Archives for category: Poirot
Agatha Christie Challenge: Book Number 9


The Mystery on the Blue Train is one of Agatha Christie’s lesser known works. Written shortly after Christie’s own sensational divorce, the novel uses divorce as an integral part of the narrative. It’s an entertaining read with a deftly drawn plot, comical asides, and engaging characters. 

The book had its origins in Christie’s 1922 novella, The Plymouth Express, which tells the story of a young heiress who is murdered while on board a train. Christie took that story and expanded it into this full-length Poirot novel. Like many of Christie’s travel stories, The Mystery on the Blue Train evokes an age when travel was a luxury. Images of the Riviera, grand hotels, witty conversation, and smartly dressed people punctuate the book giving it an elegant feel.

The book marks the first mention of the village of St. Mary Mead, the setting for many future Miss Marple stories; and introduces us to a minor character, Miss Viner, who is an unassuming yet crafty spinster with an uncanny ability to see through people. Many critics believe that Miss Viner was the prototype for Jane Marple.

Rating B

Agatha Christie Challenge: Book Number 8


The Mystery on the Blue Train is one of Agatha Christie’s lesser known works. Written shortly after Christie’s own sensational divorce, the novel uses divorce as an integral part of the narrative. It’s an entertaining read with a deftly drawn plot, comical asides, and engaging characters. 

The book had its origins in Christie’s 1922 novella, The Plymouth Express, which tells the story of a young heiress who is murdered while on board a train. Christie took that story and expanded it into this full-length Poirot novel. Like many of Christie’s travel stories, The Mystery on the Blue Train evokes an age when travel was a luxury. Images of the Riviera, grand hotels, witty conversation, and smartly dressed people punctuate the book giving it an elegant feel.

The book marks the first mention of the village of St. Mary Mead, the setting for many future Miss Marple stories; and introduces us to a minor character, Miss Viner, who is an unassuming yet crafty spinster with an uncanny ability to see through people. Many critics believe that Miss Viner was the prototype for Jane Marple.

Rating B

Agatha Christie Challenge:  Book Number 7


Agatha Christie’s The Big Four (1927) is an unbelievable story of espionage, murder, assumed identities, and international intrigue. To say it requires a suspension of disbelief is to put it mildly. The Big Four is pure entertainment. It’s full of thrills and plenty of red herrings. This time the indomitable Hercule Poirot matches his wits against a diabolical international organization known as the “Big Four.” The story includes a femme fatale, a mysterious Chinese leader, and a secretive lair where criminal activities are engineered. It sounds like a James Bond novel, but it’s Christie, 25 years before the first Bond book. 

Christie was never taken seriously, and The Big Four was not well-received by the critics. Yet, like most of Christie’s novels, The Big Four rises above the typical potboiler. Christie knows how to set-up a scene and build tension. For example, her use of inner dialogue that quickly jumps to narrative action adds a sense of foreboding. This juxtaposition of mood is a quintessential Christie device that never fails to surprise. So suspend disbelief and enjoy The Big Four. It’s the perfect summer read. 

Rating: B

The Agatha Christie Challenge:
Book Number 7

The year is 1926. A milestone in the life of Agatha Christie. Her masterpiece The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has just been published, and she’s at the height of her literary powers. Yet, personal difficulties belie her success. Archie Christie, her husband of 12 years, has asked for a divorce, and her perplexing disappearance of 11 days has made headlines around the world. 

Nevertheless, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is Christie’s defining work, if not her most controversial. It’s considered by many to be one of the finest detective stories ever written. Of course, she employs some of her favorite themes such as blackmail, suicide, and poison, but its frank discussion of drug addiction and its use of “modern” technological gadgetry gives Roger Ackroyd a contemporary feel. It never seems dated. 

Christie’s conventional and deceptively simple writing style (almost cliche) can seem like a work of pulp fiction, but her careful pacing, effective use of humor, and keen psychological insights makes the book more than just a standard mystery.

Roger Ackroyd is foremost a Poirot mystery. Here, Christie shows us an unusually introspective Poirot. We understand some of Poirot’s pathos as he mournfully reflects on his retirement,

The chains of habit. We work to attain an object and the object gained, we find that what we miss is the daily toll.

Even her minor characters come alive. For example, Caroline Sheppard, the narrator’s nosy sister, is drawn as a believable and easily recognizable person, a person we’ve all known.  And unlike the Sherlock Holmes stories, which are almost unsolvable, Christie gives us all the clues needed to solve the mystery. Once the murderer is uncovered, we understand the book’s originality. 

