Agatha Christie 100 - Appointment with Death

Always a favourite of mine, how does this novel stand up compared with for example its predecessor?

The elderly Emily Boynton rules her family with an iron fist, not allowing them any liberties and making all decisions for them. This affects the four children very badly, some worse than others. And when the Boynton family take a trip to the Middle East, things come to a head as they meet new people and gain new influences. One day outside Petra, when Mrs. Boynton is alone in the camp and everyone else is out hiking, she is murdered by what might be a lethal injection. Fortunately, Hercule Poirot is not far away, and he is asked to take a look just to see whether he can find the culprit.

I still love this a lot. There are some drawbacks to this story - the first half features almost no Poirot at all, and then the final half is just our Belgian detective realising exactly how events developed over the fateful afternoon by interviewing every witness who met the deceased.

But Christie has managed to create some wonderfully memorable characters - it's perhaps not coincidental that the adaptations do not manage to portray the Mrs. Boynton of the novel, instead replacing her with someone who is Mrs. Boynton in name only. One of the main clues - the syringe - is also clever in how it points to the murderer.

I would argue that this is one of Christie's most Carr-ian culprits. Those who know my pet peeve with Carr's villains will probably know what I'm referring to here...

Some nostalgia will also factor in my rating, which is a strong 87 out of 100.

1939 1975 1983
1985 1985 1987
2000 2001 2014

Early on, the Swedish translation was supposed to feature a literal translation of the title and early ads featured this title (Möte med döden), but this was changed to the above title. Which is nice, because you can't have too much of the genitive case in your titles. It is this genitive case (which is only possible with very, very few words in Swedish) that makes it impossible to make a direct translation back into English. It would be something like "Death to meets", which I realise makes no sense to someone who didn't grow up with Old English as their mother tongue...

Wake up! It's time for covers now. The first Swedish edition has a cover where I can't really make out what is supposed to be depicted. Perhaps a very narrow gully? When it's this hard to see what the cover is supposed to show, it's arguably not the best cover ever. Delfinserien gives us the next cover, and it's much better, with Mrs. Boynton in the middle of the image and the cave openings made to look like a skull. I'm happy to say that this is the edition I own.

The next two covers are obviously more or less the same one. I feel that the 1985 version is better than the 1983 one, because the Agatha Christie name doesn't dominate the whole thing so much. Otherwise, the focus on the malevolent Mrs. Boynton is understandable. Though you can have too much of a good thing, as the book club edition (also from 1985) shows. Depicting that dominating lady with cats' eyes is perhaps a bit too on the nose?

1987 gives us a pretty good cover with some focus on the murder weapon and the by now almost ubiquitous Poirot outline in the background. The later cover from the turn of the century focuses on the desert landscape, which is a pretty good choice. One of the best covers from this edition.

The cover from 2001 belongs to a large print edition, but I can't remember any menorahs in the novel, so one has to wonder where that inspiration came from. (I know that a small part of the early bit of the novel takes place in Jerusalem, but the menorah seems like a strange choice anyway.) The latest edition again features a very non-descript cover which doesn't tell the reader much more than the barest minimum. What's with all the skulls and crossbones? It's not a pirate adventure!


Agatha Christie 100 - Towards Zero

An attempt by Christie to study the workings of a murder, where she in her own inimitable way allows us to follow the murderer's plans until they come to fruition. And then Battle enters the picture...

This novel starts out by introducing the different characters that will come together at Lady Tressilian's house. Her companion, her ward, his present and previous wife, the latter's cousin et al. We also find out that one of them is a murderer, planning their deed down to the last detail. But who is the killer, and who will be the victim?

Towards Zero features one of Christie's most memorable and despicable villains. And they are revealed in a highly exciting and entertaining way. Of course it's Inspector Battle who works his way through the mystery and finds the solution. Though it is a bit disappointing that he still needs something of a Deux ex Machina to really get to grips with the whole thing

I still maintain that Battle isn't the most distinguished character, but at least we get to know him a bit better here. He generally does a fine job in his search for the killer, which is fitting as this is his last appearance.

Overall, the murder plan is devilish and Christie manages to hide most of the clues as only she can. As I said, the killer is memorable (as is his plan), so I remembered almost everything that was going to happen, but it was still great fun to see all the tiny details and how they fit together in the end.

One of Christie's strongest novels of this decade, which Brad over at Ah Sweet Mystery calls her "mature" decade - incidentally, I would argue that this goes for the output of her colleague John Dickson Carr too - and of course I will rate this highly. It's an 86 out of 100.

1945 1959 1966
1970 1984 1987
So, here we have a title which is fairly different in Swedish than the original British one. "Klockan K" would be something like "Time T" - it's actually quite hard to translate. I'm not overly impressed with the Swedish title, though I freely acknowledge that to literally translate the English title would be fairly nonsensical - "Mot noll" sounds stupid. But there must have been better alternatives...

Let's look at the covers instead. The first one, from an edition published only a year after its original publication in Britain, is another typical mid 40s cover from Sweden. In this case, the illustrator has chosen to focus on the golf clubs which doesn't really scream mystery. Sure, one of them is used as the murder weapon, but nothing in that cover tells us that.

