Agatha Christie 100 - A Caribbean Mystery

No village mystery for Miss Marple in this one. Instead she ends up in the Caribbean where she investigates a suspicious death in a holiday resort.

Miss Marple has been treated to a holiday on Caribbean island St. Honoré by her nephew, Raymond West. While there, she enters into a conversation with the somewhat long-winded Major Palgrave. He asks her whether she wants to see a picture of a murderer, but just as he's about to show it to her, he changes the subject and puts the photo back in his wallet. And when he is found dead the very next day, Miss Marple's suspicions are raised...

I wondered in my last blog post if there were any later Christie stories that would approach the excellence of After the Funeral, and I suppose I got my answer here. While this novel is not quite as good, this might actually be Christie's last really good mystery. I won't swear to it as there are several titles that I still haven't re-read yet, but from what I can remember of them, I think that's a safe statement. (Again, discounting the two novels that she wrote earlier and then published at the tail-end of her career.)

While this story takes place in the Caribbean, Miss Marple never seems out of place, mainly because there's very little made of the setting. To be honest, it could have been set at almost any hotel with only minimal changes to the story. On the other hand, that means that Miss Marple never seems out of place, and she manages to get the support from the likewise elderly (and super rich) Mr. Rafiel in her endeavours to sniff out the truth.

The killer is fairly well-hidden, though the misdirection used - how one of the characters is looking very intently in a certain direction - is one we've seen before. Though Christie handles it deftly and with some variation here, and I don't think that the reader ought to see through it just because he or she has read her other variations on this theme.

A strong, solid mystery by Christie, and I'll rate it a 65 out of 100.

1965 1968 1979
1984 1990

This novel got a literal translation of its title. A fair amount of Swedish editions for this Marple mystery, even though it's one of Christie's later works.

The first cover features an ugly depiction of Mr. Rafiel. I'm not going to argue with the idea of using him as the poster boy, but they really could have been a bit more charitable in the drawing of his features.

I have the Delfinserien edition from 1968, which means that I'm quite used to the cover. Were I not, I probably wouldn't like it much. The depicition of Miss Marple isn't much better than the one of Mr. Rafiel on the first cover. At least the flowers give it a whiff of Caribbean-ness.

In 1979 we got a book club edition, and it's not too bad, to be honest. The artist's impression of Miss Marple doesn't really correspond with mine, but that's artistic licence for you. And the rest of the image looks fine - even featuring a more pleasant depiction of Mr. Rafiel in the background.

Leslie Quagraine painted the cover for the 1984 edition. Not one of his most distinguished contributions, but at least it does convey the idea of the setting. Meanwhile, the 1990 cover is as stereotypical a cover as you can find. Man, the only thing missing is Baron Samedi. Bleh.


Agatha Christie 100 - After the Funeral

Poirot returns for a story revolving around another Christie family. By this time, Poirot was no longer Christie's main character, but this might be her final excellent mystery.

Richard Abernethie has just passed away, and the family has gathered to send him off to his final resting place. At the gathering afterwards, awkward younger sister Cora Lansquenet commits another of her many faux pas, saying that "surely he was murdered?" But when she turns up murdered just a couple of days later, perhaps there was something in what she said? Luckily, the family solicitor is friends with a certain Belgian detective...

As I said above, this is an excellent mystery. Sure, there's just the one real misdirection, and if that is seen through, there are very few suspects available, but I don't see many readers seeing through this particular Christie trick.

Poirot doesn't appear until around halfway through the novel, but is very active afterwards, even though his advanced age is alluded to several times. His investigations mainly consist of him chatting with the different suspects, but there's also an appearance by the efficient Mr. Goby, who can procure information about almost anyone, and who provides background on many of the suspects.

While this may not achieve the excellence of several of her 30s novels, this is still a very strong story that any other mystery author would have been proud to have written. I'll rank it 78 out of 100, and simply hope that one of the later novels that I still have to re-read will at least approach this level of greatness.

1955 1968 1980 1986
1990 2000 2001 2014

For being a fairly late title - and not generally one of Christie's most celebrated stories - this has had an awful lot of Swedish editions, but that is justified by it being so strong. The Swedish title is a variation of the American title (Funerals Are Fatal). A direct translation of the Swedish title would be Funerals Are Dangerous.

The first cover from the mid 50s features the Abernethie family (at the reading of the will?), which seems a fairly fitting image, and more or less the only one here that doesn't focus on the funerals of the title or the sinister axe (or both). So some extra points for originality there.

