Agatha Christie 100 - 4.50 from Paddington

Another 50s Marple novel, this has a very striking beginning and an interesting character in the competent Lucy Eyelesbarrow.

Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy is leaving London on the titular train after a day of shopping. But sometime later another train drives up next to her own and suddenly she is a witness to a murder on the other train. She reports it immediately, but no corpse is found on the train nor along the tracks. So it's lucky that she knows a certain old lady in St. Mary Mead...

As I said, this has a very striking introduction and quickly gets going. After reasoning out where the body must be, Miss Marple recruits the uber-competent Lucy Eyelesbarrow to start searching the area by taking a position with the Crackenthorpe family at their nearby manor. The family is another one of Christie's great families with character types that work so well in a mystery such as this one.

In fact, those characters are very reminiscent of the characters from the previous Marple novel, A Pocket Full of Rye. They both feature great families, and Lucy has an immediate counterpart in the older novel's Mary Dove, who has the same type of responsibilities and is just as competent. It's interesting to contrast these two female characters...

The problem with the rest of the novel is that it's all rather loose. There's some good misdirection regarding the identity of the dead woman, but ultimately it only serves to prolong the novel. The reasoning Miss Marple uses to pinpoint the location of the body is also fairly iffy and feels like a bit of a shot in the dark.

But the main problem is the murderer's actions. I still don't really understand why they had to go through all this rigmarole. It feels as if they could have handled things much more efficiently without involving the Crackenthorpe family at all.

My immediate impression was favourable but became less so the more I thought about it. A sign of the inevitable decline? We'll see. This one just scrapes by above average, with a 53 out of 100.

1958 1962 1969 1981
1985 1990 2014 2015

The Swedish title is obviously a direct translation of the British title, which is unfortunate, since we do NOT refer to that particular time of day like that. It should have been 16.50 från Paddington, because Mrs. McGillicuddy isn't travelling in the middle of the night.

For some reason the 1958 edition decides not to focus at all on Mrs. McGillicuddy's train discovery, which is somewhat disappointing. That cover looks more like it would fit with Sparkling Cyanide or something like that.

The 1962 Zebra edition rectifies that with a great train scene. Exactly what I'm looking for in these covers. Delfinserien's cover pulls back from revealing the murder in the parallel train, instead focusing on Mrs. McGillicuddy's reaction to the whole thing. Not as great as the Zebra cover, but still pretty good.

The 1981 cover is from a book club edition, and obviously Margaret Rutherford was still seen as the quintessential Miss Marple back then, because that's her on the cover. Otherwise, that's one of the best book club covers I've seen - the train background is impressive with all the smoke billowing. Perhaps Miss Marple could have been a bit less prominent in the foreground, but that's a minor quibble.

Moving on, the 1985 cover is a more abstract depiction of Mrs. McGillicuddy's train journey. It's not bad with the desolate landscape in the background, though as you'll have gathered I'd have preferred the more exciting murder scene. (Again, this is the paperback edition, which I own. The hardback edition has the same image and some typographical differences.)

The centenary edition is not particularly distinguished, as usual. Their covers too often are much too imprecise and could really have been used for any title. The 2014 cover isn't much better, focusing as it does on a bottle.

I think the publishers may have realised that, because they changed the cover just the next year, and man, is that an improvement or what? Not only do we have a train related cover with a station in the background, but they also managed to work in the clock into the title (which has the additional boon of not featuring the incorrect time)! Another great cover.


Agatha Christie 100 - One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

Another title derived from a nursery rhyme, though the rest of this Poirot novel really doesn't make much use of that rhyme.

Poirot has a dentist's appointment and while he's in the waiting room reflects on the other waiting visitors. Having endured the ordeal, he is surprised when he learns that his dentist is found murdered later the same day. When one of the other visitors also turns up dead, and yet another one disappears, Poirot has a baffling case to investigate - and there are connections to politics and spies...

My feeling is that this is one of Christie's lesser known stories, never much talked about, but on the whole this is a pretty good one. The main drawback is that there is just one main obfuscation by Christie, and if you see through that you won't find it hard to start pointing your suspicions a certain way. But Christie does well with her mystification and there's quite a lot happening here, keeping the reader's attention and making them focus their attention at the wrong places.

