Agatha Christie: A Trio
I have been re-reading Christie this year and reading the few of hers that I haven’t got around to yet. I thought it would be a good idea to let you know the ones I have recently read that may get you checking out these titles to re-discover this phenomenal writer who never seems to go out of fashion.
The Mysterious Mr Quin
This quirky collection of short stories has a wonderfully atmospheric supernatural feel to the stories. Not all involve a crime, some are about a crisis of identity or a lost love, bringing them to the brink of death. However, the spectral Mr Quin appears to his acquaintance, the elderly Mr Satterthwaite who is described an old man despite only being in his sixties, he has always had an elderly attitude to life and those around him. He has mainly been an observer rather than a participant in life’s dramas. Quin and Satterthwaite make for strange bedfellows, but in Christie’s hands it all works.
Quin appears to Satterthwaite when a mystery needs to be solved or a dilemma has to be diverted. These are all marvellous tales, as always with some stronger than others. My favourites are ‘The Coming of Mr Quin’, ‘The Shadow on the Glass’ ‘The Dead Harlequin’ and ‘The Man from the Sea’, but all are enchanting in their own right. This is a collection I read back as an early teen and have read these stories several times over the years. It is one of my go-to, comfort blanket books and shows Christie pushing herself and enjoying her characters and the situations they find themselves in. She was to write only two other stories involving Mr Quin and Mr Satterthwaite: ‘The Love Detectives’ and ‘The Harlequin Tea Set’. These few stories are magical and enchanting and if you haven’t read them before you have a treat in store. If re-reading them, it is like meeting up with old friends again. To me, 'The Mysterious Mr Quin' is Christie's best short story collection by a mile and a joy to read every time.
The ABC Murders
If my memory serves me right, this is the only time Christie dealt with the random serial killer theme. Forgive me if I am wrong. It does make me laugh when people think the serial killer scenario is recent, when this book was written in 1936. I picked this up again when the series was televised last Christmas (yes, I know, I am a little behind, but that’s life…), which is radically different to the book. In the series Poirot is washed up, a pariah, ridiculed by Scotland Yard for being out of date, a rank amateur. In Christie’s novel Poirot is at the zenith of his powers and respected, still in contact with Chief Inspector
Japp who sends him to Andover, scene of the first murder after learning
Poirot has been receiving challenging letters from ABC. With his
companion, Captain Hastings, Poirot tracks down the serial killer.
This is Christie at the height of her powers, fully in control of her labyrinthine plot which is sublime. Not having read this for some years, it did make me smile when Poirot is exasperated by the dramatic crimes he has to deal with. Poirot himself describes the sort of crime scene he would prefer to investigate, a number of people around a table playing bridge and a crime committed in the same room. This obviously alludes to ‘Cards on the Table’, a case Poirot was going to have to use his grey cells on three books down the line, showing how ahead Christie was with her imagination and plots for future books! ‘The ABC Murders’ is one of Poirot’s best and strangely underrated cases and definitely one to read!
Evil Under the Sun
This is one of the few Poirot’s I have not read. I think it was due to watching the Peter Ustinov film back in the early 80’s, which was transported to a Mediterranean island, so it was quite a surprise to find that in Christie’s book, Poirot only gets as far as Devon! I also realised very quickly that the film cut about half the characters and involved a massive jewel (which is not even mentioned in Christie’s book!). Aside from that, if you have seen either the film or the Suchet adaptation, which I have now (which cut out Mr and Mrs Gardener who I thought were the best characters in this book and turned Linda into Lionel…), then you will see that in fact they are a better stab at this cunning plot than Christie. As the book moved on I felt that Christie was juggling too many balls in the air and seemed to get a little bored with her convoluted plot, bringing proceedings to an abrupt end. ‘Evil Under the Sun’ has a wonderfully cunning plot, sadly not quite brought to its full potential by the author.
I will next be reading ‘Cards on the Table’, ‘Murder Is Easy’ and ‘Towards Zero’ which complete the five featuring Superintendent Battle. If I have time I intend to re-read two other favourites of mine: ‘Five Little Pigs’ and Miss Marple’s ‘Nemesis’.