Delfinserien's first cover from '68 is of course a work by Per Åhlin. I like the depiction of the funeral here - it's not at all an obvious picture, considering what could have been done. Though perhaps they weren't happy with that, because for a later edition in 1980 Delfinserien featured the Fontana cover.

1986 gives us a book club cover featuring an axe buried in a painting. Not the image I would have chosen to represent this novel, really - and while I complain about some later covers being too dark, this is way too much of the opposite. The 1990 cover buries the axe in every aspect - in the coffin and under the ground. This is perhaps my favourite cover here.

With the turn of the millennium we get an image of a churchyard, which is a fairly obvious cover, all things said. I wish the colour scheme wasn't so dark, because otherwise I like that blue tint. The cover from 2001 belongs to a large print edition. I can't say I like those ornaments much.

The cover for the latest edition isn't one of their best. There's the silhouette of a bottle - if that's supposed to be poison, that doesn't really connect with the contents of this story.


Agatha Christie 100 - Destination Unknown

Another non-series adventure thriller from Christie, this revolves around a number of scientists who have vanished from the radar.

Plucky Hilary Craven is feeling suicidal after her daughter's death and her husband's infedilities, and decides to do the deed in Morocco. However, she is persuaded by a stranger to take on the role of Olive Betterton, the recently deceased wife of recently disappeared Tom Betterton, in order to find out where the scientist - and several others like him - can be found.

It's easy to confuse this one with They Came to Baghdad, seeing as they both begin with a grey eminence in the secret service discussing the recent developments with a portly colleague, and the eminent intelligence officer recruiting a young woman who's got no experience, just a lot of chutzpah.

Luckily, they diverge a bit in the execution of the main plot thereafter, and it's to this novel's advantage. There's fewer coincidences and amazing happenstances. While I'd never call the plot here plausible, at least the events in it make some kind of internal sense. While Victoria in the previous novel always made the exact right choices, Hilary is more a victim of circumstances. It is in fact not she who manages to reveal the whole megalomaniacal plot in the end.

Still, there's quite a lot of fun to be had on the way for the reader before reaching the end. The love story is again quite predictable - another resemblance of They Came to Baghdad - but we don't have to assume that an incredibly effective organization is foiled by a young lady stumbling into their clutches.

I'd rate this a 62 of 100. It's simply one of Christie's better thrillers.

1956 1958 1980
1988 1996
A literal translation of the British title this time. The number of editions is pretty much what you'd expect from this title, one of Christie's thrillers and therefore a lesser known title.

The first cover shows the Arabic settlement which is the "unknown destination" of the title. As I've revealed by now, I'm not overly fond of angular drawings, but otherwise I think this is pretty nice. The way the settlement is perched on the cliff's edge looks suitably evocative.

The Zebra cover from 1958 is fairly similar to what we've seen for many other Christie titles. The difference is that this time the drawing style fits much better with the contents of the novel, since this is a thriller. There's a lot of action in the picture with the plane blowing up and the man running in the foreground. Some inspiration taken from a certain Hitchcock movie, perhaps?

The Delfinserien cover from 1980 you'll recognise as the Fontana cover. This is one of my favourites with the surreal view over the desert sand looking very evocative.

Finally, we also have two covers featuring planes by Leslie Quagraine. The earlier one is from the hardcover edition, while the later one belongs to the paperback edition. The hardcover variant looks more cartoony but still suggestive enough of the contents. The second is better, though perhaps a bit too dark in its colouring. We get the whole plane pictured in an angle that looks as if it's going to crash at any time. Some good stuff here among these covers, to be honest!

(By the way, isn't the plane on the British cover way up above quite anachronistic? It looks like an airplane from the 20s or 30s to me. Though maybe they were still in service in the desert.)


Agatha Christie 100 - Mrs. McGinty's Dead

The first Poirot novel of the 1950s, and it's apparent that Christie has now dialled down the increased interest in character psychology that we found in most of her 40s Poirots.

Superintendent Spence (returning from Taken at the Flood) comes to visit Poirot, because he's just been involved in a case where all the evidence points to a rather unsatisfactory young man having murdered his landlady Mrs. McGinty, so much so that he's just been convicted of the crime. But Spence has doubts and implores Poirot to investigate the case from all angles.

As I mentioned above, the character heavy plots from the 40s have been replaced here with something more akin to what we could have expected from a 30s Poirot. It is also the novel that re-introduces Ariadne Oliver into Poirot's life - she will make an appearance in over half of the Poirot novels from here on. In this one she doesn't appear until around the halfway mark, and doesn't really take any part in the investigations.

This is a clever mystery, and we get to follow Poirot as he turns over every stone and finds a clue in some ink that Mrs. McGinty bought just the day before her murder. Very nicely done by Christie, and the main misdirection when it comes to the murderer's identity is very well handled.