While Christie had started moving towards more character driven material with her last few novels, this seems like a couple of steps back in that respect, which isn't necessarily an issue - personally, I quite like this one. It's good to see Japp again, and Poirot's valet George has a fairly large role.

I'd give this a 75 out of a 100. While not one of Christie's most celebrated stories, it's still a solid mystery and the way the facade falls off the villain towards the end is rather chilling.

1941 1961 1973
1988 1997 1999

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is another nursery rhyme virtually unknown in Sweden, so it's not strange that the publishers decided to change the title (and since the rhyme isn't actually used in the story, who can blame them?). They manage to keep some connection with the rhyme, though - Skospännet simply means The Shoe Buckle. While not one of the more famous Poirot titles, it's still managed to get quite a few editions in Sweden.

What's interesting here - at least to me - is that I've hardly seen any of these editions and their covers previously, so that was a bit of a treat while researching this novel. The first cover from 1941 isn't bad. It's quite understandable to focus on the shoe and the buckle. Again, I'd have liked it better if they used the entire front page for the image. But still a pretty nice cover.

The Zebra edition from 1961 looks like some kind of pop-art - those fingers look horribly gnarly, wouldn't you agree? And I don't really see where the camera comes in. This has to be my least favourite of these covers. Meanwhile, the copy I own is the only cover that I'd seen before, and that is the 1973 one. I like it - full focus on the dentist's chair and the murdered man lying prone behind it.

Leslie Quagraine got to paint two different covers for this title. The one from the late 80s is the one I like least of the two, but it's still quite effective. The shoe buckle here looks more like a belt buckle to me... His second cover is the one from 1997. Again a lot of focus on the teeth, and I kind of like the minimalist approach here.

The final cover is from another large print edition, and has another variant of the shoe buckle. It all looks fairly cheap, to be honest.


Agatha Christie 100 - Sparkling Cyanide

The final story featuring Colonel Johnny Race, this novel is basically a longer version of a Poirot short story called "Yellow Iris", though it has a different solution.

One year ago, Rosemary Barton died of poisoning during her birthday celebration. The death was written off as a suicide, but now her husband George has received anonymous letters indicating that there was foul play involved. And so he plans to hold a new celebration at the same restaurant, with the same guests, but also inviting Colonel Race...

I was once again surprised to see how little Race actually does - it's turned out that in none of his appearances does he actually do much detecting. This story is probably the one that involves him most, but as it turns out he is not the one to provide the solution to the mystery.

As mentioned above, this novel is based on the Poirot story "Yellow Iris", though it's been thoroughly reworked and features a different murderer and a different motive. However, the way the murder is committed is the same in both stories - people arriving back to their table after being up on the dance floor and ending up in the wrong seat - and unfortunately I don't believe it could work.

Maybe it's just me, but I would definitely know that I wasn't sitting in the same place any more. Christie tries to explain it away by reasoning that miscellaneous objects (handbags and suchlike) have been moved around the table, but that doesn't take into account the location itself. I mean, if I was sitting with a view over another table previously and now have a different angle towards that table, I'd know that I wasn't in my original place!

This story was published in the middle of Christie's more character-driven works of the 40s and belongs firmly among them. The first half of the novel allows us to meet all the characters who were guests at the fateful birthday celebration, while the second half takes place after George Barton's 1 year anniversary dinner, ultimately leading to the conclusion and a fairly rotten murderer.

It's a good read but less of a good mystery, and so I'll rate this a 57 out of 100. Not top shelf Christie, but still worthwhile.

1946 1951 1957
1966 1971 1980
1985 1990 1996
For what isn't really seen as one of the big Christie titles, it's interesting to see that there have been so many Swedish editions - and yet, not a single one from this century! It wasn't really possible to make a direct translation of the title Sparkling Cyanide - Mousserande cyanid sounds a bit stupid. So we shifted things around a bit, and the Swedish title means something like Potassium Cyanide and Champagne. Not too far off, and I like both titles a lot.

The first two Swedish editions have very similar covers, and I have to assume that the cover illustrator for the 1951 cover took a lot of inspiration from the first. Arguably that goes for the first Zebra cover from 1957 as well, but the illustrator at least included some poison being added to the glass. On the other hand, that Zebra cover is a bit too cluttered for my tastes - the title blends into the bubbles in the background.

