also a bit unfortunate that it's fairly easy to find the villain of the piece, since it's the only person that Christie doesn't give any suspicious traits at all. All the others have a queer look or intense personality or something else during the course of the novel, except the real villain.

So, apparently I wasn't too taken with this novel, but I still enjoyed quite a lot about it. It's Agatha Christie having a bit of fun during a time of great stress and contributing to the war effort in her own way. I'll give it a 47 out of 100 for sheer enthusiasm, not for the end result.

1942 1967 1968
1983 1990 1997
Us Swedes have vacillated between including the question mark or not, otherwise the title is obviously a literal translation.

For being so early an edition, the very first cover is pretty good. And whatever you say about it, it's hard to miss the title... The Zebra edition from 1967 is the one I have, and again it's a direct steal from the British Fontana edition. A fine cover, though.

Delfinserien makes the cover a bit more surreal with the young girl flying zeppelins with strings. Per Åhlin doing what he does best - I like it! The early 80s edition makes sure that we understand it's a wartime novel. It's not bad, all things said.

The swastika appears on the 1990 edition as well, but not the question mark. It's not the most striking cover, but not a total loss either. The best thing about the final cover here is that they've managed to put faces in profile on the letters. Except for that, it really doesn't say much about the contents. Not my favourite here.


Agatha Christie 100 - Cards on the Table

Wherein Christie clarifies that her stories take place in the same universe by allowing four previous characters to co-exist within the same narrative.

Hercule Poirot's acquaintance, Mr. Shaitana, invites him to a gathering - four murderers who were never suspected as such and four criminal investigators. Apart from Poirot, Inspector Battle, Colonel Race and mystery writer Ariadne Oliver come to Shaitana's dinner, and after the meal all eight guests settle down to play bridge. But as the games wind down, the guests find that Shaitana has been stabbed to death in his chair by the fire...

I'm going to rate this more highly than it perhaps deserves, simply because Christie managed something I didn't expect - she fooled me! In all previous re-reads, I was always more or less aware of who the culprit was and could study the narrative to see how Christie tries to fool the reader. But with this novel, I actually misremembered who the murderer was, and only shifted my suspicions to another character as the end approached. And yet it turned out that the real killer was in fact a third character... And when there are actually only four suspects available, that's a pretty good feat!

Otherwise, the main draw of this story is of course the gathering of Christie characters. Poirot and Battle do the bulk of the work in this novel, with Mrs. Oliver doing her fair share of the heavy lifting while Race is only a minor character in the grand scheme of things. But this is billed as a Poirot novel, and of course it is he who in the end points out the true villain.

To be honest, I don't think the misdirection is quite as good as in some of Christie's other novels, and the reason I was fooled was simply that I had a preconceived notion even before opening the book of who would be the killer which blinded me to Christie's main thesis - that the nature of Shaitana's murder can only be solved by studying the nature of the four murderer's previous crimes.

Ah well, how can I rate this lower than 82 out of 100 when I was so thoroughly bamboozled?

1938 1947 1964 1979
1987 1990 2014 1983 *

Another direct translation of the title for this novel, which was translated almost as soon as it was available.

The first cover from 1938 is not too bad, focusing on the bridge game. The 1947 cover distinguishes itself from the others by not featuring the cards at all. Instead we get a scene from the final exciting part where Poirot and Battle race to stop a murderer.

Zebra uses the cover to make this look like a cheap dime thriller, though with playing cards, while Delfinserien's 1979 edition again uses the British Fontana-cover.

The mid 80s Bonniers edition is the one I own and at least doesn't go overboard with the playing cards, featuring just the king of spades. The centenary edition from 1990 is okay, I guess, and at least they didn't outright steal the contemporaneous British cover, just the font.

The latest edition, six years old by now, is easy to recognise though not very distinguished. I suppose that's Hercule Poirot's silhouette (and maybe Battle's?), and perhaps those are supposed to be playing card diamonds? Hm.

The final cover here is a special case - the only omnibus edition of Agatha Christie novels in Sweden, featuring this title together with Five Little Pigs. It's hardly very interesting, though for completeness' sake I thought it belongs here.


