My Top Ten Agatha Christie Mysteries

The right title for this post should be “Top Ten Christie’s Mysteries So Far”. Agatha Christie published around 80 mystery novels and many more short story collections during her lifetime and I haven’t read all of them… yet.

Mystery is definitely one of my favourite genres, and one I think few writers manage to master in the way Agatha Christie did. I believe that, along with Conan Doyle and Poe, she redefined crime novels, narratively and structurally. So, without further ado and because I’m the mood for mystery, I present to you my 10 favourite Christies (so far!).

Sparkling Cyanide

This was my first Christie! I still remember how thrilled I was to read this one, and how surprised I was at the end. No Poirot or Miss Marple here, but we have Colonel Race, a much quieter and traditional detective that appears in a couple of books. In Sparkling Cyanide*, the handsome, clever and rich Rosemary Barton sits at a table among her friends and family. The lights go out for a moment and, when they’re turned back on, she’s dead. Curiously enough, everybody at the table had at least one reason to want her dead, so who killed her?

And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie was the queen of mystery, but also the queen of ruining nursery songs. “First there were ten”, ten strangers invited to a private island, each of them suspecting (but not knowing) who their host is or why they were invited. Each of them hiding something. And then they start disappearing, one by one… And Then There Were None* is easily the creepiest book by Agatha Christie I have read.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Umberto Eco praised this book for the impressive and innovative narrative style, and it’s really just awesome how Christie manages to pull this off. Do you ever read the ending of a mystery and then go back and double-check if everything makes sense? I almost always do, but when I did that with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd*, I was mindblown. Also, this is one of Hercule Poirot’s first cases.

Five Little Pigs

On this one, Hercule Poirot has to solve a crime that happened sixteen years before, and for which someone has already been committed. After the murder of her husband, Caroline Crale was declared guilty and sent to prison, but now her granddaughter is convinced of her innocence and hires Poirot to prove it. There were five people, “five little pigs”, with the Crales the day of the murder, can Poirot gather any evidence to suspect any of them? Five Little Pigs* will ruin another nursery rhyme for you, too.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The first Poirot mystery! This is a locked-door mystery in which an old woman is poisoned in her mansion, Styles. There are plenty of suspects, among them Hastings and Poirot, who happen to be staying there at the time. I think The Mysterious Affair at Styles* sets a pattern in Poirot Mysteries: mansions and elderly, rich women who happen to be murdered.

Murder at the Vicarage

The first Miss Marple! How can an elderly lady solve the murder of Colonel Protheroe, shot through the head at the local vicarage, almost without leaving her home? Mostly gossip and an exacerbated ability to read people, really.

The Body in the Library

A young and eccentric woman is found dead in the library of wealthy Colonel Bantry. Miss Marple joins forces with police officers to solve this one, and seems like Bantry has much more to hide. The Body in the Library* shows a Miss Marple ready for action, much bolder than the one from Murder at the Vicarage*.

Peril at End House

A young heiress hires Poirot to protect her after various almost-fatal accidents: she thinks someone’s trying to kill her. This leads to Poirot staying at Peril House, a creepy mansion on the Cornish shore. I like Peril at End House* because the crime has not yet happened when Poirot starts to investigate, and the constant danger makes it more thrilling.

At Bertram’s Hotel

I honestly think Miss Marple is my favourite detective, and her powers of observation are displayed to their full extent in this novel. This one was my first Miss Marple, and I just loved the atmosphere and detail of the novel. Here, Miss Marple takes a holiday at Bertram’s Hotel in London just when a series of bloody events start taking place. At Bertram’s Hotel* is different from other Miss Marple novels because it dwells more with the mafia and money-related crimes than with murders. How Jane Marple finds herself involved in all these sinister events is amazingly entertaining.

Dead Man’s Folly

This one is just delightful. There’s a recurrent character in Agatha Christie’s novels that is a crime novelist: Adriane Oliver. She’s friends with Poirot and in this book she’s invited to a mock murder hunt but, you guessed it, the murder happens for real. Dead Man’s Folly* is so sinister and fun, it’s like a night of playing Clue gone wrong.

Have you read any of these? What are your favourite Christies? I am currently reading and loving The Luminaries* by Eleanor Catton and I am definitely in the mood for more mystery books, do you have any suggestions?

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*Disclaimer: If you do buy any of the books mentioned through these links, I will receive a commission. This does not affect the prices whatsoever.

Earth Week Essentials

On Monday we celebrated Earth Day. As amazed and grateful as I am to our planet, I could not help but feel both guilty and even a bit hopeless on Monday. The day marks the fight for environmentalism that begun almost 50 years ago, and seeing how much worse we are now than in the seventies is certainly discouraging.

However most things seem impossible when we compare our individual actions against the global picture. No matter how hard it is, we must believe that using a reusable water bottle, not smoking, reducing our consumption of read meat and other seemingly unimportant actions actually matter and make a difference. Our individual habits are not enough to stop climate change, but they are necessary to put pressure on the big corporatives and governments who are really, for lack or a better word, fucking everything up.

When I feel powerless against these monsters of consumerism and the thoughtlessness of still a huge part of the population, I go to books. This post is about books that I consider important in our day and age, some are about environmental fighters that were both awesome writers and actually put their money where their mouth was, some are more about our understanding of nature and the environment.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey spent his life as an activist for the environment, denouncing the toll that Western culture had on the natural world and protecting the American National Parks as a ranger. In this book, he tells his story as park ranger in Utah. Apart telling of his encounters with wild animals, rocks and the inifite skies while living in a small bus, he also reflects on the links between cultural progress and environmental deterioration, the relationships between humankind and animals and other similar topics. Abbey is deeply critical and strongly opinionated, most of the times holding an “all or nothing” perspective on preservation-related topics. It’s hard to keep up with him, but this book is eye-opening, combining harsh truths with beautifully fresh descriptions of nature.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Of course Thoreau. Among his many works I chose Walden because it’s for me the most optimistic. Here Thoreau dwells, along many essays, on different topics, from the economy to the creatures of the forest. Just like Abbey, Thoreau is deeply critical of both government and society, but he is also marvelously lucid when depicting Walden, the forest where he went when he “wanted to live deliberately”.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir

Muir is also a big name for naturalism. I loved this book because the deep love he felt for the mountains and their creatures oozes from every page. Muir’s writing is more technical though, constantly dwelling on describing rock formations and vegetation, but that is part of the fun.

Man in the Landscape by Paul Shepard

This book is very important to understand how our perception of nature has actually changed it, mostly for the worst. This is a theory book, I guess a light version of what is said here could be A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. This book offers a historical account of how humans have regarded nature through the centuries.

One’s Man Wilderness by Sam Keith

In 1968, Richard Proenneke set out to build a wooden cabin and live from the elements in Twin Lakes, Alaska. In this book, Sam Keith revisits his journal from the time and includes different accounts of what Proenneke did and what motivated him to do it. This book is a mix between Into the Wild and Walden, a proof that it’s still possible to find our links to the wilderness and live without doing so much harm to other species.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolber

This one won the Pulitzer Prize and I am still in process of reading it. It’s super interesting and massively worrying. Here, the author explains the five massive extinctions that have taken place in our planet, and sets the ground to argue that we are about to live the sixth, which could only be compared to the one that killed dinosaurs thousands of years ago. This book could sound discouraging, but sometimes we need a good shake to motivate us.

Have you read any of these? These books have and are still helping me to educate myself on environmental and preservation issues, topics I’m honestly quite new at.

In other news, I’m still reading, and very much enjoying, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Some things can’t be rushed, specially books that are almost 1000 pages long.