Maybe they thought so as well, because they printed a second variant in 1966, this time with the Fontana cover. And oh look, the second Delfinserien edition from 1980 has the same cover! Though I don't mind, it's a fine cover as usual from Tom Adams. I have a copy of the 1966 version, I'm happy to say.

But before that 1980 edition, Delfinserien had already commissioned a different cover from Per Åhlin. I like his style, but the perspective on the 1971 cover is a bit wonky. But I still like it better than the book club edition from 1985. I can't understand why they had to have Rosemary's head so large in the foreground. And don't ask me what that scorpion is doing on the 1990 cover. Otherwise, depicting the fatal dinner table seems like a good choice.

Leslie Quagraine got a chance to try his hand at a cover for this title as well, but I can't say that the 1996 cover is one of his best. The face/head doesn't look good at all, and even though I like the tiny skull detail - as usual - it just doesn't come together very well. Also, where's the champagne?


Agatha Christie 100 - Sad Cypress

Christie's turn towards more character-driven story telling, which arguably began with And Then There Were None, continues here in this, the first Poirot novel of the 40s.

Elderly lady Welman is on her death's bed, and her closest relatives, cousins (and betrothed) Roddy Welman and Elinor Carlisle, receive an anonymous mail that her ward, Mary Gerrard, is having too great an influence on the old lady. They are somewhat alarmed and go for a visit. Not much later, the old lady is found dead in her bed, though it turns out that she had not made any will, and everything goes to Elinor. But Roddy suddenly falls in love with Mary and the engagement is broken. When Mary is found murdered, Elinor is the immediate suspect...

This is one of those Poirot novels where he only appears well into the story. The entire synopsis above constitutes about half the novel, and the rest consists of Poirot's investigation, trying to find out whether all the circumstancial evidence pointing towards Elinor is actually correct or if they can be interpreted some other way.

A drawback of the novel is that we hardly get any indication of where the culprit will be found - the true murderer is indicated during the final court scenes, but when Poirot later goes through the case against the real villain there is lots of information that is newly introduced, or was very quickly skated over earlier.

But on the other hand, Christie succeeds in making the reader interested in her characters - mainly Elinor - by drawing them as fully formed people that you can believe in. It's another step on her way to some of the most successful of her character driven novels of this decade.

While this one has some problems, it's still a good read. I'll award it a 69 out of a 100. It's only in comparison with some of Christie's own previous material that it seems a bit lacking, and for a reader who isn't as plot driven as myself, this might well be seen as a highlight.

1940 1960 1968
1974 1987 1989

Samvetskval means Pangs of Remorse, which seems like a fitting title. Though the British title is more imaginative, so I think I prefer that one. While there are six editions of this title in Swedish, the latest one is more than 30 years old by now.

The first cover is not a particular favourite of mine. It doesn't tell the reader much about the novel, really. The Zebra series actually had two distinct covers for this title. The first one is an original work, not too different from the 1940 edition, and not much better either, while the one from 1968 is another steal from the Fontana edition in Britain. Probably the best cover here, to be honest.

The 1974 edition has Delfinserien's least successful cover. The depiction of the elderly lady is very typical of Per Åhlin, and I've never been extremely fond of how he depicts people.

The 1987 cover is very orange, but the one from 1989 is just baffling. I just don't really see how a male face in closeup fits with this particular title.


Agatha Christie 100 - A Pocket Full of Rye

Another story based on a nursery rhyme - one of Christie's favourite motifs - where Miss Marple has to nestle herself into one of those typical Christie families to figure out who is killing off the family members one by one.

Rex Fortescue is a businessman with a somewhat shady past and two sons, one loyal but slightly underhanded, and one with an even blacker background. There's also a disgruntled daughter, an unfaithful wife and quite a few servants that are more or less reliable. Add some rye, stir liberally and there's absolutely no surprise when Rex turns up dead.

This might be my favourite Marple novel - A Murder Is Announced is more celebrated, The Moving Finger has the best setting of all Marple stories, but this one has one of those great Christie families, a nursery rhyme to frame the whole story and one of the best hidden culprits. And there's also quite a bit of clueing, so Miss Marple doesn't have to pull a name out of a hat towards the end, which is a problem in some of her other appearances.