Agatha Christie 100 - And Then There Were None

Welcome to this title - this very problematic title. The discussion on the covers further below isn't for the faint of heart, so take warning. Oh, and by the way, this is a stone cold classic.

Eight very different people are invited to stay on an unfortunately named island. As they are transported there, they find that there are only two servants present and that their host is expected to arrive the following day. But after dinner, a recording is heard accusing each of the ten people present of having committed murder - and almost immediately after, one of them keels over, poisoned...

Everyone knows about this one, for both good and bad reasons. Let's just say that the bad reasons are doubly unfortunate as they tend to divert conversation from the important thing - the excellence of the story. This is truly a once in a lifetime read, and I think the one which takes most people unawares (though Christie has a few others of this ilk...) I can still remember lending this to my sister and the surprise she expressed after having read it.

But it's not just the solution that impresses, the entire journey through the novel is quite excellent. The suspects/victims are treated with care and presented as humans, though with varying despicable traits. There are one or two instances where we're allowed to follow the thoughts of the persons present which could perhaps be construed as being a bit of a stretch once you know the solution, but that's a minor quibble.

If you haven't read this, go do so. It's a solid 99 out of 100. And if you have indeed read it, do so again. Go on, it's not like you have anything better to do.

1940 1951 1955 1961
1976 1982 1984 1985
1990 1994 1999 2001
2003 2014

Okay. Let's do the Swedish title first. The original title was the equivalent of Ten Little Negro Boys. The Swedish neger never had the incredibly negative connotations of the original British N-word, and was probably less offensive even than Negro. Unlike the British, who switched titles in the mid 80s, we didn't follow suit until the very latest edition. We also made a small change that actually changes the focus of the nursery rhyme - Och så var de bara en means And Then There Was Only One. I don't really have a preference for either title variation - though the Swedish variant is a little bit less spoiler-y...

Moving on to the covers, which are even more problematic than the title. In our own clueless way, we focused on the Negro part of the title. If you want to be charitable, I guess you could say that at least the covers got less and less offensive over time, from the earliest editions over 1955's Zebra cover to Delfinserien in 1961. The latter is the best of this early lot, definitely, as it's less personalised and doesn't feature caricatures of people from Africa.

The next four covers aren't a whole lot better. What is interesting is that the one from 1976, which is the least offensive of this bunch, is actually a bookclub cover! Never thought I'd say that in a million years. The covers from 1982 and 1985 are very similar. They've simply changed the focus from the author to the title of the novel for the later edition, which is the one I have. The 1984 cover is yet again a copy of the British Fontana cover, which just goes to show that we're all equally offensive at times...

1990's centenary edition again features a variation of the cover from the contemporaneous British edition. Now it's just a figurine - at least we're slowly getting better. And with the cover from 1994 I think we've almost left offensiveness behind. But only almost. I like the skulls, but it's a pity that they have to parody the way some women in Africa carry water jugs on their heads. The final ethnic stereotype comes with the fetishes on the cover from 1999.

It's a very rare thing when a cover such as the one from 2001 can be called "among the best", because that's a dead boring cover. That says a lot about the other things we've seen here. 2003 is a large print edition, and it might just have the best cover of them all, with an atmospheric photograph of the island where most of the action takes place. The 2014 cover also features the island, and as usual uses the typography of the title in creative ways. Not bad at all. And also, it has the new title.


Agatha Christie 100 - Murder in Mesopotamia

This is set as a prelude to Murder on the Orient Express and explains what Poirot was doing in the Middle East - apart from helping the French Army - requiring him to ride the famous train back home again.

Nurse Amy Leatheran is hired to look after Mrs. Louise Leidner, who is reported to be having nervous episodes and seems to be fearing for her life. It turns out that there have been threatening letters to Mrs. Leidner, and as she has a sordid past with a former husband, is it possible that she is indeed correct in her fears? Things come to a head when she is found dead in her room near the excavations conducted by her present husband. But luckily Hercule Poirot is nearby, having been called to the area in order to help the French Army with a case...

This is both excellent and somewhat ludicrous. One of relatively few impossible crimes in Christie's oeuvre, the unfortunate victim is found in her room, which has been under surveillance during the relevant time. I do think the impossibility falls to pieces somewhat as the novel moves along, and I wouldn't recommend anyone reading it only for that reason.