The first Zebra edition from 1959 has a cover that is both clever and silly. The Swedish title being what it is, I sort of like how they picked a number of suspects and used them in a clockface, but somehow everything still looks very cheap and lurid.

Maybe they too felt that way, because instead the later Zebra edition from 1966 as usual steals the Fontana cover from Britain's contemporary edition. It might be of some interest that the very same cover - the only difference is a change of the small symbol towards the upper left - was used for the first edition of Delfinserien. But they soon changed their minds and commissioned a new cover, which is the one you see from 1970. And that's probably my favourite one here. It looks suitably exciting.

1984 brings us another book club cover, and any book club cover that doesn't feature a woman in 80s hairdo is a winner. A single golf club and a blood smear makes me feel that it's above average for a book club cover. The final cover here is another fine one from Leslie Quagraine. Quite atmospheric, like the one from 1970. It's also the one I own.


Agatha Christie 100 - They Do It With Mirrors

The pace of Miss Marple novels starts to pick up here, with this novel being published just two years after its predecessor, A Murder Is Announced.

Miss Marple is asked by an old friend to look in on the latter's sister, Carrie Louise Serrocold, because her friend feels that there is something wrong at the mansion where Carrie Louise and her husband are working with juvenile delinquents, though she is hard pressed to put her finger on what the trouble is. Miss Marple agrees, and not long after she has arrived, there is a violent argument between Carrie Louise's husband Lewis and one of the youths at the clinic. Luckily, no one is hurt, but just a few minutes later it turns out that Carrie Louise's half brother has been killed in the study where he was sitting alone while the argument took place.

Although the 50s is the decade where Christie slowly, slowly became a "regular" mystery writer after having been untouchable for up to two decades, this is still a strong novel in many respects. The main puzzle is well done and while the misdirection is on the obvious side to a seasoned mystery reader - Christie has done variations of these things before - it's still very well written.

The problem appears with the follow-up murders, which take place almost entirely off-stage. It seems very offhand by Christie after having featured the bragging youth and the reflections of Alex Restarick to just announce their death without much sympathy.

Miss Marple does well here, though perhaps she is just a bit too easily taken in by the main misdirection here. For someone who suspects everyone and sees the bad side of everything, she is quite willing to put her faith in one person's words.

It's interesting to see a new policeman here as a foil to Miss Marple - he and his team almost immediately sees the value in the elderly lady's musings, and allow her to take part of the investigations.

I remembered almost everything about this one - the murderer is quite memorable - though I was actually surprised that it turned out that Edgar was an actor. I always remembered him as the genuine article...

Anyway, this was a good read, though not without certain problems. I'll rate it a 71 out of 100, most Christie fans should have a good time with this one.

1954 1958 1973
1990 2000 2014

The British title is one of my least favourites. "They" who? Why should I care about "them"? In Sweden, the publishers chose to stay with the mirrors theme, but adjusted it slightly. A literal translation of Trick med speglar would be Tricks With Mirrors, which I find a much better title.

The first cover above is generally fine. The lurking shadow is suitably sinister. I just wish that they had used the entire front page area for the image instead of just half of it. For once, the Zebra edition might be the worst of the bunch. It's the one I have, and even with a physical copy in my hands I can't really guess who that big head is meant to belong to.

Where's the Fontana cover, you wonder? It's right there, on the 1973 edition, looking all sinister with the gun and the mirrors making it look like a whole bunch of them. Tom Adams had a hand with covers. 1990 brings us the centenary edition, which always had some similarities with the contemporary British edition, though with some variation in what it depicted. This one is okay, not much more.

The 2000 edition is interesting, though perhaps not entirely successful. I think those are supposed to be pocket mirrors, which fits in with the title, though not really with the contents. And then we have the latest edition from 2014 which seems like a missed opportunity. The design of this edition really lends itself to having some mirror images, but for some reason they chose not to have any. A pity.


Agatha Christie 100 - Death on the Nile

This is the last of the Christie classics that I've read in this re-read. Unlike the other novels that have been branded with the epithet "classic", this doesn't have any groundbreaking twists and doesn't turn all rules of mystery writing on their heads. It's simply a great mystery.

Heiress Linnet Ridgeway is introduced to her friend Jacqueline De Bellefort's fiancé, Simon Doyle, but fate steps in and soon Linnet and Simon are married. But Jacqueline won't take that lying down, and when the newlyweds arrive in Egypt for their honeymoon, who is there but the spurned fiancée? One night on the Nile ship Karnak, things come to a head and Jackie shoots Simon, though not fatally. But the very next morning, Linnet is found dead, shot with Jackie's gun! It's lucky that Hercule Poirot is holidaying on the very same ship.

The page count of this story was much higher than for any of the preceding stories I've re-read, but I see that this must be due to the formatting or the size of the print or something like that, because it's not supposed to be longer. Though it feels that way...