Critics of the book have accused Christie of cheating, and to some extent, she did. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd violates many of the unwritten rules of the mystery-writing genre; yet, we don’t care. Christie has created such an original book that its ending still surprises eighty-seven years after its publication.

Rating: A+

The Dust-jacket illustration
of the first UK edition in 1924

(I guess this is how the publishers
envisioned Poirot.)

I’m generally not fond of the short story format and this may explain my reaction to Poirot Investigates (1924), the most recent book I’ve read toward my goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s published works.

This was Christie’s fifth published book and unless you’re an ardent Christie fan, I would skip this collection of 14 unoriginal and flat stories (I suspect these stories were cliché even by 1924 standards). The writing is crisp and some of the stories even humorous, but the mysteries themselves are repetitive and uninspiring. Unlike The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which featured a uniquely developed and nuanced Poirot, this short story collection makes Poirot and Hastings seem like second rate versions of Holmes and Watson.

No doubt about it, Christie is light reading, but some of her works have imaginative and creative plots that account for her continuing popularity. Unfortunately, Poirot Investigates is not an example of Christie’s best work.

Rating: D

The Agatha Christie Challenge:

A chance encounter on a train, but where will it lead? So begins Murder on the Links (1923). It was Agatha Christie’s third published novel and the second one featuring Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings. Christie is still experimenting with plot and narrative techniques; yet, in this book, Christie’s classic trademarks are present: the marginalized woman, thwarted love, and unexpected twists. And even though Christie is still developing the Poirot character, Poirot is more multifaceted than in The Mysterious Affair at StylesHe’s funny, egocentric, compassionate, jealous, and petty. Likewise, Hastings is less a buffoon, and more the lonely heart in search of love. Women are also central to the narrative. Are they victims, murders, or possibly both?

It’s not my favorite Poirot mystery, but it has clever dialogue (especially the banter between Poirot and Hastings) and a surprise ending. It’s one of the few Christie books where I failed to guess the culprit. Overall, I enjoyed the book very much. It was fast paced, inventive, and spiced with humor. One criticism is the constant twists and turns. If anything, they were unnecessary distractions from the overall plot.

Rating: B+
This year, I decided to read all the works of Agatha Christie in publication order. I just completed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1920, it was Christie’s debut novel, and it introduced Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp and Arthur Hastings.

Christie’s books are often described as cozy drawing room whodunits, lacking literary merit. Yet, her simple narrative style masks an insightful understanding of the human condition. She really understands human emotion and what makes us tick.

Her works chronicle the greater part of the 20th century (1920-1976), and she is equally adept in writing about England during the Great War as she is about the student unrest of the 1960s. Her clever plot devices are set in ordinary places and usually feature a marginalized woman caught in the center of a murder.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was dedicated to Christie’s mother who she described as the greatest influence in her life and writing. The book also introduces Hercule Poirot.

“Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache [sic] was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumps [sic] by unraveling some of the most baffling cases of the day.”

For the next 55 years, Christie would continue to write about Poirot. He would never age, and his personality would never deviate from the character first described in this book. Whether it was 1920 or 1970, Poirot remained the same. 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is set during World War I, and involves typical Christie plot devices: murder, poison, espionage, a lovely country estate, tangled love affairs, and a parade of possible suspects. It’s an escape into the world of upper class England, full of servants, teas, and frivolity. It’s Downton Abbey, only more original and entertaining. 

Rating: B

This year, I decided to read all the works of Agatha Christie in publication order. I just completed The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1920, it was Christie’s debut novel, and it introduced Hercule Poirot, Inspector Japp and Arthur Hastings.

Christie’s books are often described as cozy drawing room whodunits, lacking literary merit. Yet, her simple narrative style masks an insightful understanding of the human condition. She really understands human emotion and what makes us tick.

Her works chronicle the greater part of the 20th century (1920-1976), and she is equally adept in writing about England during the Great War as she is about the student unrest of the 1960s. Her clever plot devices are set in ordinary places and usually feature a marginalized woman caught in the center of a murder.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was dedicated to Christie’s mother who she described as the greatest influence in her life and writing. The book also introduces Hercule Poirot.

“Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache [sic] was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumps [sic] by unraveling some of the most baffling cases of the day.”

For the next 55 years, Christie would continue to write about Poirot. He would never age, and his personality would never deviate from the character first described in this book. Whether it was 1920 or 1970, Poirot remained the same. 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is set during World War I, and involves typical Christie plot devices: murder, poison, espionage, a lovely country estate, tangled love affairs, and a parade of possible suspects. It’s an escape into the world of upper class England, full of servants, teas, and frivolity. It’s Downton Abbey, only more original and entertaining. 

Rating: B