The ludicrous bit is obviously the identity of the killer and particularly the fact that they are not recognised. But let's handwave that a bit, and then this becomes one of Christie's best novels. A small set of suspects, a great narrator who puts a personal spin on things without being completely dim to everything and an interesting motive to explain the whole thing.

The second murder is a bit ill-advised and feels somewhat tacked-on. Personally, I don't think it was necessary for the story and only serves to make the novel a bit longer. But apart from that, this is top shelf stuff. I'll give it 89 out of 100.

1939 1959 1967
1971 1984 1986
This title had another literal translation. It had to wait a couple of years before the first Swedish edition, but not too long.

The first cover is a bit too rough and cartoony for my liking - the second one is a bit better, showing the living quarters where the murders take place.

The Zebra edition from 1967 again steals the Fontana cover, which is as sinister as usual, while Delfinserien has an incredibly strange cover. I really can't make head or tails of it - and believe me I've tried, it's the one I own...

1984 brings us yet another book club cover, and to be honest, this isn't all that bad. The woman on the cover doesn't look like a typical 80s book club cover woman. The shadow lurking above the window looks suitably sinister. Judge for yourselves if it's too spoiler-y.

If it weren't for Poirot's hat and the buildings along the bottom of the 1986 cover, this cover could have been used for any Christie novel featuring Poirot, really. Not Leslie Quagraine's best cover, though I love this particular light blue tint.


Agatha Christie 100 - A Murder Is Announced

It took a while before Miss Marple actually became Christie's second great problem solver. This was written in 1950 and is only the fourth Marple novel. The following decades would more than double that number.

Local newspaper the Gazette features an ad telling all and sundry that a murder will take place at Little Paddocks, miss Letitia Blacklock's house in Chipping Cleghorn. And of course all her friends and acquaintances appear just in time for this murder. And so does a murderer... but when the events are over, it's the apparent killer who lies dead.

Probably Christie's most famous Marple novel and also the closest to being called a classic. I'd agree with that assessment, because this is a very fine mystery indeed. Miss Marple again turns up at a later stage in the proceedings - though not quite as late as in The Moving Finger - but quickly insinuates herself into the village life.

Since this takes place outside of St. Mary Mead, we make the acquaintance of a new police inspector in the form of Dermot Craddock, who clearly is much more appreciative of the old lady's acumen than was Inspector Slack from the earlier novels.

The cluing here is very good, with some very subtle clues a reader is almost sure to miss - though I think that with proofreading becoming less common, one or two clues might be overlooked for that reason alone.

This is worth an 87 out of a 100. Arguably the best Marple mystery and an excellent read.

1951 1957 1962 1979
1983 1986 1990 1997
2001 2003 2014
Perhaps the quintessential Miss Marple novel, it's no wonder it has several Swedish editions even though it was published during the second half of Christie's career. The Swedish made it easy on themselves and simply translated the British title literally.

Many of these covers here focus on the newspaper personal ad. 1951 manages to feature both the advertisement and the gathering at Little Paddocks. The 1957 cover does not include the latter, but instead introduces a couple of drops of blood. Both are fine covers, though nothing special.

Delfinserien has two different covers. I have the first one, which introduces Miss Marple - surely that is meant to be her, or is it Miss Blacklock? - while the later one from 1979 uses the British Fontana cover which seemed to be the default around that time. Again, both are fine. I like the surrealism of the latter better, though.

For 1983, the artist seems to have taken inspiration from the 1962 cover... The 1986 cover is more distinctive, featuring the entrance of Rudi Scherz and a huge clockface. I generally like the covers of this edition, but this again seems like a cover that could have been used for almost any story.

Since this novel might be the best-known Marple story, it's no wonder that it too was selected for the centenary edition in 1990. But this time the cover is quite different from the one in Britain. I think it's all right, but again nothing that really stands out. As for the 1997 cover - another book sale edition - my only thought is that Miss Marple has a huge head.

The 2001 edition is the pits. Sure, a lightbulb has some importance in the story, but meh. The large print edition from 2003 is fine, I guess. At least the newspaper is there. Meanwhile, the one from 2014 is another one of those nondescript covers. Some blood and a key. Okay.