As usual, the police are quite relaxed when it comes to Miss Marple and her taking part in the investigation - obviously all the Slacks of the force have been weeded out.

This is a very solid 89 out of 100, which shows that Christie still had it though we've now reached her final twenty years as a writer.

1954 1964 1971 1979
1980 1988 1994
A quick translation of this novel, which also got to keep a direct translation of title. The nursery rhyme the title is taken from is unknown in Sweden, so one has to wonder what readers made of the title initially... Though it must be said that the translator makes an able attempt att translating it within the story to explain the setup of the murders - even managing to get it to rhyme in Swedish!

As with many of the covers here, the illustrator of the first edition kept the blackbirds from the nursery rhyme in mind. It's an okay cover, nothing that screams mystery really. The Zebra edition from 1964 continues the tradition that we've seen recently, of slightly garish covers. This one at least adds some rye.

The two 70s covers are both of the cartoony type, but while one of them is fine, the other is simply horrible. The all right one is the one from 1971, which focuses on Miss Marple's arrival on the scene. The 1979 one is awful, featuring a Miss Marple who has a head that is almost bigger than the rest of her body.

As we've become accustomed to, Delfinserien uses the Fontana cover created by Tom Adams. It's less impressive than some of his other creations, I feel. I don't care for the depiction of the blackbird, though the sketches of people in the background is an interesting touch. Too bad it's the one I own.

For this title, Leslie Quagraine got to make two different covers. The hardback copy from 1988 looks pretty good with the silhouette of the blackbird being created out of running poison, while the paperback edition from 1994 is a little less successful. There is too much focus on the huge blackbird, though the skull in its beak is another nice touch.


Agatha Christie 100 - Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Written as a sort of challenge to provide as bloody a murder as possible, this Poirot novel is one of not too many impossible crimes in Christie's production.

Pater familias Simeon Lee has invited all his closest family home over Christmas - that's four sons and their respective spouses, and one granddaughter. And then there's a mysterious visitor from South Africa as well. It's really no wonder that he is found murdered one fine day. But luckily Hercule Poirot is visiting an old friend in the area...

This is a very good, perhaps even excellent murder mystery, though calling it an impossible crime is a bit misleading. Very little is made of the impossible situation with the old man being locked inside his room. It's not all too Christmas-sy either, to be honest. Though I suppose there was hardly any cause to do any celebrations for any of the visiting guests - it's all a bit miserable for all of them.

Some of Christie's finest clueing can be found in this novel - I'm referring to Poirot's asking the butler to check the calendar and the focus on family traits, physical and mental. I think most readers will be surprised by who turns out to be the villain in the end.

This is a solid 89 out of 100. An excellent read with a great murder mystery. If only Christmas was featured more extensively...

1957 1963 1973 1983
1986 1989 2003 2014
I have no idea why this title had to wait so long before being translated, but once it was, at least it got to keep a direct translation of the title.

The first cover isn't really successful. I guess that it's supposed to be Santa's sack with gifts, but it certainly doesn't look like it. And someone should be shot over the inclusion of that apostrophe. The second cover from the Zebra series looks a bit celebratory with the balloons, and sure, they do have a place in the story. It's just that I've never associated balloons with Christmas...

1973 brings us an interesting cover, which is incredibly hard to interpret. It almost looks as if there's a sinister face just below the title, but what is all that white stuff supposed to represent? A crayfish? Some kind of church window? Per Åhlin, what have you done? (This is the copy I own, and after having looked at it for a minute I realised that it's in fact a piece of mistletoe hanging in a doorway.)

Ah well, the 80s brings us the type of cover we'd expect with this title. I like them both. The earlier one from 1983 with the sinister Christmas decoration dripping of blood, and the later one with a bloody handprint where a Christmas tree can be seen. Really nice covers. (Also note, there's no Fontana cover anywhere!)

I'm in two minds about the book club cover from 1989. It's not as horrible as some of the others we've seen, but nevertheless manages to look quite tacky with the skeleton in the Santa costume. The large print edition from 2003 is in the same style as all the other large print editions, but the Santa looks cheap as hell.

The latest edition makes a tiny change to the title, dropping the detective's Christian name, but otherwise looks pretty good. As usual, some playing around with the typography, and the keyhole dripping of blood is a nice detail.