Ariadne Oliver's griping about her detective character and Poirot's stay at the guesthouse belonging to the hapless Summerhayes couple are sources of some gentle humour, which feels rather welcome after the previous, more serious Poirot novels.

In my last Poirot post, I wondered whether that was the last great Poirot story, but Christie shows she's still got it here, and I'll award this an 81 out of 100. A rather excellent read.

1953 1967 1971
1987 1990
Another direct translation of the title for this early 50s novel. Five Swedish editions, though by now it's becoming apparent that apart from the more prominent titles, there hasn't been much Christie action on the Swedish market since the 90s...

The 50s cover is fine. Again, it looks semi-humorous - as humorous as a cover with a dead woman's legs can look, at least. I wonder why the G in the title is yellow, though. For the Zebra edition from the late 60s, we get the Fontana cover. As usual, it looks pretty good with a number of items that are important to the investigation in the story.

The cover from 1971 is from Delfinserien (and also the one I own), and as usual with that edition, it's drawn by Per Åhlin. I like how surreal it looks, with the broom sticking out of the chimney and the other cleaning utensils lying scattered about, much larger than the house itself.

The 1987 cover is from a book club edition, and wonder of all wonders, I actually like it a lot. It might help that I owned it for a long time, but I think this is a kind of cover that works well for a mystery. The 1990 cover is also fine. Like the Fontana cover, it features a couple of items of import for the investigation, though the brighter colours make it less effective, in my opinion.


Agatha Christie 100 - The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side

This is probably Christie's last really well-known title - at least if you discount the two novels that finish Poirot's and Miss Marple's careers respectively - and was Christie's first 60s Marple novel.

Famous actress Marina Gregg has moved to St. Mary Mead and bought Gossington Hall, which used to belong to Miss Marple's friend Dolly Bantry. The latter is invited to the manor along with many other celebrities. At the reception, one of the guests is handed a drink that is poisoned and dies soon after. Since the drink was given to her by Marina Gregg, the police are soon investigating who could have had cause to murder the actress.

While I read this one, it felt as if the main misdirection of this novel was something that Christie had used over and over again and should be picked up by the reader, but looking through her previous novels, there are really only two other stories that use variations of this plot mechanism - Peril at End House and A Murder Is Announced.

By the way, isn't it just a bit of a coincidence that there should be two(!) prospective blackmailers in this novel? It's also a bit annoying that one of them is hardly featured as a character in the story - it really robs the murder of him of any reader interest.

Miss Marple is clearly older in this novel, having to put up with a live-in caretaker/busybody, though the old girl is still fairly spry whenever she puts her mind to it. It's interesting that she falls for the misdirection in this one since she should remember the events in Little Paddock.

Otherwise, Christie has opportunity to discuss the progress of the world and seems to accept them as inevitable and not necessarily bad either. Not only has St. Mary Mead grown with newly built areas, but we're also treated to a description of Gossington Hall's trials and tribulations over the years.

A nice enough read. Unfortunately, there's nothing really new here, but Christie still manages to craft a good mystery plot. The fate of the murderer is quite affecting. 72 out of 100.

1963 1965 1974 1981
1987 2001 2014

A fair amount of Swedish editions for this novel, which got to keep a literal translation of the British title. Since it's one of the better known of the Marple stories I guess it's not too surprising...

The first cover is fine, in my opinion. As I've mentioned, I'm not too fond of the very angular drawing style, but otherwise, this is a fitting cover. The Zebra cover from 1965 is somewhat similar, but looks like a cheaper dime novel. With this edition, I've always liked that there is a small extract of the text from the novel on the front page.

The 1974 cover is from the British Fontana edition, and is for me the quintessential cover. It catches the imagination beautifully and draws the reader in. Which is just the opposite of the 1981 cover (which is also extremely similar to a second Fontana cover). It's so very grey and dull. Unfortunately, it's the one I own.

The mid 80s cover by Leslie Quagraine is fine. As usual we get a small skull, this time instead of an olive in the drink, which is an amusing detail. The red dots are kind of a spoiler, as they are almost certainly a reference to rubella, but I think it's so obscurely done here that I'm almost impressed.

The cover from the turn of the century is all right, I suppose. A spilled out drink glass and some pills. It does tell the reader that this is going to be a mystery. But again, a bit too grey... The final cover here is quite representative of this particular edition. Lots of small triangles? prisms? everywhere, and a few drops of blood. Nothing that connects to this particular title, really. And this time there's not even any playing around with the typography.