But that should not be taken as a criticism of this novel, because it's awesomely good. Like I intimated above, this doesn't set out to turn every rule of mystery writing inside out, it just distils everything about the genre into the archetypal mystery.

Christie misdirects as wonderfully as only she can, and though the character list is long - some think it's too long, but they are wrong - she manages to juggle them as characters and suspects. There's plenty of motives for killing poor Linnet Doyle, though there will be those who argue that some of those motives seem tacked on.

Personally, I always have a grand time reading this story, and this time was no exception. I'll rate this a 95 out of 100, it deserves its classic status.

1938 1956 1978 1981
1985 2003 2015
Another direct translation of the title here. It's interesting to note that although this is considered one of Christie's classics, there haven't been quite that many Swedish editions of this novel.

The first cover, published just months after its original British publication, has a cover that I like quite a bit - it's the only one featuring the river boat Karnak. I just think it's a bit of a shame that it's done in such a scratchy style. (It's fairly reminiscent of the first British cover and probably took some inspiration from it.)

The 1956 cover is a bit less successful, in my opinion. Focusing on a fainting lady in that awkward pose - nah, it just doesn't work for me. I know it's supposed to feature the scene where Linnet Doyle is almost hit by a boulder, but you don't even see that block of stone anywhere!

I was going to say that it's heartening to see a title where none of the Swedish editions steal the British Fontana cover, but then I noticed that in fact Fontana had almost exactly the same cover as the 1978 one here - obviously they too wanted to tie the title in to the recent big budget movie. And just as obviously the book club wanted to do the same with their edition, so the 1981 cover features another scene from the Ustinov film.

The 1985 cover is taken from the paperback version of this edition which is admittedly from a couple of years later. The hardback cover looks much the same though, just with some typographical differences. It's not fantastic, though as always I like Quagraine's drawing style. At least he manages to feature the Nile in the background.

We had a large print edition of this title in 2003. I'm not sure whether they are stock photos from the movie or just regular photos from Egypt, but I guess they're adequate enough for such an edition. The most recent cover is fairly good, all things told. As usual I like that they play around with the typography and use the moon as one of the letters of the title. Its main drawback is that you'd be hard pressed to guess that this is set in Egypt.


Agatha Christie 100 - Dumb Witness

One of the minor titles in Christie's output - perhaps the minorest of the 30s - little is generally said about this novel. At least I'll add a few words more here.

Poirot - with Hastings in tow - receives a letter from a distressed lady, Emily Arundell. Poirot picks up on the underlying threat (while Hastings is less impressed) and immediately travels to the nice little village where Miss Arundell lived, but finds out that she passed away from seemingly natural causes. Still, when a bloodhound has found a scent, he isn't so easily moved off it again...

Confession: I haven't actually read the short story that this novel was based on, since it was discovered fairly recently. (In the mystery genre, ten years is recently...) But I'm fairly certain that it's a better read. That doesn't mean that the novel is a dud, it just seems quite padded.

The general mystery is fine, perhaps even better than fine, but the story takes its sweet time to reach its conclusion. Those readers who complain about too many interviews with suspects in other novels - this is the one you should aim your ire at.

I would hazard a guess, without having read anything about the short story this novel was based on, that it was written quite some time earlier, since Hastings features here - he hadn't been in a novel for quite some time and won't appear again until Curtain, if I remember correctly.

I went in with no remembrance of who the killer was, which improved my impressions of this story. Though I did see through Christie's misdirection and managed to find the culprit before the final revelation. If that was because of some vestiges of memory in the back of my head or if I was just clever enough to see what Christie was doing, I can't say.

It seems that there is at least one difference between the Swedish translation and the English original - the passage in chapter 18 where Poirot lists a number of murderers from previous works does not exist in the Swedish translation at all. So kudos to the translator for not spoiling other novels.

How to rate this one? Well, it's one of the weaker 30s titles, but still a cut above almost everything else in the genre. I'll put it at 52 out of 100. But the run of Poirot titles that follows this one - ooh, how I look forward to them!

1961 1965 1978
1987 2014
Another example where the Swedish title is a direct translation of the British one, though we decided to use the definite form. (Det stumma vittnet = The dumb witness)

This is one of the minor Poirot titles, so perhaps it's not that unexpected that it had to wait almost 25 years before being translated. That first edition features what I suppose is the body of Miss Arundell after having fallen down the stairs. It's an acceptable cover, not fantastic.

I own the Zebra edition from 1965 which admittedly is worse. It sort of depicts the same scene, but makes everything look much cheaper. As usual, Sweden borrows the Fontana cover by Tom Adams, but this time it's neither the Zebra nor the Delfinserien edition. Instead it was for a special edition in the late 70s where eight of Christie's novels were included. The cover itself is fine and very typical for that edition.

The 1987 cover is from a book club edition, and is as bad as can be expected - featuring a dog of the wrong breed... And the 2014 edition returns to their nondescript covers - a mosaic and some bloodstains does not a good cover make.

We've had a couple of titles lately with very good to exceptional covers, but this is really a poor showing, in my opinion.